A/N: Stargate SG-1/ Monochrome Factor. Neither is mine. Bunny bit when I read volume 2, was Jossed by 3; so it goes. So this is definitely AU for MF. "To not be seen, is to be invisible."
Watching Shirogane's shadow-simulacrum of himself walk out of the bathroom to rejoin the tour in his stead, Akira knew he'd been had. Somehow. He just hadn't figured out how, yet. "Just what do you think they'll do when they figure out there are two of me? We can't stay in here forever!"
Akira tried not to groan. Shirogane's chuckle was such a cheerful sound. Charming, to those who'd never met the shin before, and so had no idea how utterly insane their lives were about to become.
Ordinary, boring life, Akira thought, valiantly restraining himself from banging his head against the wall. Ordinary, boring life….
After all, that was what Shirogane had promised him months ago. Homurabi had been defeated, Shirogane had been restored to his rightful place in the shadow world, and Akira had finally - gratefully - passed on Ryuko's inshi. Without dying in the process. Which was, apparently, a first.
Kou was already looking for the next heir, to swear allegiance to him; with Homurabi gone, he had all the time he needed to find the newest direct king of the rei, without worrying about the worlds going out of balance. Thank the gods. Akira didn't want to be Kou's king. Or anyone's.
I'm not Ryuko! I'm not anyone's reincarnation. I don't want power over the world. All I want to be, is me!
And he could be. No more rents in the boundaries between light and dark meant no more waves of kokuchi swarming over, which meant no more need for Akira to be running around like a comic-book maniac fighting them. Oh, there were a few, now and then - but Kengo, Aya, and Kou gladly took care of those. Gleefully, even.
And why shouldn't they? They still had powers to stand against the shadow monsters. He was normal again. Human. Shirogane had promised.
Which still didn't, apparently, put him off-limits as far as getting dragged into Shirogane's schemes. He didn't know what the shin wanted here in NORAD, or why they were hiding out in the men's room instead of back with the tour, where he belonged - but he was beginning to have deep, deep suspicions about exactly how his mother had won them both a paid vacation to America.
More accurately, he'd started having suspicions the moment Shirogane had fallen into step with him just inside the gate, and they'd only worsened as the tour went on. Not that anyone else knew they'd picked up an extra tourist. Outside of Akira - who was otherwise normal, thank you very much - no one else was unlucky enough to be able to see shin.
Not unlucky. He's one of the few friends you have.
Which wasn't always easy to remember, when you had to keep a straight face while the invisible-to-everyone-but-you shin flirted like a fiend.
Speaking of which… "If you say this was the only place you could get me alone, I'm walking out now." Which was cold, and Shirogane didn't deserve it. Much. "My mother and I will be here for a week. We can find plenty of places to talk after the tour. Away from the soldiers with guns."
"But isn't this more fun?" Shirogane winked at him, then sobered. Just a little. "Are you happy, Akira-kun?"
"…You have me hiding in the middle of an underground fortress to ask me that?"
"That, and other things," Shirogane said seriously. "Are you?"
Pounding his head through a wall might be overreacting. Maybe. "Why shouldn't I be?" Akira said levelly. "Nothing's trying to kill me every night. No one has me involved in any more plots to destroy the world." Or save it. "Outside of seeing people like you, I'm normal. It's what my mother wants; a normal, ordinary son. It's what Kou wants; the chance to have someone worth being his king, not a… kid." Kou's a fighter. Always has been. He doesn't deserve someone who always wants to run away from a real fight. Sure, I stopped running - but only because not running was the only way to keep them safe. To try, anyway. "It's what everyone wants."
"Ah, but I'm selfish," Shirogane said softly. "I look at you, Akira-kun, and I can't think of what everyone else wants. I only think of what you want." He leaned on his cane, vivid blue eyes unusually sober. "Are you happy?"
"I-" Wait. Something was wrong. Like pins and needles, prickling on his neck; a taste of sickness in the air.
The boundary's been torn.
Akira stared at his friend, heart beating faster. "There are kokuchi here."
"There are," the silver-haired shin agreed. "I could probably handle it on my own…."
"Probably?" Akira sputtered. "You're going to have to!"
"Am I?" Blue eyes were fathomless. Waiting.
Akira stifled a groan. "How many times do I have to say it? Shirogane, if you want me to trust you, you have to explain."
"Ah!" The shin brightened again. "Remember what I told you, the first night we met?"
"It has to be you?" Akira sighed, half resigned.
"No, no," Shirogane waved a gloved hand. "After that."
"A shin can't go back to being a human?" Akira guessed. "But that wasn't true-"
"Yes, it was."
It shook him. But- "I passed on Ryuko's inshi!"
"Which means I'm not rei anymore. I'm not your counterpart - and I don't have an inshi. Light or dark."
"Well…." Shirogane looked mildly nervous. "Two out of three?"
"Explanation," Akira gritted out. "Now."
"Ah. Well, it's really quite remarkable; I don't think it's ever happened before-"
Akira gripped Shirogane's suit, glaring. "Stop stalling!"
"A shin has a dark inshi," Shirogane said simply. "You were a shin for months. By contract. With me. With all the exposure to the shadow world's power that implies. Couple that with royal blood, which you still have…. I think the energies coalesced into a new matrix, following the pattern you should have had. In essence - you grew your own inshi, Akira."
"…." Nerveless fingers let cloth slip free. Oh. No.
"I doubt anyone expected it," the silver-haired shin shrugged. And gave him a fond smile. "But it's there."
"You said I'd have an ordinary life!"
"And you have," Shirogane said seriously. "You still can. Five 'children' for each king, I told you - and the most powerful of those created usually do number five. But there are many of lesser strength. Made, or born."
"Many shin - and rei, like Kou - fled Homurabi's conflict. And more fled others, in times past… how did you think you ended up with royal blood to begin with?" Shirogane looked sad. "I've no idea how many of them I may find. They sealed their own powers; they're almost human, while that stands. They can live that way, and they may die that way." A slight, wistful shrug. "I sealed yours, but the principle is the same. It's a defense, not a prison. It won't hold… if you wish it not to."
He didn't know what to feel. He didn't know what to think. "I'm still a shin."
"Under the seal, yes," Shirogane nodded.
"And something's tearing the boundary between the worlds."
"Not a shin," Shirogane stated. "I've some ideas on what it may be, but I really don't know for sure."
"You don't know, but you're going in anyway," Akira said, resigned. "And you want my help."
"I would very much like your help, Akira-kun." Shirogane gave him a quiet smile. "But if you're happy as you are…."
"You know I can't let you do this alone!" Akira said hotly.
The shin cocked his head, wide-brimmed hat dark over wistful eyes. "Do I?"
Damn. He was really going to do this. Walk back into the shadows, of his own will. Knowing what he was up against. Because it was his friend… and not even Shirogane should face monsters alone.
Breathing in, Akira closed his eyes, and reached for shadows. Doppler release!
It was like fighting through mud, instead of the quicksilver tingle he remembered. It dragged at him. It hurt-
And then the pain was gone, flicked away like a feather, and there was a lightness in his limbs that made him want to laugh….
Until he saw the mirror.
Breathe. You knew this would happen.
Hair not brown, but dark as the shadow he no longer had; eyes washed from gray to a scarlet no one could mistake for human. He'd seen it before. But it was different, somehow.
Suspicious, he shot Shirogane a dark look.
"What?" Shirogane blinked innocently at him, silver braid flicking behind his shoulder.
"Now I know you did something," Akira muttered, scooping the eerie shadow-doll of a doppleganger off the floor to tuck it into a pocket of his shin-form's sleeveless dark coat. He was going to need it, later.
"Well, yes," the shin admitted. "Your first contract was such a hasty affair. If you ever did decide to remove the seal… well, let's just say, I smoothed a few rough edges. In preparation."
Even half-sure it was coming, Akira couldn't dodge the kiss.
This one didn't change everything. Just… sparkled through him, blazing a faint trail in his mind to elsewhere.
"There's a reason I have trouble explaining." Shirogane winked, backing off. "Sometimes, I forget that I need to."
Elsewhere had - feelings. Certainties, about the shadows, of things he'd only guessed at before.
"Things work differently for shin," Shirogane murmured. "A long time ago… we built a sort of library. You may not have Ryuko's memories, but you'll learn how to use it. In time."
So. Not only had he stepped back into the shadows, but he stood a better than even chance of starting to be as irritatingly obscure as Shirogane. There was only one rational reaction.
Heading for the down elevator to the SGC, Daniel Jackson jumped. "What was that?"
Coffee in hand, Jack O'Neill eyed him. "What was what?"
Daniel didn't quite roll his eyes. "That yell, Jack."
"What yell?" the colonel said dryly.
The archaeologist was half-tempted to let it slide. But- No. "The last time I heard something like that, a professor had just figured out his shiny new Canadian Viking site had been planted by some undergrads who'd found a few antiques in their Icelandic grandfather's attic."
"That bad, huh?" Jack got into the elevator, frowning. "I didn't hear it."
But he didn't say there wasn't anything to hear, Daniel thought, watching the doors close and the numbers start their steady descent. "So…?"
"I'll tell Security when we get down there," Jack allowed. "Could have just been someone having a really bad day."
That you didn't hear? "So you don't think it's serious."
"In NORAD?" Jack said skeptically. "Now, if we'd been a few floors down…."
Okay, point. "People have been seeing things, Jack."
"What, ghosts?" The colonel rolled his eyes. "Hate to say it, but when enough people die in a base, you're bound to get ghost stories. Has anybody seen anything they could prove?"
"Could anybody see the Reetou?" Daniel lobbed back.
"And, when we swept the supposed 'cold spot' with TERs, we got?" Jack eyed him.
"Nothing," Daniel admitted.
"Exactly. Besides. Carter says our snaky little buddies' invisibility prototype doesn't switch things out of phase with our reality, like the Reetou. More like, wads strings up into a ball, or something…."
"Accesses alternate dimensions predicted by string theory," Daniel said, keeping a straight face with an effort. He knew Jack understood technobabble better than that. The colonel just didn't want to admit it. Someone might make him write a formal report. Heaven forbid. "And I don't think Sam would like to hear you call Martouf a snaky little buddy."
"Yeah? What about Aldwin?"
"Um." Daniel shook his head, and gave Jack a look askance. Just because the Tok'ra had almost left them on Netu to blow up with Sokar, before Teal'c got in his way, that was no reason to be rude.
…Well, maybe just a little.
"What I don't get," Jack went on, scowling at the elevator doors, "is why they're testing this prototype here, where we primitive Tau'ri can see it. And I don't buy that 'we'd like to see Major Carter's energy readings from Nirrti' bit."
"Maybe the High Council finally read the definition of alliance?" Daniel suggested.
Jack eyed him.
Right. Not likely. "Maybe Martouf and Lantash just wanted to see Sam."
"Maybe," Jack allowed. Though he didn't look like he liked that option much better. "I just… don't like it."
"Which has nothing to do with people swearing they see phantoms," Daniel observed, tongue in cheek.
"Ghosts. Right." Jack drained his coffee.
"No, phantoms. Or spectral recordings," Daniel corrected. "Nobody's actually said anything about seeing a person. Just cold spots, or shadows. In the current literature, that's usually not an actual spirit. More… recorded psychic impressions. Or so people think."
"The current literature?" Jack raised an eyebrow at him.
Teal'c did it better, but- "Pyramids built by aliens?" Daniel reminded him. "There are reputable, scientifically trained people out there who investigate fringe phenomena. Things most scientists won't touch with a hundred-page grant application. If people think they're seeing ghosts in the base… well, I thought I'd see what was out there, research-wise. There's some pretty interesting articles from Japan about a recent upswing in events that ended abruptly last year-"
Jack clapped a hand to his forehead in disbelief.
"One of these days, I'll learn." Jack shook his head as the doors opened onto the SGC. "C'mon, Danny. Let's go tell Security to look for a ghost having a really bad day."
Ducking into yet another janitor's closet, Akira wondered exactly how bad this day was going to get. "Do we have to stop on every floor?"
"If we want to find all the holes, yes," Shirogane said simply.
"Not that!" Dropping the doppleganger to the floor, Akira stepped on it, and shook his head as his body grew heavy again. "What if they have a camera in one of these?" Not that it would record much, he belatedly noticed. No lights on.
Gods, he'd missed that. Walking through Tokyo blind and helpless as any human, with the alleys truly dark again - it hadn't felt normal anymore. Hadn't felt right.
"You need to be able to release the doppleganger to a specific location," Shirogane said pointedly. "Your pocket, for example. You can't count on always being able to pick it up after a fight."
"…Sometimes I hate it when you're right." Doppler release!
A foaming tingle, and the shadow fell away again, landing as an eerie black doll in his hand.
"Closer," Shirogane judged. And nodded.
Relieved, Akira tucked the doll back into his pocket. "What is this place, anyway?" He opened the door a crack and glanced around suspiciously, before they both slipped back into the hall. People might not see shin, but doors opening by themselves were quite another matter. "NORAD is supposed to be the Air Force. These people have all kinds of uniforms. And some of them don't have any."
"I don't know," Shirogane replied as they walked down the corridor, searching for any sense of shadows leaking into the world of light. "And that worries me."
When Shirogane was worried, sane people headed for the hills. "But you know something."
"Memories are shadows, too." Blue eyes glanced at him. "When I say Kemet, what do you remember?"
"Ye shall not bar the way for my soul, nor my shadow," Akira murmured. Wait. "That wasn't Japanese…."
"No. That language has been lost a long time. To humans," Shirogane added. "The people of that land knew something of rei, and of shin. Soul and shadow, they called us, and knew we were part of each other. Though luckily, they didn't know much more."
"Luckily?" Akira repeated uneasily.
"A long time ago, a great evil came to the world of light," the silver-haired shin said soberly. "We fought it, as did the humans. And eventually, the gate was shut."
Why do I know where this is going? "You think someone's opened it," Akira sighed.
"I know someone has," Shirogane corrected him. "At least three years ago; dealing with Homurabi kept me from coming earlier. What I don't know is what has come through. Or why the shadows are being breached now; that evil knew nothing of rei, or of shin, or we all might have perished."
Very, very bad. "Does this evil have a name?" Akira asked.
"They called themselves gods."
"They weren't," Shirogane reassured him. "Very powerful, say our histories - but not gods." His eyes half-closed, as if he, too, were reaching along that sparkling trail of shadows. "Look back, Akira. Look far back, for eyes like no human's, or shin's, could ever be."
Eyes, Akira thought. Eyes, in Kemet….
A woman in gold and translucent linen, ornamented hand raised to unleash lightning on a hapless servant, eyes flashing white-gold.
"Goa'uld," Akira whispered, still tasting hints of desert dust. "They called themselves Goa'uld… that was Egypt."
"Thousands of years ago," Shirogane agreed. "And there, the gate was shut. How was it opened here?" The braid twitched as he shook his head. "Which is why I did not wish to do this alone. If you truly wanted to help."
Akira glanced up to that knowing smile, and rolled his eyes. "You knew I wouldn't say no."
"Well… I hoped, yes."
"Liar." But Akira said it fondly, unaccountably warmed. Shirogane had counted on him. It was nice to be needed. "How do you deal with it? With the memories?" He felt them like sparkling shards, sifting into the plain sands of human memory. It didn't hurt, but the world felt ever so slightly different.
Could be my imagination.
Then again, every other rei and shin he'd run into had been… well, benignly eccentric. At best. So maybe not.
"I've never not had them," Shirogane shrugged. And winked. "You're one of the most stubborn people I've ever met. They won't change you at all."
"Are you sure?" Akira said dubiously.
"Positive." Eyes bright with mischief, Shirogane leaned in, lips parted-
Akira squawked, ducked, and twisted aside. All too aware, even with the speed he'd mastered in shin form, that the direct king of the shadows let him go.
"See?" Shirogane said impishly.
Breathing hard, Akira almost flipped him the finger. Hesitated. "Something is different."
Shirogane inclined his head. "You're one of my children now. It draws you to me."
As if you weren't a bad enough flirt already. Though it wasn't attraction. Just - Shirogane needed him, and the shadows needed him, and he belonged where he could help both. "It's not so bad," Akira admitted. "Just... strange."
"Belonging feels strange," Shirogane murmured. "I have to wonder about humans, these days."
Which tangled Akira up inside all over again. It wasn't exactly his friends' fault they'd had to push him away when he had no power to defend himself. Or thought he didn't. Gods, where's a kokuchi when you need one?
Pressure, like a dark answer to a prayer.
"Downstairs," Shirogane nodded once, heading for the stairwell. "We'll have to come back to check the floors in between."
Racing beside him, Akira couldn't help but grin. This, he could handle.
"Glad you came?" Shirogane smiled, as they swept through the door like a gust of errant wind.
Like he'd ever admit that. "I think," Akira said, as they flitted down a flight at a time, "I hate being ordinary."
A quick gleam of delighted blue. "So, after this is over…?"
"Yes," Akira said in a rush, before he could second-guess himself. "I'll help you. For as long as you need me."
"And if I'll always need you?"
Akira touched down on yet another landing, thrilling to the renewed reality of gravity defied. "Then I'll just have to come up with good excuses to be missing." He hesitated a moment, knowing how final this would be. "My king."
"My friend," Shirogane said firmly. "Always."
"Details later," Akira grinned. "Let's find a tear!"
"They lost a tourist?" Sam exclaimed in disbelief.
"Akira Nikaidou," Daniel read, looking at the picture NORAD had sent down from the visitor pass. Seventeen, brown hair - and startling gray eyes, for a name so determinedly Japanese. "Possible dual citizenship?"
"That's going to be messy when he hits eighteen," Jack said under his breath, drumming fingers on the conference room table. At Teal'c's raised brow, he elaborated, "Japan doesn't like having citizens who might have divided loyalties. Can't say I blame them. If I had an excuse, I'd kick the punk out, too."
Daniel sat up straight. "Punk?" Jack was usually a lot more sympathetic to kids than that. Even if seventeen was on the far edge of "kid".
"Dog collar and an earring?" Jack pointed out sourly. "He's looking for trouble."
"He has gray eyes in Japan, Jack. He doesn't have to go looking for trouble. It finds him." Daniel frowned, glancing over the picture again. Definitely not a real smile, now that he was really looking. The eyes were too wary. Boy, do I ever know what that's like.
"Gray eyes are not favored in Japan?" Teal'c inquired.
"They're fine if you're a foreigner," Daniel shrugged, remembering a few late-night conversations he'd rather forget. "But the locals all have dark hair and eyes. Standing out, in that culture… it's not easy."
"Which is still no excuse for breaking the rules in a way that's likely to get you shot," Jack said bluntly.
Aha, Daniel realized. That would tend to make Jack cranky in pure self-defense, collar or no collar. Better a punk got shot than a kid.
Teal'c inclined his head. "It seems an unlikely identity for a Goa'uld to use to infiltrate the SGC."
And thank goodness for Teal'c, Daniel thought. That possibility hadn't even occurred to him.
"Hathor didn't seem all that likely, either," General Hammond observed. "Goa'uld or innocent bystander, the young man is missing. Which is not something that usually occurs when our friends upstairs are on watch. We have no reason to believe he's here…."
"But given nobody knows where he is, why not?" Jack said dryly. "Noted, sir. We'll keep an eye out."
The general nodded. "On the scientific front, Major - how is your work progressing?"
"Temporary setback, sir," Sam reported. "The Tok'ra device seems to replicate Nirrti's results, but…."
"But?" Jack pounced.
"We can't seem to stabilize the effect," Sam frowned. "Not for more than a few seconds. And it takes a tremendous amount of power. More than whatever Nirrti was using, given she carried her device on her person."
"And you think you know why," Daniel said thoughtfully. That wasn't Sam's "don't have a solution yet" frown. That was a "just checked the calculations, and that's not the result we were supposed to get" grimace.
And how much of that was scientific uncertainty, and how much personal, probably even Sam didn't know. In a way, Aldwin was the easier of the two Tok'ra to deal with. SG-1 didn't like him, he wasn't that fond of Tau'ri - they worked together because they each had their orders, and that was that.
Martouf, though… that was complicated. He and Lantash had loved Jolinar, and her former host. Feelings which seemed to have been transferred to Sam… sort of. Either that, or the Tok'ra definition of love included a willingness to lie and deceive your significant other in ways that would make the most committed marriage break up. Add that to Sam's own conflicting feelings about Jolinar's possession-
Rape, Daniel thought; suddenly, coldly angry. Call it what it was. Jolinar invaded her. Used her. Terrified Cassie, almost got Sam killed… and she'll never, ever be the same.
If that wasn't rape, it was damn close.
Jack's right. He is so right. I don't like Martouf being here, either.
"I think," Sam said carefully, "that we can safely conclude that Nirrti's cloaking device works by shifting something out of phase; either the whole object, or a camouflaging layer around it, I'm not sure which. The Tok'ra device isn't doing that."
"Invisible pennies," Jack pointed out.
"Oh, it does make small objects invisible, briefly," Sam agreed, "but if my readings and calculations are right, it's doing that by pushing the object out of our dimensional space, into another subset of its strings' dimensions. And it takes so much power, because those dimensions are pushing back. Or our dimensional space is pulling it back like a rubber band, I can't tell…."
Outside our dimensions. Matter appearing and disappearing…. Struck by a sudden thought, Daniel dropped his pen. Stared. No way.
"Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c looked mildly worried.
"Is it hot when it comes back?" Daniel said abruptly.
Sam blinked, shaking herself out of a haze of concentration. "Yes. Yes, it is. Daniel?"
"This is going to sound a little bizarre, but… we've got reports of phantoms, and cold spots - and we've got matter appearing out of thin air. Or reappearing, which still fits-" Daniel stopped, took a breath, and tried to put his thoughts in order. "Sam, have you ever heard of an apport?"
"No," she said honestly.
"Let me guess," Jack quipped. "Ghosts?"
"It's more associated with psychics and mediums, actually," Daniel admitted, feeling his face redden. "Producing objects that didn't seem to be there before. Sometimes they're real things - rocks, pennies, what have you - that were verifiably feet or even miles away. Sometimes, they literally don't seem to have existed before the psychic pulled them out of the air. Or the poltergeist threw them at someone."
"Poltergeist, son?" Hammond said skeptically.
"I know what it sounds like." Daniel licked his lips, wishing he were anywhere else. "But that pushing and pulling Sam mentioned? It sounds like some of the descriptions I read, of people dealing with apports. Which are associated with perfectly sane people seeing things, and unexplained temperature drops, and… well." Great. Now I sound like I ought to be slammed back into the loony bin.
Which was almost enough to have kept him from mentioning it. Almost. But these were his friends. If there was any chance he was right… poltergeists were on record as being dangerous, sometimes.
"We have had alien entities pretending to be spirits in the past, sir," Sam pointed out.
Angel, Sam. Daniel hid a sigh of relief. You're an angel.
"Noted," the general nodded. "If this does have similarities to an observed phenomenon, no matter how unusual… Dr. Jackson, can you sift out what may have some degree of scientific merit?"
"There's not much, but I have a few studies," Daniel nodded. "They're in my office. We could stop by there afterward. Or I could bring them down to the lab?"
"Your office is fine," Sam nodded. "I need some time to think, away from the circuitry." She turned back to the general. "I'll know more after I have a chance to review what Daniel found, but currently, I have two major concerns."
"Just two?" Jack muttered.
"Jack," Daniel murmured.
"Go on," Hammond nodded.
"First," Sam started, "if we're going to get this to work, I think it's going to take a lot of power. A jolt powerful enough to run the Stargate comes to mind."
"Yeowch." Jack winced. "Not the kind of juice we want to let the Tok'ra play with if they don't know what they're doing."
"Sir, I didn't say-"
Jack raised an eyebrow.
"Though that does lead to my second concern," Sam admitted, looking the general in the eye. "If we do use enough power to overcome the dimensional resistance - I'm not sure we'll be able to get whatever we transfer back."
"Or in other words, don't ask for volunteers on this one, General," Jack said lightly.
"Indeed," Teal'c agreed. "It is not an invisibility device."
"But do the Tok'ra know that?" Daniel pointed out.
"They do, or they don't," Jack stated. "Either way? Not good."
"He's right, sir," Sam sighed. "Invisible is here, but you can't see it. This - this is pushing things somewhere else. Somewhere we know nothing about. Which makes me a little uneasy about continuing the current series of tests."
Ya think? was on the tip of Daniel's tongue. At least with the Stargate, they'd been able to send a MALP through first - and once they'd done that, they were pretty sure Abydos obeyed the same physical laws as the rest of the known universe. Somewhere that might not - brr.
And yet, at the same time, the archaeologist felt a thrill he'd been missing for… a long time. Someplace else. Someplace new - and yet old at the same time, if myths of the spirit world had any basis in reality. And why shouldn't they? Ra had been real; why not a world beyond human senses?
Then again, if it did… the denizens of the spirit world weren't always kind to stray mortals….
Recalling some of the darker stories, Daniel shivered.
"Honestly, sir, we should shut it all down now, go over all the calculations and data, and reexamine all of our theories," Sam stated. "Playing with dimensions we normally never interact with might be perfectly safe. Or, it might set off a reaction that would leave the SGC a smoking hole in the ground. I don't know."
"Given how rarely you say that, Major, I agree." Hammond interlaced his fingers. "There's no reason such experimental research can't wait a day or two for more analysis."
"A day or two, sir?" Sam said, dismayed.
"Do you think you'll need more time to find a definite hazard, Major?"
"We've got to at least look like we're playing nice," Jack smirked.
Daniel frowned. "General, Aldwin and Martouf have a pretty decent scientific background." If they didn't, the Council wouldn't have sent them. "They'll be able to judge the likelihood of any potential hazards Sam finds." And if we really want an alliance with the Tok'ra, what do you think they're going to do when they realize we're stonewalling them?
"We'll cross that bridge when we come to it, Dr. Jackson."
More like, burn it, Daniel thought, spending a few extra seconds shuffling his notes together as the meeting broke up. Buying time to think. What's wrong with everyone?
Not just the rest of SG-1, Daniel realized, feeling another irrational spike of anger as he and Sam reached his office. Sure, he hated what Jolinar had done, but feeling like he ought to hunt down and strangle Martouf-
Poltergeists feed off of negative emotions.
Or were attracted by them; people in the field had wildly different opinions. But they did agree that a lot of poltergeist phenomena seemed calculated to unnerve people. Make them upset. Not thinking straight.
Given what the SGC had to deal with every day…. Oh, this is not good.
"Not a lot." Sam frowned at the slim stack he handed her.
"Most evidence is anecdotal," Daniel admitted. "Which, as one researcher pointed out, doesn't keep people from studying the weather. But it does mean the reputable people in the field want very solid evidence. Like meteorites."
Sam eyed him, puzzled. "What do meteorites have to do with weather?"
And this from an astrophysicist? "Up until at least the eighteenth century, everything that fell out of the sky was weather," Daniel reminded her, frowning a little. He'd looked up the history - deep-space radar telemetry was the SGC's cover, after all, it'd be silly if he knew nothing about the subject. Sam should be able to remember this in her sleep. "There's an interesting account of solid, reliable people swearing they'd seen falling stars, and bringing in a lump of rock to prove it. Only to be branded liars by the scientific authority of their day, because everyone knew it was impossible for rocks to fall from the sky."
"So people working on psychic phenomena think it's like meteors?" Sam looked at the papers again, with real interest. "Real, but we don't have the theoretical framework to explain it?"
"That's the idea. In fact-"
Someone knocked on the door. "Dr. Jackson?" The airman handed over an odd meter, and its manual. "You requested this."
"I did, yes." Daniel signed for it. "Thanks."
"What are you doing with a geomagnetometer?" Interest had drained out of Sam's eyes, left them skeptical and angry.
"Looking for unexplained DC spikes?" Daniel gave her his most innocent smile. Something's wrong. Way wrong.
"Do you even know how to use that?" Sam snatched the manual out of his hand, flipping through.
"Actually-" Archaeology and geology go on a lot of the same trips, he meant to say.
"Well, don't ask me if you get stuck. Get one of the rock people." She dropped the manual on his desk.
"I'll do that. Sam-" Daniel hesitated. "Are you feeling all right?"
"What kind of question is that?" Shaking her head, Sam stalked out the door.
"Really, really wrong," Daniel muttered under his breath. One minute she was there, thinking, if not clearly; the next, that weird anger had taken over completely. Gods, how do I fix this?
One step at a time. First, try to get proof. The SGC might not believe in ghosts, hauntings, or otherwise unexplained phenomena. But if he could document unexplained DC spikes - like, say, ones strong enough to be causing hallucinations - then Sam would have a reason to shut down the testing.
And if they could manage that… well, maybe everyone would calm down enough to figure out what to do next.
Determined, he picked up the meter, and headed out.
Sergeant Siler nodded, hefting one of his heavier wrenches as he glanced around a mostly-empty corridor, one level above the labs. "Sure you don't want me to stick around? Something about the way this place feels lately…."
"I'll be fine," Daniel said firmly. Thought twice about it. "Though if you wouldn't mind asking Teal'c to head over this way in an hour or so?"
"Good level head, that man," Siler agreed. "Will do, Dr. Jackson."
Alone with his thoughts and the low hum of the magnetometer, Daniel took measurements around the hall. A few airmen had reported this spot as unusually cold, it was near the labs, and Siler didn't like it. Sounded like a good place to start.
Nothing jumped out at him from the readings… but the meter's memory would store everything. Maybe a replay on more powerful computers might show something.
Though maybe they'd just show normal human magnetic readings, given an irritated lieutenant - Belson, by nametag - was stalking down the hall toward him with murder in his eyes. "This," Belson hissed, "this is all your fault."
"That could cover a lot of ground," Daniel observed, trying to seem friendly. "Which this did you have in mind? Urk!"
He dodged. And the lieutenant's fist crumbled a hole in the wall.
No glowing eyes. No reverberating voice. But what else could let a human being do that? "Who are you?"
"Who am I?" the possessed lieutenant demanded, striking with another of those swift, bone-crushing punches. And another, and another. "Who do you think you are, bringing aliens to Earth, making us work with them - they're going to take over, and we're all going to die-!"
It felt like he'd been hit with a sledgehammer. Like Teal'c with a sledgehammer. Which was insane.
Fingers. Gripping his neck. Squeezing.
Daniel fought back, clawing and twisting. Some of it he'd learned from Teal'c, and some from Jack - but the fingers still held, and vision was flashing red-black.
Someday, Sam, I'm going to be glad you taught me this.
His thumb dug in, and gouged deep.
A pain-filled yell, and Belson flung him away. Daniel crashed into the wall, seeing stars, head reeling as he gasped for air. Glanced up, to see where the lieutenant had-
There was something behind the bleeding man. Something huge, and shadowy, and vaguely reminiscent of a humanoid lizard. If lizards had blades for hands, and eyes that glowed red as any symbiote's.
Bladed arms lifted like a preying mantis', just before a strike.
Daniel tackled Belson away from that swoop of blades, feeling a sudden breeze as one slashed open his shirt.
And then Belson's hands were wrapped around his throat. Again.
"You're one of them!" the lieutenant rasped, apparently blind to the monster stalking them both. "Kill you, before you kill us all!"
And then he blinked, and jerked, for all the world as if someone had kicked him in the head. Hard.
Screeching, the shadow-creature leaped-
And swerved in midair, as if dodging something Daniel couldn't see. Bladed arms swung and halted, swung again-
Parrying? Daniel squirmed out of the lieutenant's loosened grip. Scrabbled to his feet. Time to call for backup. Even if he had to run across where the monster had appeared; it was just a floor, and the monster wasn't there now-
"No!" The voice was oddly faint, and vaguely familiar. "Not that way-!"
One more step, and he plunged into icy water.
Not water. Though what it was, Daniel couldn't have said. Everything was shadowed; upside-down, and dark as if it'd never been touched by so much as a candle flame. Yet he could see every detail of the corridor as he floated in midair… that wasn't air. Air you could breathe, and he couldn't, even as something alien and unknowable dragged him down, crushing him like the depths of the sea.
Like drowning… it's this place, it's not the SGC… Sam's alternate dimensions? I shouldn't be here….
A hand grabbed his, warm against the darkness. Yanked.
Coughing and sputtering, Daniel tried to climb out of the well of other. Felt his hands slip through the… floor?
The floor's fluid. Like water. The archaeologist's eyes bugged as he tried to fight free. Gods, the world's insane.
"Stop thrashing, damn it!" A young man's voice, worried and angry. "You won't get out on your own. And you're not exactly light!"
…I've been saved by a vampire.
Not exactly rational, much less scientific. Not to mention that the hand gripping his was warm, without any pallor of the grave. And yet, the young man holding him had hair black enough to make Night envious, eyes a deep, inhuman ruby, a poet's white shirt with an odd red cross on one lapel, under a sleeveless dark coat that belonged to another century, and no shadow….
Though the romantic vampire look was sort of jarred by the black, silver-buckled dog collar around his throat, the lone silver earring in his left ear, and the multiply-buckled black boots. Boots with a heavy, distinctly modern tread, that was a suspiciously good match to the red mark blooming on Belson's jaw.
"Heavy only makes a difference if you let it." A light, laughing voice - yet serious all the same, as a tall man in a long dark coat fended off the shadow-creature with slashing blows of his cane, inhumanly long silver braid floating in the wind of his strikes.
"Thrashing doesn't," the young vampire griped, for all the worlds sounding like a cranky teenager.
Teenager. Collar. Earring. Daniel blinked, realizing just where he'd seen that face before. "Akira? Akira Nikaidou?"
"Damn," the teenager breathed. Red eyes widened. "Duck!"
Daniel sloshed sideways, as Akira's free hand lashed out, catching Belson's fist before it could strike… and before the lieutenant could plunge into the same dark well. "Shirogane!" Akira yelled.
"Busy!" floated back, as the silver-haired man plunged his blue-glowing cane through a shadow's heart, shattering it in red sparks. He ducked, and twirled, dodging three more of the creatures.
"Multiplying. Great," Akira snarled, flinging the lieutenant back with an effortless ease Teal'c might have envied.
"Let go, and you can-" Daniel started.
"If I let go, you'll fall. If you fall back into the shadows, you'll die." Akira's eyes narrowed, thinking fast. "He hates you? Play dead."
And how much good is that going to do when he can hear you? But Daniel let himself go limp, barely peeking out of shut eyes. For some odd reason, Belson still wasn't focused on the kid who'd hit him….
And the lieutenant actually relaxed, laughing with a manic edge as he stalked toward them. "Over. It's all over, you'll never help them again…."
Akira lunged. Fingers sinking into Belson's chest, as if flesh were rippling water.
Yanked back, dragging something shadowy, with a centipede's wealth of legs, writhing and shrieking out of him. Belson collapsed.
One hand full of archaeologist, the other of shrieking monster, Akira grimaced. And tossed the monster up.
"Oh, no-" Daniel started to protest.
Akira's left hand shifted - and a hunting knife shimmered into existence, slicing through shadow. The creature squealed, and disintegrated.
"Neatly done." Not a hair out of place, Shirogane strolled over to them. "My, this is unfortunate."
"He needs help," Akira said, low and urgent.
Shirogane dropped fluidly into a crouch beside them, regarding the archaeologist through antique dark lenses that didn't hide a wry sympathy. "You saw his shadow shatter. You can keep him alive a little longer, but there's only one thing that will help him now."
Akira gave him a shaky sigh. "Can you do it?"
"Hmm. What is your name?" Shirogane raised oddly dark brows.
He has sapphire stud earrings, Daniel saw. Which only made him seem more odd. "Daniel. Dr. Daniel Jackson-"
"Oh dear." Shirogane shook his head, and glanced at Akira, bright blue eyes amused. "You saved him. He's your responsibility."
"But, I can't-!"
"Yes," Shirogane nodded, utterly serious. "You can."
"He can what?" Daniel burst out. "My shadow shattered? That's crazy! Shadows don't - they can't…." Words died in his throat, as he took in the utter impossibility before him. Not his imagination. Not a trick of the light.
"…You don't have shadows…."
"We are shadows." Shirogane's pale pink lips bent in a slight, knowing smile. "We are shin. As you must be, if you're to survive."
"There's no time!" Akira pulled him a little farther out of the floor. "I'll explain later, I promise - but a shin can survive without a shadow. A human can't." He shook his head. "Daniel, will you trust me?"
"Trust you?" Daniel shot back. "You broke into the SGC-"
"To stop the kokuchi. To keep people from getting hurt. Like he did." Akira jerked his head toward Belson. "Like you did."
"Just tell me what's going on!" Daniel bit out.
"The wall between the worlds has been torn, Dr. Jackson," Shirogane said bluntly. "And we must mend it, before everyone in this mountain dies."
Other dimensions. Forcing things out of our world. "I'm in," Daniel sighed.
Akira smiled warily at him, and drove one of his knives into the floor.
And the world was light.
"Listen! Seed that is sleeping within your heart…."
The words weren't English or Japanese. They were something else. Something older.
"I am a shadow of everything created. I am one who tunes Heaven and Earth."
Light blazed in spirals around the trapped archaeologist, lifting him into the air. Oh, this was a bad idea….
"Black flame blowing forth from the other world…." Something glowed in Akira's hands, glowed through them, red and alien as the monsters' eyes. "The seal of true darkness…." Akira stepped into the column of light. "Engrave thyself, here!"
It was oddly like a kiss of peace, Daniel felt, as Akira's lips touched his forehead. Formal, ritualistic-
And… why was he vibrating inside? As if every cell were being shaken, altered, into something cool and alien….
Vibrating… other dimensions… didn't Sam say what we think are particles, might be just vibrations of the superstrings-
Tuning, Akira thought, dazed by the power flooding through him. Good word for it.
It was like reaching out and molding static with his bare hands. Gathering up a scatter of frequencies like matchsticks, and aligning the random array into a crystalline strength that could hold a mountain. The amorphous energies of a dying, dark inshi were there, and if he just reached-
A shin's pure shadow glowed in his mind; narrow-focused as a laser, and far more deadly.
Mine! My child, my… what am I thinking?
Shaking his head, Akira reeled. Shirogane's hand gripped his shoulder, kept him from falling. "Well done," his friend murmured.
"You made it look easy," Akira muttered back.
"Did I?" Shirogane smiled. "Well met, Dr. Jackson."
"This," the man said shakily, "had better be one hell of an explanation."
Curious, Akira glanced his way. And stifled a snicker. Near-white blond hair, red-orange eyes - not too outlandish, as shin went. But the clothes, complete with whip, pistol, and fedora….
"I'm an archaeologist," Daniel said dryly. "Not Indiana Jones!"
Shirogane didn't quite chuckle, but blue eyes were devilishly bright. "Don't blame Akira for the outfit. The change can only work with what's already there."
"Likely story- Whoa!" Daniel jumped back from the dark tear. "Where did that come from?"
"Why, that's what you fell into," Shirogane said innocently. "Despite Akira's best efforts to prevent you."
Ah, the Aura of Blame, Akira reflected with a tired smile. He's so good at that. "It's a tear in the boundary. Between the world of light - the world you know - and the world of shadow. If we don't mend it… it'll be bad."
"Bad. As in, giant blade-handed lizards?" Daniel said pointedly. "Or whatever you dragged out of Lieutenant Belson?"
"Believe me, the kokuchi are the least of what could happen," Shirogane said frankly. "They can be fought. And destroyed. Other effects… are more difficult to undo. And more deadly."
"Kokuchi?" Daniel frowned. "You used that word before… which of them was it?"
"They both were," Akira shrugged. "Shirogane was dealing with combat-type kokuchi. The one in… Belson? That was a parasite kokuchi. Try not to blame him too much. They get inside a human, and make them go after… destructive things. He might not even remember any of this tomorrow." Belatedly, Akira eyed the blood. "Though he's going to notice that."
"Possibly not." Shirogane bent over the fallen man a moment; stood up, darkness dissipating from his hand as the man's bloody flesh smoothed into a simple bruise. "There. That should handle most of the questions. Dr. Jackson, please step away from the boundary… Akira? I could seal this alone, but it would be easier with two."
Akira nodded, kneeling at the near side of the tear as Shirogane skirted the darkness to its far edge. One hand on the floor, feeling how light and dark were torn here, how they should be….
"Our hands are the healers of zero; the mirror which divides heaven and earth."
Another flood of power, and… he was tired this time.
Braid trailing on the floor, Shirogane smiled encouragement at him.
I can do this, Akira told himself. I will do this.
"Light must stay in light, and dark in dark."
Molding static all over again; only this was a more gentle sifting, parting the cacophony into a pair of intertwined melodies.
Hold on. Just a little longer. It's closing….
"Return to your own master. Seal!"
Oh. Solid floor. Nice.
"Is he okay?" Daniel's footsteps, nearing quickly.
Loud footsteps. Akira winced, as they rung in his skull like gongs. You're shin. Gravity. Doesn't hold. Figure it out.
Silent as shadow, Shirogane still got there first. Akira wasn't surprised. "I think he overdid it a little." The shadow king picked him up, easily as a bouquet of flowers. "Forgive me. That was a bit much, all at once."
"Mmph." Akira let his head roll into Shirogane's shoulder. The silver-haired shin always smelled nice; like evening rain and moonlight and the shade of trees. "I'm okay." And… this was altogether too embarrassing a position, if Shirogane decided to turn playful flirt. Again.
But his friend's hold didn't even stray toward a caress, as Shirogane kept a watchful eye on Daniel. "He will be fine. Soon. Now, I believe you were owed an explanation-"
"You could start with why you don't want anyone to know you're here," Daniel said levelly. "From what I've seen, you don't even want people to know this happened."
"Put me down," Akira said in an undertone. Eyed Daniel as he stood - and if Shirogane was still propping him up, well, he could live with that. "Most people will never know anything happened. They don't want to. Trust me."
Red-orange was stubborn. "That's not how we do things here."
Fine. Good glare. It still wasn't half as bad as Aya's in a bad mood. Much less Homurabi's. "In case you hadn't noticed," Akira said, feeling his temper start to fray at the edges, "we aren't, exactly, here!"
"We're still in the SGC-" Daniel stopped, and looked around. "Aren't we?"
"Not what I meant," Akira groaned. "Look… can we find someplace to talk? I get annoyed when people look through me."
"Look- We're invisible?"
"Obscure," Shirogane said cheerfully. "There's a difference." He tipped his hat. "Perhaps we might talk over lunch? It's been a very long morning."