Haywire - Chapter 1“Come on, Rose. We have to keep going, you have to keep moving your feet. Just a little further.”Rose could hear the worry in the Doctor’s voice as he encouraged her to move forward, one arm wrapped tightly around her waist to help her continue moving forward. But she couldn’t order her thoughts enough to sooth him.“I-I’m so c-cold,” she managed to murmur, her teeth chattering as a violent shiver shook her body.“I know Rosie, but we’ll get you warmed up soon, promise,” Jack said from her other side.The Doctor’s leather jacket practically swallowed her small frame, but even its warmth wasn’t enough to stave off the biting wind and the bone-deep chill that had taken up residence in her body. Her legs trembled with the effort it took to keep walking, each step almost painful now, her knees feeling like they would buckle at any moment. She did her best to keep up with the men on either side of her and not let on how much her body hurt.Her feet sunk into the snow up her ankles with every step, though most of her steps were now more of a shuffling gait as she found it increasingly difficult to make her body do what her brain told them to do.“Doc, we need to find someplace to get her warmed up. She can’t keep going like this and you know this storm will only get worse. If we keep going like this we’re going to—”“I know,” the Doctor growled, cutting off Jack’s predictions, though she didn’t see the icy glare he also sent to the time agent. “The TARDIS is still nearly two miles away, but we’re close to that cottage we passed earlier today. We’ll stop there and rest a while.”His grip on her waist seemed to tighten, though she couldn’t be sure with how cold she felt.“Just a few more steps, Rose, then we’ll get you dry and warm and some hot tea in you. What d’ya think bout that?”She tried to answer him, she really did. Her teeth chattering so hard it made her jaw ache, combined with the feeling of being trapped in a rapidly darkening tunnel, stole any ability to answer him. She couldn’t think or speak. She wanted to reassure them both that she would be ok and they didn’t have to worry about her.But she just couldn’t.“Rose?”Why did the Doctor’s voice sound so far away? Why did it seem as though someone was slowly turning out the light?“Rosie? Rosie, come on. Stay awake, alright? You have to stay awake! Don’t go to sleep!” Jack’s voice was frantic as he talked, but try as she might she couldn’t make her body cooperate.“Doctor,” she whispered, before the darkness dragged her under completely.She was unaware of the Doctor’s frantic calls of her name, or of Jack’s panicked look at the Doctor. She didn’t feel the Doctor’s strong arms lifting her and holding her limp body close to his as he and Jack began to run toward shelter.~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~(Earlier that day)“Welcome to Phoenix!” the Doctor exclaimed as he and his companions stepped over the TARDIS threshold and into the bright sunlight. He glanced down, smiling at Rose’s delighted face and twinkling amber eyes—though he pointedly ignored Jack’s smug smirk.“What? Like the bird?” Rose asked, her eyes taking in the vibrant colors of the forest surrounding them and various scents wafting on the cool breeze. Light shone through the trees, the swaying pale lavender branches and rustling multi-colored leaves making light dance on the forest floor.“Yes and no,” the Doctor explained, enjoying the simple pleasure of Rose’s hand slipping into his. “This planet was discovered during the Third Great and Bountiful Human Empire, and many legends still circulate about the mythological bird. Just like it dies in fire and is born again, they saw this planet and the autumn season as a way to celebrate that rebirth and rejuvenation that comes from the season that ends one thing and ushers in something new.”After breathing deep the earthy, musky scent of the forest in the height of autumn, Rose skipped and danced along beside the Time Lord as he continued his explanation of the planet and its history and importance to humanity and other alien races.Jack walked along on the Doctor’s other side, smiling at the sight they made and thinking they were too adorable and had absolutely no clue.It took a little while before they reached the entrance to one of the largest festival grounds on the planet. The Doctor pulled out his credit stick and paid for the three of them to enter, not able to hold back a smile at Rose’s look of excitement. He felt bad for having pushed his companions so hard recently, jumping from one adventure to another without much of a break. This was his way of making up for it, a day of fun and relaxation, and hopefully no danger.Everywhere Rose looked were fall colors, oranges and reds and yellows, all in varying shades. There were sounds of people talking and laughing, the buzzes and dings of games, the whoosh and whir and clanks of rides, shouts and screams of people, and so many other sounds blended together to make for an exciting atmosphere of fun and adventure.Off in the distance she saw a line of trees with what looked to be picnic tables and a stand for renting blankets for lounging on the grass. The picturesque scene was completed by the large pond just beyond that, which glistened from the light reflected off it, and row boats lined up ready to be taken out on the water.Everywhere she looked there were people walking around, some in family groups, while others were paired or wandering alone. There was a mixture of humans and aliens of all sorts wandering around, and while the view of the area seemed like something she would find on Earth in her time, the evidence before Rose’s eyes reminded her why she loved traveling with the Doctor and visiting other planets.“This is so brilliant!” she exclaimed, smiling up at the Doctor, who beamed at her in return.As they walked further into the park, Rose was surprised to see a blending of so many different cultural decorations; some were obviously from Earth in her time and alien ones that were somewhat familiar, while others were completely foreign to her.Colorful lanterns strung above their heads swayed gently in the breeze, a soft glow emitting from them. People walked around in elaborate costumes, though a number of people were dressed normally.And the smells! A delicious blend of spices and apples and pumpkins and an earthy, musky scent of some type of coffee, all swirled in the air to tease at her senses, making her stomach gurgle hungrily.“Come on,” she hollered, pulling the Doctor along, while Jack jogged next to him looking around excitedly, “let’s go get some food, first. I’m not half starved!”~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~Notes: It took me a week longer than I wanted it to, but I've finally completed my first chapter of my Classic Tropes submission for Doctor x Rose Forever, over on Discord! I hope you enjoy it! I would love to hear your thoughts!(BTW:This fic follows the assumption that Nine did not regenerate after PoTW, and he didn't leave Jack behind)
Loki X Reader: Of Gods and Time Lords - CH 11They spent the rest of the afternoon checking all of the children in the ward. Karl walked around the narrow aisles between the cots, performing careful examinations and asking questions from the more lucid patients. Martha followed close behind, taking notes in each child’s chart. On a separate notepad, she listed the medical supplies Karl was hoping to obtain. The latter proved to be more challenging than expected. Several times, they’d inadvertently added something that needed to be crossed off again. Can’t ask for medicines that won’t be invented for another forty years or so. For some of these kids, the difference between having and not having those medications would weigh heavily in whether they would survive. Kids like Lukas, who was suffering from Grave’s Disease. Extremely rare, given his age and gender, but manageable with something like Thiamatole or radioiodine therapy. The boy had just begun treatment, apparently, when the Weeping Angels snatched him up. If stuck here, the eight year old was facing surgery, or worse…no treatment at all. They’d just finished with the last child when the ward door opened. Martha caught sight of Dr. Sperber out of the corner of her eye, but kept writing as if she didn’t notice. Best to just let the pompous ass approach Karl and hope he refrained from making any more comments directed at her. “Dr. Steinbauer. A word, if you please.” Karl raised his head and nodded to acknowledge the other physician. “Of course, Dr. Sperber.” They met in the center of the room, leaving Martha to eavesdrop from the sidelines. To keep occupied, she skirted one of the beds to get back to Erika. The girl didn’t voice any questions as she fussed with the blanket and repositioned her cast. The other children took their cue from her, maintaining wary silence while shooting Martha a glance whenever they thought no one was looking. For Sperber’s part, he ignored all of them, his attention focused on Karl. “I trust you have had a productive afternoon. Not that we’re expecting miracles straight off, but the files should have given you an idea what you’ll be working with.” “They provided a starting point regarding the physical ailments,” Karl agreed with far more poise than Martha could have managed. “And the mental instabilities?” “All in good time. First order of business is to get them as stable as possible. Useless to treat sick minds when they are distracted by a sickness of the body.” Clever. She gave Karl points for giving a plausible reason to stall investigation into the children’s so-called ‘delusions’. They could easily spend several days treating real illnesses while figuring out how to signal the Doctor. Although, if it took longer than that to engineer a rescue, coming up with a back-up plan would be necessary. Likely one that would enlist the help of the children themselves. And then what? Hoping I won’t need an answer to that question. “…not advisable.” Martha had gotten distracted by that train of thought and had now missed part of the conversation. From what she did catch of Sperber’s reply, she was regretting her momentary lapse of attention. Whatever was said didn’t sit well with the physician, who appeared flustered and mildly irritated. Karl faced him, unperturbed, and pressed his point. “I cannot properly diagnose patients who are sedated to such a degree, Dr. Sperber. Therefore, you will respect my order that no one is to resume doses unless directed by me. Personally.” The two men regarded one another in silence that lasted several minutes. In that time, Martha saw how Karl had risen to chief resident at such a young age. Even now, thrown a century out of his time and facing a situation completely out of his depth, he radiated an aura of calm authority. Sperber was no match for it, and conceded the loss with no small amount of resentment. “As you wish, Dr. Steinbauer. But you will be solely responsible for any damages incurred to the premises or hospital personnel.” “Understood. Was there anything else?” “Yes, actually. I meant to ask if you required any assistance getting to the boarding house for the evening. Several physicians are finished for the day and are bound for that establishment.” “I would appreciate the escort, yes.” Karl’s eyes met hers from across the room. “Martha, if you would return all of the charts and bring my personal notes with you. We’ll be leaving at once.” She bobbed a shallow curtsey while Sperber coughed lightly and said, “Well then, I won’t detain you any longer. Rattmeyer and Ketch will meet you at the front entrance.”Not wanting to miss their best chance at getting decent lodgings, they didn’t linger too long after Sperber left. Karl gave Erika and Ira instructions to follow until the next morning. Mostly what to tell the children who would be awakening over the next few hours. Beyond that, there wasn’t much more to be done. They made the long trek through the various wards to meet with the two men waiting for them. “So,” one of them remarked. “You’re the one who drew the short straw and has to deal with the head cases?” “I’m working the children’s ward, if that’s what you mean.” “No offense meant.” The second man offered his hand. “Ketch. Dietrich Ketch. I’m assisting Sperber with internal medicine and general surgery.” “Karl Steinbauer.” “From Wien, right?” “Ja. Arrived this morning with my assistant.” Speculating looks roved over her, but Martha paid them little mind. She strove for a bland expression while hanging a half-step back from the group. Ketch opened his mouth, clearly wanting to delve into just what her ‘assistance’ entailed. Rattmeyer elbowed him in the ribs before he could ask his first question. The older gentleman turned the conversation to safer waters. “Then I’d wager you’d like to get settled in the boarding house.” “Indeed. We had a long journey in getting here and it’s been quite the afternoon assessing my new patients.” “That it would be. Ketch and I’ll help carry your bags out and we can be on our way.” Karl shook his head with a wry smile. “No need. We didn’t bring any luggage.” “Nothing?” “My wife will be sending it along with her. She’s due to join me in a week or two. In the meantime, I can manage well enough.” Martha was glad they’d all begun walking out to the street so that the other two couldn’t see her face. She’d been caught off-guard. Both by the question about bags and by Karl’s answer. While they’d needed a plausible explanation for a lack of possessions, it would have been wiser not to invent a wife. Too complicated. A story like that required too many details.Too late to undo that now. I’ll just have to speak with Karl about best practices once we’re alone again. Thankfully, their two companions didn’t press for any of those non-existent details during their short trip to the boarding house. Rattmeyer stopped outside a five-story building only seven or eight blocks away from St. Johanns. The sign out front read ‘Die Stille Decke’. For her sake, she hoped that it would be as peaceful as the name suggested. Hoped for Karl’s sake as well. He’d already fought one battle on her behalf; Martha didn’t want to make trouble for him here. The four of them entered what must have been a front parlor, now converted to a lobby. A middle-aged woman stood behind the desk, sharp eyes taking in their group and offering a tight-lipped smile that thinned when she saw Martha. Ketch spoke up before she could express her indignation. “Evening, Frau Gabelhoff. I’ve brought the newest additions to our hospital staff- Dr. Steinbauer and his assistant. They’ll be boarding here until they can find permanent lodgings.” Those eyes narrowed, cold and decidedly hostile as she replied, “We have no available rooms.” Ketch shot Karl a sympathetic wince, turned back to the woman and reminded her, “Dr. Sperber reserved seven rooms for the hospital’s use. Four of those remain vacant, unless I am mistaken.” “The rooms are reserved, ja.” “Then you have ample means of accommodating my colleague.” “I regret that I cannot, Herr Ketch.” As the young doctor stood in flummoxed silence over her rebuff of his bantering logic, Rattmeyer stepped in with a different tactic altogether. He leaned against the counter and regarded the lady with a deadpan stare. His voice left no doubt that he was used to wielding authority and having it obeyed without question. “I realize you are concerned about the reputation of your establishment, Frau Gabelhoff. But I should advise you that the presence of Steinbauer’s assistant would tarnish it far less than having it said you are unwilling to honor your commitments- especially those made to the medical professionals tending to the men who fought for their country.” Words that left no room for misinterpretation. The stout woman, seeing her options, reached beneath the counter to retrieve a brass key. She thrust it at Karl with a disgruntled huff and spat out the corresponding room number. While he retrieved it, their two escorts set about arranging for an evening meal. Not surprisingly, eating in the taproom was out of the question for Martha; Frau Gabelhoff was only willing to bend so far and would have their meals brought up to the room. “In that case,” Karl said, “I believe I shall retire. It has been a long day.”___________________________________________________________________________________ He really didn’t have anything resembling a plan. The relay race idea had been a shot in the dark, quite frankly. And while it seemed to have worked for two of the Angels, the Doctor was at a loss how to deal with this one. Not to mention the one who’d yet to make an appearance. One on one, odds were against them in just about every respect. You also said the odds were against [Y/n] coming back, and yet she did. The less said about [Y/n] right now, the better. He was still furious about her decision to cross her timeline. All the more so given that the effort hadn’t succeeded. Or that she’s still planning to return to that damned Tower. Sounded to me that it wasn’t so much the Tower that’s the issue, his thoughts countered. It is an issue. But not the issue. No, certainly not the issue. While not ideal that the Avengers were now aware Time Lords existed outside the realm of science fiction, the Doctor highly doubted any of them could coerce [Y/n] into doing anything she really didn’t want to do regarding her TARDIS. Even less likely they would ever get their hands on it. But the Asgardians- Laufeyson in particular…that presented a far more concerning danger. With his talent for manipulation and deceit, the god stood a very good chance of wresting control of [Y/n]’s TARDIS. Especially as it seems he’s already conned his way into her good graces. A problem to solve once he’d gotten a handle on the one in front of him. Sadly, the Doctor was no closer to a plan than he’d been a few minutes ago. Having Donna and [Y/n] staring at him wasn’t helping. Well, [Y/n] wasn’t staring at him, since her attention was needed to hold the Angel in Quantum-lock. Donna, though, fixed him with her most expectant look. “Well?” “Well what?” “What we’re talking about, spaceman. We need to do something about that Angel thing out there.” “I don’t disagree,” he acknowledged. “But without the last one, our options are severely limited.” He intended to go on, but the ring of his mobile caused him to stop short in startled surprise. As far as he knew, only Martha had this number. So if she was trapped in the past without her mobile, just who could it be? Only one way to answer that question. The Doctor raised the device to his ear and hit the accept call button. “Doctor?” “Yes. Who is this?” “Colonel Mace, sir. From U.N.I.T.” “Just what I don’t need right now,” he muttered sullenly, not at all liking that the agency had direct access to him. In a louder voice, he queried, “And dare I inquire how you came to possess this number?” “Security protocol, Doctor. Jones did not respond to an urgent message with any of the expected replies within the time limit, and so her mobile sent headquarters this number to engage you for help.” Much as he wanted to, he couldn’t argue against the reasoning. “Is Jones with you, Doctor? Is she all right?” “I’m afraid not.” “I see.” The colonel paused. “Then I fear the situation may be quite serious. You see, Doctor, Jones was investigating unusual disappearances-” “In Salzburg. Yes, I’m aware.” “Oh. So she must have contacted-” “I happened to be in the city,” the Doctor cut in for a second time, hardly caring if he was being rude. They didn’t have time to rehash details he already knew. “And discovered that she was here by sheer coincidence. I just wish I had arrived a little while sooner.” After a long moment of silence, Mace replied, “Then I take it Jones has disappeared.” “You would be correct.” “Damn. When she checked in earlier today, we were no closer to discovering who was behind this.” “Weeping Angels.” “I beg your pardon?” “Weeping Angels have been hunting in Salzburg. Four of them.” “Not the same four you encountered before, are they? U.N.I.T.’s file indicated those were defeated.” “Different set.” The line quieted as something- the colonel’s hand, most likely- covered the speaker. On their side, a muffled conversation was taking place. On his side, the Doctor took the opportunity to catch the others up. Not a moment too soon; Donna had nearly burst with impatience, pestering him with questioning gestures the whole time. He’d just managed to answer them when Mace’s voice came back on again. He put the mobile on speaker. “Doctor?” “Still here.” “U.N.I.T. is prepared to send a team to Salzburg to deal with the Angels. Is there anything in particular you need?” He’d rather they didn’t send anyone or anything. But at the same time, the Doctor knew he needed more help than he was likely to get from Reiter or the local government. Better to get that help from an agency set up to handle things like this. “Two of them have been incapacitated. I have the third under observation now.” “And the last one?” “We, uh,” the Doctor resisted the impulse to fidget. “Lost contact with that one and aren’t sure where it is.” More muffled discussions, and then Mace said, “Is there any way one of them may have ended up in New York City- or that we’re dealing with another group entirely?” “Why?” the Doctor demanded in alarm. “Earlier today, S.H.I.E.L.D. contacted us about a similar string of disappearances in an NYC hospital.” “Starting when?” “Director Fury said the first child went missing day after Halloween. Fifteen total in the weeks since.” From her position at the console, he saw [Y/n]’s shoulders twitch. A movement that sent a spiral of dread to the pit of his stomach. He put the mobile on mute and sided up next to her. “When you crossed your timeline, did you…?” [Y/n] cleared her throat and admitted, “I went back to Halloween eve, yes.” “Meaning it’s highly likely that the fourth Angel went along for the ride and is now loose in a completely different city.” “Yes, and before you say it, I accept that it’s all my fault. But casting blame isn’t going to help us find the missing children. Or Martha. Or anyone else. So if you could table the lecture until later, I’m sure they’d all appreciate it.” She had a point; the Doctor chose to ignore it. “No, I think we’d better discuss it now. We almost had all four Angels under control. Could have stopped them tonight.” “There’s-” “But no,” he continued, talking over her protest. “You just had to run off to fix your ‘problem’. Even though I told you not to. And now not only did you fail in that endeavor, you allowed an Angel to escape and endangered dozens of other lives in the process.” “Doctor? Doctor are you still there?” He shot an annoyed glance down at the mobile in his hand, unmuted it for a second and said, “Yes. Having a chat amongst ourselves.” “Any sense about whether the New York cases are somehow related to Salzburg?” “Oh they’re related all right,” he snarled before he could stop himself. “That’s almost certainly our missing Angel.” “I see. Well, perhaps this would be an opportune time to consolidate our efforts with S.H.I.E.L.D.’s investigation. They could use your help in pinning down the Angel, Doctor.” Isn’t that just terrific.___________________________________________________________________________________ They were on their way back to the Tower, having spent the last four hours talking with various staff members at Lennox Hill. Since that detective had disappeared with all of the case info, they were starting at square one again. Interviewing anyone and everyone who’d had the remotest connection to the missing kids. Exhausting and mentally draining, but far easier than their conversation with the Wassermans, in Steve’s opinion; he hadn’t been prepared to know any of the victims personally. All the more pressure to solve what’s going on and find the kids. He wasn’t the only one feeling that way. During the interviews, Stark had been uncharacteristically serious, refraining from making his typical flippant remarks. He took the lead in asking the questions, but Wanda and Hawk had been just as avid to get in their own from time to time. Steve took point when it came to jotting down the answers. Not much in the way of those, unfortunately. A whole lot of bizarre incidences that just didn’t add up. The idea that extraterrestrials were behind the disappearances was seeming more and more likely. If a group of people- or even one person- was taking the kids, they couldn’t do it without help from the doctors and nurses. And security. And who knew who else. Just too many points of failure to get away with it again and again. “Well,” Stark said with a sigh. “I dunno about the rest of you, but I am not liking our odds on this thing.” “It doesn’t look good,” Hawk agreed. “And I don’t like that Fury kept us out of the loop for so long. We should have been called in weeks ago.” “He only got it last week, Hawk.” “Then we should have been called in a week ago.” After a moment’s hesitation, Wanda voiced a puzzled, “To me, it sounded as though Fury thought we already knew about the case.” Steve nodded in agreement. “That’s the same impression I got.” “Me, too,” Stark admitted. “But I swear he’s never said a god damned word about it.” The four of them tossed around ideas and theories on the ride back to the Tower, but didn’t get too deep in the details. Hardly made sense if they were going over everything with the rest of the team once they got there. On Steve’s part, he wondered what reactions they’d get from the others- about the Wassermann boy in particular. Might be for the best that [Y/n]’s not at the Tower these next few weeks. Of all of us, she had the most interaction with Todd during the party. The car dropped them off outside the building. On account of the hour, Stark had them take one of the side entrances meant only for the team. Steve was grateful to avoid running the gauntlet of the main lobby. After the day they’d just had, he had no energy left to deal with autographs and the like. He followed Hawk into the waiting elevator, making room for the others. In the penthouse, they crossed paths with Thor first. The god was camped out in the living room- probably had been there since the call came in earlier. He stood up to greet them, having discarded his phone on a nearby end table. “That took a while,” Thor observed. “Guessing it’s as bad as Fury said.” “Worse,” Stark replied. “How much worse?” “In a minute- where’re the others?” “Around here somewhere. We all stuck close just in case we were needed.” Instead of wasting time hunting them down himself, Stark opted for a more direct approach. “Hey JARVIS? Would you get everyone assembled in the main conference room?” “Of course, sir.” By the time they got there, Nat and Bruce were already seated at the table. Pepper arrived shortly thereafter with Loki trailing in last. Steve took a seat facing the windows and pulled out his handwritten notes. Likely wouldn’t need them, but better to have them at his fingertips to fill in any gaps. “All right, Stark, we’re here. What’s the story at Lennox Hill,” Bruce asked. “It’s like Fury said this morning. Fifteen kids, two nurses and three detectives have vanished. All of them gone without a trace.” He paced back and forth at the head of the table. “We spoke with everyone- top to bottom, and they all give the same account. For the kids, the nurses’ station would receive a call, but by the time the night nurse arrived to help…the room was empty.” “Night nurse,” Nat repeated thoughtfully. “Did the abductions all happen at night, then?” Hawk nodded, adding, “According to the staff, always between midnight and two in the morning.” “Just the missing kids, or the others a well” “Same for them. The two nurses were answering calls for kids who came up missing and never came back. Detectives Ibsen, Renault and Forrest all disappeared when their partners left the room. They were conducting overnight stake-outs, hoping they might be around to catch the culprits in the act.” From the other end of the table, Loki observed drily, “It would seem they succeeded in that aim a little too well, and wound up adding their names as the most recent victims.” Stark and Hawk exchanged a glance, and then the former cleared his throat. “Actually…the most recent victim turned out to be someone else. Someone we all know.” He paused for a moment. “One of the kids from the charity thing a few weeks back- Todd Wasserman.” Dead silence. Even the Trickster appeared to be taken aback by the announcement. More so than Steve expected. Granted, everyone had heard some version of the god’s curious encounter with the boy- although never from Loki himself. But they’d all assumed he’d considered the experience mildly amusing at the time, and dismissed it almost as soon as it had ended. Maybe we were wrong on that score. “Todd,” Bruce repeated. “The redhead, right?” “Yes. According to his parents, he’d gone in for treatment a few days ago. Vanished last night…same MO as the others.” “Security tapes?” “No one in or out of the room other than the nurse who answered his call button,” Stark replied. “And before anyone asks, I checked the recording. No one has tampered with it.” “Not sure whether to see that as a positive, given that it would have offered us somewhere to begin.” A grim and yet undeniable truth, Steve had to admit. He leafed through his notes in search of anything that might get them started. Three times through it and he couldn’t pick out more than Nat had already observed. All the attacks happened in the dead of night. But aside from that, no other discernible pattern. Different nurses on duty; different people down at reception. No unusual names popping up on the visitor’s log. “You don’t suppose aliens really do have anything to do with this,” he heard Wanda speculate from across the table. “Like what that woman was investigating in Salzburg.” “Oh c’mon, Wanda,” Hawk protested. “You can’t be ready to make that kind of leap so early, can you? Just because we’ve got squat for leads right now…” The two of them devolved into a heated disagreement while Nat and Bruce plied Stark with more questions. Meanwhile, the sun had set below the horizon, casting the city in shades of twilight. The room took on a more depressing atmosphere in the growing darkness, so Steve rose from his seat to switch on the overhead lights. Gave him something to do. And now it’s back to feeling useless again. “Mr. Stark, sir?” All conversations fell silent at JARVIS’ interruption. “Director Fury is on the phone for you.” “Again?” “Yes, sir.” “Expecting an update, no doubt.” “I believe so, sir.” “Put him through, then. Though I dunno what there is to say.” The screen used for video conferences lit up as the AI transferred Fury’s call to the conference room. He surveyed their group just as he’d done this morning before directing his attention at Stark. When he didn’t say anything, the latter jumped right in. “If you’re looking for answers, we don’t have any.” “You were over there half the day- I’m not expecting you to hand me the bastards on a silver platter, but I’d think you’d have some ideas about where you’re taking the investigation.” “Based on what we heard, short of standing up armed sentries in every room of that hospital, finding a likely culprit is a tall order.” Stark sighed. “What of our friends across the ocean- any further word from U.N.I.T.?” “Last I heard they hadn’t gotten in contact with their expert, but Colonel Mace is due to provide me with an update in the next few minutes.” As if right on cue, they heard the sound of ringing in Fury’s office. He cut a hard glance down to his desk and picked up the receiver. “Fury.” Steve waited alongside the rest of the team as a garbled voice answered from the other side of the line. The Director’s expression gave no indication what was being said. No surprise here. And then Fury spoke. “So he’s already there.” A beat of silence. “I’ll conference you in.”___________________________________________________________________________________ Their room was cramped and the furniture had seen better days. Martha shared a dubious glance with Karl, who was likewise unimpressed. They’d had to climb up four flights of stairs, and from the look of things, the five rooms on this floor all shared the same bathroom. Her only consolation was that they wouldn’t be sharing a bed. She’d had to do that once with the Doctor when they’d met Shakespeare and the Carronites, and wasn’t keen to repeat the experience. Heaving a sigh, she said, “I don’t know about you, but I’d say I’ve had about enough of this day.” “Agreed.” He sat on the edge of one of the beds and rubbed both hands over his face. “I haven’t been this exhausted since the days when I was studying to pass my exams.” “Given that we were thrown into working an extra eight hours, it’s understandable. When I travelled with the Doctor, we had plenty of days like this. I’d forgotten what that was like.”One of the reasons why I had to give it up. I just couldn’t keep pace with that lifestyle. “Martha?” “Hmm?” “Do you think it’s possible to get back to our time? Or are we stuck here? Tell me honestly.” She thought for a long moment, sinking to the bed beside him. Her gaze remained forward. Followed a spidery crack in the plaster that meandered its way across the wall. It wasn’t impossible. But a gap of forty years was a lot easier to span than an entire century. Especially knowing what was about to happen in the next twenty. Risky to rely on a messenger, even if he or she survives WWII, the chances of making it to 2018 are slim to none. And that’s if we could convince someone to carry the message for us in the first place. Using one of the children would be the best chance if they were to go that route. Young enough to make it feasible they might still be alive, and no need to convince them that time travel was real. Only one problem: whichever child carried the message would be stranded here. Would have to find a new life in this time and never return to the one they’d left. Quite a lot to ask that of a child. “Martha?” She jolted, drawn out of her deliberation by Karl’s probing query. And then she shifted to look him in the eye. “There is a way.” “But?” “It comes at a cost, and I’m not sure if it’s one we’re willing to pay.” When he didn’t interrupt her, Martha went on. “Last time, the Doctor and I sent someone with a message to get help. A man by the name of Billy Shipton. Like us, he’d been sent back to 1969. So we gave him a message and told him to deliver it to a woman- Sally Sparrow- on a specific time and date. From there, she’d be able to set things in motion so that the TARDIS came back to fetch us.” “But if he was sent to 1969, how was he supposed to deliver this message to someone in the 2000’s?” “The long way,” she answered quietly. For quite some time, Karl stared at her in uncomprehending silence. But then wheels caught, turned, and understanding dawned with a dismayed frown. “Someone would have to remain here. When the Doctor arrives to rescue everyone, that person has to stay behind. Otherwise, he or she could not deliver the message that tells him where to look for us.” “Yes.” “You’re right. A very high cost. And not one without significant risk that it would not succeed in the end.” “Very true.” Martha folded her hands in her lap. “But the alternative is leaving a written message for him hidden somewhere in the city with the hope it will survive the coming war. And,” she added. “That he would know where to find it.” They sat next to one other without speaking for several minutes, each pondering their limited options. Martha might have favored leaving a written message if she could guarantee the Doctor would find it. Salzburg had plenty of buildings that survived WWII- St. Johanns being one of them. But she couldn’t leave anything obvious without risking its discovery by someone else. Nor could she be sure the Doctor would come to the city at all. Well, if the security protocols on my mobile are working as they should, U.N.I.T. will be telling him I’ve gone missing and where I was any minute now. So that’s one worry down. And one more reason to hope we don’t need to put this burden on one of the kids. “We could try that route first, though. Give it a week and if the Doctor doesn’t turn up…well, then we look into a plan B.” Karl nodded slowly. “I would prefer to give that approach a try.” A knock at the door announced the arrival of their promised dinner. Martha offered to get it, but he rose first. The buxom blonde on the other side of the door greeted him with a curtsey and a cheery smile. Quite the contrast to their reception in the lobby. And then the girl peeked around Karl to notice her. Her eyebrows shot up and she said something in rapid German that Martha couldn’t translate. The tone didn’t sound as if the servant was expressing anything more than surprise, though. “Our thanks for the meal,” Karl thanked her. “Would it be possible to receive a courtesy wake-up call at eight tomorrow morning?” The blonde assured him it would be her pleasure, and with one last furtive look in Martha’s direction, scurried back the way she’d come. He let a second or two pass before closing the door and locking it. “I didn’t quite catch what she said- anything I should worry about?” “No, I don’t think so.” He brought the tray over. “Although I wouldn’t advise venturing around alone. The servants who don’t ostracize you may prove to be a bit forward in asking personal questions.” “On the subject of personal questions,” she began while taking a bowl of stew from the tray. “Now might be a good time to iron out some of our ‘backstory’. It won’t do us any good if we’re contradicting each other.” He handed her a chunk of bread and took the other half for himself. In between bites, he said, “Good idea. I fear I may have made a mistake earlier when talking to my new colleagues.” “The wife comment- yes, if we’re stuck here for more than a week that could get a bit messy to clean up.” Unless someone else at the hospital goes missing. “But we’ll cross that bridge when we have to.” “And what happens when the physician Dr. Sperber is expecting from Wien arrives? I meant to ask you how we will explain ourselves in that regard, Martha.” Good question. She asked herself what that Doctor would do. Didn’t really help much, since the only answer she got there was that he’d flash his psychic paper around to provide the necessary credentials. They didn’t have psychic paper. Didn’t have a TARDIS with wardrobes of period-appropriate clothing. Didn’t have anything but their own wits. Martha was not liking this method of time travel one bit. Think, she ordered sternly. Think, woman. What do we have? “Why don’t you cozy up to the other doctors- like those two we met tonight?” “And do what?” “Ask them about hospitals they came from- see if you can tell what ones in Wien they were expecting to receive help from. And which ones they weren’t.” Karl caught on, setting his spoon in his half-empty bowl and nodding slowly. All in all, the stew wasn’t that bad. Still, she probably didn’t want to know what meat was in it. She scraped the remnants of her meal with a crust of bread. Karl took another bite of his before answering. “I see. If I can ferret out that information, I can build a story that explains why another doctor arrives for the post I claimed.” He frowned. “Of course, if he’s a pediatrician, we may have an issue. He’ll want to work in the ward with us- may take control if I can’t convince him I have seniority.” “True,” Martha admitted. “We’ll think of something.” Or, hopefully, by the time said doctor arrives…there’ll be no ward for him to run.___________________________________________________________________________________ Thor half-expected to see the video screen split with a second image, but when Fury made the connection, it was still just him. The disembodied voice of Colonel Mace confirmed the U.N.I.T. commander could hear just fine. And then Mace said something Thor wasn’t quite expecting. “Doctor- you still on the line?” A second voice came through, tone leaving no doubt of its lack of enthusiasm for attending this particular meeting as it said, “Still here.” He didn’t recognize the voice. If not familiar with Time Lord lore, Thor might have dismissed it all as a trick of some kind. But in the years since the Doctor had been to Asgard, he had likely underwent at least one regeneration. If that were the case, more than his voice would have changed, and Thor couldn’t guarantee he’d recognize his face, either. Yet another reason the concept of Time Lords made him uneasy. “Sounds like we’re all here, then,” Stark announced as the call’s momentum stuttered to a halt. “And from what we learned at Lennox Hill today, if you all have any leads on what we’re facing, the help will be much appreciated.” Fury raised an eyebrow and queried in his customary bark, “Mace?” “From what the Doctor has discovered in Salzburg, we think you have Weeping Angels on your hands.” “I’m sorry- Weeping what?” “Doctor, this is really your area of expertise, if you don’t mind providing some clarification.” After a short pause, the Doctor launched into a quick explanation. Thor cast a look around the table and saw varying measures of disbelief in the team’s expressions. All but one. His brother listened with no trace of skepticism- only surprised curiosity. Typical. And a little worrying. If Loki believed the Doctor’s explanation, that meant he was telling the truth, and they were in serious trouble. “I don’t suppose you have an idea how many of those things might be running around New York,” he heard someone ask. “It’s hard to-” “One,” the Doctor supplied curtly, cutting off the U.N.I.T. commander. “Just one.” Is it just me, or does he sound upset about that fact? “Better news than I expected, I guess. We should be able to handle one- so long as we can find it, anyway.” From the other side of the line came no reassuring agreement. Just uneasy silence. It dragged out long enough that even Fury was looking a bit uncomfortable. He rolled his shoulders and pushed the point, wanting to know, “Mace? Things went awful damned quiet on your side. Is there something else we haven’t been told yet?” No answer. Impatient, Fury tried again. “We lose you all or what?” “No, we’re still here.” “I’d be a damned sight easier to know if we had you on video. There any way we could patch you in on our teleconference line instead of the audio-only? I can give you the number.” More hesitation, and from what Thor heard, muffled sounds of a heated disagreement going on. Aside from the Doctor, he was having trouble distinguishing the other voices. But it sounded like more than just the Doctor had been on the line with Colonel Mace. He didn’t like that they had been discussing the situation when not all parties had been properly introduced at the outset. “Go ahead, Fury. We’ll drop and rejoin on that line,” Mace agreed at last. The Director recited the number. Thor assumed U.N.I.T. and the Doctor hung up, although he had no way of knowing. Then it was the wait for them to rejoin. Mace appeared straight away, screen splitting to display the colonel in his own window. Alone in a small office. No way of telling if he’d always been there, or if he’d moved to it. No way to know if the additional voices they’d heard had been with him. A minute passed with no sign of the Doctor. Thor almost thought the Time Lord wouldn’t follow through; several others on the team appeared to be having similar thoughts. And then the screen divided again, revealing the anticipated arrival of the Doctor. As Thor had suspected, he looked vastly different from the one he’d known. Medium-length, dark brown hair. Brown eyes, too; the last time they’d crossed paths, they’d been blue. He didn’t get much further than that, as his attention fixed on the other two people with the Doctor. On one of them in particular. This certainly bodes ill. His glance flicked over to Loki and was not thrilled at seeing his closed expression. Dealing with his brother was much easier when he could gauge what he was thinking. Granted, that doesn’t happen all that often. But this is definitely not a time for him to be…unpredictable. Colonel Mace recovered first, and nodded in greeting. “Doctor- Good to see you again. And you as well, Ma’am,” he added with another nod towards an unfamiliar woman on the right. He hesitated briefly, eyes shifting to the left. “I don’t believe I’ve have the fortune of meeting your other companion.” Here we go. “This is-” The Doctor shot a look to [Y/n]. “Um.” “You might as well say it,” she told him irritably. “There’s little hope of hiding it now.” “I’m sorry- hide what,” the U.N.I.T. commander asked in confusion. “This is the Storyteller,” the Doctor explained by way of introduction. “Of Gallifrey.” “Or [Y/n]. Either is fine.” Without skipping a beat, she added, “Please don’t call me ‘Ma’am’.” “Time Lord. You’re a Time Lord?” A sigh. “Yes.” “Doctor. U.N.I.T. was under the impression that only you and the Master survived the Time War. We should have been made aware of this so that we could take the appropriate precautions and security measures. Not to mention-” “Weeping Angels,” [Y/n] interjected. “We’re here to discuss strategies for defeating the remaining two Weeping Angels, not to listen to any arguments on your part about how U.N.I.T. thinks it wants to run my life. Not only are they utterly futile, they waste valuable time we do not have.” “Although I agree the discussion should be tabled for the moment, I’m afraid that compliance is non-negotiable, Storyteller. This is U.N.I.T.’s jurisdiction of authority.” As a man who’d known battles aplenty, he knew a tactical error when he saw one. Or in this case, heard one. A look Thor had never seen before shone in [Y/n]’s eyes. He knew her attention remained solely on Mace, but the chilling intensity of that stare seemed to bore into all of them. Unyielding and, if he were being honest, intimidating. “You would do well to exercise caution when speaking of non-negotiable authority, Colonel Mace. U.N.I.T. is by no means the authoritative narrator on this planet, and you’ll find a great many lines can be negotiated without its permission.” She didn’t state it outright, but the implied threat was there. [Y/n] could rewrite time itself and erase the agency out of existence. An unsettling prospect in and of itself, made all the more disquieting to hear it from a woman he’d thought he’d known fairly well and never would have seen as dangerous. Despite his wariness for the Doctor, Thor hoped he would have some means of influencing her. A quick study of the other Time Lord’s expression told him that they’d have no such luck there. Tense silence followed, no one quite able to provide a suitable response. Mace clearly hadn’t been prepared for her implacable defiance. Even Fury was unusually passive during the whole exchange, although he kept a sharp eye on [Y/n]. No doubt assessing what sort of risk the team had allowed into the Tower all these years. And as for the others gathered around the table… no one wanted to draw her attention- and her temper- in their direction. “Unless rewriting those lines includes recovering missing persons on account of these Weeping Angels, I’d rather focus on a constructive path forward.” I stand corrected. Everyone turned to Loki, whose expression held equal parts humor and challenge. As if he were daring [Y/n] to pick a fight with him. Thor had to give his brother credit for making such a move under the current circumstances. Not only did he risk an ugly confrontation with her, but it also drew the Doctor’s attention to him. A far safer approach might have been to sit quietly in the background and stay under the radar. Knowing him, that’s likely why Loki didn’t choose it. The question remained whether he’d made the right choice. [Y/n] still hadn’t broken her stare, and now the Doctor fixed Loki with a look of pointed dislike. Neither Fury nor Mace seemed happy that he’d spoken out of turn. Thor looked to Stark in appeal, hoping the man could use his knack for disruption to shift the conversation focus. For once, his friend was not in an accommodating mood. This would just have to play out as it would. [Y/n] blinked, and he could see a bit of that icy temper thaw. While not exactly friendly, her reply proved to be far less abrasive as she agreed, “Well, at least someone’s got their priorities in the right order.”...