Shadow always found Sonic a bit hard to understand. He seemed to show up in Shadow's life more times than he was initially wanted. Shadow used to find Sonic to be something of an annoyance, but recently his perception of the blue hedgehog had begun to change. His feelings for Sonic were ones he would never have imagined himself feeling before. He almost couldn't believe it was real. Him? Attracted to Sonic? It was ridiculous. It was embarrassing. He could try to deny it to himself all he wanted, but it was all too real. That's why he couldn't resist that day when their paths crossed again. That day when Sonic asked.

"How about a little friendly competition?" Sonic asked with a smirk on his face. His green eyes met Shadow's gaze and for a moment, he felt frozen in place. He wasn't used to this kind of eye contact, especially not from someone he… Well, especially not from Sonic. What did that look in his eyes mean? Shadow blinked, and turned away. He hoped how long he kept Sonic's gaze wasn't too noticeable. What would he think if he knew?

"Hmmph, sure," Shadow grunted, trying to shrug it off. "I hope you know what you're getting into, Sonic. I'm the ultimate lifeform. I won't lose."

"Wow, you seem pretty sure of yourself, bud," Sonic teased, smiling even wider. "Why don't we make this a little more interesting?"

"How do you propose that?"

"Well," Sonic began. "I say that if I win you owe me a favor. One that I can pick after I win. Anything I want."

"Well that's not an unreasonable request at all, is it?" Shadow responded, narrowing his eyes. Shadow imagined it would be something like making him spend more time with him. That wouldn't be so bad, actually, but Sonic was unpredictable. What did he really want?

"Yeah! I was thinking the same thing. Not unreasonable at all. Oh, nope. If you're really the ultimate you know you won't lose and you know you won't have to worry about anything I might ask you to do, huh?"

"Correct." Shadow nodded. How had Sonic read his reaction like that? Shadow had put up layer after layer around himself. Nobody should have been able to see any of his self-doubt like that. But had Sonic just seen it? Or was he just being his regular cocky self? Damn, was he doubting himself because of these stupid feelings for Sonic? His heart beat a little faster in his chest. Keep up the façade. He told himself that in his head. He asked, "So what happens when I win?"

"Pigs fly I guess. Since that'll never happen." He laughed for far too long at his own joke, before turning back to Shadow and continuing, "Okay, okay. I guess if by some miracle you win that I'll have to do whatever you want."

"Will you leave me alone?" Shadow asked, snapping out a bit. He almost immediately regretted saying that. For a split second only, he could tell that Sonic seemed hurt by what he said. That ever-present sparkle in his eyes dulled just a bit, but as soon as Sonic blinked again it was back. Damn, that hedgehog was so good at being an optimist. Or was he just trying to hide his pain the way Shadow did? Shadow hated how much of his mental energy he was spending these days trying to figure Sonic out. He was frustrated at these ridiculous feelings and wanted them to stop, but was Sonic leaving really for the better? Maybe it wasn't. Maybe it was, but he sure knew he didn't really want him to.

"Dang Shads, I didn't know you felt that way."

"I-"

"It's okay dude, I know you don't mean it. I know you love me." Sonic waggled his finger at Shadow. Shadow immediately felt thunderstruck. His heart skipped a beat.

Dammit. Dammit. Dammit. That wording.

He knows? That I? That I love? Him? That I love him? Love?

He knew Sonic hadn't meant it like that but, goddamn.

"Don't interrupt me when I'm speaking," was all Shadow could manage to say.

"Alright, alright. I won't do that anymore. Promise." A moment of awkward silence passed when Shadow found himself at a loss for words once again. Luckily, Sonic continued speaking in his place. "So you ready to get this started or what? I'm bored of just standing around."

"What exactly are we going to do for this competition? A race I presume? That's your thing, after all."

"You bet! Aww, Shads, you know me so well, don'tcha?"

"Yeah, yeah, whatever."

"So, we're near the shore of this little island we're on. I'd say we're maybe about ten miles in max. There's a real nice spot to the north by the water! It's a beach! Super pretty. We can watch the sunset there if we make it in time."

"The sun's about to set right now."

"Yep, I say we've got about five minutes. Should be plenty of time! Or is that too fast-paced for you?"

"Not at all," Shadow responded, extending his arms to start stretching them. He cracked some of his joints. "So, you'll say when?"

"Now!"

"Wait, now?"

"Yep, now!" Sonic began before dashing off. Shadow could hear a "bye!" carrying from the direction Sonic ran off in.

Shadow quickly sprang into action himself.

Getting a headstart. That's totally fair.

Fair? What was he thinking? Talking like Sonic was his equal. Shadow was the ultimate. He didn't need things to be fair for him to win. Life was never fair to him. Shadow quickly ducked his head to miss a tree branch that was far too low to the ground. It was good to see that his reflexes were as good as ever.

Was that what Shadow liked about him? That he was the closest thing to an equal he would ever come across? Sonic was a strong ally. Just like himself, he hated to lose. He couldn't accept failure. He always wanted to prove himself the strongest, staying determined against all odds.

Shadow pushed himself further, putting more strength into his legs with each stride. Faster. He had to go faster. Soon, he was able to see Sonic's form running in front of him.

"So, finally catching up, eh? Took ya' long enough."

"I'm just warming up," Shadow shot back. "We can't spend all our energy at the start, can we? Then we'll falter right before the finish line." He took the lead and smiled, feeling pretty proud of himself.

"Wow, that's some strategy. Mine's just to run as fast as I can the whole time, but I guess you're stuck back at having to pace yourself. That's pretty lame if you ask me."

"You-"

"Later!" Sonic waved a hand at Shadow before gaining speed and running off. It seemed like a field of blue energy had just gathered around Sonic, and he'd sped off at a pace Shadow had never seen from him before. What was that?

Shadow breathed in and out with each stride he took. He couldn't lose his cool. Not in the middle of this race. He had to calm down. He felt the wind on his back with every step he took. The wind also felt cool on his face, in contrast to the summer heat. It was refreshing. This was kind of nice. Before meeting Sonic, Shadow had never found running to be an enjoyable experience. It was just something he did to get his mission done. It was all about the objective, not the journey. But now, things were different. Things weren't the same since Sonic had been around. For some reason, even though Shadow was behind, he smiled. He was having fun.

But he had to go faster. It would all be for nothing if he lost so horribly to Sonic. If he was going to run beside Sonic as an ally, as a friend, even if he would never be what he really wanted to be to him, he couldn't put on as pathetic of a performance as he was right now. He pushed himself even further past his limits. He felt the muscles in his legs start to go numb from the force. Then he felt an energy form from deep within his chest. It grew, and in an instant, his lungs felt overfilled with air. His whole body was tingling with force. He saw an orange field of energy form around his body similar to the one he had seen on Sonic before, and Shadow's speed reached new levels.

It felt exhilarating, for a lack of a better word. His reflexes even felt better. He barely had to dedicate a thought to dodging out of the way of obstacles. It was great. It was exciting. It was fun. He saw Sonic's form from behind once again, and this time he didn't stop to chat. He took the lead without a word, focusing on the path ahead of him and the adrenaline he was feeling throughout his body. It barely felt like 30 seconds before he could see the ocean on the horizon. The goal was right there, in sight. He was going to win. He pushed his speed more. Sonic couldn't catch up now. He could see the waves washing into the sand. He was so close now. So close, and then-

"Here I come!"

Shadow turned, horror-stricken as he saw a blue blur speed past him at the very last second. He was only about twenty feet back when he saw Sonic reach the beach and then slide into the sand, stopping in his tracks right before reaching the water. Shadow jogged to a stop, and stood beside Sonic. He decided to take a step forward and dip his shoes a bit in the water, as if that made any difference.

"I win!"

Shadow's heart sank. This was humiliating. Embarassing. Losing to Sonic. He faced the ground and closed his eyes. He suddenly felt a force on his back. He turned up to Sonic to see that it was from his hand.

"But you did a great job, pal! Put up an awesome fight."

Shadow didn't feel like that was good enough. He should have won, but it did give him a lot of comfort that Sonic of all people was trying to reassure him. Sonic kept his arm on Shadow's back, and Shadow turned from the ground to meet Sonic's gaze once again. He had such a nice smile. It was good to see Sonic happy, even if Shadow's ego was bruised and broken right now. He didn't want to draw attention to the prolonged physical contact that was happening. He wanted to pretend he didn't notice, because the Shadow that Sonic thought he knew would want nothing to do with it.

Sonic pointed ahead with his other hand at the horizon. "It's pretty, isn't it? Told ya'!"

"Yeah."

It was. Shadow found that some of the most beautiful things on Earth were the things that he never got to experience on board the ARK. Sunrises. Sunsets. Past him never could have imagined seeing these kings of colors, these kinds of shades of orange, and even a little bit of pink peeking through. He breathed in, trying to savor the moment before it faded into memory. Past him could also have never imagined seeing this kind of thing with Sonic and enjoying it so much.

When it was all down and dusk covered the sky, Sonic broke the silence. "So, about that favor,"

Oh no.

"I was thinking that, maybe," Sonic said, sound a bit nervous when he spoke. Nervous? This was unlike him. "Well, I was thinking…"

"What? Out with it already, please."

"Give me a minute, dude! Sorry, it's just. It's weird. I can't believe I'm really saying this." He put his face in his palm for a moment before chuckling. "I wasn't serious about you having to do what I want, y'know? Feel free to say no to this but-"

"But what?" Shadow's heart was beating a bit faster.

"Will you go on a date with me?"

Shadow couldn't believe his ears. Was this really possible? Was Sonic just playing with his emotions? Did he know somehow and just want to mess with him? Or did he really feel that way? Was it really possible?

Shadow just looked at Sonic, trying to give a serious expression, but failing miserably.

"What?!"

"Are you asking me that for real?" Shadow asked.

"What? Of course! Why would I joke about something like that, dude? Aaauugh, dude, I'm sorry. I knew this would be weird!" Sonic's face was all red, and he buried it again, this time in both hands.

"Yes," Shadow spat out before taking any more time to think and overanalyze. "I will."

Sonic peeked out from his cover, showing a big smile. His face was still red. "Really?"

"Yes really," Shadow answered, feeling his own face feel hot. "Just don't," he started, before looking down and trying to hide his own face. "Just don't make it weird."

"Woohoo! Awesome! That totally went better than I expected." He gave Shadow a thumbs up.

Gosh, what a charmer.

"So, uh, what do you want to do for this date?"

"Oh! Oh, uh, I know this place not too far from here with these ice cream sundaes! Chocolate chip sundae supremes. I got them with an old friend a' mine a while back. Do you like ice cream?"

"I've actually never had ice cream."

"Dude, that's a total crime! Next you're gonna tell me you've never had chili dogs!"

"Nope, never."

"Okay, okay, we are going to get you some good food on this date right now. That is the mission now. Let's go! Guess the loser is gonna extend a few more favors," Sonic said with a wink.

"Just shut up and lead the way." Shadow's face had never felt as warm as it did now in his life. How was he attracted to this man? He'd probably never know.