Hammond raised an eyebrow, careful to keep his face neutral. Despite the casualty lists piling up on his desk, there was a certain grim humor to be found in watching the calm, logical, galactically civilized Tok'ra scared out of their blended minds. "May I remind you we're still investigating this incident? Your input would be-"
"We are leaving." Lantash, wide-eyed and shaken. "The High Council must know there exists something… capable of interfering with a blending. We must return to report."
"We would appreciate your assistance," Hammond said plainly. "But in the interests of the Earth-Tok'ra alliance - Godspeed, gentlemen." He paused. "However. Given that we have determined this so-called invisibility prototype was the source of this disaster, I'm afraid that will be staying. Here."
They argued, but not for long. Aldwin kept jumping at shadows, and Lantash….
Lantash hadn't let Martouf speak once. Curious.
The SGC's unwelcome allies finally departed, and Hammond could at last give the status reports the attention they deserved. The facts were grim. Facility damage, casualties, fatalities….
It could have been worse. Much worse.
And it would have been, if not for the brave young people currently under Janet's care. People who claimed to be natives of Earth, yet could accomplish things no human was capable of. Including waltzing through Cheyenne Mountain security as if it didn't exist.
Just what are these shin?
Jack eyed the still-frazzled doc as she laid her results on the general's desk. Apparently last night's overall lack of alarms had barely taken the edge off the damage yesterday had done. To everyone.
Surreptitiously, he eyed the rest of his team, currently crowding the general's office. Teal'c looked intrigued, Danny relieved, and Sam-
Sam had her face buried in a mug of extra-strength coffee, deliberately not fingering the bandage on her neck.
"You're sure?" Hammond frowned. "May I remind you we all saw blue, Doctor?"
"Apparently, that's what hemoglobin does, working under the physical laws of the universe applicable to shin and kokuchi," Janet said plainly. "I've had plenty of chances to check. Did you know the dopplegangers are only effective to about eighteen feet? Past that - well, any lab tech who can't see kokuchi thinks I'm holding a vial of air. Really weirds people out when I move it in and out of that radius." She shrugged. "They have a few added blood proteins, an enlarged reticular formation - Akira can probably see Reetou - and who knows what else we might find. But genetically, they are human. Even Shirogane."
"Shirogane doesn't seem to think he's human," Jack pointed out.
"That's probably more cultural than anything else," Daniel put in. "Like Tau'ri and the Tollans. If you could do what we've seen shin do, and you were responsible for keeping a balance the rest of the world doesn't even know exists… Shirogane just doesn't have much in common with most people." Daniel stared at the surface of his coffee. "He must be very lonely."
Lonely enough to make you something else, Jack almost snarled. I do not like him. Not one little bit.
"I appreciate your empathy for the man, Dr. Jackson, but the idea is to prevent another such invasion," Hammond said bluntly.
"It's related, General." Daniel looked up. "Because given all the magnetic fields we've got in the SGC, between the MRIs to check for Goa'uld and all our other equipment, if we want to keep kokuchi out of the base, we need to be sure there's enough shin to maintain the boundary. All over the planet." Daniel paused, and let out a deliberate breath. "Which might be tough. Because right now, General, I think most of the surviving shin are down in our infirmary."
That got Sam to look up. "They're it?" she said in disbelief. "That's all there are? Shirogane, Akira, Shuichi, and Kou?"
"And me, and a pink-haired menace called Lulu," Daniel said plainly. "I think so, yes. Only, less than that. Shuichi's an adept, not a shin. And not Kou."
"Danny, we all saw him fight," Jack pointed out.
"With a lot of the same abilities, yes," Daniel acknowledged. "But when Akira sensed them show up, he said it wasn't a shin. And then he - um - mentioned Kou specifically."
Mentioned, as in lambasted curses on, sounded like. Huh.
"Everything in the world of light is supposed to have a counterpart in shadow," Daniel went on. "Shirogane said shin had less direct counterparts than humans, and Akira said Homurabi killed shin and their allies, trying to destabilize the worlds." He spread a hand. "I think Kou is one of those allies."
"Homurabi being this… second king of the shin," Hammond stated, consulting Daniel's report.
Which was proof right there Danny needed a keeper. Who in their right minds would have stayed up after yesterday to write a report?
"The one reading the world domination handbook, yes," Daniel nodded. "From what Akira isn't telling me, I think there might be more shin out there. Hiding. The way Shirogane did."
"Until he could position himself to take the guy out," Jack said darkly. "Did I mention I don't like the idea of using teenage kids to do that?"
"People Akira's age fight on Abydos, Jack. And plenty of places here on Earth, not so long ago," Daniel pointed out. "And once Akira was a shin, Shirogane didn't have a choice to leave him out of it. Homurabi would have hunted him down, just for being a shin not under his control. That's one reason I think they are almost all the shin. There's nobody left to protect the noncombatants. Not from Homurabi; not even from kokuchi." The archaeologist shook his head. "Not that Shirogane would have left Akira out of it, anyway. He's got way too much to learn, and no time to do it."
Jack added that, and how he'd seen those two interacting, and shot Danny an incredulous look. "You've got to be kidding. That little punk of a kid?"
"That punk," Daniel said with just a slight edge in his voice, "knows more than I do about string theory. Picks up what Shirogane does with the shadows almost as fast as he does it. Cares about his people. Even cares about a shin who tried to kill him - Lulu was one of Homurabi's, and she really doesn't like humans. Maybe he's a little rough around the edges-"
"A little?" Jack said skeptically.
"Anyway, when it comes down to it, it doesn't matter what we think. Shirogane thinks he's right for the job. Or he'd be holding the energy-bond on me, instead of Akira."
And exactly how that made sense, Jack never got to ask. The general's phone rang, Hammond answered - and paused, for a very long moment. "That would be the front gate." Hammond eyed his 2IC. "Dr. Catherine Langford is here to see you."
"We should get out of here," Akira muttered, gingerly prying himself out of the infirmary bed with Shirogane's wounded help. Shuichi had had to save most of his strength for sealing, not healing. And Kou wasn't any good at either. "We should get out, now."
"Why?" Kengo hovered nearby, obviously torn between wanting to hold Akira up and keeping an eye out for security and stray nurses. "These are the good guys!"
"But they're a secret. And now we know it." Aya swallowed, worried. "No one else knows where we are. We don't even have passports."
"They're right, Ken," Kou said; serious for once. "This is no place for people like us to stick around. Right, Master?"
"And if we leave, and they're not convinced to abandon this device which breaches the boundary?" Shuichi stated. "We'll only get one chance to convince them."
"Then the four of you should go," Akira argued. "Shirogane and I can leave anytime. You-"
"We want to stay with you, Akira," Kengo said stubbornly. "We've got your back. Remember?"
Akira clapped a hand to his forehead, fighting an odd desire to smile. No point in encouraging Kengo. His friend's enthusiasm could power half of Tokyo. "Shirogane…."
"They should stay." The silver-haired shin's voice was level and cold, the way it only got when things were deadly serious. "We may need their power, if the SGC proves… unreasonable. To eliminate any trace that we were ever here."
"You can't just change what people remember!" Aya protested.
You can, Akira thought, chilled by the gravity of blue eyes, pupils narrowed to deadly cat-slits. If there's no one left to remember. "Shirogane…."
"If we are destroyed, the balance is lost," the king of the shin said bluntly. "I cannot allow that."
And they have my name. They can find me - and that would let them find everyone. Unless we all want to live the rest of our lives in the shadows… and Aya can't do that…. Akira swallowed, and nodded. "Whatever it takes."
"You don't have to," Shirogane began.
"Ch'! I'm your partner." Akira glared at him. "Kengo and Aya are my people."
Shirogane inclined his head. "So they are."
"Hey! What about me?" Kou grinned.
"You, can look after yourself," Akira grumbled. "If the Yakuza can't shut you down, I know you can dodge the American government…."
Something shimmered on the edge of his senses. Something he'd never felt before, yet oddly familiar. "Master," Shirogane breathed; eyes bright, normal again. "Can it be?"
"Yes." Even the rei king's calm voice held excitement. "I believe it is."
"What?" Kengo asked, confused. "Akira?"
"Company," Akira warned, placing himself in front of Shirogane to meet Dr. Fraiser's glare head-on.
"You shouldn't be out of bed," the doctor said bluntly. Glared at Shirogane anyway. "Neither of you."
"Ah. Well, dear lady," Shirogane started.
"I am not your dear anything, Mr. Shirogane. And as for you, Akira-"
"I've had worse," Akira interrupted.
"Oh, have you." A familiar voice, though the angry worry in it was new. "And why haven't I heard of this before, Akira?"
Akira stared, wide-eyed, as the graceful elderly lady followed Dr. Fraiser in. "Oba-san?" Swallowed hard, and switched back to English. "Aunt Catherine?"
"Oh dear," Shirogane murmured.
Shuichi stifled a chuckle. "You're in trouble, old friend."
"Indeed," Catherine Langford said dryly. "Someone had better have a very good explanation…." Her voice trailed off, and she paled. "I know you."
"Ah, likely not," Shirogane protested.
"Germany, 1932. You were arguing with my grandfather. Telling him to get out, before the humans caught his family up in another war." She gazed at Shirogane with mingled curiosity and horror. "What on earth is a rei?"
"A rei," Shuichi Wagatsuma said gravely, seated beside Shirogane under Catherine's disapproving eye, "is a shin's counterpart."
You split up so there's at least one shin with each group, meaning everybody's got a way out, Jack calculated, lounging back in a conference room chair. Smart. Just what I'd do, if I didn't trust me. Which you don't, given how you feel about Tok'ra.
Fair was fair; he didn't trust them, either. Which was exactly why he had Daniel up here, where he could keep an eye on the errant archaeologist - and Sam and Teal'c down in the infirmary.
Though to be honest, given how good Goa'uld were at taking over places… maybe he couldn't blame Shirogane. Too much.
Wonder if Danny's noticed the tactics? "So what's that mean, exactly?" Jack asked. "Knock off a rei, kill a shin at the same time?"
"Colonel!" Catherine's fingers clenched on the edge of the table.
"Hey, somebody had to ask," Jack shrugged. "Though I'm guessing not, given what Homurabi tried to pull."
"You are correct," Shirogane inclined his head. "The connection is not nearly so direct. It's simply that for the worlds to be in balance, the number of rei and shin should be roughly equal."
"And what has that to do with my grandfather?" Catherine asked tartly. "Or what you've done with Akira? His shadow-" She shook her head, unwilling to say more.
"Looks odd?" Shirogane offered. "As does mine?"
"And Daniel's," she whispered. "What have you done?"
"You can see that?" Daniel blurted out. "How?"
Frankly, Jack would have been more inclined to ask what. Given he didn't see anything besides regular shadows.
"For the same reason Wilhelm Langford's records were never as legal as the authorities thought," Shirogane stated. "He was rei, who fled the war and hid himself as a human. I tried to persuade him to return. To at least warn his children what they were, and what deadly legacy he'd left them."
Catherine straightened. "Tell me."
"And no evasions," Shuichi put in before Shirogane could speak. "Akira will hound you until doomsday to get a straight answer… and while I know you think that's fun, it's a bit hard on the rest of us."
Shirogane looked woefully distraught. Sighed, and shrugged. "On this side, kokuchi attack humans. But they tend to attack those with an inshi, first. Which means, unless they're guarded, descendents of rei or shin tend to die in… accidents."
Accidents. Jack glanced at Daniel, and knew by his pallor just what conclusion he'd jumped to. You couldn't be made a shin without an inshi, and if to have an inshi someone in your family tree had to be a shin… hoo, boy.
"Jason?" Catherine breathed. "Does Akira know?"
"He doesn't talk about his father," Shirogane shook his head. "If the death was as you imply - well. It may have been an accident, in truth. Or…." He glanced aside. "Homurabi determined two decades ago that I was likely to be in Japan. He went to a great deal of effort to find any in that land with an inshi. I still don't believe that first tear at Akira's school was an accident. Not with Nanaya and Lulu showing up so soon afterward."
Catherine's gaze never wavered. "So some of these… kokuchi… attacked Akira."
"And Kengo, and Aya," Shirogane nodded. "You'd have been proud, Miss Catherine. Akira managed to hold them off with a shinai. For a little while. Long enough for me to get there. Unfortunately-"
"Shirogane's not the most reassuring of people, even when he isn't spitting kokuchi on that stick of his," Shuichi put in. "I might have panicked as well, I think."
"Cane," Shirogane stated.
"Ah, yes. The elegant stick."
"I think I'm missing something," Daniel put in, still pale. "If Akira's Catherine's cousin, wouldn't that make him a rei?"
"Under ordinary circumstances," Shuichi agreed. "Yes. He should have been. But the surviving king of the rei has hidden himself very well. And once Akira fell through the tear, there wasn't time to track him down. Shirogane took a chance. It worked… though Akira was quite fragile for some time."
Catherine's hand crept near her heart. "He was ill? He didn't tell me."
"He didn't know," Shirogane admitted. "He only knew that other shin had him badly outmatched. The odds were so much against us already…." He smiled. "He's doing well now."
"Well?" Catherine said bitterly. "Akane only called me because she didn't wish Colonel O'Neill to contact Midori. It wouldn't be good for the company, that sort of attention. She didn't even believe Akira was here!"
Shirogane and Shuichi shared a glance. The blind man grimaced, and Shirogane sighed.
"Not news to you," Jack stated.
"No," Shuichi said plainly. "No, I'm afraid not."
"Oh god." Catherine's eyes closed. "Tell me she's not abandoning him again."
"Again?" Hammond said pointedly, beating Jack to it.
Catherine winced. "Jason died when Akira was eight. I found out some weeks later, when a letter arrived in the mail. From Akira." She stopped, reluctant to talk. "When I arrived… Akane's not uncaring, she's simply not… maternal. Jason had always been the parent in the house, and…." Fingers clenched. "She promised me she wouldn't do that again!"
"I have no idea if she is," Shirogane said levelly. "The bills are paid. She visits twice a month to see if he's intact… well, usually twice a month." A rueful smile. "And terrifying the school into ignoring Akira's absences so he'd stop rebelling by being absent didn't work, but that's not her fault. Chihara-sensei actually cares if Akira's there or not. Even if he does turn in the work on time."
Catherine muttered something very uncomplimentary in German.
"So, what? You're the only responsible person in the kid's life?" Jack said skeptically.
"Of course not." That smile of dark mischief was back. "Akira can't stand responsible people. Responsible people, he's told, will take care of him, and so he should do what they say. Only they never do. They die on him. They leave him. Or - forgive me, Miss Catherine - they're too far away to make a difference." A shrug, that only looked casual. "I pester him. I drag him into danger. I tell him he can choose to try to push his friends out of the battle, but that won't keep them safe. So he has to find another way. He has to make sure they can take care of themselves in combat, as much as they can. He has to judge their strengths, and weaknesses, and how best to use both with his own. I am certainly not responsible."
"Isn't that the truth," Shuichi sighed. Laid his hands atop one another on the table, and regarded Hammond with closed eyes. "What do you intend to do about the Tok'ra research?"
The general grimaced. "I've confiscated the original equipment, and I can ban any more experiments here. But in all honesty, Mr. Wagatsuma, there's nothing I can do about their work off the planet."
"Maybe there is," Daniel said thoughtfully. "I think I know what they were trying to do."
"What, cracking physics books in your spare time?" Jack put in.
"Not the equations, Jack. The goal. I think." Daniel licked his lips. "Remember that night after we dealt with Heru'ur, and you were moving tokens on a world map trying to plan out how the original rebellion against Ra went down?"
"Exercise in frustration, yeah," Jack recalled grumpily. "Still don't know how we pulled it off. Egypt-era weapons against Jaffa and death gliders… even if you accepted one hell of a casualty rate, without a C3 structure…." He stopped. And eyed Shirogane all over again.
"C3?" Catherine frowned.
"Command, control, communications, Dr. Langford," Hammond informed her. "With it, you can win against overwhelming odds. Without it, even Goa'uld technology wouldn't be enough." And he was eyeing their guests with just as interested a look. "Japan, Dr, Jackson?"
"Akira went from here to there in maybe two minutes, if the clocks were right," Daniel said simply. "How's that change the scenario, Jack?"
"From no way in hell, to just maybe," Jack said thoughtfully. "Well?"
The shin inclined his head. "So our history records. There have never been many of us, but we were able to carry messages, and adepts, where they were needed most. Still. How would knowing this dissuade the Tok'ra from their efforts?"
"Because you couldn't help Abydos," Daniel said simply. "And I think I know why."
"Danny," Jack warned.
"I'm not offended, Colonel. The past cannot be changed. We could not reach Abydos to help, any more than you could without the Stargate," Shirogane said plainly. "Time and space bend for us in the shadows, but not that much. You can't shadow-walk through the airless gulf of stars. Everyone who's tried, has perished. Horribly."
"And that," Daniel said bluntly, "is what the Tok'ra are really trying to do. Find a way to get their spies into and out of ships and bases the System Lords can't stop. Only it won't work." He frowned, thoughtful "I bet that's why Ra tried to bomb Earth instead of take it over again. He might not have known what shin were, but he knew where you were. And where you couldn't get to, without the 'Gate."
"Well enough for you gentlemen and your plans for the galaxy," Catherine said angrily. "What about Akira?"
"Dr. Langford, this is a classified base," Hammond started.
"You can't keep him here!"
"Oh, quite literally," Shirogane murmured. "En merer-er ari-ef, mest'et'-ef an ari-nef."
Catherine started at that. Almost hid her glance at Daniel. Who was looking suspiciously bland.
Apparently reassured, she fixed her gaze on Shirogane. "An khena-ten ba-a, an saa-ten khabit-a, un aat en ba-a, en khabit-a."
"So it is," Shirogane nodded. "And so it will be." And added something else Jack couldn't quite catch.
"English?" Jack put in.
"She's just checking his bona fides." And Daniel still looked butter-wouldn't-melt innocent. Right.
Given how the general cleared his throat, Hammond was just as doubtful. "Dr. Langford?"
"General." Catherine looked as serious as he'd ever seen her; serious as the day he'd handed her back a medallion of Ra, and told her he couldn't tell her. "I would like to speak to these gentlemen. Alone."
"So, Daniel says you believe shadows aren't just the absence of light, but an actual physical manifestation of another dimension," Major Carter said skeptically. "Do you know how many laws of physics that would invalidate, if it were true? How do you think something like that even works?"
Kou grinned at her. "Magic, lovely lady! Magic. As is the way you're wearing that uniform…"
Sitting on the infirmary bed with Kengo and Aya, Akira groaned, trying not to listen any more.
"What are they saying?" Aya asked in Japanese.
"It's Kou," Akira said dryly. "What do you think he's saying?"
"So when's she going to hit him?" Kengo smirked.
"I thought I was doing well in English," Aya complained. "I hardly understand anything!"
"It's not like the books in school," Akira shrugged. "Try reading some American books. The rhythm is different. The way you ask a question. And there's a lot more words. Pick up a thesaurus sometime. You've got to see how many different words there are for red."
Silence, from his friends. Across the infirmary, Kou was snickering.
"You know what a thesaurus is?" Aya said in disbelief.
"Then why do you act like an idiot in school?" Brandishing her shinai, Aya radiated fury.
"Nothing to worry about!" Kou said hastily when Dr. Fraiser moved to head their way. "They're just complaining about homework. You know kids…."
Akira barely glanced at the doctor, saving his worry for the dark statue of a Jaffa observing them from a chair near the door. Even if his eyes hadn't been able to pick out the shifting in Teal'c's shadow when the larva moved, that symbol….
First Prime of Apophis.
Did the SGC have any idea what that meant? Did they know what this man must have done, to gain such favor in the eyes of the Goa'uld? Or worse - did they know, and just not care?
They're allied with some Goa'uld. Who call themselves Tok'ra. Who knows?
Shirogane would find out. He was sure of it. "I've told you. School is boring."
Aya got a calculating look in her eye, and he knew he was doomed. "Fine. Then why don't you teach us?"
"School's boring, so you want more of it?" Kengo gave her a wounded look. "What kind of sense is that?"
"What if these people get in trouble again, and Akira and Kou can't translate for us?" Aya shot back. "I'm not saying make it like school. Just practice talking. People speak English all over the world! What if we end up somewhere else where there's trouble?"
Oh no. No, no, no; Kengo was looking thoughtful, and that was never a good thing. "You didn't seem surprised," Akira said quickly. "That I was a shin again."
"Well, we were when Master told us," Aya admitted. "He said that last battle with Homurabi injured you, and - Shirogane didn't want to get anyone's hopes up."
"I think Kou knew," Kengo frowned. "He's been all 'I've got a secret' for weeks."
"So it wasn't just me." That made Akira feel better. A little. "Shirogane says… shin and rei can seal their powers. Live as regular people."
"Okay. So?" Kengo blinked, confused.
Aya caught on, and gave him an evil eye. "Akira…."
"I'm not running." Akira met her gaze. "But… my mother's not going to be happy, no matter what happens. You and Kengo, though, your families-"
"My family would only get mad if I ran from a fight I could win," Aya said fiercely.
"And Nee-chan's always going to attract dark energy," Kengo shrugged. "Better to go after the kokuchi than to keep throwing salt on her and hoping it works, huh?"
Was it possible to feel relieved and even more worried at the same time? "Just - be sure," Akira said bluntly. "Homurabi was bad. Goa'uld are worse."
Aya swallowed. "Worse?"
"They're parasites." Akira reached for glimmering shards of memory, trying not to flinch at the ripples of shock and horror and anger that came with them. And with the emotions, names. Shirogane whispered from many, but also Sherit, Mery, Panefer, Solomon….
Other shin. Those who wove their memory into the shadows.
He could almost reach out and touch how it had been done. How shin of the past had created vast tapestries of knowledge in that other world, history even Homurabi hadn't dared destroy. Because despite all the preparation and sacrifice over the millennia, some Goa'uld had survived on Earth - and not to know their signs was suicide.
"If you encounter them outside a body, they're like a snake, with four red eyes, about this long." Akira held his hands about a half-meter apart. "But you probably won't. They live inside people. Control them. You can see them in people's shadows, squeezing…." He winced. "They're horrible. And I don't think Shirogane believes these Tok'ra are any better. I wouldn't. Not without a lot of proof."
And it wasn't his imagination. Teal'c was paying very close attention to them; had been, since he'd said Goa'uld.
Could he speak Japanese?
Better safe than sorry. "We'll tell you more after we get back," Akira said in an undertone. "I don't like this place. I don't want us here." Even one of us who thinks he belongs here.
And just when had us started to include Daniel?
When I changed him. I've got to look after him, the way Shirogane did for me. Akira felt at that nervous sense of Daniel, so unlike Shirogane's cool focus, and sighed. At least until he gets over being afraid of the shadows. We're not alien. Just different.
So. How could he get the archaeologist past that first, completely reasonable impulse to run?
History. He wants to know about the uprising against Ra. And we can tell him.
Which mean the real question was, how much did Shirogane think he should know?
"So there's been a vowel shift since the 'Gate was shut, and they've simplified a few consonants…."
Interesting as it was to compare Ancient Egyptian to Abydonian, Daniel could see Catherine getting more and more twitchy, keeping herself from pacing the disused office with an effort of will. Wait, he tried to tell her with a look. They're stalling for a reason.
At least, he hoped they were. He couldn't keep from eyeing corners of the room, himself. He knew Jack, there had to be cameras in here somewhere-
And Shuichi and Shirogane made a paired motion, rippling blue light and red shadow. "That should do," Shuichi said firmly. "We can speak freely now. The cameras are recording… well, more of the same."
"How?" Catherine challenged, before Daniel could.
"Ask Akira about simulacra, sometime." Shirogane smiled, full of mischief. "What we did was similar. And it will seem quite real."
If he finds out, Jack's going to kill us, Daniel thought wryly.
If he found out. And on that note…. "Sam's design for her shadow-trap," he said in a rush, handing the pile of circuit-scribbles over to Shirogane. "If you're right, she might not even remember how to rebuild this. I kind of hope not."
Blue eyes regarded him soberly. "Why?"
"She almost killed me," Daniel said, shuddering. "Sam knows me, and she still almost killed me. And Akira. And if someone rebuilt that thing, and got you all in the same place, like you are right now…." He couldn't say it. "You, Akira - you came to help us. You didn't ask for anything, you didn't want anything; you knew there was a problem and you came to fix it. Knowing you could get hurt." He shook his head. "Do you have any idea how long it's been since anyone did that for the SGC?"
Another, slower smile; this one reached blue eyes. "Thank you, Dr. Jackson."
"Thank him, certainly," Catherine said, eyes narrowed. "How could you bring Akira into such danger?"
"He chose to come," Shirogane answered. "He has a generous heart, Miss Catherine. I told him what I knew of what I might face, and he would not let me go alone."
"And the next king of the shin," Daniel put in, risking it all, "has to know what kind of dangers his people face."
Silence. Broken by Catherine's, "What?"
"You haven't spoken of this to Akira." Shuichi's level tone wasn't a question.
"I didn't really figure it out until a little while ago," Daniel said sheepishly. When he'd been in the middle of writing his report, winding down from holy cow, I'm not dead to step back and think about the shards of a new society he'd seen.
A culture that grows by adopting people, not just birth. There's got to be some pretty intense pressure on individuals to keep it together. A shared enemy in the kokuchi helps; a shared purpose, keeping the worlds intact, helps more. And that bond, that Lulu called a contract….
Even so, if there were supposed to be two kings of the shin - Shirogane had to find someone more invested in shin society than the culture he'd been adopted from. Someone with both the ability to care and the Jack-style grit to be a good leader. Someone willing to devote his life to a cause the rest of the world wouldn't even realize existed.
"I just added things up," Daniel shrugged. "Especially the way he treats the two of you-" Oh. Oh. Oh, boy.
"Daniel?" Catherine glanced his way, worried.
"The king of the rei," Daniel said slowly, meeting that blind gaze, "is hidden." He swallowed. "So what do I call you?"
"Shuichi will do," the blind rei said graciously. "Well reasoned. We're lucky to have you among us."
"Colonel O'Neill won't be pleased by this," Catherine warned. Saw Shirogane's bland look, and seemed to slump. "So. This… change, cannot be undone."
"No," Shirogane said honestly. "A shin can live as a human, and act as one - but I don't think Akira will. He cares too deeply to let innocents be harmed when he can stop it. And… he finds great joy with us, Miss Catherine. He was a blade left idle to rust. With us, he is needed." His voice dropped. "And we do need him. We need him desperately."
"King?" Catherine said pointedly.
"Shin and rei each have a direct king, who embodies shadows or light, and a king, who supports the direct king," Shuichi answered. "Shirogane is the direct king of the shadows; the direct king of light has not yet been reborn. But when he is, the shin will need a second king. And I, too, hope Akira will choose to take up that burden. I trust him." A soft laugh. "Though I'm just as glad we should have a few decades before we need worry about that. Akira could use some time just to be with family. Even one as eccentric as ours."
If he hadn't dealt so much with the Tok'ra, Daniel might have missed it. But the way Shuichi said a few decades, like most people would a few months…. "How long do shin live?"
A silent glance between the two. "We tend not to die, unless something kills us," Shirogane said plainly.
And facts tumbled together into one undeniable certainty. "That's why you had him disappear in the middle of NORAD," Daniel realized. "You're trying to get him to break off his normal life."
"Really, Dr. Jackson-"
"He's caught you fairly, old friend." Shuichi smiled wryly. "Yes. We are. Think. It might take longer if he were older, but the same problem would arise eventually. In two years, those who know him will start to wonder. In five, even his mother may notice. And if someone official is among those who determine the truth - we're powerful, but we're far from invulnerable. As you have seen. Better to live quietly in the shadows of your world, where no one cares overmuch if your birth certificate is real."
"I don't understand." But the wide-eyed shock on Catherine's face said she did, all too well.
"I'm guessing live as a human also means grow old and die as a human." Daniel licked his lips, recalling what Jack had said he suspected about Shirogane. "You… you saw the 'Gate buried, didn't you?"
"I did," Shirogane nodded. "And I once walked on Abydos, seeking to rescue those of our kin who had been taken. For most, I was too late. But not all."
"I need to sit down," Catherine murmured.
"Miss Catherine?" For once, there wasn't a trace of mischief in Shirogane's tone. Just honest worry.
"I'm an old woman, gentlemen," Catherine said plainly. "I always knew he'd outlive me, but-" A seated, wry shrug.
"Not so old, kinswoman," Shuichi said generously. Reached out, and laid a hand gently over hers. "Certainly not too old. If you wish it so."
Catherine looked up, and her wondering gaze was full of stars.
"She looks happy," Jack observed, watching Catherine share lunch and languages with the oddball crew of shin, rei, and kids. And watching the other SGC personnel watch them. Not with the kind of tolerant wariness they gave the Tok'ra. His fellow airmen and scientists seemed to have taken to the shadow-walkers like any other group of SGC newbies. And was that good thing, or a bad one? "A little too happy, for someone who just found out her cousin's risking his life against the forces of darkness."
"Forces of darkness?" Daniel murmured, giving him a look.
Okay, so maybe that was a little over the top. Just a little. "Shadow monsters. What else are we going to call them?"
"Kokuchi works fine." Daniel glanced at one of the two silent people sharing their table; the one who usually wasn't silent. "Sam? Are you okay?"
"Am I okay?" Sam burst out. Lowered her voice, at some of the glances from other SGC people grabbing lunch. "Daniel, I almost-" She couldn't say it.
Daniel looked a little pale at the reminder, but swallowed, and shook his head. "But you didn't. It's like being drugged, Sam. Akira doesn't blame you for what happened."
The astrophysicist gave him an incredulous look.
"He doesn't want to be within twenty feet of you and weird-looking circuitry," the archaeologist acknowledged, "but he doesn't blame you." Daniel smiled ruefully. "Of course, Akira's also feeling just a little guilty about the biting. I don't think he likes to hit girls."
"Hey! I am not a-" Sam saw the glint of mischief behind the glasses, and tight guilt and indignation relaxed into a more normal post-mission down. "I'm sorry, Daniel. I didn't mean to - I never would have - done that. If I'd been thinking straight."
"I know." And if Daniel's smile was still a little shadowed, nobody here was going to bring it up. "Maybe you should tell Akira that."
"You're right." Sam took a last bite of lunch, and stood. "I'll be back."
"Think Shirogane's going to bite her head off?" Jack said in an undertone after she was on her way.
"I think he's going to be very polite." There was an uncharacteristic edge in Daniel's voice. "Which is going to make Sam feel even worse. Which is exactly what she feels like she deserves."
"And what is it you believe that she deserves, Daniel Jackson?" Teal'c asked.
"She almost killed me." Daniel let the words fall between them like stones. "Ask me again in a few days." When I'm not so angry, tense muscles shouted.
"I kind of recall somebody holding a gun on me, once," Jack said casually.
"On you, Jack. Not on the whole SGC. What she whipped up almost turned the whole Mountain inside-out." Daniel took a deliberate breath. "Do you think you could ask General Hammond to put a few more safety precautions on alien artifacts? So nobody has more than a few pieces of tech in one place at one time? That was… really not fun."
And here was Dr. Jackson, offering to make his own job more tedious and full of paperwork, just so the SGC wouldn't get in hot water that way again. Who said scientists couldn't be practical? "I'll put it on my wish list," Jack said matter-of-factly. "right after better security on the armory."
"It would be wise," Teal'c said dryly.
Okay. So this hadn't exactly been the SGC's finest hour. "Not like we deal with things that walk through walls every day," Jack grumbled.
"No," Daniel said with angelic innocence, "the Tollans haven't visited for months."
There was a perfect, biting retort to that, and Jack was going to deliver it unto one snarky archaeologist. Just as soon as he figured out what it was. "So when are they fixing it so you don't go see-through?"
"I… don't really plan to get anything fixed."
"Are you out of your mind?"
Okay, so their table was getting a lot of weird looks today. Jack glared until the rubberneckers found their lunch fascinating again, then glanced at one idiot archaeologist. "Look. I know you'd like to help out the kids, but we need you here. Not off chasing shadow-monsters."
"The kokuchi are going to come after me whether I'm a shin or not," Daniel said steadily. "And don't say they never came before. We never shredded the fabric of reality here before, either. Shirogane and Shuichi have patched the worst tears, but we're going to have small ones showing up for a long, long time. We need a shin here. It might as well be me."
For someone supposedly making the best of a bad situation, Jack thought, Daniel looked entirely too cheerful.
"And they've got a library," the archaeologist went on, with the kind of reverence most people reserved for the Hall of Fame. "Historical sources on the rebellion, Jack. Some of them written as it was happening. Don't you want to know what kind of tactics the System Lords have seen before? What they might be expecting? What they never saw coming?"
"Sure. Who wouldn't? But you don't have to do this," Jack argued.
"I know." Blue eyes were sober. "That's why I want to."
"You're talking about being a living shadow for the rest of your life," Jack pointed out. "Isn't that just a little creepy?" He glanced at Teal'c. "Help me out here, T."
"If this line of warriors defeated the forces of Ra on Earth, we are obligated to assist them," Teal'c stated. "I, too, wish to learn of the rebellion."
Sometimes he forgot just how much non-military education was hiding under the Jaffa warrior inscrutability. "Doesn't anybody else think this is creepy?" Jack grumbled.
"I was hoping you wouldn't," Daniel said neutrally. "I thought you might like to talk to Akira. About being a shin. And other things."
"And I'd want to do this, why?" Jack asked dryly.
Daniel looked back at him, and shook his head. "Because he's a lot like you."
Voice down, Jack reminded himself. We've used up our quota of weird looks for the day. Keep this up, and next week nobody in the SGC will blink if we come back from a mission wearing tutus. Which should be a warning sign for anybody. "Not a chance."
"He's smart," Daniel ticked off on his fingers, "but he'd rather be up and moving than parked with a book that's not interesting. He thinks at things sideways, which solves a lot of problems, but he's not afraid to wade in with force when that's what it takes. He's tough that way; maybe after the fight he gets a little shaky, but while he's in it, he's in it to win. And he worries about his people. All the time."
Jack frowned, glancing over at their visitors' table, where an apologetic Sam was apparently being handled with no-nonsense iron inside the velvet glove of genteel manners. Most of the SGC's anthropology people probably couldn't come within swinging distance of picking out who might be officer material, studies of tribal hierarchy or not. But this was Daniel. "What other things?"
"Well," Daniel said judiciously, "you could start with why you think Teal'c is one of the good guys."
Teal'c raised an eyebrow.
"He trusts you," Jack pointed out.
"And I can tell him Teal'c is my friend, and I trust him, and I know what he's done for the SGC," Daniel said matter-of-factly. "But I can't tell him why, tactically, trusting Teal'c is a good idea." Behind glass, blue eyes were sober. "Jack, I've seen Akira fight. When he jumps into a mess, he's already thought out what he's going to do. Every move he makes, hits. Or keeps somebody from being hit." Daniel's fingers grazed the tabletop, as if he could drag the right words out of thin air. "I don't even know what I'm trying to describe-"
"Situational awareness," Jack said thoughtfully, thinking back to that last battle in the 'Gateroom. Shirogane had been injured over there, and Akira had come out-
Not beside the shin king. A little away, right where the biggest knot of kokuchi would have to go through him to take Shirogane. And the rest of the fight… well, Jack had been way too busy himself to keep track of everybody. But what he did remember, rang right.
Akira was reading the battlefield, the whole time. And he made the right calls doing it.
Meaning Daniel was right. Akira would be thinking about Teal'c - and SG-1, and the whole SGC - in ways even a battle-tested archaeologist wouldn't intuitively grasp. Though Danny at least knew what he didn't know. "How's his English?" Jack said abruptly.
"Ah… Catherine says he's good. Why?"
Jack smirked. "Kid's bored in school, right? I'm gonna give him a reading list." He grinned at the archaeologist. "I think we'll start with the Peloponnesian War."
"I knew he liked books more than he let on," Daniel muttered to himself, amused.
Leaning against a wall in the archaeologist's artifact-strewn office as he looked over a very long list with Shirogane, Akira shook his head. "I'm not a soldier."
"But knowing how one fights is never wasted knowledge," Shirogane said plainly. "Especially if - forgive me for saying it, Dr. Jackson - something goes very wrong here."
"You mean, if we lose," Daniel said soberly. "I know. I don't like to think about it, but - I know. We've come close, a couple of times." He swallowed dryly. "I mean, first and last line of defense sounds pretty noble and heroic. But when you lose… people important to you… heroic sounds like just another word for stupid."
He lost someone. Akira felt the grief aching off the man, mixed with enough guilt and weariness to crush the breath from his lungs. No one should hurt like that.
"So you have nowhere left to go," Shirogane murmured.
Daniel shot a look his way, anger sparking in blue eyes. And slowly dying. "I can't go back to Abydos. Not for more than visits. They need me here."
"And what do you need?" Akira challenged.
Deer in headlights, Daniel stared at him.
Did I look like that, when Shirogane asked me what I wanted? "Abydos is across the galaxy," Akira pointed out. "You can't get there. You can get to Japan. Or Aunt Catherine's." He smiled, just a little. "She'd be glad to see you. So would we."
"And a university degree in America," Shirogane observed, "might stall your mother quite neatly, until you can offer her a worthy alternative to a lawyer's life." At Akira's look askance, he smiled, all mischief again. "It's good to have options."
Right. Unless he wanted to follow Kou's example and spend a lot of time dodging Yakuza, he'd better have some kind of legal job.
"But more hopeful plans aside," Shirogane went on, "if you believe the only way things might go wrong here is by losing, Dr. Jackson…." He shook his head.
"We lose, Earth dies. Or gets enslaved," Daniel pointed out.
"And under what conditions will you win?" Shirogane arched a brow. "Do you know what happened to the Knights Templar?"
Shirogane held out a hand. "Come, then, and see."
"Don't you mean read?" Daniel said warily.
"No." Shirogane glanced at Akira. "It won't be pleasant."
"I know," Akira said honestly. He could feel those shards of memory, bloody and grieving. "Let's go."
One on either side, they stole Daniel away into the shadows.
Deep. Deeper than I've ever gone.
A black-and-white chessboard of ground, massive marble and obsidian pillars rising in rows as far as the eye could see. Between them billowed tapestries of shadow; flickers of images, voices, feelings.
"This is our history, Dr. Jackson." Shirogane looked over the shadows with sad determination. "I have added to it my whole reign, and soon I will teach Akira to record here as well. And this-" he gestured to a waft of shadow, beckoning it to billow near them "-is what you should see."
King Phillip's soldiers-
They took my friend, Jehan-
They've raided the monasteries-
Not a Templar free in France-
Heresy? Devil-worship? Impossible; we know these men-
The Pope won't defend them. The Pope, when they've protected the faithful from evil for centuries!
Save who you can-
Most won't come. They think we're demons; they think their church must exonerate them-
Oh god, the fires-
Akira pulled back from the memories, eyes wet. Beside him, he heard Daniel weeping.
"It's over," Shirogane said softly. "There's nothing you can do. It was over a long time ago." He sighed, just as quiet. "Say alliance with aliens, rather than deals with demons, Dr. Jackson… history does not always predict the future, but only a fool ignores its warnings."
Shaking, Daniel wiped the tears from his face. Swallowed. "Will Catherine… see this?"
"And more," Shirogane said gravely. "The history kept by the rei is theirs, as that of the shin is ours, but we have both had kin in history's darker moments."
"They wouldn't do that to the SGC-" Daniel stopped. Winced, face pale. "Stupid. Humans are naturally xenophobic. It's a defense mechanism. Stranger equals someone you don't know, who might not feel obligated to abide by your laws. And the Tok'ra don't. They want us to play by their rules, but they only stick to ours when it's convenient."
"They are," Shirogane said with devastating mildness, "Egeria's children."
"…You've got memories like this of her, too."
"And other System Lords," Akira admitted. "It was awful." Knuckles whitened; he forced his fists to unclench. "We won't let that happen again."
Daniel swallowed hard, and straightened. "I'm in."
"I know." Shirogane's smile was warm and welcoming, with just a touch of dark mischief. "We've known since you brought us Sam's plans."
We have? Akira tried not to look surprised. Whatever Shirogane's plan was, he was not going to screw it up.
"But they're my friends," Daniel said thickly.
"So maybe you'll get lucky, and never have to choose," Akira stated. "But there's a difference between being where someone needs you to be, and being where you need to be." Always coming home to an empty house, because my mother doesn't want me anywhere else….
Shirogane's hand rested warm comfort on his shoulder. "We should bring you back, before you're missed."
"Probably too late," Daniel said wryly. "Odds are Jack walked in right after we left, he's got awful timing that way… wait. Me? What about you?"
"Shuichi and the others are already gone," Shirogane said innocently. "And we have… other places to be."
Daniel groaned, head in his hands. Sighed. "You realize, for Jack, this means war."
Akira smirked. "He's got to catch us first."
A snort of laughter, and Daniel fell back into step with them again. But he hesitated, right before shadows would have revealed his office. "Akira? You know, that offer goes both ways. If I'm on the planet, if you need to talk-"
"I know who to call."
Smiling, Daniel stepped into the light.
"Alone at last," Shirogane sighed, eyes twinkling.
Akira clapped a hand to his forehead in disbelief. "You never quit."
"Well… your mother's not really expecting you to show up for another few days, is she?"
Silver laughter danced through the shadows.
"We need to give you a bell," Jack said dryly.
Eyeing startled security guards in his office, none of whom had apparently seen him before he used his doppleganger, Daniel sighed. And pointedly turned his attention toward the reason there were wide-eyed airmen in his office. "Wouldn't work. If they can't see a shin, they can't hear a bell he's wearing, either. Jack, why?"
"You took a walk."
"And? So?" Daniel said pointedly.
"So did everybody else."
"Ah. Yeah. Shirogane did say they'd already left." At Jack's frown, Daniel added, "When we were coming back from the library, Jack, I got back as soon as I could."
"The General's not happy."
"No," Daniel allowed, "I guess he wouldn't be-"
"I'm not happy." Jack looked at him askance. "We can't just have people popping in and out of here whenever they feel like it… what?"
"Oh, just waiting for Thor to beam you up," Daniel said innocently.
"Funny. Very funny."
"They don't want to get involved with the government, Jack," Daniel said plainly. "If they'd stayed long enough for us to officially figure out what to do with them - well, think of the paperwork. I'm not even sure Shirogane has a native country. Wherever he was born doesn't even exist anymore."
"Not the point," Jack stated, nodding the guards out. "We need to know they're on our side."
"Oh, that's easy." Daniel waited until the door was safely closed. "They're not."
The look Jack turned on him was dark, and definitely not laughing.
"If they were officially on our side, we'd lose our alliance with the Tok'ra," Daniel said bluntly. "They do not trust Egeria's children. And I think they've got good reasons."
Jack looked interested, but not mollified. "You've seen the library."
"Part of it," Daniel allowed. If you could call a weave of captured memories a library. And I was wondering how they passed their culture to adoptees… gods. "What I saw - Jack, they don't take sides in human wars. They take care of the boundary, and of their people - and if it gets too hairy, they leave."
"Running doesn't solve anything," Jack said flatly.
Incredulous, Daniel looked at him. Held up three fingers, and curled each one down with a name. "Shirogane. Lulu. Akira. Exactly who do you think they can afford to risk losing in our war?"
"Our war?" Jack said, just as dryly. "Earth goes, they go."
"Probably," Daniel allowed. "But think of it this way, Jack. If they're not officially allied with us, if we don't have paperwork on hand that says who, how, and when they show up - what happens the next time somebody tries to take over the SGC?"
Jack closed he jaw, and thought about that. "Okay, point," he admitted at last. "Unexpected guests can cut both ways. I still don't like it."
"Why not?" Daniel asked, honestly curious. "What makes the shin dropping in any different from the Asgard? We don't have a formal alliance with them, either."
"They gave up a lot to take us under the Treaty," Jack objected.
"And Shirogane and Akira risked their lives," Daniel pointed out. "What makes what they did worth less, Jack? Really. I want to know."
"You want honest? Fine." Jack crossed his arms, glowering. "Thor never hurt you."
"He didn't?" Daniel laughed, quiet and bitter. "You really didn't read the background material for the negotiations."
"Hey, there was a lot of it-"
"The Asgard had a say in which System Lords showed up. They could have asked for Amaunet to come." Daniel swallowed, fighting the black misery of that long-ago realization. "I could have had a chance to save her."
"And if you'd done that, Earth would be-" Jack cut himself off, lips pressed into a thin, grim line.
In the middle of a war? We already are. I just wanted Sha'uri back…. "And if it was Sarah?" Daniel said bluntly. "Would you have just followed orders, Jack?"
"Never mind," Daniel said quietly. "Sha'uri's dead. I tried. It wasn't enough." He looked back up at Jack. "But Sam is alive. And it cost Akira a lot to get her back."
"Fine. So they're good guys." Jack didn't look happy admitting it. "I still don't trust them." He sighed. "But I trust you. Just be careful, okay?"
There were a multitude of answers Daniel wanted to give to that, but sarcasm would only escalate the situation. "I will."
Jack gave him a curious look, but shrugged, and headed for the door. "Think I need to talk to the general about how we write this one up…."
Alone in his office, Daniel pondered the corners of the room. I wonder how many cameras Jack put in?
It wasn't that he didn't trust Jack. Trusting Colonel O'Neill, though; that was trickier.
I can see his point. Kind of. The shin are a security threat. But so are the Asgard. We've only got their word that they aren't using what they know against Earth. Or letting someone else see it who would.
Put that together with the uncanny resemblance of the Asgard to creatures described by people absolutely convinced they'd been abducted by aliens - well.
But that wasn't what made Daniel leery of leaning on the goodwill of the Asgard. Not really.
They'd been under the Protected Planets Treaty, too. Which hadn't stopped Heru'ur from moving right in and massacring people as soon as he'd proved Thor's Hammer was broken.
Asgard equipment. Didn't they keep an eye on it? A beacon, an alarm - heck, a sensor to say the maze exit got buried by an avalanche, so freed hosts can't get out? There was an Unas in there, for gods' sakes! How many hosts didn't get as lucky as Kendra?
And in the end, she hadn't gotten lucky at all. He only hoped Heru'ur's men had killed her quickly.
If the shin and rei had looked after the boundary the way the Asgard had Cimmeria, the SGC would have been a smoking hole in the mountain.
But I don't think Jack wants to see that. He and Thor are buddies.
Which still didn't make sense, no matter how many different ways Daniel considered the situation. Sure, the Asgard had saved Jack by getting that Ancient database out of his head. And they'd done good things for the SGC since. Daniel might wish with all his heart that he'd had another chance to save Sha'uri, but he was grateful Earth had the Treaty's protection. However slim it might be.
Even so. Why buddies? He'd worked with Jack for years, and their friendship still had its rocky patches. Teal'c had a lot more in common with Jack as a fellow warrior, and it'd still taken months for the colonel to count him as completely reliable. Thor, Jack had only met a handful of times.
It just doesn't make sense.
In his experience with the SGC, when something didn't make sense, everything was about to go drastically wrong.
If there was just some way to get more information about the Asgard. Their culture, their intentions - are they really abducting people, or is it just what some psychologists think, a modern-day version of fairy visitations? But there's nowhere to-
The Asgard have been visiting Earth for over a thousand years. What are the odds that they haven't run into a shin?
Smiling grimly, Daniel started making notes. Ignoring the cameras, if cameras there were. There was something to be said for being the only person on the base who could really read Ancient Egyptian.
As for people off the base….
I think I'd like to see Tokyo. Soon.
"En merer-er ari-ef, mest'et'-ef an ari-nef." - "What he wills, he does; what he hates, he doth not do." - from the Papyrus of Ani. Yes, I do use the Budge translation.
"An khena-ten ba-a, an saa-ten khabit-a; un aat en ba-a, en khabit-a." - "Let not be shut in my soul, let not be fettered my shadow; let be opened the way for my soul, and for my shadow."