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Doctor Who/Thor crossover: In the Loop (2/3)

December 6th, 2017 (09:22 pm)
geeky

feeling: geeky

Part One
Part Two
Part Three



-o-

This time, there was no waiting. They didn’t stand and wait and look. They knew what was going to happen, after all. Instead, the Doctor marched down the cliff and arrived just as Malekith approached. Thor was on the ground, seething in apparent pain. Jane stumbled by Loki as he drew her close to offer the aether to the Dark Elves.

“Pardon me,” the Doctor said. “But does anyone happen to have the time?”

Loki stared at the Doctor maliciously. Thor looked confused on the ground, clutching his apparently missing hand. Even knowing it was a trick, Martha found it to be an unsettling sight.

Malekith turned toward them, snarling. “You have made a mistake in coming here.”

The Doctor chuckled. “I wish I had,” he said. “I mean, I wish it was my choice, but when your spaceship falls out of the sky, you sort of have no choice but to follow. By the way, you look very familiar. Do we know each other?”

“It matters not,” Malekith said. “Your error is grievous.”

“Ehh,” the Doctor said. “That could be a bit of hyperbole. Unfortunate, perhaps. Ill-timed -- well, that’s a bit of irony for you.”

Malekith raised a hand, nodding toward one of the towering, most menacing elves, before hissing back at the Doctor. “Then I shall teach you the error of your way.”

Martha flinched, trying to remember that the outcome probably didn’t matter anyway.

Time loop being what it was and all.

“Well, that might be a bit premature,” the Doctor said. “Especially since it’s really not my fault. And I don’t think it’s your fault, either. Or Thor’s--” He looked at Thor. “You might as well get up now, I know the illusion isn’t going to last much longer--”

Malekith turned, surprise turning to rage as Thor’s hand flickered back into existence. “You try to deceive me?” he roared.

Face red and eyes burning, Thor got to his feet. “I know not what this interference is,” he said, stepping forward toward the Doctor. “But you should take your leave.”

Jane stifled a gasp, leaning heavily into Loki, who watched the scene stonily. He remembered it all, Martha realized. Thor didn’t; Jane didn’t; Malekith didn’t.

But Loki did.

Loki.

This was about Loki.

“I’d very much like to,” the Doctor said. “And I’d let you two go back to trying to save and destroy the universe in equal turns, no questions asked--” He hesitated, looking more keenly at Loki. “But I can’t. And you can’t, either. None of us can. Not until Loki lets us.”

Malekith looked duly suspicious.

Thor turned toward his brother. “What is this about?” he asked. “Does this man speak the truth?”

“He speaks nonsense,” Loki said, eyes still on the Doctor. “He is nothing more than a nuisance that we should dispose of.”

“Not an uncommon opinion among some, I’ll grant you that,” the Doctor said. He shook his head. “But you can’t get rid of me. That’s the problem. And it’s not my problem. Or Thor’s or Malekith’s or Jane’s. It’s yours because you’re the one who brought me here.”

Thor was fuming. “What is this about? LokI?”

Malekith gritted his teeth. “Give me the aether and I will destroy you all.”

Jane teetered precariously.

Martha inhaled sharply. This was worse than before. This was so much worse.

“You could try, but you can’t destroy us,” the Doctor said. “Because we’d all end up here again. Time and time and time again.”

“Is this your magic?” Thor asked, stepping closer to Loki.

Loki stiffened, giving Thor a stoic glance.

“No, not magic,” the Doctor said. “I know that sounds nice and all, but it’s still all science, no matter how complicated.”

“I care not for the words, Small Man,” Thor said, turning back toward the Doctor with vehement eyes. “This is not some game.”

“No, no, no,” the Doctor agreed. “It’s science. Advanced temporal physics, to be exact, and not the most impressive application of it I’ve seen.”

“So it is a time loop,” Martha said.

The Doctor sighed. “That’s history repeating. This is us, repeating history.”

“That’s the same thing,” Martha said.

“Not exactly,” the Doctor said. “When we go back to a moment, we have the power to alter that moment but it’s still the same moment. Even if we went back a thousand times, it’s still the same moment.”

“So this is time travel?” Martha asked frowning.

“Yes,” the Doctor said. “A low level time field has been created, giving one access to the same moment.” He looked at Loki. “Only you’re clever enough to take yourself out of the moment. You created the field by separating yourself from it, which is why there’s just one of you every time you go back. And just one of us, too, coincidentally.”

Loki released Jane, who stumbled toward Thor. The blonde man steadied her, his eyes set on Loki, fingers gripping the hammer tightly.

Malekith stood tautly. “This is irrelevant.”

Loki inched forward, his eyes cold and calculating.

“It’s not, though,” the Doctor said. “Because Loki is manipulating this moment, going back and trying to change it until he gets the outcome he wants.”

“You know something of time,” Loki observed.

“More than something,” the Doctor said. “And more than you.”

Loki drew himself taller. “I am a god.”

“And I’m a Time Lord,” the Doctor said, not backing down.

“But this still doesn’t make sense,” Martha interjected. “How is he able to time travel?”

The Doctor sighed. “Oh, it’s a bit complicated, but with the right words you can create a disturbance, enough to create a passage.”

“But how come it’s repeating?” Martha asked.

“He’s just going back to the same moment,” the Doctor explained. He drew a breath, shrugging. “Think of it like a computer program. With programs, you use end codes to finish your commands. But if you never put on that end code and start the program, what happens?”

“It keeps going,” Martha said.

“And going and going and going,” the Doctor said.

“Like a loop,” Martha concluded.

The Doctor rolled his eyes. “Always with the loops!”

“This is a waste of time!” Thor insisted.

“Give me the aether!” Malekith snarled.

“I can’t stop; you can have the aether; and none of it will matter,” the Doctor said. “Because if the program doesn’t end, it’ll keep going and going until it crashes the entire system.”

“Until time unravels,” Martha realized.

The Doctor grinned. “Now you’re getting it,” he said. He looked at Loki. “How many times have you done this? Ten? Twenty? A hundred? It had to be something to pull the TARDIS straight out of flight.”

Loki’s lips twitched. Not much. Enough to confirm that the Doctor was right.

Thor almost growled, pulling Jane close as he stepped forward. Malekith whispered an order and the elves drew their weapons. Martha swallowed, trying to remind herself of all the close scrapes they’d had before. This was just like that. Nothing they wouldn’t survive.

Loki wet his lips. “If you’re right,” he said, coming face to face with the Doctor. The Doctor didn’t budge, even as Martha inched her way behind him. “Then the numbers don’t actually matter. All that matters is that I will do it again and again.”

He raised his hand, smiling darkly now.

“Until I get it right.”

The Doctor opened his mouth to protest; Malekith’s elves charged; Thor roared, pushing Jane safely behind him. Martha inhaled sharply.

Loki snapped his fingers.

The lightning crackled; the thunder crashed.

She wanted to say something, to do something, to stop this, but there wasn’t anything she could do, there was nothing--

-o-

Nothing, as it turned out, lasted two seconds.

Because two seconds into their trip, the TARDIS started falling.

The TARDIS.

Falling.

Martha squawked, barely grabbing onto the railing as the TARDIS took its first sharp turn. She was already pulling herself to a standing position when the alarm blared.

The Doctor turned it off, looking at her as the TARDIS dipped wildly.

“Again?” she asked.

The Doctor grimaced, baring down as the TARDIS tilted, nearly sending them both crashing. The TARDIS shimmied; the engine roared. “Again!” he yelled.

They spun, tilting rapidly in descent.

Martha wondered if she should have called her mother again after all.

-o-

The Doctor didn’t check his readings. Martha didn’t ask what was going on. Martha wasn’t as adept at time travel as the Doctor, but she was a quick study. Her mother had always told her it was one of her greatest assets.

Though, the things her mother would tell her now -- Martha didn’t even want to know.

For a moment, she was almost grateful for more pressing issues to consider.

Until she remembered the total gravity of it all.

She followed the Doctor outside, where he lingered at the top of the cliff looking down. Martha came along beside him. It seemed like she should be used to it by now, but Svartalfheim’s total devastation still left her chilled. She rubbed her arms absently.

“So it’s Loki,” she said. “He’s the one doing this.”

“Yes,” the Doctor said, pausing to chew his lip thoughtfully.

Martha watched as the Dark Elves began descending again. She looked away when Loki attacked Thor on the opposite cliff, sending him tumbling to the ground. “And how do we get him to stop?”

The Doctor didn’t look at her this time, eyes trained on the events unfolding below. “Well,” he said, pausing to sigh. He pressed his lips together, shaking his head. “I suppose we could ask him.”

“We have asked him,” Martha pointed out, feeling her heart skip a beat at the utter lack of conviction in the Doctor’s idea. He’s the Doctor. He was supposed to have the answers. Because out here, Martha didn’t know much of anything.

The Doctor made a face. “Maybe we just need to say please.”

With that, he got to his feet, starting toward the familiar path down.

Martha stood, mouth open. “You’re joking, right?” she said. “Doctor!”

-o-

This time, Loki saw them coming. Distracted as he was, he didn’t have time to stop Thor from being stabbed. Martha saw it, but didn’t believe it at first. “It’s a trick,” she said. “It’s a trick right.”

Thor staggered, blood trickling from his mouth as he hit his knees. By the time he collapsed to the ground, blood was coating his armor and the hammer slipped from his lax fingers.

“Doctor,” Martha said, resisting every urge to run out and check on him. “It’s a trick--”

Loki’s face twisted into a snarl as he lashed out, sending the last elf through one of the dark holes.

Almost simultaneously, Jane cried out, stumbling her way to Thor’s side. She reached out, brushing the hair from his face even as Thor’s eyes glazed over and he went horribly still.

“Doctor!” Martha exclaimed again, because this wasn’t right. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. Thor was going to go and win the Battle of London.

The Doctor didn’t move, though. His face was frozen as Loki turned toward them, his face starkly pale and his eyes gleaming.

Unable to help herself, Martha rushed forward, brushing past Loki and going to her knees next to Jane. The other woman was weak and distraught, and even though she fought Martha, there was nothing she could do to keep her from checking Thor’s condition.

It was hard to tell, of course, with Thor being an alien and time being out of sorts, but there was so much blood. His chest was still, and there was so much blood, pooling all around him now. And his eyes--

Martha had seen that look before.

Pale and still.

The look of death.

She waited a beat, ignoring Jane as she sobbed. She waited for it to be revealed as an illusion. For everything to be all right.

It didn’t happen.

Heart pounding, Martha looked back at the Doctor.

The Doctor looked at Loki. “What are you trying to fix anyway?”

Loki stalked slowly, moving roundly away from Thor’s body, half circling the Doctor in the process. “The outcome has never been sufficient,” he said. “I’m trying to put right what fate errantly got wrong.”

“The Battle of London,” the Doctor said. “It’s a fixed point. You can’t change that.”

“I don’t need to,” Loki snapped.

“Well, that’s what you’ve done,” the Doctor said, nodding toward where Thor’s body was lying. “You let him die; you leave her here; and that’s exactly what you’ve done.”

“They can have their stupid battle,” Loki hissed.

“Then what are you trying to fix?” the Doctor said, more demanding this time. He gestured, pointing at Thor. “Because I’m not sure you’re doing a very good job.”

“This is just one outcome of many,” Loki said.

“How many will it take, though?” the Doctor asked. “Are you willing to tear apart the entire universe?”

“I will do what it takes,” Loki snapped, looming closer to the Doctor now.

“To do what, though,” the Doctor said. “All this show, all this effort. For what?”

“So I can walk away from here with a clear conscience and a means of escape,” Loki said. “So I do not have to languish in a prison like a common criminal.”

Martha got to her feet, wiping her palms on her trousers. “Wait, prison?”

The Doctor glanced at her. “Oh, yeah,” he said. “Loki’s got more than a bit of a cosmic record. Attempted fratricide, attempted patricide -- and then actual patricide, attempted genocide, taking over a planet by force, starting a war--”

Martha’s mouth fell open further.

Loki just smirked. “You’re forgetting the best one,” he said, lifting his fingers. “Manipulating the fabric of time.”

Just like that, there was lightning and then thunder and then nothing--

-o-

Nothing, as it turned out, lasted two seconds.

Because two seconds into their trip, the TARDIS started falling.

The TARDIS.

Falling.

Martha squawked, barely grabbing onto the railing as the TARDIS took its first sharp turn. She was already pulling herself to a standing position when the alarm blared.

The Doctor turned it off, looking at her as the TARDIS dipped wildly.

“Again?” she asked.

The Doctor grimaced, baring down as the TARDIS tilted, nearly sending them both crashing. The TARDIS shimmied; the engine roared. “I walked right into that one!” he yelled.

They spun. “Somehow I think your failure of verbal reparate is the least of our concerns!”

“Well, I don’t know about that!” the Doctor called back as they twisted violently. “It’s certainly not the most pressing, but it’s somewhat disconcerting--”

He was cut off by a whining engine and a blaring alarm. They tilted, spiraling rapidly in descent.

Martha wondered if she should have called her mother again after all.

-o-

At the top of the cliff, Martha leaned in close to the Doctor while Loki kicked Thor down the incline. “So what I don’t get is why we keep repeating the loop but everyone else seems to be living it like it’s the first time,” she said. “If this is Loki’s loop, then shouldn’t we forget every time?”

“It’s no one’s loop, because it’s not a loop,” the Doctor said.

“Even so,” Martha said. “Why aren’t we forgetting all this?”

“Because we’re tied to the TARDIS,” he explained. “Loki’s use of the spell drew the TARDIS here, making her part of his spell. Since we’re part of her, we’re essentially going back each time with Loki. Everyone else is still living the moment for the first time.”

Martha watched as the Dark Elves approached, Loki dragging Jane with him. She shook her head. “How many times do you think he’s done this?”

“Too many,” the Doctor reported gravely. He glanced up at the clouds gathering in the sky. “Much more and the damage will be too severe.”

“And then what?” Martha asked. “What happens then?”

The Doctor stood, watching as Loki offered Jane to Malekith, taking the aether and a whole lot more. Martha tensed, watching as her body convulsed before going still on the ground.

“It ends,” he said, quiet and serious.

“The loop?” Martha asked.

The Doctor looked at her. “Everything.”

A shiver chased down Martha’s spine, her eyes on the action still unfolding below..

Struggling to sit up, Thor’s eyes widened. The magic flickered as his hand reappeared and he crawled over to Jane, lifting her lifeless body into his arms. When he bellowed, the sky split open and the storm began.

-o-

Maneuvering in the rain was cumbersome, and Martha reflected why she was better suited for city life. If her mum could see her now…

Actually, it was very good that she couldn’t. For many reasons, the least of which was that Martha was in a time loop that wasn’t a time loop possibly facing the disintegration of the universe.

Or something.

Her mind was going to go mad with all this time travel drivel. When she did get back, passing her boards was going to be hell.

And then her mother would never get off her case.

To think, that wasn’t even the height of her problems now. At the valley floor, Loki was alone, standing thoughtfully over Jane’s body.

He didn’t look up.

Martha wiped rained out of her eyes, squinting to where Malekith’s ship was taking off. She glanced back toward Jane, who was crumpled on the ground. “Where’s Thor?”

“Gone to avenge her death,” Loki said.

“Seems appropriate,” the Doctor said, his voice cutting through the rain.

Loki turned a gaze toward them. “What do you know of it, Time Lord?” he asked. “I know little of your race. Only whispers and rumors.”

“Well, we don’t like to make a fuss,” he said. “Not like they do on Asgard, at any rate.”

Loki stiffened. “If you know so much, then you know that I am not Asgardian.”

“But you are of Asgard,” the Doctor said. “You would never call Jotunheim home.”

“I am without a home,” Loki said, voice thick and cutting. “I can only claim that which I fight for and gain by my own hand.”

The Doctor smiled faintly. “You’re not the only one adrift in the universe,” he said. “Not even the most tragic. So if you’re looking for sympathy--”

Loki’s face contorted. “I care not for your sentiment.

“Then what do you care for?” the Doctor asked. “You’re alive; in his rage, Thor left you free. There’s no one here to take you to prison.”

“Is that not why you’ve come?” Loki asked cagily.

“I’m just here to stop the time loop--” the Doctor cut off and glared at Martha. “Now you’ve got me doing it!”

Martha shrugged sheepishly.

“This scenario is still lacking,” Loki supplied.

“How?” the Doctor asked. “You’re free! Isn’t that what you want?”

Loki’s eyes trailed coolly over to Jane. “Her death was not supposed to happen.”

“And you care?” the Doctor asked. “She’s nothing to you.”

Loki looked back at the Doctor, eyes passing over Martha. “And is she nothing to you?”

Martha’s chest clenched. The Doctor stepped imperceptibly closer to her. “That’s not the same thing.”

“Is it not?” Loki asked, a smile widening on his face. “Those with long lives should never cling to passing, mortal things. For they are fleeting, and the faster they slip through your fingers, the tighter you hold on.”

Martha looked from Loki, to the Doctor. His face had gone blank, fist clenched just slightly.

But he wasn’t thinking of her.

He was never thinking of her.

“It is how my brother feels for this mortal,” Loki continued. “Such leverage is valuable.”

“Well, why do you need Thor alive at all?” the Doctor pushed. “He’s not your brother--”

Loki’s face twisted into a sneer. “If I wanted him dead, I would do it myself,” he said. “His naive overtures have use to me.”

“Use to you,” the Doctor repeated. “What does that even mean? Strategic planning, I get, but you’re tampering with the fabric of the universe for a little additional leverage? You’re too smart for that.”

Loki’s expression turned bemused. “Am I, now?”

“Yes!” the Doctor said. “Yes, yes and yes! This isn’t about that. It’s about something else? But what?”

Loki shrugged, fingers in the air. “I guess maybe one more time,” he said. “Just to find out.”

Martha groaned.

The lightning lanced through the air as thunder rumbled.

She shut her eyes, waiting for nothing--

-o-

Nothing, as it turned out, lasted two seconds.

Because two seconds into their trip, the TARDIS started falling.

Martha grabbed on tight, bracing herself instinctively as she looked toward the Doctor. “I thought the idea was to get him to stop!”

The Doctor held tight as the TARDIS dipped wildly. “I’m open to ideas!”

“How many times can we do this?” she asked.

The Doctor flicked a switch as the TARDIS tilted and shimmied. “Hard to say,” he said over the roaring engine. “I’ve never done this before!”

The TARDIS descended rapidly, veering heavily to the side. “Well, how will we know?”

An alarm resounded. “Well, when time stops and the universe unravels, that might be a good indication!”


Martha opened her mouth to protest, but she was tossed hard as they fell. She broke off with a muffled cry, and focused on holding steady for the rest of the fall.

She really should have called her mother after all.

-o-

There wasn’t time for that, though. Which was the ultimate irony. A time machine, and no time. Better still, a time loop and no time. She’d lived a normal, boring life, with nary a stray thing to worry about. A bit of time with the Doctor, though, and everything was different.

Sometimes she still wasn’t sure why she’d come. For the Doctor, yes. To get away, though, too. A chance to find something new and better A chance to not be the steady rock, to not have a billion expectations -- a chance to live.

Funny, she’d spent most of that experience almost dying, and this was no exception.

At the edge of the cliff, the Doctor cupped a hand to his mouth. “Hey!”

The word echoed across the valley.

“HEY!” the Doctor yelled again.

Across the way, Thor paused. Loki glared.

In the valley, Malekith descended from his ship, staring up at them.

“He really does look so familiar!” the Doctor said.

“Um, Doctor?” Martha asked. “What are you hoping to accomplish?”

The Doctor shrugged. “Haven’t a clue, really,” he said. “But we know what hasn’t worked so I thought I’d try something new.” He turned back, jumping up and down and waving his hands. “I thought maybe we could talk!”

The sky darkened. Malekith turned back inside his ship.

“Maybe he’s leaving?” Martha asked, not sure if that was a good thing or not.

The ship in front of them hummed to life, starting to rise off the ground. Then, it turned toward them, weapons deployed.

Martha swallowed hard, tensing as she made a step back. “Doctor…”

The Doctor’s eyes widened. “Run!”

Martha froze, mouth open as the weapons powered up.

“Run!” the Doctor yelled again, grabbing her arm as he pulled her toward the TARDIS. They ran together, almost tripping through the door as the first blast hit hard, nearly tipping the TARDIS over.

“I thought we were going to make it better!” Martha yelled as the weapon fired continued outside, pummeling against the exterior with a clatter.

The Doctor huddled low, covered his head as circuits starting to fray. “I was trying something different!”

Martha yelped, ducking as a cable swung at her. “It didn’t work!”

“Well!” the Doctor said. He shrugged, slightly apologetic. “Time loop.”

Martha was going to let him have it at that -- and he deserved it the cheeky, stupid bugger -- but the TARDIS stuttered, the wall starting to buckle under the pressure. Martha cried out, diving lower as the Doctor covered her. The cacophony was deafening; she was going to die.

She was actually going to die.

Which was so stupid. Because the Doctor didn’t see her, and her mother didn’t understand her, and family was complicated but time travel was dangerous.

Electricity crackled and the blasts thundered.

She kept telling herself she had time, she had a lifetime and then some, but no matter how hard she tried, nothing made sense, nothing was easy, nothing--

-o-

Nothing, as it turned out, lasted two seconds.

Because two seconds into their trip, the TARDIS started falling.

Martha grabbed on tight, bracing herself instinctively as she looked toward the Doctor. “Next idea?”

The Doctor held tight as the TARDIS dipped wildly. He did not look amused. “This is getting a little redundant.”

She raised her eyebrows as the alarms started to sound. “Are you trying to be funny?”

The Doctor flicked a switch as the TARDIS tilted and shimmied. “Time travel humor,” he said over the roaring engine. “I promise it’s not intentional!”

The TARDIS descended rapidly, veering heavily to the side. “You can laugh all you want when this is over!”

An alarm resounded; the Doctor looked at her. “Martha Jones,” he said. “Is that regret I hear?”


Martha opened her mouth to protest, but she was tossed hard as they fell. She broke off with a muffled cry, and focused on holding steady. “There’s nothing like reliving the same moment a few times to make you start thinking about all the things you’ve done wrong!”

The TARDIS tumbled, and the Doctor laughed. “A lesson learned!” he said, moving one of the settings. “Now we just have to teach it to Loki.”

Somehow, she reflected as she braced herself again, she thought that was probably easier said than done.

To think, her fate rested on Loki, the god of mischief and a crazy man in a box.

She really should have called her mother after all.

-o-

At the top of the cliff, the Doctor held them low this time, watching as the battle unfolded. Martha crouched next to him. “So one thing I don’t get,” she said. “Why is Loki going back to the same moment? Wouldn’t he do better if he just went back to an earlier point to stop this from happening? If he doesn’t want to go to jail, shouldn’t he just go to a point before that?”

“Well, Loki’s good, but he’s not that good,” the Doctor said. “Time travel is a complicated science. He’s practicing things way outside his skill level. He’s lucky he got this incantation to work at all.”

Martha sighed, watching as Loki and Thor work together, vanquishing Malekith’s elves. By the end, they’re standing together as Malekith treats with the aether in two.

She shook her head. “I still don’t see how we’re supposed to stop him.”

“The problem isn’t that he’s doing this to get what he wants,” the Doctor told her, getting to his feet to start toward the path down.

“Oh?” Martha asked, following him closely.

“It’s that he has no idea what he wants,” he said.

Martha made a face. “But how is that even possible?”

“It’s more common than you think,” the Doctor said. “When someone has everything they want, that’s exactly the moment they want more. It’s when someone is about to have everything that they decide they need something different.”

Martha swallowed, her cheek reddening. That wasn’t her, she told herself. It couldn’t be her. Just because she’d left with the Doctor right when everything was starting to change, just because she’d left her job right when she was about to achieve all her dreams and have her hard work pay off, just because she’d bailed on her family right when it seemed like they needed her most--

This wasn’t about her.

This wasn’t.

The Doctor smiled at her, winking. “Not that you’d know anything about that.”

-o-

Martha was so set on her own ruminations that she didn’t pay much attention as they neared the battle site. This was a familiar journey for her by now, and if most of the rest was the same, she found herself different with each subsequent variation.

All things considered, she was pretty sure nothing could surprise her now.

“So,” Martha said, coming up alongside the Doctor as they approached the place where Thor was arguing with Loki. “Fresh ideas?”

The Doctor wrinkled his forehead. “It’s not our play just yet.”

“At least everyone’s alive this time,” she said, watching as Thor and Loki continued to argue. Loki’s voice was pleading; Thor’s echoed with finality. “It seems like the best of all the options we’ve seen so far.”

The Doctor leaned his head thoughtfully, and they both watched as Thor shook his head and Loki’s face crumpled momentarily. “Not so sure about that--”

Martha was going to roll her eyes. She was going to scoff and remind the Doctor of his last invariable disaster that had them being blown to smithereens inside the TARDIS.

She was going to.

Until she saw Loki’s expression darken. Thor was turning, his hammer idle by his side as he went to help Jane. He was distracted, back turned toward Loki --

That was when Martha saw the blade.

Loki’s face was composed in an expression nothing short of rage. It wasn’t the look of cunning or cruelty she’d come to recognize in their meetings. It had no hint of mischievousness or humor. There was only darkness, as if pulled from the very crust of the planet itself.

Martha opened her mouth, inhaling sharply.

The Doctor lunged forward, the protest on his lips lost in the first crack of lightning.

Loki thrust forward, the first blow sinking the knife deep into Thor’s chest. The blonde staggered back, eyes down in shock as Loki pulled back on the blade, which dripped with blood as Loki fumed. “I told you,” he said. “This will not be my fate!”

Thor blinked up at him, shocked. “Brother--” he said, the word faltering on his lips.

Then Loki growled, the sound deep and inhuman as he used the blade to slash at Jane. Still dazed, she had no time to prepare and she didn’t even cry out before her body crumpled to the ground, her billowy clothes instantly covered in red.

Martha’s chest clenched, her stomach turning. The Doctor’s own cry fell short and he stopped, arms hanging at his side as he shook his head in disbelief.

As Loki stood, his blade still covered in blood, his expression fractured. The blind rage wavered, and the coldness in his eyes was replaced by horror.

He exhaled sharply, blinking rapidly as he shook his head. “I’m sorry--” he started.

But he never finished.

Eyes turned from Jane’s fallen form, Thor lifted his hammer, a guttural cry escaping his lips. The heavens responded, and the storm clouds coalesced as the sky spilt open and rain started to fall.

That was when Thor lunged forward, eyes blazing, ready to bring his hammer down on Loki. There was no second thought; no more sentiment.

Thor would kill Loki.

Unless--

Martha wanted to look away, but she found there was no time. She watched in dumbfounded horror as Loki raised his blade to defend himself, plunging it again into Thor’s chest, this time with so much force that Martha saw it poke out clean through the other side.

Thor staggered. The rage gave way to shock as his arm faltered.

The hammer fell first, crashing to the rock with a muted thud.

Thor followed not a heartbeat after. He fell to his knees, the color draining from his face. He looked up at Loki, breathing stuttering as blood trickled down his chin. “It didn’t have to be like this--” he said haltingly, each word hard to hear over the pouring rain. “Brother, I--”

There were no further words of absolution; there was no other offer of forgiveness. Instead, Thor’s eyes glazed over and his body slumped to the side, crashing heavily to the ground where it came to rest in stillness.

In death.

Above the carnage, Loki stood. He didn’t move, his hands empty as he looked down at Thor and Jane.

Martha could hear her own heart pounding in her ears, but she didn’t know how to move.

For a long moment, there was nothing but the sound of the pounding rain, washing away the blood.

“Is this it, then?” the Doctor asked. “Is this what you wanted?”

Loki didn’t look at them. His posture was rigid; his face almost colorless. He said nothing.

“Is it?” the Doctor pressed, taking a step forward. His voice was sharp, vindictive in that way only the Doctor could manage. “Thor is dead, by your hand. Jane, then, is unnecessary leverage. All you have to do is stop Malekith in London and you can go free. Nary a trouble in the world. Odin might even be so grateful for your heroics that he’d pardon the rest of your sentence. Or, you know, you could stop Malekith in another form with no one the wiser. Loki, of Asgard, can slip away. Live a life free from the meddling of your brother. That’s it, isn’t it? Everything you wanted?”

Martha’s stomach fluttered uneasily.

Loki swallowed visibly. When he looked up at them, his eyes were dark and haunted, a wry smile pulling at his lips. “To tell you the truth--”

The Doctor huffed. “That would be a rarity--”

“--I have done this so many times,” Loki continued heedlessly. He almost laughed, a short, hoarse sound. “I believe I am forgetting.”

“Your brother’s blood is on your hands,” the Doctor said with a harsh jab toward Loki. “The fate of the universe hangs in the balance and the fabric of time is fraying for your machinations. So tell me. What do you want?”

Loki’s gaze dropped to Thor again, and for a moment, he was silent. “He is impossible,” he said, almost heedless of the Doctor’s anger. His voice was like a wisp upon the rain. “Like some mindless force of nature that simply will not yield, even as it threatens to burn itself out. It never yields.”

The Doctor was not placated. “You knew this when you started!” he said, the accusation cutting around a peal of thunder. “You couldn’t have gone back in time hoping to change Thor.”

Martha flinched, starting to tremble as the deluge continued. Time travel was not just adventure; it was tragedy sometimes, too. It was easy to forget sometimes in the whirlwind of it all, but it seemed to come back to this. Human, aliens -- all the beings she’d met -- were all faced with the same difficult decisions. To do the right thing; to choose the wrong. To be better; to pick selfish things.

She liked to think she was different than that, but here she was. Traveling through time, barely averting disaster while her mother left her worried voicemails that Martha never responded to while chasing after a virtual stranger who was epically hung up on his ex.

When Loki lifted his gaze again, his eyes were clouded. “But something must yield.”

The Doctor flung his arms wide. “And in all this -- all your planning and all your plotting -- did you ever think -- just for a moment -- that maybe it was you?”

Loki inclined his head, eyes narrowing dangerously. The unexpected vulnerability was gone as fast as it had appeared. “You know not of what you speak.”

The words were venomous and knowing. Martha felt a fresh chill prickle her skin beneath her jacket.

If the Doctor was at all unnerved, he didn’t show. “I know that you’ve sent yourself back in time so many times you’ve lost count -- so many times that the universe is about to fall apart around you,” he said. “You’ve tried everything. And you’re still doing it. Again and again. I know all that, but the only thing I don’t know is why.

“Because I can do better!” Loki said, his voice rising to a vicious snarl.

Martha startled, stepping back a notch.

The Doctor held his ground. “You don’t even know what that means!”

“Perhaps,” Loki relented, his voice dropping again, but his expression was still dark. “But I know what it does not mean.” His gaze lingered downward to where Thor and Jane had fallen. “I need a better ending.”

“You can’t create a better ending by changing the beginning,” the Doctor said. “It’s not supposed to work that way.”

When Loki lifted his gaze again, the hints of grief had taken hold. “You call yourself a Time Lord,” he said. “Somehow I doubt that is advice you adhere to so strictly in your own travels.”

He had a point there, and Martha had often wondered about the number of things that were do-as-I-say and not as-I-do when it came to the Doctor. Not that he was morally compromised in his travels -- if anything, he was too steadfast in his commitments -- but that he understood the increasingly pliant nature of time travel in a way not defined by hard and fast rules.

The Doctor was one of exceptions. Of Second Chances and do-overs. Maybe he was getting soft in all his travels; maybe having power gave him the right. He was willing to die for what was good and right, so that counted for a lot.

Loki, on the other hand. He was standing in the rain, above the body of his brother, whom he had slain in battle. This was no greater good; this was murder.

“Maybe,” the Doctor said. “But you don’t have the power or the skill. And you clearly aren’t aware of the consequences--”

“You know nothing,” Loki said, the words hitching again.

The Doctor didn’t waver. “I know more than you think I do,” he said. “I know that some things, no matter how terrible, can’t be changed. No matter how much you want them to. You can change it a thousand times, but you’ll never get that better ending. Some things -- some people -- are like forces of nature,” he said, eyes darting to Thor and back to Loki. “Unchangeable. And the only thing left to yield is yourself.”

That was a hard lesson, though. Martha was action-oriented. She took control; she solved problems. She wasn’t one to sit idle, and she would prefer to make a mistake than to lose out by not trying. Martha did not accept futility in her life, and she’d never believed in fate.

Until she met the Doctor. Sometimes she wasn’t sure what battle she was actually fighting -- the good fight to stay with him or the wayward journey to do her own thing, all the consequences just be damned.

It wasn’t a question she wanted to answer, but then, she didn’t have to. She wasn’t the one ripping a hole through time.

Loki’s face was carefully composed, but he breathed in so deeply that he looked pained. After a long pause, he choked on his exhalation, shaking his head as he stiffened. “No,” he said. “I’ve come this far--”

The Doctor’s calm stature shifted, his incredulity manifesting plainly now. “But is it worth the universe?” he asked. “Would you literally destroy time itself to get what you want?”

Eyes on Thor, Loki was quiet. Then, when he turned back to the Doctor, all the pretenses were gone. The grief was unabated; the loss was evident. Martha had seen that look, and it was even harder than the cold reality of death. The lingering agony of those left behind -- the pain, the denial, the guttural desperation. All because someone had died and there was nothing they could do.

But Loki wasn’t some bereaved relative in the hospital. Martha wasn’t coming out of theatre to tell the wife or husband the bad news.

No, Loki was a god.

And for Loki, there was something he could do.

He raised his fingers, holding the Doctor’s gaze. Martha inhaled.

Loki’s fingers moved, almost painfully slow, the sound of the snap lost in the roar of the rain as it beat down on them.

The lightning filled the sky.

The thunder reverberated deep in her chest.

Martha looked up at the rain until it blinded her, until it drowned her, until nothing--

-o-


Nothing, as it turned out, lasted two seconds.

Because two seconds into their trip, the TARDIS started falling.

Martha grabbed on tight, bracing herself instinctively as she looked toward the Doctor. “I don’t think you’re getting through to him.”

The Doctor held tight as the TARDIS dipped wildly. He did not look amused. “That’s the trouble with races that let themselves be known as gods,” he muttered, holding tight. “They’re so damn stubborn!”

She raised her eyebrows as the alarms started to sound. “Are you sure you’re talking about Loki?”

The Doctor flicked a switch as the TARDIS tilted and shimmied. “Normally I might indulge your clever jabs, but to be honest, I haven’t got the time!”

The TARDIS descended rapidly, veering heavily to the side. “Well, considering that we’re in a time machine in a time loop, I think we do have the time!”

An alarm resounded; the Doctor looked at her. “It’s not a time loop!” he said. “And I actually don’t think we do--”


Martha opened her mouth to protest, but she was tossed hard as they fell. She broke off with a muffled cry, and focused on holding steady as a fresh barrage of alarms went off, more insistent than she remembered. “That’s not supposed to happen, is it?”

The TARDIS tumbled, and the Doctor went pale. “I’m afraid not,” he said, moving one of the settings. “Loki is pressing his luck, but at this rate, we’re all going to lose.”

Somehow, she reflected as she braced herself again, she thought that was probably easier said than done.

To think, her fate rested on Loki, the god of mischief and a crazy man in a box.

She really should have called her mother after all.

-o-

When they crashed, Martha stood, moving toward the door.

The Doctor didn’t follow her.

“Don’t we have to stop him?” she asked. “I thought you said we couldn’t let it happen again.”

“We can’t,” the Doctor said, punching buttons rapidly.

Martha stared at him for a moment, wondering what it was she was missing.

Because she was missing something. She had to be. The Doctor was talking about giving up, and the Doctor never gave up. She was fairly certain that he simply didn’t know how.

“So what, then?” Martha asked. “What are we going to do?”

The Doctor opened a panel and pulled out a mess of wires. “What’s the definition of insanity?”

Martha made a face. “What?”

“The definition of insanity!” the Doctor said, pulling out his sonic screwdriver and letting it pulse at the wires. “Come on, Martha Jones! You want to be a doctor; you surely have basic vocabulary skills!”

Martha shook her head, trying to keep up. “Doing the same thing, over and over again, but expecting different results,” she remembered.

“That’s right,” the Doctor said. “Sound like someone we know?”

“Loki, I guess--”

“Loki!” the Doctor continued, moving around to a second panel. “He’s always been a bit unhinged, but if he’s going around doing the same thing, over and over again, what does that make him?”

“Insane--”

“Insane!” the Doctor agreed, using his screwdriver again. “And if you’ve got an insane, crazy powerful, would-be god, reliving the same moment again and again and again, what do you think is going to happen?”

Martha shrugged. “I don’t know,” she said. “He’s going to destroy the universe.”

The Doctor looked at her. “Right!”

Martha looked back. “But that’s why we have to stop him!”

“We’ll never stop him,” the Doctor said, going to the ground and prying loose a panel from the bottom of the console.

Moving toward him, Martha gaped. “But we can’t just let the universe fall apart!”

“Of course not!” the Doctor said.

“But you said--”

“I said we can’t stop him,” the Doctor said. “I mean, at this point, I’m not sure he even knows how to stop himself. That’s part of the problem with reliving the same moment too many times -- you start to lose control of it. You get stuck in a pattern, doing it so many times, that you sort of literally forget that you can stop. And that’s not to get started on the emotional instability of what started the entire thing in the first place, and Loki, well, it’s not like he has any reliable coping mechanisms since he realized his entire existence was based on a lie and he perceives everyone around him as unworthy traitors--”

“Doctor!” Martha interjected.

He looked at her.

She huffed. “What are you talking about?”

He stopped. “When you have a computer with a looped program, what do you do?”

“I don’t know!” she said. “I’m studying medicine--”

“Oh, come on!” he said. “When your computer’s got a bug that just keeps going, what do you do?”

“I don’t know, I turn it off,” she said.

“And if it won’t turn off?” he pushed.

“I pull the plug,” Martha said. She shook her head. “But this is time--”

The Doctor gave her a dazzling grin. “And we have a time machine.”

-o-

For all that Martha tried to follow along with the Doctor, she often had very little clue what he was actually talking about. Most of it was gibberish -- too excited, too full of jargon that she didn’t recognize, too disconnected from any type of reality she’d ever known -- and the Doctor was always so preoccupied with the tasks at hand to be much of a teacher.

That was, she supposed, why he was the Doctor and not the teacher. Doctors fixed things; they didn’t take the time to prepare a lecture about how and why.

She had accepted this.

Even if it was leaving her completely bewildered.

That point notwithstanding, Martha was bright and determined. She didn’t have to know what he was talking about to know that she trusted him.

“So what do you need me to do?” she asked, standing next to him as he flung a few parts over his shoulder.

“Go to the far panel,” he said, nodding to an array of bulkheads behind her. “I’m going to need you to flip the eon capacitor.”

She looked at the bulkhead, then made a face. “The what?”

“Shiny little blue button!” he exclaimed.

“Okay, okay,” she said, spotting it. “Any particular time--”

“Just let me reverse the polarity,” he muttered as the screwdriver whizzed. “Just a bit more -- now!”


Martha pushed the button, and then waited expectantly.

Nothing happened.

“Um,” Martha said. “Is something supposed to--”

“Just give it a tick,” the Doctor said. He pushed a few buttons on his sonic screwdriver then aimed it again. “Okay, hit it again.”

Martha pushed the button--

And was promptly jarred, tossed roughly to the floor. Her ears popped, and her breath caught as her heart literally skipped a beat. Everything went white.

Then she inhaled, blinking rapidly as she realized she was laying on her back, staring up at the ceiling of the TARDIS. She was disoriented, feeling strangely out of synch, when the Doctor’s grinning face appeared above her.

“Should have warned you about that,” he said.

Martha wrinkled her nose. “What was that?” she asked, pushing herself to a sitting position. When the Doctor offered her hand, she took it.

“That,” he said, sounding positively proud, “was a time pulse.”

Getting her footing took her a moment, but she was stable enough to glare at him. “A what?”

“A time pulse,” he said. “Brilliant idea, really. Not sure why I didn’t think of it before--”

Martha stared at him.

“To be fair, I don’t run into a lot of time loops,” he said.

“I thought it wasn’t a time loop,” Martha reminded him.

“And it’s not!” he agreed. “But I was thinking about it, about how you break a pattern so set on repeating and that no one in the loop will stop. To break a pattern like that, you have to apply pressure from the outside. Essentially, you have to rattle the entire thing so it just resets itself back to zero.”

He said it like it made total sense. Martha shook her head. “What do you mean?”

The Doctor sighed, sounding somewhat put out. “Loki was reliving the same moment, sending himself back each time to the point where he didn’t know how to stop it,” he said. “It was like the universe was stuck on repeat, so we just had to move the dial back and start things all over again.”

That sounded reasonable in some ways. “But how?” Martha asked.

“A time pulse!”

“Which is?”

“Well, it’s just what it sounds like,” he said. “You send out a ripple through time, just enough to shake it loose. It didn’t take much, we just had to reroute power from the TARDIS to emit the right frequency, and by reversing the polarity we could channel the energy outward instead of inward--”

He was rambling, which wasn’t so unusual. Sometimes she found it endearing.

She’d lived this moment too many times. “So this fixed it?” she pushed instead. “This stopped the repeat?”

“Pulse like that, I think so,” he said. “Most people wouldn’t have even felt it, but we’re so close to the epicenter that it knocked us a bit for a loop--”

“Enough with the loops!” Martha scolded.

The Doctor looked quite pleased with himself. “I knew you’d come around on that one.”

Martha groaned.

He clapped her cheerily on the shoulder. “What do you say?” he asked. “Ready to live this moment again?”

“For the last time?” she hedged.

He beamed at her. “For the very last time.”

-o-

Everything was the same.

The ground, the building gray clouds in the sky, the bitter wind as it swept over her. Across the valley, Malekith’s ship was stationed, its tall structure dark and looming against the muted light. On the opposite peak, Thor stood side by side with Loki, Jane stumbling behind them.

There was a moment of stillness, where the air was filled with an electricity not yet sparked. Martha clutched her jacket, inhaling as she stepped next to the Doctor.

She had a thousand question. What was going to happen? What if it didn’t work? What if the outcome was worse than the time loop? What if everything fell apart?

Martha didn’t know. But then, she didn’t know a lot of things. For all the times she’d relived this moment, she’d still missed out on so much -- the way Malekith’s ship was still running, as if ready to take off at any moment, the way Thor stood protectively near Jane, as if to protect her with his body if all else failed. The look exchanged between the brothers -- so far away, and Martha could still see the hesitation, the spark of hope.

They both wanted this to work out. They both wanted to do this right. They just didn’t necessarily agree on what that meant.

So much, and Martha had missed it. Because the more she saw the same thing, the less she looked for new things. Living on repeat made it easy to take things for granted, to take people for granted.

Maybe that was why the Doctor couldn’t see her. Maybe it took time -- more time than Martha understood -- for someone with all the time in the world to see things right in front of their face.

She was no better, though. All these years, all these lightyears away from home, and she still hadn’t picked up the phone to explain anything to her mother. Instead, she went on trip after trip with the Doctor, thinking the next time around would make everything easier.

It didn’t, though. It just made everything harder to face.

And most of the time, there was no magical reset button. Most of the time, you had to break the habit or it broke you.

Martha held her breath.

Then Loki lashed out at Thor, and everything started again.

-o-

This time, they only watched. The Doctor was crouched low, just like the first time, watching as the action unfolded. Martha stayed close to him, seeing it as if for the first time.

Thor tumbled to the bottom of the hill, and Loki dragged Jane after him. He brutalized his brother, bringing them before Malekith before he slashed Thor’s hand clear off and offered Jane up as a sacrifice. Jane’s eyes were wide as she was drawn up into the air and suspended, the gaseous substance being pulled out of her until she was dropped and left spent on the ground.

Thor clutched his wrist; Jane gasped for air.

Loki smiled.

Across the distance, Martha could still see the keen look in Loki’s eyes. He knew this was his chance to change things; he knew from this moment, anything could happen.

He knew--

And he threw himself into battle alongside Thor anyway.

-o-

It was a strange thing, Martha’s hope. She had seen this before of course. In all of Loki’s scenario, fighting alongside Thor had always been the first and foremost. It was something to watch them, side by side, almost entirely in synch. For all the issues they apparently had, Martha could tell they were well paired together. They fought instinctually, balancing each other out.

It was a pity that it couldn’t always be this way.

Then again, maybe it could. This was a new moment, a new chance. Anything was possible.

That was when Loki saw the attacker coming at Thor. That was when he deflected the blow meant for his brother --

Martha wanted to close her eyes, wanted to look away, but she’d seen this before.

-- and took it through the chest himself instead.

The black hole pulled the attacker in, and Thor scrambled, grabbing Loki and pulling him back. On the ground, he held his brother, bent over him in desperation.

It was fate, perhaps. The thing Loki had been trying to fight but ultimately never could. The way it was meant to be.

Martha couldn’t look away, not as Thor howled in anguish, not as the sky broke wide and the rain started to fall.

Lightning flashed and thunder rolled. The storm built and Martha waited for nothing--

Thor left the body, guiding Jane toward cover nearby. Loki remained on the ground, colorless and upturned toward the gathering storm.

Nothing never happened.

Nothing changed.

For once, everything was the same.

-o-

“So that’s it?” Martha asked finally, smoothing the wet strands of her hair out of her face. “That’s how this ends?”

The Doctor’s eyes were narrowed. “Well there’s been no time loop, if that’s what you mean.”

“But that,” Martha said, nodding toward the grim scene. “Loki dies? After all this, he dies?”

“Things are how they’re meant to be,” the Doctor mused, getting to his feet.

“But we can’t just leave him there,” Martha protested.

“We don’t exactly know him,” the Doctor replied.

“But he’s a person!” she said. “Or...a being, I don’t know.”

“You do realize that he will try to enslave the Earth during your lifetime,” the Doctor pointed out.

Martha didn’t realize, and frankly, she couldn’t even comprehend. But after all they’d been through, there had to be closure. There had to be some sort of purpose. She shook her head. “We can’t just leave him here,” she said. “Thor may have to go save the universe or whatever, but like you said, we have all the time in the world.”

The Doctor regarded her for a moment, before finally nodding. “Okay, Martha Jones,” he said. “Let’s do it your way.”

-o-

This time, Martha led the way down. It wasn’t easy to traverse the rocks in the rain, but by now she had quite a lot of practice. Even so, she was still winded at the bottom, the cold rain starting to seep into her bones. For all the times she’d hurried, this walk seemed the longest of all.

As she approached, so much looked the same. The dark rock, slick with rain; the angry clouds, letting out over the landscape. And Loki, pale and lifeless, upturned toward the sky.

For all his machinations, this was all there was.

She didn’t know Loki. From what the Doctor had told her, he wasn’t a good being. In fact, this was mostly his own fault. His selfishness had nearly destroyed the universe, and she’d watched him turned time inside out just to put himself ahead.

Not that the instinct was all wrong, but most people had boundaries. Most people understood there had to be a breaking point, that something always had to give.

Something did give. In all of Loki’s games, he’d paid the ultimate price. Thor would never know how many times Loki tried to get this right; he would only know that his brother died to save his life.

The compassion came over her suddenly, but perhaps not surprisingly. She slowed as she approached, hesitating as she stood over the body.

Was this worth it? If Loki had known how this would end up, would he still do it again? What would anyone do if given the same moment to try again? Maybe Martha would call her mother and explain everything.

Maybe Loki would be alive, and the brothers could leave this place together.

Maybe…

Martha sighed, ready to bend over. She didn’t know what sort of last rites his culture had, but certainly no one deserved to be left alone in the driving rain on a foreign planet. She could at least cover his body, provide some sort of burial.

But as she bent, Loki’s body convulsed and he inhaled raggedly as his eyes opened wide.

Martha shrieked, stumbling back, almost falling to the ground. But the Doctor was there, keeping her upright as Loki sat up.

“But how--” Martha exclaimed, her heart still hammering in her chest. “I thought we broke the loop!”

“The loop, yes,” the Doctor said. “But that’s not the only so-called magic Loki used.”

Martha turned toward her, completely confused. “What?”

“Think about it,” the Doctor said. “From the first time to the last, did Loki ever die?”

Martha scrunched her nose. “No,” she said slowly.

“And I’m willing to bet he didn’t even come close,” the Doctor said. “Not even in the start.”

Martha looked from the Doctor to Loki.

Loki was tentatively getting to his feet, casting a wary look at the Doctor. “And what is that to you?”

“Nothing, really,” the Doctor said. “But it does beg the question why you started all this in the first place. Not personal safety. And it wasn’t even about getting away clean, was it? It was something else. It was always something else.”

Martha shook her head. “But what?” she asked. “What could possibly make him do this if not his own life?”

“Not what,” the Doctor said, knowingly.

Loki stiffened.

“But who,” the Doctor concluded. “Someone died that first time. Someone you couldn’t handle losing. And something had to give, but it would never, ever be that.”

“Be what?” Martha asked. “Who?”

“Oh, who else?” the Doctor asked. “Who else has this ever been about? Who will it always be about?”

“Wait,” Martha said, the pieces falling into place. “You mean--”

“Thor,” Loki supplied for them, thundering rumbling above them. “It was always Thor.”