Author's Notes:

This one consists of the second and third snips I posted, but I modified the stuff from the third snip fairly heavily. Thanks, in particular, to Laural Rose who pointed out that this was probably the weakest part of the story as it was initially written.

I think it's a whole lot stronger now.

Once the bodies were stored away in black-marked scrolls, and all of the weaponry was collected, they vacated the area with haste.

Shikako-neechan carried them bodily, one by one, to a nearby green space, perhaps a mile away. Chiyako was impressed: her feet left no impression, not even so much as a bent blade of grass, while nee-chan's chakra wrapped tightly around them both, to keep from leaving a scent trail she guessed. As Shiho set herself down by a tree, distant sirens approached the now empty site of battle. Too slow by far. The sounds were moving fast, but by the time they arrived, let alone started looking this far afield, the Konoha natives would be long gone.

Shikako-neechan needed to scout out their next move, so she covered the three of them in a genjutsu and gave them a kunai with an attached flashbang tag. They could throw it and call her back if they needed to, but this was pretty clearly a civilian region according to Hanabi's eyes and Shikako-neechan's chakra sense. Chiyako would have sent out kikaichu, but with her swarm depleted like this it was best to just lay low... but the point was, they shouldn't run into immediate difficulties. That might change in a few hours, but for now they were safe enough.

They just needed to stay still and quiet. But without being able to talk to distract herself, it was nerve-wracking. Chiyako momentarily worried about whether Shikako-neechan would make it back, before shaking her head vehemently. Nee-chan was strong. Really, really strong. Chiyako had thought she was strong like Shino-nii, but she was way stronger than that. Those enemy ANBU hadn't stood a chance, even though they were also strong.

She felt Shiho reach around her with one arm, and she melted into the older girl's warmth. Shiho had a kunai clutched in a white knuckled grip with her free arm, ready to fight if necessary. Shiho wasn't strong like Shikako-neechan, but she was still stronger than Chiyako. She thought Shino-nii was probably stronger than her, though. But Shiho had still been plenty amazing enough to save her.

Hanabi sat on Shiho's other side, eyes bulging with the power of the byakugan, with the flashbang kunai in her hands. She'd be the first to see danger, so Chiyako guessed it made sense. Hanabi was doing a lot to help, had even attacked the enemy ANBU even though... They hadn't talked about it, but they all knew Hanabi had been the target. The evil ANBU had been there to steal her away so they could tear out her eyes and... do things to Hanabi. The kind of things Mama had told Chiyako about, even though she hadn't really wanted to because it was terrible, but there were things girls needed to know, especially when they were special girls whose children would also be special.

She shivered, and cupped her hand around the friendship bracelet Shikako-neechan had given her so that she could make it shine with a little pulse of chakra without making them visible. She didn't want to be in a situation like this ever again. She wanted to be strong like Shikako-neechan, who had protected everyone without being hurt. She wanted to be brave like Hanabi, who hadn't hesitated in attacking the kidnappers, not even for an instant in spite of knowing what evil things they wanted to do to her. She wanted to be selfless like Shiho, who had lunged towards a fireball to protect her without a second thought. She wanted to shine with the Will of Fire, bright enough that the dark things in the world flinched back from her rather than the reverse.

Nee-chan landed softly on the ground in front of them. "I've found an unoccupied residence that we can hole up in, at least for now. We can set up another genjutsu, get some proper rest. I'll take first watch and get started on the seal, then I'll pass watch off to Shiho in a couple of hours so that I can regain some chakra, alright?"

Chiyako smiled. Nee-chan was really amazing. Idly, she wondered what sort of girls Shino-nii liked. Well, 'like'-liked. Everyone that knew Shikako-neechan liked her, because she was amazing. Someday, Chiyako promised herself, she was going to be as strong and kind and wise as nee-chan.

Hanabi surveyed the house, picking out the strange and the familiar in its construction. Some of it was subtle (different binding agents and plumbing) and in other ways very blatant (such as the usage of electrical power and the strange tendency towards large glass windows). It was a building that was not only unoccupied, but seemingly had never been occupied - Shikako suggested that it was likely constructed either on commission from an owner not yet arrived, or was on the market. Either way, they might have to move, but she felt that they would probably be fine for the time they were in this dimension, though they might have to dupe civilians with genjutsu. Much like entering the allegedly secure house, this was rather like taking candy from a proverbial baby.

Speaking of food, Shikako passed around rations from her apparently inexhaustible supplies, as well as a canteen. Ration bars, ugh. But they needed the calories after tonight.

As they settled down, and Shikako examined the seal she had found on Hanabi, the little Hyuuga queried the special jounin on her thoughts rather than immediately going to sleep.

"My gravity seals have some similarities..." Shikako hummed to herself. "You probably will find this a bit strange, but... gravity isn't really a force. It's space-time distortion. Mass bends the universe around it. It's not common for use in jutsu because it's esoteric and misunderstood - try to do gravity manipulation like electromagnetism and it just won't work right. But with seals I can affect it a bit, with a bit of cleverness. To make the portal I need to make a well in the fabric of this universe's space-time, and make a divot in the fabric of our universe, and then force the edges to align. The middle of the portal will then just be a regular region of space-time, but connecting the two universes so we can just pass through. The tricky bit will be getting the boundaries right so that it will be safe and reliable, so I will have to experiment."

Hanabi... thought that made sense, though she was still in the dark on the mechanics. The important bit was-

"How long do you think it will take?"

Shikako pulled out a piece of paper and carefully drew a series of symbols on it, then charged it with chakra. The air above it pulsed and twisted-

Hanabi turned off her byakugan and turned away, suppressing the urge to vomit, but Shikako just smiled without averting her gaze. Did she understand it somehow? That- the way it- She swallowed her bile. Shikako really was a genius, and not just in traditional ninja skills.

"That, looked like..." Hanabi nodded jerkily. "You already managed that much?"

"I have the utmost basics of this form of manipulation down," Shikako corrected softly. "It will take time, of course, to develop this into something we can use to get home safely. But with no other goals to accomplish, I imagine I can at least get a message back to Konoha within a week. It'll have to be more robust to take us, because of our chakra systems, but that is only a matter of time." She smiled kindly at Hanabi. "I have plenty of food and water for the foreseeable future, so I'm afraid this is likely to be an exceedingly boring experience for you."

Hanabi thought back to the sudden horror of the battlefield, the ferric tang of blood in the air, and the scent of burning flesh.

"I think boring is an excellent way to end this misadventure," Hanabi admitted.

Countless voices raised in silent songs. Each a symphony in themselves, at times in resonance, but often in dissonance. The beauty is unaffected by the clashing, for this too is part of greater euphony. The orchestra turns, crashes down upon her like a tide and she cannot breathe for it, cannot think for it, her own song so tiny even though it is a world in of itself, and she cannot hear the voice of her heart any longer, for the orchestra's song flows into her and says-

Upon this Earth there grew a tree;

A tree of LIFE grown tall and grown tall and free;

Shikako sat upright, instantly awake. There was... there was something very important and...

It was gone, now. Except... was it really? She opened her senses wide, feeling the world around her in its vibrant glorious life. For a moment, she caught a strain of music at the limits of her chakra-enhanced hearing, but… No, they were alone. There were people in the area, but none were of any concern. Her genjutsu still held, which was good. She had never needed to try to maintain one while asleep before.

She put the vague worries of dreams from her mind for the moment, and nodded at the sleepy Chiyako who was finishing a short, academy student length portion of the watch.

"Go ahead and go back to sleep," Shikako murmured quietly in the little girl's ear. "I'll get back to work, and you can have breakfast for you when you wake up, though it won't be very interesting."

Chiyako pressed herself against Shikako's side and latched on, asleep in moments. Shikako sighed with a smile on her lips, and pulled out a notebook.

Countless stars burning in the emptiness. Each burns, not through fusion of hydrogen or helium or nitrogen or carbon or oxygen or magnesium or silicon, but through the power of emotion, of life. And all the universe burns around her and she's so very tiny, though she herself is a star of vast luminosity and it burns her but she does not combust for it is not heat it burns with but life and it shines into her and she cannot turn away and the meaning that is carved upon her very core is-

Upon its branches in radiant WHITE;

Grew I, and I, as is my right;

She stepped back carefully to watch the compact region forming. She was getting that consistently now, so she felt confident that she could move on to the transit.

That would be the tricky part, she expected.

From her dreams, all that remained was a memory of stars. It wasn't anything to worry about. She felt the world around her, the little lights of life flickering and changing how they shone as the day went by.

Shiho, Chiyako and Hanabi were slowly poring over her sealing texts, ostensibly in the hopes of being helpful at some point, but really because they just wanted something to do.

If they asked for something to entertain themselves with, Shikako had a variety of fiction novels and four decks of cards, because she was going to abuse hammerspace to hell and back and nobody was going to stop her! And it was certainly a habit that was paying off now. But they had expressed an interest in sealing instead, so who was Shikako to divert their fascination from a much-needed specialty?

Also, the Kakashi school of life-lessons was very effective.

Countless throbbing hearts, pulsing with the beat, the rhythm. They beat as one, not in tempo, not in strength, not in purpose, but they share an existence. Her heart is no different, and it throbs in her chest with the surety of the beat of the universe itself and the beat says-

Speak with clear voice;

To those with choice;

Shikako awoke instantly at the sound of heavy breathing. She couldn't feel or hear an intruder; rather, Hanabi had curled herself up in a corner of the room, shivering from night terrors. Shiho looked towards Shikako as she stood, but she just put a finger to her lips and let the cryptologist continue the watch.

Shikako knelt beside the little Hyuuga, and gently shook her shoulder, drawing the girl's attention to her warm presence. Strength enough to shield the child in her arms; confidence in her safety; a night watch proof against dangers in the dark. She'd never done this before, but it came naturally now from the pulse of her chakra. Positive intent. She was here. Nothing could harm the little girl she was holding without getting through her, and nothing was getting through her.

Hanabi slowly relaxed, looking up at her with pale eyes wet around the edges.

She didn't try to console Hanabi, didn't tell her it was okay. She knew that Hanabi had her pride. She just held her close, and if Shikako's vest grew damp on the outside the kunoichi said not a word about it.

"Once upon a time," Shikako whispered, "there was a lady, of much land and more wealth, who lived in a castle. And in the tallest tower, locked away from even her closest advisors, she kept a mirror which contained a spirit of the air, sealed away. And this spirit could not affect the world outside the glass, but it could listen on the winds and hear their tales, and by speaking certain words before the mirror, the lady could compel it to speak of what it knew. In the hands of a ninja, or a lord wise to their ways, this would be a terrible weapon indeed, but in this time there was little profit to be made for ninja in the lady's lands, and so the ninja clans travelled instead to places of strife far from her home. And so the lady used the mirror frivolously. For you see, she was very vain."

Hanabi snorted a little, as her tears began to dry.

"Yes, indeed," Shikako agreed, continuing to adapt the story on the fly. "But she did not use the mirror to gaze upon her own face. She was a spiteful woman, and though proud of her own appearance she prided herself far more on being more beautiful than all others in the land. As long as she was the fairest of all, she could be as happy as a person of such temperament can ever be. However, one day she spoke to the spirit the words of power, and queried it, as she did every day. And the answer was not to her liking, for while she had aged and leisure and poor temper had begun to take a toll, a young woman in the town had waxed in beauty as the days went by, and now clearly outshone the lady like the sun outshone the moon…"

By the time she got to the part where a group of seven ninja passed by, and the shinobi who led them was so entranced by the maiden's beauty that he chose to subtly sabotaged the evil lady's second attempt to scar the maiden's face, Hanabi had drifted back off to sleep.

Countless threads of thought making countless tapestries, each a tiny piece of a quilt the size of the universe. A rainbow, no a Spectrum of Life, all the colors of emotion wrapped around her and she was just a tiny piece, so small really, but the entire quilt seemed tied to her and the threads curled around her limbs and as it moved it moved her like a puppet and the patterns it drew said-

When evil comes, look deep within;

And find your light, to cleanse their sin;

"A-are you alright?" Shiho asked nervously, not even attempting to hide how she was staring at the change that had occurred in Shikako's sleep.

"It… doesn't hurt," Shikako said slowly, thinking back on things she had dismissed earlier. "But my dreams have been... strange, since we arrived in this world," Shikako finally admitted, to herself as much as to the worried children at her sides as she examined herself in a mirror. "I... I don't grasp it when I wake up, but... there's something vast, something... larger than I can easily comprehend. And, when I push my senses to their limits, it is almost as if... as if there is something just out of reach. Out of the corner of my eye, or at the edge of my hearing."

Her eyes had emblems in them, in stark, brilliant, glowing White Light. An inverted triangle, with lines spreading out from its upper side. Something in the back of her mind itched at the sight. It felt like satisfaction. Shikako smiled at her Emblem shining in her eyes, it wouldn't be long before we-

"Fuck," Shikako swore, as the last piece dropped into place, wiping the other being's grin off her face. It wasn't anything to worry about, of course. This was the way things had to be. But Shikako held firm, and as the imposed sentiment faded she thought furiously. And futilely. She shouldn't waste her time trying to stop this from happening, she now knew. The entity was coming through her thoughts and feelings, using them as a guide to pour itself into her body, like an ocean pouring a water glass full to overflowing.

She could… knock herself out? It wouldn't be able to use her body in any meaningful fashion when unconscious, though it would probably complete the possession unless she killed herself. And she couldn't afford to die now. She needed to get herself and the others back to Konoha.

"I have a... susceptibility," Shikako told her companions, "to sentient energy beings. They can impinge upon my awareness in ways I cannot counteract. During one particular mission, I was even, for lack of a better term, possessed by a being comprised of natural energy. The experience was very nearly deleterious for my existence as an independent intelligence."

"You mean," Shiho gulped. "That you might-"

"I was unprepared then. Hopefully, I will fare better this time. And even if my personality is erased, it will be reliant on my mind to a degree, so there is a chance that you can convince the entity to continue to aid you," Shikako said calmly. There was a thrill of panic somewhere in her, but she knew, deep within, that events were already well on their way, and struggling against it would be futile and non-productive. She could not work up any significant fear or anger at the thought- or rather, she felt it, and felt it strongly, but it was fleeting and unimportant compared to preparing for what would come next. For what she would become, next.

"Listen," she spoke to head off her charges' panic, "now is not the time to give up. I won't have a working portal going before the possession completes, especially not with my thoughts and feelings being suspect. But there are things I can do. Shiho, I need you to start taking notes. I will explain as much of the theory of producing the portal as possible. If the worst happens, you will need to be able to continue to develop the seal in my absence."

Shiho tried to shake off her shock. She wasn't very successful, but she numbly took the writing supplies Shikako pressed on her. That's right, she realized, she had all of their supplies. She'd have to take the time to move things out of her Infinite Pocket and into storage scrolls.

Multitasking it was.

"Alright, first you need to understand that gravity is a distortion of space-time, and since we need to distort space-time, that's where I'm starting…

"Does that make sense?" Shikako bit back a yawn and flushed her system with chakra. It burnt back the exhaustion a little. Trying to teach exhaustively like this with no breaks was, it wasn't easy. She hadn't been doing anything but talking and thinking, but it drained you. Or maybe she was just growing closer to the moment of her sublimation- Fuck, not again. Keep focused.

Shiho wasn't doing any better. "I- No? Not all of it," She ventured a little blearily. "Um, but, I've written it down. I can use it later."

"No, that's not… seals don't work like that." Shikako shook her head. "I, look I've got sealing notes in some of those scrolls, but… I don't think I explain this fully there? We'll, we'll come back to this part, grab a new- Alright. So. Sealing. You have to really understand it. It's… seals are symbolism. They're an interface for thought. For someone's thought. You don't have to understand a seal to use it, but the person who designed it does…"

"No, a straight line is how light moves. The, um, shortest path." Shikako gestured. "It's not… not necessarily what would be straight from our perspective, a straight line in this context is defined by the route light would take." If you ignore quantum mechanics and look at the big picture. Which this was. Should she- No, it would just confuse her and that wasn't the point anyway.

"So light should be able to pass through a portal easily because it… because the light seems to curve from our perspective?" Shiho ventured.

"So light will tend to get through even if it isn't stable," Shikako clarified. The high from the soldier pills were wearing off and the time of our unification was near- No, not yet, damnit. Just… just keep going. Don't waste time on fear. "You can't rely on a visual inspection. Don't even think about going through until you push something through and pull it back and it doesn't look damaged."

"Right," Shiho clumsily scrawled that down, her stained hands clearly aching in spite of chakra enhancement.

"The hypersurfaces have to be space-like," Shikako reiterated. "It'll look like it works right if they're light-like, but you won't be able to get anything other than light through in that case, not in one piece at any rate. You have to set the boundary conditions right."

Shiho scrubbed at an eye blearily, but with drive born of desperation spoke up. "Right, try explaining that one more time. The, um, hypersurfaces part. Please?"

It pours in like the ocean, like a world is flowing into her soul, like the universe was distilled into a single droplet and that droplet was her and her mouth opened wide, not to accept it for it was already inside her and she welcomed it for how could she not? But to sing the song of Light, of Life and the words in her voice were spoken-

When darkness falls, don't fear the night;

Life's new dawn comes- LET THERE BE LIGHT!

"You aren't allowed to die!" Chiyako hiccupped at Shikako's increasingly vacant face. The tokubetsu jounin visibly struggled to focus on her.

"I, no, I won't die," Shikako managed to say. "I won't," she said more certainly. "I'll… I won't abandon my team. Things are coming and… and we have to be ready, so I absolutely… won't die. We will- No, I, yes…"

Shiho pulled Chiyako back a little, easily strong enough to manhandle the girl. Shiho cursed foully inside her head as Shikako clenched her mouth shut to prevent any further babbling. Shikako leaned in, and pressed a kiss to Chiyako's forehead, rested a hand very briefly on Hanabi's head, and moved back several feet with a wince, then managed to nod meaningfully at Shiho.

She had to look after them now. Shikako couldn't take care of anyone anymore, so as- so as a shinobi of Konoha, looking after its children fell to Shiho in- in Shikako's place. Shiho guided Hanabi behind her, and more forcefully did the same with Chiyako.

Shiho pulled out a kunai, and faced a girl that she was absolutely certain could kill her in an instant if it really came to that. If Shikako, if the thing in Shikako, if it wanted them dead then… then Shiho would never have a chance.

The kunai didn't waver. Shiho refused to let it. She had two little girls behind her, and they would only get hurt over her dead body. Shikako smiled at the sight, like she was proud of her. Maybe she was. The cryptologist hoped so.

The light behind Shikako's eyes, which had been slowly increasing in luminosity, suddenly flared up and-



-within, and wreathed Shikako in its raiment.

"S-Shikako?" Shiho asked, tremulously. It was- That quick? In an instant, it had just…

"We are she, in part." The voice, incongruously, was still hers, but the speaker... was not. Still, her smile was kind, for what little that seemed to be worth at the moment. "There is no cause for alarm at this juncture. We live."

In which: janitorial work is done, authorities are evaded, locked doors fail to stop ninja, and Shikako sets to work on poking a hole in the universe (and then trying to teach others how to do so). A temporary hole. …One hopes. Oh, and Shikako gets a visitor who is very distracting.

In other words, welcome to Earth-?'s Blackest Night/Brightest Day episode! ...Fear is at times an appropriate response. But don't worry! She definitely... well... means well?

Next time I'll be hitting up the DC cast.

The events depicted in this episode took several days, by the way.

Idea for the bolded parts partially comes from Gregg Landsman's Nobody Dies and partially from variations on the White Lantern Oaths.