Shadow's face twitched as his ears were bombarded with an assortment of coes and chirps. Each sound was nearly identical, joining the symphony of childish naivety broken by the periodic hiss of displeasure.
He found himself once again questioning why he decided to venture into the brightly painted building.
"Here we are!" The worker chimed, her voice nearly as energetic as the small squishy creatures around here, "These are the available newborns from this year."
She noticed Shadow's grimace as one crawling creature grabbed onto his leg, its hands yanking harshly on the black fur.
She smiled slightly, although her expression was less pretend playful than it was moments prior.
"I take it you've never owned a Chao before?"
Shadow jerked his head, pulling his foot away from the newborn as quickly as he could once he was released, "No."
"Why now?" The woman asked, looking genuinely interested, "You don't seem the type to want to own one of these cute little ones," She fondly patted a nearby chao, one able to walk. It cooed loudly, the noise grating on Shadow's ears.
That was a good question- one that Shadow himself didn't quite know the answer to. Never had he ever thought that Chao, the large eyed animals, would somehow interest him enough to consider adopting one.
Looking at the pale blue and yellow creatures only reinforced his general disgust towards the helplessness of the race.
"What about our older ones?" The woman asked again, her voice soft and smile somehow knowing. She removed a newborn chao from her arm, and shifted another one from where it perched on her shoulder, "We have a few that have been brought back to us, for one reason or another."
"Brought back?" Shadow asked dryly, almost able to disguise the humor. Who would return one of these creatures after adopting them.
The woman's smile was sorrowful, "For one reason or another, yes."
She turned, leading him out of the room and away from the insufferable cooing.
The hallway was long, they didn't encounter anyone on the stretch. The room at the far end was much larger than the one prior, and filled with much less chao. Shadow spotted three, one a startling monotone brown sitting around a basket with fruit. Another chao was ghostly pale with unnerving eyes, great golden wings protruded from its back and blanketed its body like a cape.
"These are the ones brought back to us," she explained, pointing out a few Chao in the corner, "Those two are twins, they were given up since their owners moved across the country. I think it was an excuse to get rid of them- they weren't treated well and don't play with others."
Shadow blinked, none of the creatures were giving off the sounds he dreaded to hear. One Chao turned and glanced at the two of them, smiling wildly with shark teeth as its spherical ball over its head shifted to show its surprise.
"That's Yew," the woman explained, "He's new. Just got him last month, very energetic. His owner passed away."
These were the Chao of deceased? Shadow hadn't ever considered what happened to Chao that belonged to the elderly. He hadn't even thought of where they went once they were left alone.
Something cold dug sharply into his chest- each of the small creatures seemed to have a deep sorrow in their eyes. Even the ghostly pale Chao, gentle and careful as it flew near the ceiling, somehow expressed it through its timid wave.
"Oh," The woman pointed out, gesturing to the wall behind them where a small inlet of water had been crafted into the floor. The water was clear, filtered and mechanical as it circulated. A Chao was swimming, sliding through the water with nearly no resistance. "There's Ocean, she's been here a while- well, she was adopted last year but was returned a few weeks ago, passed around the family."
The Chao glanced over, hopping out of the water and tilting its head curiously. Its skin was dark- Shadow could assume that partially the reason she was still here was due to her dark race.
It had unusual markings, a bright blue that was just off color and was painfully familiar-
"I think her owner was from G.U.N." the employee whispered sadly, "I can't imagine what she's been through- having been brought back so soon."
It looked at Shadow, almost evaluating him. Shadow finally placed where he had seen the same color blue before.
"I'll take her." He blurted. The employee looked startled at his sudden confession- although she had a knowing glint in her eye.
"I'll get her papers ready."
He hadn't a clue why he ended up adopting a Chao.
There was no reason why he did it- once Rouge caught wind of it, he knew he would never hear the end of it.
Regardless, he felt somehow content with opening the door to his barely furnished home, something he was able to purchase with the liberal amount of money he earned with his G.U.N. wages.
It was small, a peaceful little house build near one of the cliff faces on the eastern coast of South Island. It was hours away from Rouge, or worse yet, Faker. The convenience of storing his Chaos Emerald in his quills allowed him to live nearly anywhere in the same hemisphere to where he was teleporting. He doubted anyone would ever think to find him on South Island of all places.
He found the scenery beautiful. To the west, he had chanced upon long looping hills and green grass, at first glance seeming endless. He had run for hours across the landscape, seeing the coast line and the small ridges of sunken ruins in the water.
Shadow thought he must had impulsively bought a house around such landscape, because he knew Maria would have loved it.
Ocean stumbled into the room, glancing around with the sphere above her head showing her curiosity. She walked- thankfully having learned that important step in her development, around and prodded various objects around the main room. She was fascinated by his chair, the backrest nearly destroyed from his sharp quills.
"Don't touch that," He warned, watching her critically. The Chao ignored him, instead opting to flutter the nearly useless wings she still possessed to struggle onto the chair. She seemed satisfied with herself, now occupied with trying to tug out one of the black quills from the chair's stuffing.
It recoiled with a loud hiss- the first noise she had made. It spat and flailed angrily, looking on the verge of attacking his chair.
"What did you do?" He sighed, snatching the creature up. Instantly the thing went limp, watching him cautiously as it held out one of its squishy paws. There was a thin stripe of clear fluid- it had injured itself trying to pull out one of his needle sharp quills.
"That'll teach you," He murmured, carrying the limp creature to the table and setting it gently on the surface. It was patient- eerily so, as he searched around the scarce supply cabinets for any sort of bandage. The Chao offered its arm, watching mutely as Shadow finally wrapped a scrap of something around the limb.
"You're strange, you know that?" He asked, finding the one sided conversation weird.
It blinked and nodded silently.
Ocean was a strange Chao.
She was quiet- yet she didn't react or startle to loud noises. Shadow had forgotten she existed one day when in his anger (Sonic had caught him at a bad time) he blasted a large hole into the lush soil just outside the door.
Ocean appeared from the small flap installed on the door, blinked, then walked over to him with no hesitation. Shadow was left wondering once again, what sort of environment she had lived in to make her only blink at the sight of danger.
Shadow often forgot to stock up his home with fruits or foods suitable for his Chao.
He had realized it after a long assignment. He returned home, realizing only that his small charge likely starved in his absence.
When he entered his house- lights off and the house smelling stale, he prepared to find the body laying on a bed or nestled on the quill-ruined chair.
Instead, Ocean peered around the corner, chirping a loud happy note before she ran out and into his legs. She didn't seem weak or fatigued, instead she seemed perfectly fine.
She chirped around his legs, pulling and trying to guide him somewhere. He raised one eyebrow when he realized that the Chao was guiding him to a bedroom he used for storage.
He felt himself smile slightly when he spotted the small nest she created from the spare blankets and pillows. A broken basket Shadow didn't remember having housed a small collection of fruits native to the island.
"Aren't you a crafty little creature?" He murmured under his breath, gently petting her head. Ocean glanced up, her light blue markings nearly glowing under the praise.
She chirped questionably, nestling down in her blanket nest and tilting her head curiously.
Shadow felt relaxed, almost lighter in the company of the small creature. The tension of Rogue's snark and halfhearted teases to steal his emerald had gotten to him. The jabs although playful, left him paranoid and cautious.
Without being fully conscious of it, he felt himself relax and begin to tell the small aqua and black creature about his mission.
Ocean offered one of her hard worked fruits.
Shadow realized, almost a month after having adopted the Chao, that the creature had made him soft.
He was lounging on the shore, just in front of where a sunken ruin protruded out of the water like breaching whale. Ocean was swimming smoothly in and out of the water, completely at ease and releasing loud sounds of glee as she rode one gentle wave. She tumbled over one crest, rolling around just under the surface to find the next wave.
Shadow felt something in him grow lighter watching her play. She had a sort of innocence around her actions, her inquisitive looks when he elaborated on a story.
Then she had a sort of unfortunate awareness, her eyes looked all too used to the cold metal guns he had left out. She seemed to know not to touch them- she never reacted to the loud ring of gunfire over the flat grasslands.
She was a wonderful listener.
Shadow's head snapped up when he heard her give a loud sound of excitement. She surfaced, rushing towards shore holding something small and flailing in her arms.
"What is that?" Shadow blinked, tensing in case the thing attacked the Chao. Instead Ocean nuzzled her face against it- the small blue flippered animal which looked more like a stuffed animal than a living creature. Ocean held it up victoriously before she released it, the seal rolling over the ground and back into the water.
Ocean looked pleased. She held up both of her small blue tipped arms, waiting expectantly.
"Oh no," Shadow blinked, standing sharply and crossing his arms to deter her, "No, I am not carrying you."
She tilted her head and very slowly lowered her arms. She was blank, her face not expressing frustration or understanding. Somehow that made it worse- the fact that this creature expected his denial and had anticipated it correctly.
Without thinking, he hoisted Ocean up, ignoring her sound of surprise. The Chao clung to his neck, perched on his shoulder in preparation. The Chao must have traveled similarly with its previous owner.
He smirked, undoubtedly the Chao had never gone on something as fast as him.
Ocean wailed at first, grasping tightly with what little force she had. She had stiffened, frozen in shock at the strong stream of wind buffeting her face. Then she began to chirp loudly, leaning into the wind and opening her small wings to feel it kiss against the membrane.
There was something distinctly satisfying exposing the Chao to the fast wind- not even close to his actual top speed. Ocean was amazed, hypnotized by his ability. The creature laughed, a giggling noise that was so rare to hear, Shadow felt it lighten something that always weigh less in her presence.
Shadow jolted awake when something brushed his face.
He rolled, sliding off the opposite edge of the bed and instantly snatched the gun he kept under the mattress. He flicked the safety, pointing and aiming in the dark before his eyes had even fully adjusted.
Ocean patiently waited, holding two things in her hands. One was small and flashing, the other was a fruit Shadow had purchased the day before.
"Is that my phone?" Shadow asked, instantly setting the safety back on the gun and putting it in its hiding spot. He sat back on the bed, reaching out to take the phone Ocean offered.
He had messages, from Rouge since she was the only one that had his number.
"Rouge," Shadow offered, causing Ocean to hum knowingly as she nibbled on the fruit. Her dark skin made her almost invisible in the darkness, if not for the aqua.
He set the phone down after sending off his own message- Rouge lacking paperwork from the last mission they had been on, and settled back on the bed.
Ocean curled up nearby him, her body was tiny with the exception to the two small spikes on the back of her head.
"You remind me of someone," Shadow started, petting the head of the Chao. Ocean peered up, nibbling patiently on the fruit.
"Well, not exactly," Shadow continued, "your markings. They're the same color of-"
Blue eyes danced in his mind, a following laugh of 'You have to catch me, Shadow!'
His hand spasmed absentmindedly and something clogged in his throat. He wished he hadn't set the gun down for some illogical reason.
He glanced down- Ocean had wiggled closer until she pressed against his arm. He was moving, swaying slightly.
'Shadow, you're going to have to move faster if you want to catch me!'
'That's not fair, Maria! You know that I'll slide if I try to go faster!'
'I'll have to thank Grandfather for polishing the floors then!'
He blinked once he felt something cold touch his face again. Ocean was standing, her fruit forgotten. She had one blue tipped hand touching his cheek right where the black fur mixed on his jaw. She was cooing, voice low and steady in a soothing warble that was too rhythmic to be accident.
She had been owned by a G.U.N. soldier- soldier's weren't unheard of to commit-
He inhaled sharply when he made the sudden connection.
No wonder she hadn't been surprised by the gun in his bedroom.
He found himself stroking her back softly, and felt the strongest pang of sorrow.
He hoped she hadn't been in the room to see it happen.
Ocean started to accompany him on his runs- at first it was only small treks over the grass and the naturally forming arches in the rock. He would run the loops for hours while she swam back and forth along the coast, keeping him in eyesight the entire time.
She began to stumble after him, struggling with her clumsy flipper feet over the grass.
He looked forward to the time he was home alone with her- where he could venture around South Island and see the many different species of animals (which all looked like toys in his eye).
He enjoyed Ocean, her company was soothing and relaxing. She warbled back after his rants, and he could almost believe that she agreeing with him.
Eventually, he told her about the girl with the blue eyes, nearly matching the blue of Ocean's markings.
He could imagine that she would have told him about her previous owner.
"You're a service Chao," Shadow realized one day, lightly jogging with his small companion sprinting alongside him. She had improved, her running had turned the two points on the back of her head into upwards spires, the sphere above her head had darkened to a dark cobalt similar to Faker's fur.
Ocean peered up, not able to make a sound through her heavy panting. She was happy- enjoying how she was now able to run alongside her new owner.
Eventually Shadow picked her up, and she hung on to his spikes and with new energy urged them to go faster and faster.
'Shadow I beg of you, please do it for me.'
'For all the people...on the planet…'
'Give them a chance to be happy...Let them live for their dreams.'
'Maria, please. Stop this- please don't do this to me-'
'Sayonara, Shadow the Hedgehog-'
"Maria!" He screamed, jolting upright and flailing.
They had guns- they had guns-
'Shadow! They're chasing us!'
He felt something break under his fist- a door. He had broken the door needed to get through to the escape pods. They were- they were almost-
He heard the gunfire and he howled, shrieking something hoarse and clawed. Something wet was cascading down his face- Maria's blood was running down his face and she was dying-
"Byaa!" Something distant was shouting, "Byaa!"
He blinked, seeing something blue- Maria's eyes don't go please don't leave me-
"Byaa!" It urged, spitting outwards and flailing a pathetically tiny weight against his chest.
"Ocean?" He struggled out, his voice thick and choking against something in it.
A little foot swung out, whacking against his shoulder with enough force to sting, "Byaa!" Ocean spat again, useless wings fluttering in anxiety.
Shadow blinked, his vision was strangely distorted. Ocean seemed to recognize this and she pushed herself closer against him, arms hugging around his neck like a living scarf. She hung, her feet dangling and ever so slowly the small weight grounded him.
There was no blood on his face- there was no gunshot. He strained his ears, just in case- and only distantly could he hear the sound of lapping waves.
Ocean looked up questionably, evaluating Shadow before she nodded. She jumped down, then once more off the bed before she ran out of sight.
She came back, holding a green emerald that was just smaller than her head. Shadow jolted upwards- how had she known where he put the Chaos Emerald?
She climbed onto the bed, holding out the emerald which pulsed slightly. Shadow felt the energy rush through his systems, warming them and clearing away the clouded confusion. It did little to fix the crippling weight that was dragging his insides down.
Was he malfunctioning- had he somehow been created with a flaw?
He hunched forward, shaking while hands grasped his quills and pulled.
Ocean wriggled between his arms, her fleshy body pulsing with her heartbeat- something rhythmic.
His breathing recovered, he stopped crying, and Ocean relaxed.
It was nice to have Ocean.
She was the closest he'd ever be to Maria again.