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Doctor Who in the Multiverse of Madness

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  Yasmin Khan loved entering the console room. No matter how many times she did it, the chamber would not lose any of its magic or charm. The pillars seemed to glow warmer and brighter as they noted her presence, alerting the Doctor to her presence. The Time Lord was currently lying on her back, mostly underneath the console with her goggles on. Yaz stared down at her little legs poking out, doing well not to laugh. The Doctor was very sensitive about how short her legs were. So any thoughts or jokes were strictly left in her head, lest she wanted to deal with a Gallifreyan strop for the rest of the day. And their days usually went on for a while.

   “Are you just going to stand there and stare at me, Yaz?” the Doctor suddenly asked, though she still didn't move out from her hiding place. Even when a few sparks flew from the machine. “As you can tell, I could do with a hand.”

   Yaz, momentarily recovering from the slight blush painting her cheeks at being caught out for taking the opportunity to look at the other woman, quirked an eyebrow. Not that the Doctor saw. “It’s not usual for you to actually ask for help. Something must be really going wrong…and you’re trying to pin the blame on me by getting me involved.” She was, by now, accustomed to the way the Doctor worked.

   “Nothing is going wrong , I’ll have you know. I’m just putting in a few upgrades.”

   “I thought we just upgraded her after the whole Flux debacle. Remember? You almost killed us in the process?”

   “Are you now expecting me to keep tabs on every single time I put you in a life threatening situation?”

   “I don’t think even your brain is big enough to catalogue that.”

   The Doctor rolled out from underneath the console on a metal creeper, looking up at her companion. “I was doing a nice thing by inviting you to help on our ship and all I’ve gotten in response is backchat and insults.”

   Yaz smiled. “I think that’s the first time you’ve referred to the Tardis as our ship, not just yours. It has a nice ring to it.”

   “I suppose it does, yeah.” There was a shyness to the Doctor’s return grin.

   “Do I get offered the chance to help or am I not worthy yet?”

   They both jumped at the sound of the voice, the Scouse accent an unexpected noise. Sadly, for the Doctor anyway, her jumping meant she banged her forehead right against a metal panel, sending out a chiming clang. She rubbed her head painfully as she staggered onto her feet, looking over at Dan as he sat on one of the steps. He was grinning wolfishly at her clumsiness. Yaz was better trained to hide her smirk when the Doctor cast her gaze over to her. 

   “How long have you been there?” the Doctor asked, annoyance clearly evident in her tone.

   “Half an hour, I reckon,” Dan replied with a casual shrug. He rolled up a football magazine he’d been reading. It was woefully out of date, covering teams and players that were playing closer to the decade he’d been a child. “I see how it is. I’m here, and you don’t bat an eyelid. But Yaz walks in and you’re suddenly scrambling to get her to go down with you.” He bit his lip. “Maybe I should have worded that a bit better…”

   The Doctor cocked her head to the side like a puppy trying to make sense of the human language. “Why? Did you say something wrong?”

   Yaz was currently holding her head in her hands. “Can we move on instead of talking about this?”

   “But why?” The Doctor wasn’t going to be perturbed that easily. “I don’t see the problem with what he said! I suppose I did want you to go down with me.”

   “Excuse me?” Yaz managed to squeak out. Her cheeks were definitely on fire now. There had to be a room deep inside the Tardis where she could hide. She wanted to shoot Dan daggers for what he’d caused, probably on purpose knowing what he was like.

   “I needed you to go down with me under the console to help me reach one of the exposed wire connections.” The Doctor had her hands on her hips, still not following the humour one of her friends was enjoying and the embarrassment the other was going through. 

   “I think I’m going to need some time to recover before I can do that.”

   “Suit yourself,” the Doctor said with a pout. “But if something goes wrong, it’s your fault.” She went back to her earlier position, oblivious to the torment she’d just put Yaz through. The complexities of the inner workings of the Tardis were much simpler and easier to understand than the mind of Yasmin Khan.

   Dan sidled over to his mate, nudging her with his shoulder. “I thought she was actually offering there and then. I thought your head might explode with the implications.”

   “Shut up,” Yaz hissed. She wished she’d never told him about her feelings sometimes. Only sometimes. It was nice to have someone who she could joke about it with. Making the topic lighter and easier to talk about made it less daunting to consider. 

   The lights around the console room suddenly dimmed, like the life force was being drained out from the arching columns surrounding them. The Doctor was up once more, abandoning the goggles as she anxiously checked the monitor. Yaz was by her side, always her place to be in a crisis. Usually because it was the Doctor causing the problems. She couldn’t make sense of the Gallifreyan swirling across the holographic screen even if her friend had been trying to teach her some basic phrases. But it was easy to tell that, whatever was happening, it wasn’t good . Most noticeably when she looked at the Doctor’s worried expression.

   “What did you do?” Yaz gave her a pointed look. Things always went wrong when she started messing with the Tardis. The time machine was temperamental at the best of times.

   “This isn’t me!” the Doctor assured her. “I was just making the systems more efficient, trying to get the navigation circuits to be more accurate since you’re always complaining about not landing in the right location.” She ran a hand through her hair in a way that shouldn’t have been distracting for Yaz given the circumstances. “But…oh no.”

   “What, ‘oh no’? That’s never good. There’s never a good ‘oh no’.”

   “I didn't want to fry my body as I was working because…you know…I rather like the way I look and I’d hate to change it so soon. In order to do that…I put the Tardis on a temporary low power mode.”

   “Like you do with your phone?” Dan was there with them now, even more confused than Yaz by what was happening. The Tardis was now letting out a low hum that sounded a lot like a distress signal. 

   “It’s a bit more complicated than that but yes…basically.”

   “Well, that doesn’t sound too bad. Maybe that’s why the lights have gone out. To save power.” Yaz’s voice was getting increasingly hopeful. 

   “It wouldn’t be too bad…if it didn't also shut the shields down.” The Doctor bit her lip, refusing to meet their (now furious) gazes.

   Dan had his hands on his head. “Why would you do that?!” His voice had the tendency to go more high pitched and squeaky whenever he was panicked.

   “We were floating in a harmless bit of the time vortex! I made sure of it! I was adamant that a few minutes wouldn’t do any harm. I can go a few minutes without getting into trouble.”

   “Well you obviously can’t!” Yaz argued.

   The humming stopped. For a second, they wanted to believe that was a good thing. Then it was replaced by a chiming sound, something Yaz hadn’t heard the Tardis do too many times. It usually signalled impending doom.

   “The cloister bell.” It was strange to see the Doctor truly terrified but this was one such occasion. She pushed past Yaz to grapple with the screen. “That’s not possible.”

   “I don’t think I even want to ask.”

   “The vortex…it’s gone…well, to be more accurate, we’ve gone out of it. But we didn't move!”

   The room buckled all of a sudden, spinning wildly as the chiming tones became louder. They did their best to cling onto the console to keep their footing, but Dan was the first to lose his grip, tumbling to the floor with a heavy thud. Yaz was soon following his example, covering her face as sparks flew out around them. The engines of the Tardis were wheezing unhealthily, the symbols on the monitors flickering and changing every second. Helplessly, Yaz looked to the Doctor, who was just about managing to stay upright in a sort of half-crouching position.

   “We’re being pulled into something! The Tardis can’t fight it!” The Doctor wasn’t even looking at them. She couldn’t, for fear of what their expressions would tell her. She had let them down. She had put them in danger again. Knowing that there was nothing she could do to control their rapid fall, she pushed herself against the console and towards one of the columns. Slowly and clumsily, she reached down, searching out for Yaz amidst the chaos. If it was going to end like this, she at least wanted to be with her. 

   Just as they were about to hold onto one another, the ship came to a juddering halt. The sudden jarring movement sent the Doctor flying, ending up completely flush against Yaz’s front. Everything was still once more, the only sound now being their ragged breathing as they contemplated just how close their bodies now were. For a moment, they might have considered to even forget about the problem and just enjoy the opportunity but the Doctor was never allowed such luxuries. And she was leaning rather forcefully on Yaz’s bladder that kind of ruined the romantic vibes.

   The Time Lord looked up. “The Tardis,” she said with a gasp.

   The entire console was now matching the columns, in that the warm glow, something that had provided comfort to them for so long, had dissipated. It was grey and cold, the central column frozen in place. Yaz watched as her friend staggered towards it helplessly. She didn't know long the Doctor and the Tardis had been together but could only imagine the sort of anguish she was going through now. She reckoned it must have been something akin to the way she had felt when she and the Doctor had been torn away from one another for three years. Yaz couldn’t imagine a sensation feeling worse than that. 

   Dan was struggling to stand up. “What was that? You said we were being sucked in…was it like a black hole or something?” He didn't really know how they worked but he’d definitely heard about them on some boring science show he’d accidentally put on the tv one evening.

   “I don’t know.” The Doctor’s voice was monotonous, devoid of feeling. It was like she’d been drained just as much as the Tardis. “Whatever it was, it killed the Tardis. There’s nothing there.” She ran a hand over a lever, testing it to no avail. “We’re stuck.”

   “And where are we stuck?” Yaz asked the obvious question. 

   “Perhaps some sort of void. A space between realities. That’d be the only explanation I can think of for what happened just then.” The Doctor’s shoulders were sagged, her back hunched. In the blink of an eye, she had lost all of her drive and enthusiasm. It was breaking Yaz’s heart. “I think I’ve been through this before…I just can’t remember when. It was a long time ago now.”

   “Then shouldn’t that make you hopeful? If this has happened before, then that means you managed to fix whatever went wrong back then. You could do that again.”

   The Doctor gave her a halfhearted smile. “Yeah,” she sighed. “Maybe.”

   Dan was walking towards the doors. “Is there a way of looking at this void?”

   “The scanner’s are down. I can’t get any readings. I can’t even bring up images from outside. The only thing that’s operational is the life support, which has the fail safe put in place. But that won’t last forever.”

   “Well, there’s always the old fashioned method.” Dan, not really thinking about it, pulled open the two doors, only to hear the Doctor shouting at him in panic. The Time Lord ran over, trying to stop him, but it was already too late. He was too far away to reach. The doors opened and she anticipated the worst, covering her eyes from what she expected to see. She anticipated an awful sensation of being dragged out from the relative safety of the Tardis and sucked into the void. She imagined hearing her friends’ cries as they succumbed to the same fate. 

   But none of that happened. Slowly, she moved her arm down, peering at the expanse before her. It was black and endless, like one might expect a void to look at. But it wasn’t empty. It was swirling and changing in almost infinitesimally small ways, things only she could perceive because she’d been wandering the universe for so long. And there were stars in the distance, blinking away, hanging there despite the impossibility of their presence. It wasn’t making sense and the Doctor hated it when that happened. 

   Yaz, having been struck by panic at the Doctor’s behaviour, joined them in the doorway, confused as to why the Time Lord’s reaction had been so visceral. “It’s space.”

   “It’s a great view,” Dan commented. He would never get used to this. How lucky was he? Despite all the crashing and the constant danger, he got to experience this firsthand. “If we are stuck here forever, I can imagine worse places to be. Like Liverpool city centre late on a Friday night.”

   “But…it’s space.” The Doctor was frowning, more out of confusion than anything else. “That…shouldn’t have happened.”

   “Stop complaining,” Yaz said. “Isn’t that better than what you were thinking?”

   “Well…yes,” the Doctor allowed. “I mean, it’s still not good . We can’t go anywhere. But it’s not nearly as life threatening.”

   Dan gave her a sideways glance. “Just the normal amount of life threatening when we’re with you.”

   “Precisely!” 

   “Hold on…” Yaz was pointing at something in front of them. “What’s that?”

   Just out in front of them, there was a small object floating across the black expanse. They narrowed their eyes at it, trying to make out what it was. It had a familiar shape though they couldn’t quite place it. There was a light coming off it, a purple glow that made it stand out against the never-ending darkness. Whatever it was, none of them reckoned that it was supposed to be there.

   “It almost looks like a person,” Dan commented, furrowing his brow. “But that’s not possible.”

   The Doctor was already rushing over to the console. “A lot of things are happening today that shouldn’t really be feasible. Why would we expect anything else with this?” She was pulling at levers, pressing buttons, trying to coax a bit of life out of the old girl.

   “What are you thinking?” Yaz was next to her again, watching the way her hands moved deftly over the controls.

   “If the life support system is still operational, which it is - you can tell that from the way we’re still actually breathing - then that means the gravity and air bubble around the perimeter of the Tardis is still in place. If I can just manipulate it…a bit like this…” She grunted as one lever was more difficult to push up. She was having to go under the console, bypassing the usual mechanics and getting right to the heart of the machine. “...I should be able to create a sort of…tunnel.”

   “And that’ll drag whatever that is towards the Tardis?”

   “Hopefully. We might have to give it a helping hand during the last stretch.”

   “And what if it’s something dangerous? A bomb? It was definitely glowing like something that might explode. You’d be surprised at how often it’s a bomb when it comes hanging out with you.”

   The Doctor looked at her with an exasperated expression. “I could leave it, if you really want. But I’m pretty sure that it’s a person out there, someone who doesn’t look to be enjoying the openness of space. This will definitely use up the last remaining energy we have in here, the tiny bit that’s left. I could ignore it and be selfish, put us first for once. If ever a situation warranted a bit of selfishness, it’s probably this one.”

   “You know I’d never ask for that. And I know you’d never even go through with it. If there’s even a chance that it’s a person, and they’re somehow still alive, then I don’t think it was ever a choice.”

   “I don’t think we have this long for a deliberation,” Dan called out, still standing by the door. “How long can a person survive in space?”

   “Not very long,” the Doctor growled. “Thanks for your running commentary as ever, Dan.” She looked at Yaz. “Is that a yes then?”

   “Do it,” the other woman replied. 

   The Doctor got to work, lunging under the nearest panel. The Tardis shuddered for a few seconds and, in that time, she was heading back towards the doors to watch her work in progress. The space in front of them seemed to shift and glimmer as the bubble distorted, contorting and shaping itself to fit their needs. They watched as the object began to move in a different direction than before, slowly floating towards them. It was an anxious couple of moments as they waited for it to get nearer, the Doctor constantly worried that the final power cells would peter out of life before the job was finished. But the object kept getting closer. And, as it came more into view, it was increasingly apparent that they’d been right about it being a person.

   The three of them reached out once they were close enough, taking a limb each and carefully dragging the body into the ship. It was a strange sensation to hold, the entire body covered in a layer of what looked like crystals. It explained the glow they had seen, not that any of them understood what it was. The Doctor was understandably curious, wanting to investigate what the material was, but then the person was entering the interior gravity shell and returning to its own weight, making it much heavier to carry. With a bit of effort, they managed to place it on the floor, propping it up against one of the pillars.

   “What do you think it is?” Dan asked as they stared at it. It was at least providing a bit of illumination across the chamber. “It definitely has to be an alien.”

   Yaz quirked an eyebrow at him. “Obviously. Have you ever seen a human do that?”

   The Doctor was crouching in front of it, waving her sonic screwdriver over its form. “I wouldn’t be so sure. The readings are all over the place but I’m getting notes of a terrestrial-based life form. But that doesn’t explain what…this is.” She gestured wildly to the glowing substance that was beginning to pulse softly.

   “Are you sure your sonic isn’t just getting it wrong?” Dan suggested. “After the day we’re having, I reckon it could be likely.”

   “I’ll have you know that my sonic is working perfectly fine, thank you very much. I did make it myself after all.”

   “That’s what I’m worried about.”

   The Doctor frowned at him, about to think of a witty retort, when the glowing seemed to subside. The crystals quickly vanished from view, revealing the person lying underneath. They looked at them in confusion, finding a young girl with her eyes closed. Her hair was fairly tousled, but they could forgive her for that given the situation they’d found her in. The Doctor was more curious about the gorgeous bangle wrapped around her left arm, inscripted with something she couldn’t quite make out. She wished the Tardis translation circuits were still functioning properly.

   “I don’t know what to believe anymore,” Yaz said, looking at the figure in astonishment. “She was in space! Without a spacesuit! That shouldn’t be possible.”

   “We managed to survive it,” the Doctor idly pointed out. “Remember? First time you ended up on your first alien planet. That all started with accidentally getting transported into space. If it hadn’t been for those ships passing by, we wouldn’t have stood a chance.” She looked down at the unconscious girl. “Is it so unfathomable to think that she’s just as lucky as we were back then.”

   “I think you need to tell me about that story,” Dan responded, trying to decide whether they were telling the truth. “But is it possible that she’s the one that brought us here? Like…she wished really hard for some help and we were the closest to her?”

   “It doesn’t really make much scientific sense but it’s as good an explanation as we currently have to work on. There’s definitely something different about her.”

   The girl’s eyes opened unexpectedly. They might have expected her to react slowly after what she’d been through but she was instantly jumping back in fright at their presence, scrambling across the floor and finding that she had no room to move backwards. She looked at her new surroundings, staring at the vast room and the strange console in the centre. Wherever she had expected to go, it wasn’t this. The three people in front of her looked just as clueless about this as she was.

   “Where…where am I?” she croaked. “I was…I was in my bedroom and then…it started to feel funny. The bangle. It was glowing and then…then…I can’t remember what happened next.”

   “You’re safe,” the Doctor reassured her, placing a hand on her shoulder. She was happy to see that the girl didn't flinch away from her touch. “Don’t worry. We managed to get you inside before you were hurt.”

   The girl cocked her head to the side. “Hurt from what?”

   “What sort of accent is that?” Dan asked.

   “New Jersey.” The girl looked distinctly offended. “I don’t think you should be commenting on anyone’s accents, mister.”

   “So not an alien then,” Yaz reasoned sensibly.

   “What? Of course not! Do I look like an alien to you? Why would you think that?”

   The Doctor gave her a polite smile, trying to take back control of the conservation. “Why don’t you start off by telling us your name?”

   “Kamala. Kamala Khan.”

Chapter Text

 “Can you remember anything?”

   The Doctor was still leaning over Kamala, who was surprised by how comforting the older woman’s presence was. She still wasn’t sure what to make of the other two yet, though they hadn’t done anything to make her feel uneasy. In truth, she was less focused on the people than she was on her unexpected location. She might have considered it gorgeous if it had been a bit brighter. She could almost tell that it was usually warmer, as if she could sense its core reaching out towards her, telling her about its suffering. If she was in trouble, then it apparently seemed that her new hosts were in a similar position. 

   “It’s fuzzy,” she replied, rubbing her forehead. “Like I told you, I was in my bedroom. I remember…suddenly being very cold. And then I was here, waking up in front of you.” She scrutinised her observers carefully. “You didn't do anything to me, did you?”

   “You’re a very suspicious person, aren’t you?” Dan said to her with an easy smirk.

   “I’m a young Pakistani living in America. I’ve learnt to be suspicious.” Her gaze was surprisingly steely for a girl her age. They didn't say so out loud, but it certainly impressed her small audience. “And I’ve had quite a lot happen to me recently so I’m wary of anyone who shows more than a passing interest in me.”

   The Doctor stood up, glancing at Yaz as she did so. Her companion folded her arms. “What are you thinking? If she’s telling the truth…”

   “I am telling the truth,” Kamala made sure to tell her. 

   “ Since she’s telling the truth, that’d mean she got transported a very long way. I’m guessing some sort of teleport.”

   The Doctor nodded her head. “It’d certainly make sense. Well, besides how she came across a teleport of that power. And why someone would want to pick her up and place her there.”

   “Are you going to tell me where here is?” Kamala was giving them a hopeful smile. It was hard not to be already infatuated with her and she’d only been there for a few minutes. “What is this place? Some sort of art installation? I think I’ve seen this sort of thing on tv.”

   “I don’t think you’ve ever seen anything like this place.”

   The girl crossed her arms in defiance. “Is that supposed to impress me?”

   “It normally does with people who end up in here.”

   “I’m not a normal person.” It was still a thrill for her to be able to say stuff like that and truly mean it. “Like I said, I’ve been through a lot. You don’t even make the top ten of weirdest things to happen to me this week .” She’d stood up by this point, her legs shaky. Dan made a move to assist her but she waved him away, instead deciding to do it on her own. She didn't want them thinking she was weak, although she did have to use the pillar for support at one point, her left leg almost giving way completely.

   “Yeah, I’m curious about that.” The Doctor was prowling, something she regularly did when she was trying to coax information out of an opponent. Not that she felt this girl was a threat, but she’d made the mistake of underestimating people in the past. “You can’t keep teasing us. Why don’t you tell us about these strange events happening to you recently.” For all the Doctor knew, they could be connected to what had suddenly brought the Tardis to this point.

   Kamala narrowed her eyes. “Do you really expect me to do that? How gullible do you think I am? I fall unconscious and you’re the first people I see afterwards. From my viewpoint, you’ve captured me and are trying to get information out of me!”

   “Why would we do that?” Yaz asked, falling back into her police officer mode, her training kicking in. “Unless you do have some information that might be interesting to certain parties. Am I getting warm?” She still really wanted to know what the source of her glowing had been.

   Kamala’s expression changed ever so subtly, betraying a hidden lack of confidence. She’d thought she might be able to take control of the situation but that was obviously going to be more difficult than she’d thought. “I’m…not allowed to say.” She didn't know these people. She didn't know what they wanted or what their objectives were. They seemed nice but people could be good actors. Was there a chance of getting out of there? They weren’t exactly guarding the door. If she made a run for it, using some of her powers (that she was still getting accustomed to, especially trying to figure out the extremes of what she was capable of), then surely they wouldn’t be able to stop her. Unless they had powers of their own. Or weapons. She’d heard a lot about the technology SHIELD had in use, and she’d seen firsthand the lengths the DODC were willing to go to.

   The Doctor was giving her a soft smile that was making her want to trust her. It was rather infuriating. “Okay, that’s fine. If you have a secret, or a few, then we’re not here to coax them out of you. But what if I told you one of my secrets? And, in return, all you would have to do is consider doing the same for me. Like a trade.”

   Kamala blew a loose strand of hair out of her face, unable to hide her curiosity at the proposition. “I’m listening.”

   The Doctor nodded her head to their surroundings. “You’re currently standing in the Tardis. It stands for Time and Relative Dimension in Space.”

   “It’s certainly a cool name, I’ll give you that.” Kamala froze. “Did you say space? As in, actual outer space? Are you studying it? Are you scientists? Because I’ve got a really close friend who I think would be really interested in whatever experiments you’re working on.”

   The Doctor held up a hand to stop her from getting carried away. Her energy was strangely infectious. “No experiments. Well, none at the moment. I am known to fiddle with the old bunsen burner once in a while.”

   “You might want to rephrase that, Doctor,” Dan noted.

   “Yeah, I picked up on that straight away, as soon as it was leaving my mouth. But it was too late by then. Hopefully I haven’t weirded out our current guest.”

   Kamala shook her head. “I hear a lot worse from my family members on a daily basis, don’t worry.”

   “That’s good to know!” The Doctor was bounding over towards her, grasping her shoulders with both hands and leading her towards the doors. “Because I reckon we’re going to get on like a house on fire. Well, not literally. That’d be quite bad. What’s better than a fire? A controlled fire? A barbecue! We’re going to get on like a barbecue!”

   “Has anyone told you that you’re a bit strange?” Kamala asked nervously, eyeing up the woman who was leaning close to her face. She smelt of biscuits and engine oil, a strange mixture.

   “Constantly. These two never shut up about it, frankly. Now then…where was I? Oh, yeah…this really is my favourite bit. There’s a reason that this place has space in the title.”

   She pushed open the doors theatrically, focused on the reaction on the girl’s face rather than taking in the view herself. The Doctor dearly loved getting to show new people her home. The stars seemed to shine in Kamala’s eyes as they were reflected back, the young girl taking a few steps closer. The Doctor made sure to keep her hands on her, just in case. The gravity bubble was holding just about after they’d put it through its paces, but there was no need to push the limit. The last thing she wanted was to have saved the girl and then lose her straight away. 

   Kamala’s smile was as bright as the distant suns blinking at them as she gazed around at the beauty of it all. Yaz, although she couldn’t actually see the reaction for herself, could picture it perfectly. She reckoned it would have perfectly matched the same look she’d worn when she’d seen it for the first time as well. Or, at least, the time she hadn’t been plonked in the middle of it on the brink of death. She remembered when they’d been able to show Dan the same sort of view, the way he had gone quiet because words didn't quite do it justice. Kamala was the same, choosing to appreciate the moment instead of ruining it with whatever she could think to say. 

   “You’re currently standing in the best spaceship in the universe,” the Doctor proudly commented, smiling affectionately at the blue box. “Also, she’s a time machine but we can leave that detail until later. We don’t want to blow your mind too much straight away.”

   Kamala stretched out a hand, wondering what it would feel like to touch the nothingness. It tingled softly, though the Doctor wasn’t going to ruin the moment by explaining that that was more down to the shields currently keeping them alive. She watched as the girl, brazened by the fact she’d been able to put her hand outside, poked her head slowly through the doors. She closed her eyes for a second, expecting something bad to happen, before realising that her new companions probably wouldn’t have allowed her to do that if that was the case. Turning her head from side to side, she peered curiously at the outside of the ship, frowning at what she found.

   “Where’s the rest of it?” she asked, returning completely inside once again. She took in the console room with greater appreciation for what it represented. It was more of a marvel than she’d realised. She thought of what her dad had said on the rooftop and how they had named her because she’d been their little ms marvel. In comparison, this was very much a big marvel.

   “Pardon?”

   “The outside doesn’t match the inside. The sizes are all wrong!”

   “Hey! Let’s not go around body shaming my ship. She’s very sensitive about her weight!”

   “But…we’re in space!” It was all starting to dawn on Kamala. Maybe she’d just banged her head really hard.

   “We are.”

   “How are we in space?”

   “I told you. It’s a spaceship! It’s in the name. It’s a ship…for space.” The Doctor was already moving away, closing the doors behind her. She didn't want to let a breeze in.

   “Are you aliens?”

   “I am,” the Doctor answered simply. There was no use avoiding it. It wasn’t as if she was ashamed of it. “But they’re human. As normal as they come.”

   “Hey!” Yaz complained. “I’d like to think we’re a bit more than normal. At least, I am. Dan’s getting there. Slowly.”

   Kamala slowly nodded her head. “Okay.”

   The Doctor was staring at her like a particularly interesting page of information, trying to decipher what she was hiding. There was definitely something different about her but she couldn’t quite put her finger on it. “You don’t seem too bothered by me being an alien? Have you had a lot of experiences with little green men? Which, I might add, is an insulting stereotype that I shouldn’t really be purporting.”

   “No, it’s just…we’ve had to deal with plenty of aliens down on Earth. Why should I be surprised by their existence now? Though I don’t think I’ve ever seen any that look…like you.”

   “I’m hoping that’s not an insult. I thought I looked pretty good. What do you think, Yaz?”

   “Very good,” the woman in question replied without thinking before her eyes went wide. The Doctor appeared oblivious to her embarrassment, though, sadly for her, Dan had definitely picked up on it.

   “But this is good!” the Doctor continued with gusto. “Finally! Someone who remembers all of the invasions you’re constantly put through. You’d be amazed by how much humans are capable of forgetting. It can be incredibly frustrating.”

   “How…how did I get to space then?” None of this was making sense to Kamala. Frankly, hardly anything had been making sense recently.

   “That’s what we’d like to know,” the Doctor replied, hands on her hips as she turned to face their visitor. “We found you there, floating away. It’s a minor miracle that you survived the ordeal. It’s a major miracle that we happened to stumble across you in the nick of time.”

   Kamala pinched the brow of her nose. “You mean…you’re not the ones who brought me here?”

   “For all we know, you brought yourself here. Maybe by accident, maybe on purpose. Though I don’t know why you’d do it on purpose. Space is a lot colder than New Jersey. I’d much prefer the latter climate.”

   “I was in space. I was in space.” Kamala was slowly repeating it like a mantra, as if saying it over and over again would make it seem more plausible. “I was in space! I’m just like Captain Marvel!” She began to jump around giddily, her dreams coming true. Maybe her powers had allowed her to fly past the Earth’s atmosphere like her hero and the experience had been too much for her on a first go, accounting for her apparent blackout. 

   “Who?” Dan asked, puzzled by her remark. He was confused by her whole reaction. What sort of person actively wanted to end up in the empty vastness of space?

   Kamala froze. Had she just heard correctly? “Who? What do you mean…who?” She pinched the bridge of her nose in disgust. “Captain Marvel! Carol freaking Danvers! How have you not heard of her? Have you been living under a rock?” Her voice was gradually getting more high pitched as she went on, the incredulity building up within her. She needed to show them her bedroom for an education because all three of them were wearing clueless expressions. “The strongest Avenger?”

   “I don’t think I’ve heard of these Avengers…” the Doctor said with a confused pout. “Are they like a band? Are they like that No Direction?”

   “One Direction, Doctor,” Yaz helpfully corrected her.

   “Fine. Are they like One Direction?”

   “No!” Kamala was close to tearing her hair out. “Come on, you must be pulling my leg. You said that you were from Earth! You can’t live there and not know about the Avengers! Antman! Doctor Strange! Captain America!” Their faces just became more blank with each name. “You must know about Iron Man! Please tell me you know about Iron Man! Tony Stark was the genius.”

   “There’s only one genius around here and she’s currently wearing yellow braces.” The Doctor pulled at them to accentuate her point. 

   “I’ve based my entire personality around the Avengers since my early childhood and you’re saying you’ve never heard of them. How can you have gone through life without knowing about superheroes?”

   The three of them stood still at that. Dan sniggered. “Superheroes? Like in the movies? Don’t be daft! They’re fictional!”

   Kamala rolled her eyes and decided to prove him wrong straight away. With a small amount of effort (it was becoming easier with every time she did it), she stretched out her arm. It glowed its usual purple and grew bigger, stopping just in time to pat Dan on the head. He jumped away at the contact, cowering from what he’d just seen. Yaz had rushed behind the console for protection whereas the Doctor had moved forward, eyes blazing with curiosity.

   “What the hell was that?!” Dan shouted. They were all wanting to know the answer to that.

   “Do you still not believe in superheroes? Because I am one.”

   “Well…” Yaz said slowly, doing her best to process what she’d just seen. “At least that explains the glowing we first saw around you. Then again…when I say it explains everything…I think I’m more confused than ever.”

   “Confused?” the Doctor echoed. “I’m astounded! I’m astonished! Most of all, I’m completely flabbergasted! That was amazing!” She was quickly in front of Kamala, scanning her with the sonic in a haphazard swirl of limbs. She’d never been one for subtlety. 

   “Is that some sort of weapon?” Kamala asked. Sure, she reckoned she could take them all out without much fuss, but it was hard not to be wary. 

   “The sonic? Of course it isn’t! It’s a scientific piece of equipment, highly advanced, with a super sleek design of my own creation. Do you like it?” She paused for a split second, waiting for the girl to nod her head. “It’s meant to scan pretty much anything that the universe can throw at us. But you…you’re completely frying its circuits! What are you? The energy signatures permeating off of you are through the roof! It’s nothing like I’ve ever seen. In all honesty, such a force should probably have killed you by now but there you are, still standing. Humanity…resilient till the last. And you definitely said that you’re human, right? You weren’t lying? Because I’m putting together a load of the pieces and the jigsaw isn’t looking very…humany-y.” Maybe there was a better way of phrasing it but she was simply too excited to study this unknown phenomenon. She didn't get on with the universe all the time, but she adored it when it threw her an interesting curveball like this.

   “Very much a human. Like I said, New Jersey, born and bred. My family came over from Pakistan, with Indian heritage.” She was incredibly proud of every aspect of her genetic makeup. She wouldn’t allow anyone to belittle her for it. Especially not now she could actually embiggen herself.

    The Doctor was scanning her again, the metallic whirr high pitched and rather annoying to Kamala’s ears. “Hmm. Yep, you’re not lying. That’s definitely human DNA. Although…” She basically had her face pressed up against the sonic, trying to focus in on the readings it was giving her. “The sonic is definitely picking up on some subtle mutations going on that you might want to look at. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that’s the cause of your…um…powers? Do you call them powers? But I can’t possibly know what caused the mutation in the first place.”

   Kamala smiled sheepishly. “Yeah, my friend told me all about that. We’re still trying to…figure it out. Not that I’m going to complain about it after what it’s given me.”

   Yaz stepped forward tentatively, concerned that she might show off her skills again. Dan was still cowering behind cover just in case. “So you actually…want these abilities?”

   “Why wouldn’t I?” Kamala looked as if she truly couldn’t understand feeling the opposite way. “I’m now just like the heroes I’ve looked up to all my life. I can help and save people. It’s allowed me to feel more like myself than ever before.”

   “And she’s right to be grateful for them,” the Doctor said. “Since they just saved her life. It was that glowing that created a sufficient force field around her body to keep her protected from outer space. It was rushed and hastily put together, but it did the job.”

   “Well, I didn't even know that I did it so I can’t account for it being slightly mishap. Sheesh!” She shook her head at them. “But just look at the way you’re staring at me. Have you not looked at your phones recently? Social media? I can safely say that I’ve been trending lately, whether that’s a good or bad thing, I don’t really know. Have you not heard of Night Light? Which, I might add, is definitely not the name I’m going with.”

   “I’m sorry. I guess I haven’t updated my phone in a while but I’ll make sure to do it once I’ve got a spare moment. But you’re talking as if superheroes are just a normal thing in society.”

   “They are! You’re English, right? You have superheroes there, right? You must do. Though…now I think about it…I don’t think I’ve heard of any and I’m literally obsessed with superheroes. But they are a normal thing now. I suppose Captain America was the first proper one, though Captain Marvel has always been my particular favourite.”

   Dan tapped the Doctor on the shoulder. “You said that her body was mutating, yeah? Maybe that’s affecting her brain too because that’s the only way she’d actually believe this nonsense.”

   “I heard that,” Kamala growled. “Was my display not sufficient enough for you?” An idea suddenly popped into her head. “I have photos! On my phone! I’m always saving the best shots of superheroes. That was mainly to fuel my imagination when I’d dream of fighting alongside them, and I guess I don’t need a fictional reality for that anymore.” She was still giddy about that.

   They crowded around her as she swiped through her specially curated photo album, going through different images. Promo shoots of Iron Man for multiple cover magazines. Bruce Banner before and after images. Sketches from World War Two of Captain America and Peggy Carter. A photo someone had taken whilst on a flight as a lightning storm and an Asgardian god greeted them amongst the clouds. Doctor Strange walking around in normal clothes, only for the cloak underneath to betray his true identity. And then there were the multiple photos of Captain Marvel. Some had her in her pilot's outfit, taken from before her change. Others showed her in her full glory, sporting the iconic costume. Kamala stared dreamily at the figure.

   “Well, this doesn’t prove anything,” Dan complained, gesturing to the phone dismissively. “They’re obviously photoshopped.”

   “I’ve heard about people like you,” Kamala responded through narrowed eyes. “Hero deniers. They have definitive proof of their existence and yet they still choose to argue that they’re fake. Why? Why are you like this?”

   “Because superheroes don’t walk around Earth like you’re claiming! I think I would have seen it on the news. Trust me, I’d be glad to know they were there. They could help me carry my shopping, not that I usually buy a lot.” Living alone, all he really needed was a few pot noodles and microwaveable meals, a sorry indictment of the way he’d been living his life.

   “Kamala,” the Doctor said pleasantly, shooting a subtle glare in Dan’s direction. He really wasn’t helping. “You said that Earth has dealt with alien invasions before. Could you tell me what sorts?”

   “Everybody knows about the Chitauri.” To Kamala, this was her ideal situation, getting to geek out unabashedly. “They invaded New York with the help of Loki, Thor’s brother, obviously. Carol Danvers was kidnapped by the Kree and lied to for a large part of her life before learning the truth about her powers. Then you’ve got Thanos. It’s a name that has the power alone to render people into nervous wrecks. If it weren’t for the Avengers, half of existence in the universe wouldn’t have come back.”

   The Doctor formed an ‘o’ shape with her mouth. “So…no Daleks? Cybermen? Space rhinos picking up a hospital and putting it on the moon?”

   “What are you talking about? And you have the cheek to think that I’m insane?”

   “Could we just…have a minute?” The Doctor held up a finger and then was escorting Yaz and Dan a few steps away, keeping them in a tight huddle.

   “What is she?” Yaz asked immediately. “Some sort of alien?”

   “I told you, she’s very much human.”

   “The sonic could have got it wrong,” Dan pointed out. “We’ve already established that.”

   “Will you stop doubting my sonic?”

   “But it’s the only obvious explanation! I have no clue how she did that with her hands. Maybe…it was some sort of trick with the lights.”

   Yaz looked at him sceptically. “The lights in here that aren’t currently working?”

   “It’s an evolving hypothesis.”

   “What if…” The Doctor was holding up her hands, preparing them for what she was about to say. “...she’s actually telling the truth? Maybe these superheroes do exist…”

   “Of all the things I expected to come out of your mouth, it definitely wasn’t that,” Yaz replied. “Have you heard what you just said? We live on Earth! We’d know about this!”

   “That’s the thing though…what if it isn’t your Earth?”

   Dan was rubbing his forehead to ease the dull ache of his brain throbbing. “Okay, you’ve officially lost me now.”

   “When we were crashing, I told you that I thought I’d been through this before. And I’m starting to remember. The vortex suddenly disappearing, reality seemingly fading away…it’s because we accidentally left our reality.”

   “I need a lie down.”

   “What are you trying to say?” Yaz was at least willing to hear her out. 

   “It might just be possible that we’ve entered another universe.”

   “And…is that possible?”

   “Technically, yeah. If things go drastically wrong, which they obviously did before. Parallel worlds definitely exist. I’ve ended up in a few over the years. I just didn't think that had happened because we ended up in space, instead of on Earth. Their Earth. Her Earth.”

   “What would cause the Tardis to do that?”

   “I don’t know,” the Doctor answered honestly with a shrug of her shoulders. “You’d have to be pretty unlucky and you know our track record when it comes to that.”

   Dan was slowly recovering from the bombshell. “Is there any way of finding out for sure that we’re in a different universe?” He laughed bitterly. “I never thought I’d be saying that. Does this mean we’re going to be back late for tea? I’ve got this pasta dish I was hoping to try…”

   “That might have to wait for a while. Sorry, Dan. As for finding out…well, the easiest way to do it would be to look at Earth, which would quickly show differences from what we know. I say easy…but we’re currently stuck in space, a part that I can’t identify. At first, I thought my geographical knowledge was slipping but at least this parallel universe idea should mean I’m not slacking.”

   “Every cloud, hey?” Yaz gave her a small, uneasy smile. “So we’re still trapped…”

   “Sadly. Unless the Tardis suddenly has a major influx of energy to make the trip to Earth, we’re completely stationary.” Something flashed in the Doctor’s eyes. “Energy…”

   She turned around, prompting Kamala to look at them expectantly. “Have you finished talking about me behind my back?”

   “We weren’t actually discussing you. We were planning on how to get you home. I’m presuming that’s what you want.”

   “I am worried about what my parents will be thinking. That’s if they’ve noticed my absence. Who am I kidding? Of course they have. Can this thing get me home?”

   “It can. Just…not in its present state. Our journey here depleted the engines. It needs a spark of energy, that’s all. Something for me to direct towards the engines and I should be able to get us back safely. Moderately safely. Maybe a few cuts and bruises.”

   “Where are you going to get that energy from though?”

   “I was hoping…you would give us a helping hand. Quite literally, with what you showed us just then. You are radiating cosmic energy, something the Tardis can harness. It’s a bit similar to putting diesel in a petrol car. It’s definitely not a perfect match and it’ll leave a bad taste in her mouth but it’ll do the job. It should be a relatively short trip, thankfully.”

   “Will it hurt?”

   “I’m not going to lie to you…it probably will. I’ll try to work as quickly as I can but that’s all I can promise you. You’ll be acting as a fuel source for a spaceship. That’s no laughing matter. It’ll be like giving it a jumpstart, just on a much larger scale. But this is our only option, unless you want to stay here and hope that someone nice happens to come along and picks us up.”

   Kamala thought about it for a few moments. “I’ve always wanted to fly a spaceship.”

Chapter Text

There was a terrible noise coming from somewhere that was making a great deal of racket. She wasn’t happy. There weren’t many occasions where she allowed herself to sit down on the sofa and enjoy a spot of trashy American television, mainly because she usually told Kamala that they were above such petty indulgences. So, when she did give in to such temptations, mainly when her children expressly weren’t around to witness her small moments of weakness, it was perfectly justified for her to be annoyed at any disturbances.

   “Yusuf!” she yelled angrily. “Are you playing with another of those gadgets that Bruno made for you? Because, if you carry on, the poor boy will be having to fix his latest project. And you, for good measure!”

   There was no response and she muttered under her breath. Muneeba reached for the remote control lying on the coffee table and paused her show, turning her head to look across the living room. If it hadn’t been for the intrusive noise, it might have been considered peaceful, with everyone keeping to themselves. She would normally say that a family had to spend time together to create suitably strong bonds. But, then again, she did cherish the times she got to have on her own. Her own company was just that good. 

   If anything, the sound was only getting louder. It was a strange, groaning sort of noise that seemed to be emanating from outside. She wasn’t the sort of person to shout at kids playing too close to her home but she was the sort to glare at them from her window. And, typically, such a powerful scowl was enough to drive them away. She didn't know how kids would be behind such a noise. It was awful and twisted, as if something was breaking apart. Then again, she didn't know what to expect in this crazy world she lived in. The latest developments, affecting her and her family personally, had just brought the craziness closer to home.

   With an irritated huff, she got up from her seat, intending to march over to the door and give whoever was outside a piece of her mind. Thankfully, Kamala wasn’t home (she was concerned enough about that as it was, likely adding to her stressed demeanour) so she wouldn’t be witness to what was about to unfold. Her daughter would only lord it over her like she always enjoyed doing when she got to see her mum’s standards slip.

   Yusuf slowly trotted down the stairs just as she was about to reach the door. “Were you shouting for me, my love?”

   “Don’t give me that,” Muneeba snapped. She didn't enjoy it when he was calm whilst she was this agitated. “Are you behind this? Or is it that daughter of ours, messing around again?”

   Yusuf had his finger in a pot of yoghurt, a habit she had tried unsuccessfully to get him to stop doing. He paused just as he was about to lick some off, frowning at his wife. “I know that I’m supposed to obediently listen to whatever you have to say as your husband, but I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about this time.”

   She flung her arms into the air. “That noise! Can’t you hear it? It’s like…it’s like…well, I don’t know how to describe it because nothing remotely compares. It was a wheezing sound, perhaps some sort of engine! I thought the entire house was going to shake because of its volume!”

   “I can’t hear anything.” He was giving her a bemused expression, the edges of his mouth twitching as he tried to consider whether now was the best time to smirk. He knew better than most that it was never a good idea to poke her when she was like this.

   Muneeba came to a stop. He was right. At least, he was right now. The sound had seemingly stopped whilst they’d been talking, much to her annoyance. It was exceptionally irritating when it had been happening, but it was somehow even more testing to know it had stopped at the precise moment that made it look as if she’d lost her mind. She would have him know that she was perfectly sane.

   “I wasn’t imagining it!” she quickly told him before he could question her mental wellbeing.

   He grabbed her arms tenderly. Muneeba wasn’t able to ignore that he’d gotten the yoghurt on his finger on her top. That would have to go in the washing. “I don’t think you were! You said it was like an engine, yes? Then that’s what it must have been. Perhaps a car was backfiring outside. You can never tell with these new cars on the road. They’re always breaking down.”

   “Yes…maybe you’re right.” She was slowly nodding her head. It certainly made sense. She was just on edge with everything that was going on. That was a reasonable reaction. There was nothing to be worried about.

   “Now then…we’ve solved that little mystery…how about we make the most of an opportune moment?” He was starting to gently sway her from side to side. “Aamir is in his room, blasting his awful music away in his headphones. Kamala is…somewhere…doing whatever it is that she does now. We basically have the house to ourselves.” Yusuf raised his eyebrows suggestively with a mischievous glint in his eyes.

   They were prevented from having any proper alone time by the door suddenly opening. Kamala stood there, hair askew and face flushed, coming to an unexpected stop as she found people already waiting for her. She tried not to look as guilty as she was feeling, her mouth hanging open. But her eyes narrowed suspiciously when she spotted her parents jump away from one another at her arrival.

   “What were you doing?” she asked in greeting before it slowly dawned on her. “Oh, hold on.” Her nose scrunched up at the thought, bile threatening to rise up her throat. “Come on, guys! Every single time you’re left alone! You’re like randy teenagers!”

   Muneeba crossed her arms, clearly displeased with how the tables had been quickly turned on them. “Excuse me, I’m not going to apologise for finding your father attractive. I just hope that, one day, you find someone who can get your motor running after all these years.”

   “Please…stop…talking.” Kamala dragged a hand over her face as if that would help to delete the memory of this conversation. “And don’t ever call dad attractive again.”

   Yusuf was smirking at his daughter’s behaviour, but his wife was more focused on what was happening outside. Two women and a man were rushing out of a tall, blue, wooden box, coughing and spluttering as smoke billowed out from within. She didn't know how a fire could even start in such a confined space. One of the women, a bob of blonde hair flowing wildly with her every move, held up a silver tube and pointed it at the box, before promptly closing the doors. Kamala seemed to sense where her mum’s gaze was falling, whose lips had formed into a straight line.

   “Anyway, I don’t think it is you who should be asking what we’ve been up to,” Muneeba said pointedly. “I know that you have…extra responsibilities nowadays…but that does not mean you can leave your room in the state that it’s in.”

   Kamala frowned. “What are you talking about? What’s wrong with my room?”

   “What isn’t wrong with it? Your entire wardrobe has been smashed in! What happened? And who are those people outside?”

   Kamala looked towards the trio, who were slowly edging closer towards the house, unsure as to whether they were allowed to enter. “They’re my…friends.” That was the easiest way of describing them for the time being.

   “Are they superheroes like you?” Yusuf asked giddily. One of the major advantages of his daughter’s new found abilities was surely the fact that he could meet more of these superheroes she had been banging on about for years. 

   “No, no. Well…I don’t think they are. We only just met really. It’s complicated…”

   Muneeba was still visibly unimpressed. “You’ve only just met but you’re already calling them your friends. That is a very American way of living your life, Kamala. Are they the ones that destroyed your room?”

   “No! I don’t…think so anyway. Everything’s a bit confusing at the moment.”

   “Do they have names?”

   “I…don’t actually know what they’re called.”

   Thankfully, the Doctor had been subtly eavesdropping into their conversation whilst pretending to be doing exactly the opposite. She hopped up a few of the steps and landed ungracefully by the door. “Sorry about that. We were in a bit of a rush and I must have forgotten to give you the basic greeting package. What am I like, hey? Social interactions aren’t really my forte but I’m working on it.” She pulled at a few strands of her hair, already feeling awkward. “I’m the Doctor, and those two down there are my mates, Yaz and Dan.” She turned her gaze towards the older pair. “And you must be Kamala’s parents! She was very worried about you, which is why we brought her straight back home.”

   Muneeba was struggling to process what the other woman was saying, with her ability to talk at a rapid speed. “What? Why would she be worried about us? Where did she go?”

   The Doctor winced and looked at Kamala. “Have you not got to that bit yet?”

   “I was working on it!” the girl hissed in response.

   “It was just that you were talking to them for quite a while so I just assumed that you would have…you know…covered all the bases by now.”

   Kamala sighed tiredly. “Ammi, Abbu…can we please just come inside and talk things through?”

   “Of course!” Yusuf replied. “Where even are my manners? Allowing Kamala’s new friends to freeze outside! Come in, come in!” He beckoned them inside with a wave of his hand, ignoring his wife’s look of protest.

   “Thanks,” Yaz said gratefully. “Though, given where I’m from, this is probably some of the warmest weather I’m going to experience this year.”

   “Oh, now that sounds interesting! Where are you from? Some distant planet? A frozen star?”

   “Sheffield.”

   “Ah…maybe not as exciting then.”

   “Is that Kamala?” Aamir poked his head over the bannister, looking down at them from upstairs. “Yes! Finally!”

   Kamala watched with a high degree of suspicion as her brother trotted down the stairs. “Why are you so happy to see me? You’re never this happy to see me.”

   “What can I say? You should have seen their reactions when they saw your room was trashed so I’ve been waiting until you got back to hear your explanation.”

   “I keep being told about something being wrong with my room but I have no idea what you’re talking about!”

   She was about to march up the stairs to see what all the fuss was about but her mum had a firm grip on her arm. “Ah, ah, ah…you’re not going anywhere until we get that explanation from you.”

   “First of all…let me get this straight. You saw my room was a complete mess…saw that I was missing…and you haven’t done anything besides wait around?”

   “What would you have us do?” Yusuf asked with a shrug. “We understand that you’re a powerful superhero now! And we know that will come with some unusual behaviour. Of course, we were concerned. But we also trust you to keep yourself safe. We can’t lock you away or wrap you in bubble wrap, as much as we may want to.”

   “I’d actually advise against wrapping anyone in bubble wrap,” the Doctor inputted. She lost some of her vigour when everyone’s attention was placed on her. “It’s just…I’ve had bad experiences with that stuff.” Yaz nodded her head in agreement.

   “Your new friends are rather strange, Kamala,” Muneeba murmured, unsure as to who exactly they’d invited inside their home. 

   “That’s probably the nicest way someone has described us lately,” Dan commented.

   Kamala took a breath. “So…you wanted to know where I’ve been today…”

   Muneeba nodded her head. “That’s probably a good place to start.” She was perched on the arm of the sofa whilst Yusuf sat next to her. Aamir was loitering off to one side.

   “Well…there’s no easy way to put this but…I’ve been to…space.” She waited for some sort of reaction. Any change in their demeanour would have been better than the silence she was currently experiencing. She began to mess with her fingers, a nervous habit.

   “Space…”

   “That’s right.”

   “As in outer space.”

   “That’s the one.”

   “As in…not on this planet.”

   “Very far from it, yes.”

   Yusuf scratched his beard. “And how did you get to space?”

   “That…is something I don’t know. I’m working on figuring that out and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

   “We’re thinking it was down to a long range teleport of some kind,” the Doctor added, thinking she was helping. “We just don’t know where she would have come into contact with one. Or who would want her to be teleported. But I’m firmly of the belief that none of this was Kamala’s fault.”

   “So you’re not the ones who teleported my daughter from her home?” Muneeba asked.

   “No! We’re the ones who saved her! We were just…passing by.”

   “You were in space as well?”

   “Yep.”

   “How?”

   “In a spaceship.”

   “You own a spaceship?”

   “Sometimes I think she owns me but yeah.”

   Yusuf looked towards Yaz. “I thought you said you were from Sheffield. That’s in Yorkshire! I know because I’m always watching the cricket and they have never mentioned a space program being there on commentary.”

   “It’s very…top secret,” Yaz replied, not knowing what else to say.

   Aamir was visibly enjoying this. “Can I just add, Kamala, that I love having you around and I love your new powers? Because it means that, whatever I do, it’s never going to be worse than anything you’re capable of. I could get a tattoo down the entirety of the left side of my face and Ammi wouldn’t even bat an eyelid.”

   “I certainly would!” Muneeba was quick to rectify him. “Is this something that you’re planning? And you haven’t even discussed it with us! What does Tyesha think? I doubt she would have married you if she’d known of these stupid plans of yours!”

   “Can we…get back on track?” Kamala suggested before a whole family dispute started. That would take them hours to resolve. “I feel like you’re not reacting properly to the fact that I’ve actually been to space.”

   “It’s just a lot to process, Beta.” Yusuf reached an arm out and placed it on her shoulder. “We’re very proud of you. But, next time, could you give us a head’s up before you go on such a trip again? I’ll make sure to fortify your wardrobe.”

   “You’re not supposed to be proud! You’re supposed to be confused, like I am! I don’t know if there will be another time because I have no control over it!”

   “So this isn’t to do with your powers…” Muneeba said slowly.

   “I don’t think so. But it might. They might come with extra abilities that I haven’t figured out yet. And that’s…terrifying. Because…because…I could have been teleported into space and…if these guys hadn’t been there, I might never have…seen you again.” She could feel the tears threatening to escape and, not caring about what her new friends thought of her, she allowed them to fall.

   Her mum stood up quickly, wrapping her in a hug. Aamir looked suitably guilty now for joking about the events that had unfolded. “Here, here…shhh, it’s okay now. You’re home. You’re safe. There’s no harm done. I’m sure that we’ll be able to figure something out. I can’t claim to understand any of this…none of us can…but we will always be here to lend a helping hand. Even your brother.”

   “Especially your brother,” Aamir confirmed strongly, nodding his head.

   “Is there anything that you need us to do now?” Yusuf asked. Maybe it helped him cope with all the changes going on to know that his daughter still needed him sometimes.

   Kamala’s head was reeling as she tried to recover from the onslaught of desperate emotions. “I think…I’m just going to go upstairs for a bit. I need to see what happened in my bedroom. That might help me to understand some of this nonsense.” She slowly began to head towards the staircase.

   “Do you want me to call Bruno?” Muneeba asked. “He’s always by your side for things like this.”

   “Yeah, that sounds good. Just send him up when he gets here. He’s the best at making sense of stuff like this.”

   They watched as she trudged up the stairs, making each step look difficult. The Doctor turned to her parents. She’d always been good at managing the families that were involved. Besides the few times she’d been slapped by her companions’ mums. That was never a great look.

   “Don’t worry,” she told them softly. “We’re here for Kamala. We want to understand what’s going on just as much as her. I get the strange sense that that teleportation was a one time thing, so hopefully she’s out of that particular danger.” She wasn’t going to tell them about how she felt that there were only more different types of danger waiting on the horizon.

   “Would you like a drink? Or some food?” Muneeba looked at them as if she needed to be busy. “I can’t have guests inside my home going hungry! I won’t stand for it.”

   By the time the Doctor, Yaz and Dan made it up to Kamala’s room, she was already standing in the middle of it dejectedly. Dan was holding a plate stacked full of food that Muneeba had somehow filled within ten seconds of going out of sight. Yusuf had labelled it as her own superpower. They crept into the bedroom, surveying the damage for themselves. Mostly everything seemed to be intact. It was just one section of the room that was looking worse for wear. The wardrobe door had been caved in, the wood splintered and cracked. It was a labyrinth of splinters as the Doctor moved closer, scanning the area.

   “Are you sure that you weren’t attacked?” Yaz queried.

   “I think it’s something that I’d remember,” Kamala responded.

   “This isn’t following the usual pattern you’d see of an attack,” the Doctor commented. “And, trust me, I’ve been through my fair share of them. No, if you had been attacked, there would be more damage. There’s no sign of anyone forcing their way through the door or the window.”

   “Saying that though…I definitely don’t remember leaving my window open like that.”

   “Maybe your parents opened it after they heard the commotion,” Yaz offered, trying not to jump to conclusions.

   “Maybe,” the Doctor murmured. “Something isn’t adding up. There’s huge energy signatures coming off from this precise location in the room. And I mean huge. Off the scales sort of thing. The sonic can barely cope with reading it. I can’t imagine what it must have been like to experience it firsthand.”

   Yaz was by her side. “That’s probably why she can’t remember anything and why she was unconscious when we found her. Her brain literally couldn’t cope with the massive surge in energy.”

   “Hello! Can you not talk about me as if I’m not standing right next to you?” Kamala had her hands on her hips. “I’m struggling with this enough as it is. I’ve been dealing with this sort of energy for weeks now. The experience…it felt strangely familiar.”

   “As if the energy was working on the same frequency as your powers,” the Doctor concluded, mulling it over. “That could be the case, though I have no way of knowing for sure. The sonic can’t understand the readings you’re giving off.”

   “Because of the… thing ?” Yaz asked in a hushed whisper. They hadn’t chosen to fill Kamala in on the whole ‘completely different universe’ hypothesis. They felt she had enough on her plate for the time being.

   “Potentially. Though I still don’t know whether that thing even exists.” She winked, not subtle at all, believing that she was successfully playing along.

   “What are you hiding from me?” Kamala looked at them suspiciously.

   “Nothing at all!” The Doctor didn't want to make her panicked. The last thing they needed was a repeat performance of her abilities like they’d seen in the Tardis. Dan would probably choke on the samosa he was currently making his way through. “But do you have a computer that I can borrow? I just need to do a bit of research which might help with understanding the situation we’ve landed ourselves in.”

   Kamala pointed to the laptop sitting on her desk and the Doctor hurried over. “You’ll need the password to log in. Bruno hooked me up with the latest security software.”

   The Doctor simply waved her sonic at the screen and it turned on, revealing the homescreen. “There aren’t many updates you could make that would stop me and me sonic. Hopefully I haven’t also wiped all of your files in the process. Because there would definitely be no chance of you recovering them.”

   Kamala tried not to worry about that comment. With everything going on, there was really no time to have any concerns about lost homework. Did superheroes even need school? They could save the world regardless of whether they had a diploma or not. Then again, her parents would definitely be keeping her enrolled and ensuring she missed as little of her lessons as possible. She didn't even want to picture what her mum would be like if she suggested dropping out.

   Dan, a mouthful of onion bhaji clogging up his teeth, wandered over to her. He picked up one of the posters that had fallen to the floor in the chaos. “It’s safe to say that you’re obsessed with her.”

   “You would be too if you ever saw her. I can’t believe that there’s people in our society who don’t like her! I’ve gotten into many an argument on the forums because of it.”

   “Forums?”

   “Mainly for nerds like me who are obsessed with the Avengers. We like to discuss what they’re doing when we don’t see them. Like, what do they do in their downtime? What boxsets are they getting into? The important questions.”

   “Who knows…maybe those forums will be talking about you soon.”

   “That’s the dream.” She sighed happily. It was a nice thought. She turned her neck to look at him admiring some of the artwork. “You’ve really never heard of her before…”

   “Superheroes are strictly fictional from where I come from.”

   “Your life must be incredibly dull then.”

   Dan looked over to where Yaz and the Doctor were hunched over the computer, staring at them fondly. “That couldn’t be further from the truth.”

   Yaz couldn’t make sense of the screen in front of her, mainly because the Doctor was causing it to scroll uncontrollably fast. She had no idea how her friend was taking any of it before she realised that there was no need. The sonic seemed to be doing the work for her, glowing its usual bright yellow as it was pointed at the device.

   “What are you doing?” she asked. She didn't like it when the Doctor went quiet, mainly because it became even more difficult to understand what she was thinking or planning.

   “Downloading as much information as I possibly can,” the Doctor replied, her eyes unmoving from the screen. “This is the quickest way in finding out whether this Earth is different to the one we’re used to.”

   “I don’t know about that. I feel like I can already sense that it’s not the same. Like the air tastes differently or something.”

   “You might just not be used to New Jersey. It does take some getting used to.” The Doctor flashed her a quick grin. They were still able to joke around, even when the situation was as seemingly dire as it currently was. That’s what made their relationship so fun. “Now then…checking for the latest news updates. Let’s see what we’re working with.”

   Some of the headlines were rather tame to begin with, stories that could easily have come from their reality. But then things started to pop out that they couldn’t ignore. Tales of strange goings on in Egypt, with reports of the stars moving and a caped crusader flashing through the dark streets of Cairo. An update on what caused the Times Square Christmas tree to collapse, with rumours that someone with a bow and arrow had been involved. There was an advert for a podcast hosted by a man called Scott Lang, who claimed to be able to control ants. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.

   “She’s telling the truth,” the Doctor said quietly, almost dejectedly. “Unless she’s hacked the entire internet, which I don’t think she’s capable of. Then again…she can make her body parts enormous and glow quite brilliantly so what do I know?”

   “We’re actually in another universe.” Yaz didn't really know how to react. “Wait…does that mean there’s another me walking around somewhere? What about my family? Do they exist? What about you? There can’t be a universe without you in it!”

   “Yaz, these are questions that I simply can’t answer right now. I don’t know how we got here or why. I don’t know the truth behind this reality. But I will get you back. I promise.”

   “Is everything alright over there?” Dan asked them from the other corner of the room. 

   The Doctor gave him a hard look. “Just confirming a few theories…” She watched as his face fell, realisation dawning.

   Kamala looked between them. “Why are you talking so cryptically? Why can’t you include me in…the…conversation…”

   She was distracted from the discussion as she looked towards the window. There was a bright light coming from outside, like golden flames licking at the window. The Doctor rushed towards it, scanning frantically, and seeing that the readings were of the same pattern as she’d seen earlier. 

   “You know, it’s rude to point at someone you don’t know.”

   The flames died down and Dan was sure that he had to be dreaming. Because there was a woman floating right in front of them. In midair. And they were on the top floor. The woman, her blonde hair waving as if she were in water, was radiating a sort of power that none of them had even seen before. And she matched the numerous posters lining the walls of the bedroom.

   That was when Kamala fainted.

Chapter Text

  When Kamala eventually came to, she felt she did rather well not to collapse on the spot straight away again, for her hero was looking down at her. With the sun filtering in through the open window, it was frankly unfair how angelic the woman looked. Her long blonde hair, captured in a braid on one side, was turned golden by the light. Kamala wondered whether she’d died and this was what Jannah happened to look like. If it did, then she wasn’t too fussed about the whole dying thing. It was the only reasonable explanation for what was happening because there was no way…absolutely no way…that Captain Marvel was actually standing in her bedroom.

   “Hi, there,” the woman said in greeting, a small smile lighting up her face. She’d seen that same smile in artwork and on posters, but nothing compared to having it right in front of you. 

   “Hi,” Kamala returned nervously, shaking out the word rather than actually saying it. Was her heart pounding out of her chest? It certainly felt that way.

   She watched, unmoving, as the captain’s face was pushed away from her line of view, now replaced with another blonde woman. Maybe she had a type. The Doctor was looking down at her, frown lines creasing her brow. Kamala tried to remember what had led to this point. She was on the ground, that was for sure. She could tell because she could see the old plastic bottle that had rolled under her bed several months ago which she’d never been bothered to retrieve. 

   “This is probably going to be quite loud,” the Doctor commented before shoving the sonic screwdriver in her face, making it whirr. From its close vantage point, it sounded more like a high pitched screech. It only lasted a few seconds but the bright, yellow light was enough for Kamala to start seeing spots. It definitely wasn’t the best wake up call she’d ever gotten. 

   “That’s only quite loud?” Kamala asked in complaint. She rubbed her ear in a slow circle, still hearing the buzzing noise even if the sonic had been put away.

   “I just had to make sure that you were feeling alright. You took a pretty heavy fall there. Took us all by surprise, really. The thing is…” The Doctor’s face was remarkably close to hers as the strange woman peered at her. “...the sonic can’t pick up on any reason for you to behave like this. At first, I thought it might be an adverse reaction to your interstellar endeavours but that doesn’t seem like the case. Maybe you’re dehydrated. Or hungry. You might not have enough vitamins in your system. I could ask your mum to make you some food. Her pakoras are a lot better than the ones Yaz’s dad makes.”

   “Hey,” Yaz said, interrupting her mid-flow. “There’s no need for that. I mean, they are terrible. But he tries his best.”

   “Isn’t it obvious, Doctor?” Dan’s voice joined the mix though he remained out of Kamala’s eyeline as she stayed on the floor. The woman had a surprising degree of strength as she kept an arm on her shoulder, practically pinning her down to the ground. “She was starstruck. Probably still is. Look at all the posters around you. And now look at the woman standing next to you. Notice any similarities?”

   The Doctor shifted, giving Kamala the space she needed to slowly sit up. She saw the Doctor pick up one of the paintings that had been left on the floor, holding it to the captain’s face. She seemed to look between the image and the person several times, mulling things over. “I guess one might say there’s a slight comparison. Though this drawing gives you a terribly wonky nose.”

   “I never claimed to be a great artist,” Kamala ground out, feeling the effects of her collapse. It was making her considerably more grouchy. She was doing her best not to focus on the fact that a real life superhero was still standing in her room without adding much to the conversation. 

   Yaz snatched the piece of paper from the Doctor’s hands. “You drew this? It’s amazing! I always wanted to be able to draw. My sister got all the artistic talent in the family though. God, she loved rubbing that in as well.”

   “Why do you have so many pictures of this woman in your room?” the Doctor enquired, prompting Dan to wipe a hand across his face. She was the most intelligent person he had ever come across and yet she still had the capacity to be the most clueless at times. “Do you know each other?”

   “I can’t say that we have.” The captain narrowed her eyes at Kamala, though there didn't seem to be any animosity there. If anything, Kamala might have said that she was smirking. Did superheroes smirk? Of course they did. They were real, normal people after, maybe very deep down. Tony Stark had done nothing but smirk for the majority of his life from the plenty of interviews she’d seen. 

   “You know, I’ve thought about this moment for years, maybe my entire life,” Kamala admitted bashfully. “And the last thing I need right now is for you to make it even more evident than it already is how much of a geek I am when it comes to Captain Marvel.”

   “Ohhhh!” the Doctor exclaimed. “ This is Captain Marvel? I thought it was just a really neat ‘stume.” She nudged Yaz’s shoulder. “Did you see what I did there? Shortened the word costume to ‘stume because I’m just that cool.”

   “Keep telling yourself that,” her friend responded.

   “You saw her glowing!” Dan pointed out. “And flying midair! I don’t think a costume can do that.”

   Yaz raised her eyebrows at him. “Wasn’t it you who saw what Kamala was capable of and immediately thought that it had to be some sort of light show?”

   “I’m a big enough man to admit when I might have gotten a few things wrong,” Dan allowed. “Frankly, quite a lot has happened since then to open my eyes. Especially what you just told me after you looked on the internet. Anything’s possible.”

   “I’m trying not to be offended that you don’t know who I am,” the Captain remarked. It was becoming apparent that she had a rather dry wit. Kamala didn't know how she was acting so casual amongst people she didn't know. It was her absolute worst nightmare. But that was the role of a superhero, having to act cool all the time even if you weren’t feeling that way. It was all about image. Was Kamala expected to act the same way? Could she be relaxed at all times? Definitely not. She still had a lot to learn.

   “Please don’t use their ignorance to think poorly of all of us,” she said in intervention. Her eyes were sparkling as she looked at the woman. Maybe Kamala was also feeling a touch self conscious at the fact her face was plastered all over her walls. She didn't want the captain to get the wrong impression. Was she supposed to still be referring to her as the captain? It didn't feel right to call her by her first name, as if she had to earn that right first. 

   “I definitely know who you are.” Kamala continued eagerly. “You’re the Captain Marvel! Carol fricking Danvers! Strongest Avenger. Puncher of Thanos.” She didn't have time to elaborate on that as she saw Dan mouth the name in confusion. How could they possibly not know of the Mad Titan? “And you’re standing in my room! I don’t know what I did to deserve this but I’d very much like to do it again. But why? Why are you standing in my room? Is it something I’ve done? Something bad I’ve done? I knew this was going to happen. I get these powers but it’s too much for someone so young so they send someone like you to take them away for everyone’s safe keeping. I understand. Well…I understand but I’m still going to complain, you know? Because I really don’t want to lose my powers! I can show you all the good I’ve done since I got them! If you ignore that time I accidentally dropped that kid on a car. And the numerous times I’ve inadvertently damaged private property.”

   Danvers put a hand on her shoulder to stop her in her tracks. “Hey, kid, let’s try and slow down, yeah? I can barely understand a word you’re saying.”

   “Captain Marvel is actually touching me,” Kamala whispered. “I’m never going to wash these clothes ever again. I’ll fight my mum if she goes close to putting them in the washing machine.”

   “First thing to get out of the way, kid, is that you can call me Carol.”

   “Captain Marvel wants me to be on a first name basis with her.” It was likely impossible for her smile to be any wider. “Then you can call me Kamala.”

   “Hey, Kamala…this is your room then? I might have noticed. Thanks for keeping the poster business alive.”

   “Because it indirectly keeps your funds going?”

   Carol smirked. “No, though I should look into that. I was just thinking that they’re really cool posters. I might have to take one off your hands…not that I exactly have a place to put it up.”

   “You can have all of them if you want. Take them! I’ll buy more!”

   Carol got down onto one knee so that she could get a bit closer. “Hey…Kamala…this isn’t going to work unless you calm down a touch. Trust me, the energy is properly infectious and I love meeting fans. But if we’re going to work together, I’m going to need it dialled down ever so slightly.”

   “You want to…work with me?”

   “Why else would I be standing here right now?”
  “I was wondering the same thing.” The Doctor had grown rather frustrated that the conversation was taking place with minimal input on her part so she was on hand to change that as soon as possible. “Hi, I’m the Doctor by the way. This is Yaz and Dan. We’ve given ourselves the job of looking after Kamala so you’ll forgive me for being wary.”

   Carol narrowed her eyes at the other woman. She was finding it surprisingly difficult to get a read on her and she prided herself on her ability to quickly know how a person was likely to operate. It was all a part of her Kree training. “I’ve been waiting outside for quite some time, hoping to find whoever lived here. And do you know how hard it is for someone like me to hide in the street? Especially with this outfit. It’s not exactly inconspicuous.”

    “But why hide? From my many experiences, I’ve learnt that it’s usually guilty people who hide in the shadows.” Maybe the Doctor was trying to show off or big herself up, because she could tell this was an intimidatingly powerful woman she was coming up against.

   “Were you involved in what happened to me?” Kamala asked suddenly. “Did you break my wardrobe? Because that’s probably going to be an expensive fix and I don’t know how much money you make as an Avenger, but we could do with a small donation.”

   “It wasn’t strictly my fault that it happened. I was looking into some old tech and it turned out to originate from Hala.”

   “Like Hula Hoops,” Dan offered before receiving dismissive frowns from everyone.

   “Like the home planet of the Kree,” Kamala summarised for him. “I’ve read all about it, of course. You spent most of your time on Hala after you gained your powers.”

   “You’ve got some good knowledge there. I know a guy who could do with someone with your investigative skills.”

   Kamala waved a hand. “Nah, it was nothing. I just read a lot of Buzzfeed articles.”

   “So they have Buzzfeed here,” Yaz murmured, mainly to the Doctor. “At least that’s one similarity.”

   “Similarity? WIth what?”

   “Nothing!” Yaz thought she was good at playing it cool but now wasn’t one such occasion. She could sense Dan wanting to laugh behind her.

   “Anyway,” Carol said slowly, giving her a scrutinising look. “That Kree technology was somehow linked to you. And I want to know why.”

   “I love a curious woman,” the Doctor remarked, again trying to get involved and only making Yaz slightly jealous. “I’m usually good friends with curious women. We’re trying to figure out the same thing here so if you’d just…let…me…” She pointed her sonic straight at Carol, hoping to get a read on a theory she had just come up with. Yet, to the untrained, suspicious eye, the movement could have been viewed as someone attempting to pull a weapon on the superhero, whose hands began to glow menacingly, stopping the Doctor in her tracks. 

   Carol’s eyes were as fiery as her fingertips. “I’d recommend you put that thing away before I make you.”

   “But…it’s sonic!” the Doctor protested, more annoyed at the delay rather than any fear of being hurt. “It’s not going to harm you! It’s a scientific device! Why does everyone get so paranoid about it recently? I thought I’d designed it in a cool, non-threatening way.”

   Yaz, on the other hand, was fully giving in to such concerns, pushing the Doctor out of the way and putting herself between the two women. “You better not be threatening her. She did no wrong! Do you go around, intimidating everyone you come across like this?”

   Carol’s fists unclenched as some of the worry abated. The flickering power lessened and some of the tension left the room, though she was still getting glared at by Yaz. She was actually impressed at the show of fierce loyalty. There weren’t many people who would be willing to stand up against her, especially someone who didn't seem to have any powers of her own. It was either bravery or naivety, but she would commend her either way. 

   “Sorry.” It wasn’t a usual occurrence for Carol where she had to apologise for someone over her own actions. Maybe she was just paranoid. Being lied to for a large portion of her adult life tended to have that effect on someone. “I didn't know what she was about to do. I thought…she might be trying to get the slip on me, or maybe taking a sample of my blood.”
  “Does she really look like the person who takes someone’s blood without asking?” Yaz asked, refusing to back down still.

   “I’ve learnt not to judge people by their appearances. When you spend a lot of your time around Skrulls, you tend to be a bit more cautious around people. Not that they’re bad or anything. They just teach you a valuable lesson.”

   “Skrulls, Hala…” the Doctor murmured, completely over the little incident. “Races and planets even I’ve never heard of. That’s remarkable.” She was talking in a hushed tone, more to herself than the rest of the group. But everyone was standing so close together in the partially wrecked room that it was difficult not to listen in. “You’d think that they’d be the same whichever reality you’re in but maybe that’s not the case. Isn’t that interesting? Not strictly parallel worlds after all. Every day’s a school day.”

   Kamala looked at her as if she didn't understand a word she was saying, which was definitely the case. “Can we just focus on the fact that we got to see Captain Marvel use our powers right in front of us?!”

   “Carol,” said superhero muttered under her breath.

   Dan smirked. “At least this time you didn't faint as soon as you witnessed it. You’re getting better already around her.”

   Kamala glared at him slightly. “I was hoping that that wouldn’t be brought up again. I’m already mortified by it as it is. I’d planned what I was going to write in my autobiography when it came to this moment and now I’m going to have to change everything! Unless…I could lie. That’s an option. Everyone lies in their biographies. It’s like a thick, heavy version of a tinder profile.”

   Carol was wondering whether the girl was too young to know about that particular dating website but she had other things to focus on. She had her hands on her hips, now in a relaxed position, as she looked at the Doctor. “What were you trying to do with that sonic…device…thing?”

   “Frankly, I understand why she was so worried about it. The DODC tried hitting me with a sonic cannon a couple of times and, let me tell you, that stuff stings. Obviously, that thing is quite a bit smaller but maybe they’ve been able to streamline.”

    “Let’s…circle back to that at a later date.” Carol was looking at her, impressed by the story. “But I’d still like to know what you were doing, Doctor.”

   “Something I’ve been doing whilst you’ve been jabbering away,” the Time Lord admitted, revealing her whirring sonic with a grin. It was great to have a quiet setting for times like this. “You were saying that the technology you were researching was from a certain planet, yeah? I was just working on a hunch. Did you happen to be in outer space when you were looking into it?”

   “It was on my person mid flight.”

   “Interesting. Because the energy levels you’re giving off are remarkably similar to the readings we picked up when we were first introduced to Kamala. And that energy is coming from the bangle around her wrist.”

   Carol looked down at the mentioned item. “So that’s what linked us…”

   “What do you mean, linked?” Kamala asked worriedly. “I was linked with you? I don’t know whether to be thrilled or terrified!”

   “There’s no easy way of putting this but…we switched positions. You were transported to space and I was teleported right here. Into your wardrobe, in fact.”

   “But…how?”

   “I’m pretty sure that that bangle is Kree in origin and…somehow…the two devices linked themselves, causing the accident.”

   “An accident that could have killed her if we hadn’t been on hand,” the Doctor pointed out sternly. “You shouldn’t have been messing with technology that you don’t understand.”

   Carol wasn’t exactly used to people talking to her like this and she got an odd thrill out of it. “I admit that I made a mistake.”

   “Captain Marvel doesn’t make mistakes,” Kamala remarked with a dismissive wave of the hand. “I was fine . In the end. With a bit of luck.”

   “But I’m trying to rectify that mistake by being here. I can’t claim to understand what’s going on…but I know a place where they have people who might.”

**********

   “Can I just say what an honour it is to be included in one of your top secret superhero missions?”

   From the backseat of the car, Kamala groaned audibly at her dad’s question. They were on their way to New York, following Carol’s instructions, with Yusuf eagerly offering to drive them. WIth the captain in the front, giving him instructions, that left three seats to be occupied in the back, but four people needing to sit in them. In the end, Yaz had been forced to perch precariously on the Doctor’s lap, something that Dan was finding extraordinarily hilarious. 

   “Dad,” Kamala moaned. “Can you not try to embarrass me for a few minutes?”

   Yusuf grinned through the rearview mirror. “Am I embarrassing you? I don’t feel like I’m embarrassing you.” He nudged Carol playfully with his free arm, earning a confused look from the woman. “So…are you this Captain of Marvel that my daughter is always talking about?”

   “It’s…Captain Marvel, Dad.” Kamala had her head in her hands.

   “I suppose I am,” Carol answered with a faint smile. 

   “Do you think my daughter can be a superhero like you? What am I saying? She already is one in my eyes! Even before she got her powers! Hey, sweetheart?”

   Kamala was giving the Doctor a serious case of side eye. “Is there a reason why we couldn’t travel in your ship?”

   “The engines are completely knackered,” the Doctor replied. “Trust me, that’s something I want to get fixed as soon as possible.”

   “I could take a look at it,” Carol offered, though her eyes stayed on the road. “I’ve been taught how to manage a wide range of different technologies. I’m sure whatever you have won’t be difficult for me.”

   The Doctor didn't particularly like the faint insult. “I’ll have you know that the Tardis is the most complex kit of machinery you’re likely to ever come across.” She folded her arms petulantly, which was a hard action to do with another woman sitting on top of her. “Anyway…I always like a car ride. It happens so rarely for me.”

   “I have to say it’s been quite a while since I was in a car. I usually just…you know…fly everywhere.”

   Yusuf looked at her excitedly. “Could you make this car fly? Like the end of Back to the Future?”

   Carol couldn’t help but be swept in by his enthusiasm. “If you gave me enough time.” She looked down at the display on her wrist. “Take a left here.”

   He did so obligingly, though he was more focused on the technology on show. “What’s that? Is it the latest Stark accessory? A wristwatch that is also a phone? What will these people think of next, hey?”

   “It’s one of the few remaining items I have from my time on Hala. It can do more things than you could imagine. And, right now, I’m using it for directions. Go right, then pull up on the pavement.”

   “But…there’s a sign there saying no parking.”

   “Do you really think anyone’s going to give Captain Marvel a ticket?”

   Once the car eventually came to a stop, Yusuf still eyeing the sign warily, they were all quick to get out. Dan was stretching his legs painfully whilst Yaz was doing her best not to look the Doctor in the eye after their surprisingly intimate journey. Carol was straight to business, marching up the steps towards an old building, the main feature being a large, circular window on the second floor.

   Kamala leaned her head through the window to place a kiss on the top of her dad’s head. “Go go some sightseeing, yeah? There’s got to be loads to do around here.”

   “You…don’t want me to come with you?” Yusuf asked with a frown.

   “It’s going to be boring anyway! You won’t like it. And I’ll be fine. It’s not as if I’m going to get hurt with an actual superhero as my bodyguard.”

   “I wasn’t lying about what I said earlier. You’re just as much of a superhero as she is in my eyes, Beta.”

   “Abbu…I just wish I can live up to your expectations.”

   By the time she was rejoining the group, it was slowly dawning on her just where they were. The doors opened slowly and a man walked through, a serious look on his face. Kamala’s eyes went wide at the sight of him. It was quickly dawning on her just how mad her life was becoming.

   “Captain,” the man greeted. “I’m surprised to see you so soon and in person. I don’t want to sound rude but…normally, when you’re on world, it means there’s a lot of work to be done in my near future.”

   “Oh, Wong…you have no idea.”

Chapter Text

“Welcome to the Sanctum Sanctorum.”

   Wong led them inside, allowing the group to get their first proper look at the interior of the ancient building. Even Carol hadn’t seen this before, having only viewed a snapshot from her holographic communication device. Kamala’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she took it all in, wearing a similar expression to Yaz. The Doctor was fascinated by everything, walking around with a bundle of energy, inspecting anything that she came across (including a pair of armchairs that Wong assured her were just that). Dan, on the other hand, was completely bemused by what he was seeing. There was a giant staircase but not much more that he could see straight away, making him wonder why Kamal was reacting so viscerally.

   “This is the New York Sanctum!” she said giddily, her hands clenched in excited fists. “I’m actually inside the New York sanctum! We could stroll through a door and end up anywhere . Fancy a trip to London or Hong Kong? Because we could! There’s sanctums there too.”

   Wong looked at her curiously. “That’s supposed to be a heavily guarded secret.”

   Kamala shrugged innocently. “Then you’re not doing a very good job at it. It’s all over the Reddit forums. I’m surprised you don’t have tourists always knocking on the door.”

   “We…have a sign saying we’re not in. Strange thought it would be a smart idea. He’s never been good with people, especially strangers. I don’t know why he used to go to so many parties with that personality of his.”

   “Where is Doctor Strange?”

   Dan and Yaz shared a look, obviously wondering what sort of a name that was. Wong was still staring at the youngest of the group. “He’s currently off-world. Not that he told me where he was going. He never deins to tell me where he’s going.” He paused, frowning. “How do you know so much about our activities here?”

   Carol patted him on the back. “You’ll get used to that. She knows everything there is to know about superheroes. She’s a fan .”

   “Is that why you brought her here? For an autograph or photo? Because, I must remind you, I charge for that sort of thing. Very reasonable prices though. And I could do an offer for group shots.” He glanced in the direction of the remaining trio, who were doing their best to stay quiet. The Doctor had learnt that it was sometimes best to keep your mouth shut if you wanted to learn something, although she wasn’t always very good at following through with that.

   Kamala appeared rather perturbed by the fact that she was being dismissed so readily, especially with Carol making comments that could be construed as sarcastic. So, taking matters into her own hands (quite literally), she reached for one of the armchairs several feet away without moving, dragging it over. All of them watched as her right arm extended itself, encrusted with glowing crystals and illuminating the room momentarily with its purple hue. Dumbstruck, Wong stared at the chair, now right next to Dan, who had chosen to take a seat in it. Well, if there was an offer made, he wasn’t going to reject it.

   “And you didn't think to lead with that?” Wong asked.

   Even Carol’s eyebrows were slightly raised at the spectacle. “To be honest, I never knew that she was capable of that . It’s the first time I’ve seen it in action.”

   Kamala was looking at her shyly. “Did you like what you saw though?”

   “You know, you don’t need my validation to be an extraordinary young woman.”

   “But…it would still be nice to have.”

   “I think your powers are extraordinarily beautiful and I’d like to find the reason behind why you suddenly have them, which is one of the reasons why I brought us here.”

   “Where have I seen that before?” Wong stroked his chin in thought before clicking his fingers together. “That’s it! Tiktok! There were hundreds of videos about your activities.”

   Kamala raised her eyebrows. “You’re on Tiktok?”

   “I view it as my job to keep tabs on all potential supernatural behaviour and Tiktok allows me to cover extra bases. I also like the dances.” Wong was admiring her now with more fascination. “They called you…Night Light. Nice work with the DODC, by the way.”

   Carol was looking at her, apparently silently questioning the choice of name. Kamala winced. “I was hoping to work on my branding a bit more when I had the chance but, funnily enough, life has been pretty hectic the past few weeks.”

   “Do these people also have similar powers?” He nodded his head to where the Doctor was threatening to poke a precariously placed vase.

   “No. Not that I know of.”

   “No superpowers of any note,” the Doctor informed her with a polite smile. “Unless you count my skills on a Scrabble board.”

   “Frankly, I’m still trying to figure out who they are,” Carol commented, eyeing them suspiciously. “They were with Kamala when I found her. They claim to have saved her so who was I to tell them to get lost?”

   “That’s because we did save her!” Yaz argued defensively. Carol could tell that there was something different about this group because it had been a very long time since anyone had spoken to her like that.

   Wong crossed his arms. “And why did the girl need saving?” He watched as Carol suddenly wore a sheepish expression. “I’m still to be told what brought you here, Captain. Threats that get your attention are never good, especially for the Earth’s continued wellbeing.”

   “It’s not a threat, strictly speaking,” she explained. “Not that I know of. Remember what you had me investigating after you stumbled across Shang-Chi?”

   “I didn't stumble across him. It was a highly thought out reconnaissance mission.”

   “Please. The only reason you found him was because the rings sent that signal, which you felt in Kamar Taj.”

   “Let’s not mention that place at the moment. It’s still currently a sore point. We recently had a…minor incident there. Extensive reconstruction is taking place as we speak, which is why you find me here now.”

   Carol looked like she wanted to delve more into that but chose to save it until later. “Anyway, I was doing as you suggested, searching for anything that could resemble the energy patterns we found. Well…” She nodded her head towards the bangle on Kamala’s arm.

   Wong honed in on it. “You should probably come with me.”

   Obediently, they followed the man deeper into the Sanctum, travelling up the staircase to the next floor. There were more artefacts on display there, most of them locked behind glass cases for safe keeping. Dan idly noticed that there was a kitchen with rather pleasant aromas emanating from the oven, but Wong quickly closed the door and warned him that he didn't like to share his food. Mainly because Strange was always taking a bite without him noticing. Despite not knowing him, Dan couldn’t fault this Strange person for trying when it smelt that good.

   Wong had them enter the library, much smaller than the one at Kamar Taj but a lot less burnt and ashy after the latest attack. He dreaded to think what precious books had been destroyed because of the Scarlet Witch’s tireless endeavours. Obviously, they didn't compare to the unfortunate souls that had been lost. But there were some really nice books there that he was going to miss. The copies that the Sanctum held would have to do, though books weren’t going to help them this time. Though that wasn’t stopping the Doctor from nosing around, trying to take a few from their places on their shelves and frowning when she discovered most of them were securely locked in chains. From her past experiences, anyone who was keeping books from people wasn’t someone she wanted to know.

   “Impressive,” she remarked. “Though it doesn’t really stand up against the collection I’ve got going on in the Tardis.”

   “I don’t think I’ve heard of that term before,” Wong responded. “Is it a town? A building?”

   “It’s her ship,” Kamala answered for her. “The one she rescued me in.”

   Wong appraised them more closely. “You’re space travellers?” He sounded rather surprised and they tried not to be insulted at what his tone was insinuating. Dan puffed his chest out to make himself look more impressive.

   “That’s certainly one way of putting it,” the Doctor replied delicately, not wanting to give too much away at this early stage. Everything was similar to their reality and yet so completely different that it was difficult to keep track of what she was allowed to say, especially in front of someone she didn't yet know. “I would like to find out who you are though. I’m all up for following people blindly like I have done so far but I’ve got a limit. The Captain seems to think that you can help us…help Kamala at least…but I may need a bit more convincing.”

   “I’m the Sorcerer Supreme. Not to blow my own trumpet but that means I can wield the mystic arts to a great extent, more than anyone alive. Of course, Strange would argue that he is more powerful but then he shouldn’t have gotten himself killed, should he?”

   “I’m sorry,” Yaz said, her brows furrowed. “It sounds a lot like you’re saying that you’re some sort of…wizard.”

   “A rather insulting downplaying of my capabilities but I suppose the term could be used by someone without the proper knowledge.”

   Dan nudged her. “I think he just called you stupid.”

   “Thanks for clarifying,” she growled. “You better wipe that smirk off your face before I knock it off.”

   They came to a stop by what looked like an ordinary table. They half expected it to be imbued with magical powers after what Wong had been saying but it turned out to be perfectly normal after all. He beckoned Kamala over, who, after getting a nod of reassurance from her idol, wandered over to where he was pointing.

   “Miss Khan…would you please remove the bangle? I’d like to inspect it without hurting you.”

   “You can call me Kamala but…would it really hurt that much?” For some reason, she didn't really want to part with the family heirloom, feeling as if she would risk losing her powers completely if they were separated for only a few moments. Of course, Bruno had told her that her abilities came from within and had simply been unlocked by the old artefact, but did she want to take the risk?

   “Probably not, but I’d rather avoid the potential of what happened to Doug the last time I tried this.” He gave them what seemed to be his attempt at a smile. “That was a joke. I’m trying to ease the tension in the room with humour.”

   “Glad to see that someone else does that,” the Doctor remarked.

   “Yeah, but that was actually funny compared to your usual dad jokes,” Dan retorted.

   “You can’t blame me for that when I actually was a dad,” she huffed.

   Everyone was looking at her again, even Yaz, who had heard her casually reference her past genders before. She gave them an innocent smile, hoping they just thought that she was being weird. That was the conclusion that most people came to. She busied herself with admiring the thick jewellery as Kamala allowed it to be removed delicately, Wong placing it on the surface in front of him. With a few quick movements, he brought up a rendition of the bangle, floating in the air with golden wisps of energy. Yaz and Dan jumped back, still getting used to what this world had to offer. So they’d been pretty accurate with calling him a wizard, unless he had a super realistic hologram display working that they couldn’t see. Kamala was standing so close that the fizzling energy was being reflected in her brown eyes, whilst Carol was the only one of the group who appeared nonplussed. That was natural when you could do what she did.

   The Doctor’s mouth was agape as she admired what was being shown in front of her. She walked in a slow circle, her arms clambering over Wong’s shoulders as she focused on the sight with acute fascination. “How are you doing this?”

   “I told you,” he huffed, trying to shrug her off of him. “I’m the Sorcerer Supreme.”

   “Could I have a bit more detail than that. Treat me as a complete novice to this part of the world, which I’m not usually one to admit.”

   “Sorcerers like me can tap into the energies of the universe that most people don’t allow themselves to see,” Wong explained. “We practise in the mystic arts, connecting ourselves to otherworldly beings, most notably the Vishanti. They are the ones who grant us the privilege to wield their powers. It is then our duty to protect this realm using such abilities.”

   “Protecting it from what?” Yaz asked.

   “Creatures that would like to see it destroyed. Multiversal entities seeking to destroy reality after reality.”

   “I’m sorry but…that’s not possible,” the Doctor argued. “That isn’t how science works! You can’t just…tap into a different realm whenever you want and get magic out of it! It goes completely against the laws of nature. Creating energy that wasn’t there in the first place!”

   “Most people are unable to see the work they do because they do not possess the third eye. But you cannot deny what you are seeing right in front of you.” He gestured to the display he’d created, twirling it around, making it larger, separating the components of the bangle until it surrounded them all like a golden universe. Yaz tentatively reached a hand up to touch it, feeling its strange warmth encompass her. “It is those laws of nature that we seek to protect.”

   “Magic users are becoming more and more prevalent,” Kamala added. “You hear rumours about the number of people who were working at Kamar Taj. And there’s obviously Wanda Maximoff, who might just be the most powerful of them all.” She didn't notice how Wong slightly flinched at the name and the memories it served to bring back. 

   “I reckon I could still take her,” Carol idly commented, checking her nails as if she didn't really care that there was a woman who could easily match her.

   “Oh, definitely. Though I am a little biassed.” Kamala paused, looking at the trio as they stared at the magic around them. Dan kept waving his hand in the air, trying to mess the projection up for some reason, but it kept reverting back to its previous shape whenever he stopped. “Is this just something else you’ve managed to miss whilst living here? Do you really have your head in the sand that much?”

   “It’s like what Wong said. It’s meant to be a bit of a secret.” The Doctor was hoping that would be enough to cover their tracks. The sorcerer didn't seem too impressed, squinting his eyes at them. They didn't notice him subtly turning his hand underneath the table, casting another, silent spell. “I’m just…amazed at what this world has to offer.”

   “Exactly,” Dan agreed. “If I’d known that there were magicians hanging about the place, I would have got one in for the DIY in the kitchen.” He frowned, suddenly remembering something. “Before these two went and wrecked my house.”

   “We already apologised for that slight mishap. Profusely. Many times!”

   “Still ruined my house. I had all my Liverpool stuff in there.”

   Wong wrinkled his nose. “Please tell me you’re not a Liverpool fan.”

   “Can’t you tell by the accent, mate?”

   “I was hoping that you might support Everton, which I could tolerate.”

   “What are you then? Don’t say… United .” He looked on in horror as Wong nodded his head. “Doctor, I want to go. I can’t physically stay in a room with a United fan for more than five minutes. I’ll come up in hives!”

   “I think you’re overreacting, Dan,” the Doctor assured him, wanting to get the conversation back on track. “Let’s not insult the wizard.”

   “ Not a wizard,” Wong growled. “Sorcerer. There’s a very important difference.”

   “Which is?” Yaz wondered, feeling sceptical about that.

   “...what’s really important is that I was told that you were space travellers and yet you talk about having homes on the planet, about supporting football teams.”

   “Can’t we be both?” the Doctor asked, slightly nervous at where this was heading. “I’m sure loads of people travel to space nowadays, based on what we’ve seen so far.”

   “Not unless they have a heap ton of money or are registered in the books of the sanctum. We keep a record of every individual that could pose a threat to this realm, every individual with powers that could include having the ability to travel to space. Yet I’ve never even heard of you before.”

   “Before we turn on each other, could we focus on why we’re actually here?” Carol suggested, intervening before more serious accusations were made. “The bangle. What can you see in it? Is this what we were looking for?”

   Wong shook his head, though it may have been more for the Doctor than the Captain. “No. The Ten Rings were sending out a signal to a location or entity that we still haven’t figured out. This isn’t connected to that as far as I can tell. It is definitely Kree in origin, which explains why you were connected to it. An ancient artefact, once part of a pair. You must have stumbled across its partner.”

   Kamala’s eyes lit up. “You found another one? Do you still have it?”

   “It broke up upon impact as soon as the connection was made,” Carol told her sadly. “Like…it couldn’t cope with the overload of power.”

   Wong stepped forward, zooming in on another section of the object floating in the air. There seemed to be a small pulse beating amongst the rest of the strands of energy. “That’s because the power had nowhere to go. Upon activation, it channelled huge amounts of energy. Kamala had the ability to take on the energy, whereas you didn't. Probably because your body is already consumed by nearly infinite amounts of power. But there was something about Kamala that the bangle accepted. This pulse of energy unlocked something within her.”

   “It’s because of my ancestors,” Kamala blurted out without really thinking. Was she supposed to be talking about this to strangers, even if they didn't exactly feel like such? “I’m related to…the Djinn.”

   “Are you sure about that?” Wong asked, who’d moved slightly further away from her.

   “I saw it. I saw my grandmother with her mum, who was a djinn. I had to fight a whole bunch of them?”

   “How can you be related to an alcoholic beverage?” Dan asked.

   “Djinn are…legends,” the Doctor explained, her eyes wide as she stared at Kamala. “Myths stemming from the religion of Islam. Some might call them genies. Others viewed them as much darker creatures. But they’re a fantasy!”

   “They’re creatures of another realm,” Wong said darkly. “You said that you fought some…”

   Kamala’s face twisted as she now regretted opening her mouth. “Trust me, that whole ordeal is sorted. We did go fairly close to bringing about the end of the world but I had it covered in the end.”

   “Weren’t you just talking about wanting to defend the planet from these other realms?” Carol asked. “It looks like you’ve had someone doing that job for you.”

   “Then you’ll be happy to know that I’m about to take drastic action,” Wong informed her. “Against a threat from another reality.”

   “You’re not going to hurt me, are you?” Kamala wondered, her hands beginning to glow instinctively.

   “No. Because you’ve been telling me the truth. Whereas these three…” He turned to the Doctor, Yaz, and Dan. “Have been lying since they got here. Potentially since they rescued you. There’s a reason why I haven’t been able to get a read on them up to this point. It’s because they’re from another reality. Another universe.”

   The Doctor had her hands up already, noticing how the other three were now looking at them suspiciously. “Okay, okay…I think I’ve got some explaining to do.”

Chapter Text

The Doctor was holding her hands up, trying her best to get the situation under control before it got out of hand. They weren’t currently getting the best reception. It was the three of them (her, Yaz and Dan) mirrored by the other three, one group trying to put a bit of distance between the two parties whilst the other slowly closed in. Carol looked ready to fight with her fists clenched and her eyes on the cusp of glowing. Wong was looking at them sternly. The projection of Kamala’s bangle had disappeared, his magic now being focused on self defence just in case he was right about these people standing in front of him.

   Kamala, though…she didn't look like she wanted to turn against them on a whim. If anything, she looked hurt, looking at them pleadingly as if she needed them to assure her that they weren’t anything monstrous, as if she couldn’t bear the thought of them having lied to her this whole time. The Doctor wanted nothing more than to tell her that was the case, that they would never do anything to hurt her. But would the others listen? From their looks, it was if the three of them had threatened them upon arrival. The Doctor felt that she’d been perfectly hospitable up to this point and believed their reaction was over the top. How could she say that to them and still sound pleasant?

   “Who are you?” Carol questioned them.

   The Doctor had subtly placed herself in between the others and Yaz and Dan in the effort to give them a bit of protection. What she could actually do to stand in the way of the supposed most powerful woman in the cosmos and the sorcerer supreme was a completely different matter. “Look, you have this all wrong! We’re no threat to you or anyone in this reality! You need to calm down, that’s it! Let’s just talk about this over a cup of tea and a few custard creams. Do you have custard creams? I mean, in America. Not this universe. Although do you have them in this universe? Because that might be a reality I couldn’t survive in. Imagine living without custard creams. Imagine being the one to invent them! Oh, I could start a business! I’d be raking in money left, right and centre.”

   “Doctor,” Yaz murmured. “You’re rambling.”

   “Sorry. Just a bit nervous. Not about this whole situation because I truly think you won’t hurt us without proper reason. It’s just that whole custard cream thing really threw me for six.”

   “Doctor,” Dan echoed his friend in warning. Now wasn’t the time for her to be behaving like she normally did.

   “They didn't know anything,” Kamala said sadly, looking to Carol and Wong. “About this world. They didn't know that superheroes existed or about anything that’s happened in the past. Nothing about Thanos…or New York.”

   “We weren’t keeping the truth from you to hurt you,” the Doctor told her, hoping that she would believe her. “It was just easier that way. So much was going on that we really didn't need that getting thrown in the mix.”

   “So you admit that you weren’t telling the truth.” Wong was quick to pick up on her remarks. She hated it when people actually chose to listen to her when she didn't want them to. How many times had she been ignored at vitally important times? It really was a pain how life worked sometimes.

   “I’d call it hiding certain facts to streamline events. No point getting bogged down in how we came to be here when Kamala was in trouble. Would it have helped, really? We were stuck in space. Not the best place to stop and have a chat.”

   “Are you from a different universe?” Wong asked, cutting to the chase.

   “One that’s remarkably similar to this one. Just without the…you know…superheroes and…stuff.”

   “That’s all I needed to know.” He moved quickly, his hand planting against her chest, sparks of golden energy fizzing from his fingers. For a second, nothing happened. He looked momentarily confused, especially when her own hands began to glow with a different kind of golden energy, wavy wisps threatening to take hold.

   “No…not like this,” she whispered in abject fear. But then the power began to dissipate, falling back into her digits, and her body felt like it was being thrown backwards, like it was being separated from its natural tether.

   Not having any clue what was happening and unable to see the effects of the spell, Yaz and Dan simply saw the Doctor fall unconscious, slumping forward whilst still managing to remain on two feet. Kamala jumped back, afraid of what she was seeing. She hadn’t wanted the woman to get hurt as a result of her suspicions.

   Yaz’s heart was racing. “What have you done to her?” she yelled in panic, desperately grasping the Doctor’s arms, which were limp and lifeless.

   “You need to calm down,” Carol warned her, stepping forward.

   “Or what?” Dan returned. “Are you going to attack us too for no reason? Is that how it works here?” He looked around frantically, trying to find anything that he could use to defend himself. The closest thing to him was a heavy tome, which he picked up and brandished chaotically. “Don’t go anywhere near Yaz or I won’t be afraid to use this. You might have superpowers but I’ve survived on the streets of Liverpool. I know a thing or two.”

   “I have simply placed her on the astral plane,” Wong told them.

   “Is that supposed to mean anything to us?” Yaz asked, wondering if she should get a book for herself.

   “She isn’t being harmed. It’s simply the easiest way for me to find out the truth of her existence. Nothing can hide on this plane, unlike the secrets of our own dimension.”

   The Doctor felt like she was floating. Mainly because, it turned out, she was floating. She was still in the library, still able to see Yaz and Dan by her side. By her body, which she currently wasn’t in. The Doctor didn't want to panic but if any situation warranted such a reaction, then this was it. Not knowing what else to do, she tried to call out for Yaz, always her first port of call. As good as it was to know that she could still speak, it was incredibly troubling to find out that none of them could see. If she had seen herself floating around the place, she would have probably shown a bit more shock than her friends.

   Only Wong appeared to be taking in her presence, occasionally glancing in her direction whilst he spoke to them. Their voices seemed distant and disconnected, like they were being distorted through some barrier. The Doctor tried to reach for her body, as if touching it would bring her back. But, the closer she seemed to get, the further her body would be dragged away by some unseen force. She could feel her chest constricting. She might have thought that the agonising process of being ripped from her body would have stopped hurting by now, but it felt like something was still happening to her. And that was when Wong showed the first sign of concern.

   “Oh no.”

   The Doctor turned her head as she heard the voice coming from behind her. A distinctively Scottish accent. She found a pair of wild, intimidating eyebrows in front of her, matching a mop of curly, grey hair. It was a distinctive face that she remembered all too well.

   “What sort of trouble have you gotten us into this time?” he asked. He was as easily disgruntled as she remembered. 

   “Me? Why are you blaming me for this?” she argued back. If there was one thing she was good at, it was arguing with herself. She’d had years of practice.

   “Because I’m you and I’m pretty certain this is exactly the sort of thing I’d inadvertently do.”

   “Inadvertently being the key word here!” She pouted, trying to fold her arms but quickly discovered that they just went through each other. “At least you’re accepting who I am. We’re not normally that cooperative. I was fully expecting you to complain a lot more than this.”

    “Maybe it’s the vertigo I’m currently experiencing that’s stopping the impending dread I’m feeling about the safety of my future. I always thought I might be the last, you know. I always thought I’d give up with the running.”

   “Trust me, you tried. And it’s times like these that make me question why I even bothered to carry on!” She was practically trying to swim back to her body, but her former self’s presence seemed to be holding her back. Wong appeared completely befuddled by what he was seeing.

   “Excuse me!” another voice sounded, and a head popped up behind her Scottish counterpart. “But I never had us pegged for being such defeatists! We should be enjoying this! It’s quite fun once you start relaxing. It’s like being in a hot tub.”

   “How did you manage to get a fez?” she asked, throwing her arms up into the air. 

   “We’re experiencing a completely different existence and that’s what you ask me? Not…how are you doing? I’ve been trapped inside your head for decades. I’m going to make the most of it whilst I’m out.”

   “At least you got better dress sense over the years,” the Scottish one grumbled.

   “Look at her! She’s all rainbows! Actually…I quite like it. I somehow pull it off. And I have to admire the braces.”

   “Ugh, not again.” A new one entered the fray, slicked up hair and red converse standing out. “I’ve already had to put up with your face before and now I’ve got it right in front of me. When I said I didn't want to go, this isn’t what I was implying!”

   “Of course you have to turn up. You always turn up. You can’t possibly miss an event like this. People will be sick of the sight of your face after a while. And that gurning grin you always seem to wear when you think you’re being more clever than everyone else in the room.”

   “I happen to like my face, thank you very much! And what people? We’re the only ones here! As for being more intelligent…I can’t help that I’m so good. We share the same brain. You’re insulting yourself.”

   “It’s worth it just to deflate that ego of yours.”

   “Again, it’s your ego as well! What aren’t you understanding about this?”

   “Mainly the bit about how we ended up floating!” the Scottish one pointed out, trying to corral them like toddlers.

   “Magic,” the current occupant of their body told them. “And I know what you’re going to say because I obviously know how your brains work. Brain? Doesn’t matter. Obviously, magic shouldn’t exist but we shouldn’t also be able to communicate like this so I’m at a loss!”

   “These are the safe pair of hands guiding us right now?” Sandshoes asked.

   “I never said that they were safe! I thought you of all of me would like my appearance at least. You always had a thing for blondes.”

   “Actually, I think I started that tradition.” Another one, this time wearing a leather jacket. “Though he definitely took it to the extreme once I was gone. Can I just say how good it is to hear myself have a proper Northern accent again? I can actually understand you, instead of these poncy southerners.”

   “Scotland’s in the North,” Eyebrows pointed out.

   “Not the proper North.”

   “Why am I here? What’s going on?” a grumpy voice entered the mix. She was running out of nicknames for them now. Could she call this one Goatee? “This is definitely something I’ve done without choice.”

   “Why are you here? I thought we kicked him out of the club.”

   “He got reinstated,” Bowtie explained. “It’s a very long story. Basically, I saved the day.”

   “We all saved the day,” Eyebrows corrected him. “Well, maybe not her but we can’t blame her for that. We hadn’t afforded the upgrade by that point.”

   “I’m certainly not the Doctor that I was expecting.” Yet another body was floating with them now, all of them forming an ethereal conga. They would be running out of room soon if this carried on. He was wearing a velvet jacket but she was disappointed that his long, floppy hair had been left behind, instead sporting his shorter haircut. She’d always liked the floppy hair. “Can someone run me up to the speed with what’s going on?”

   “What do you think?” More Scottish, this one rolling his r’s a lot more. He was wearing more question marks than any sane person would ever have chosen to. “We’ve gotten ourselves into yet another tight spot. I know I was always trying to find the truth of our existence but this is too far, even for me.”

   “Can’t we focus on the really disturbing thing here?” Great. Technicolour Dreamcoat had arrived at the party, somehow giving them all a haughty look despite them being the same person . “The fact that, over the years, our fashion sense really became drab . When did we stop being so outlandish? I mean, look at this! Leather jackets, tweed …that one towards the end is wearing a hoodie for goodness sake! Match that with the sunglasses and he looks like some punk rocker!”

   Eyebrows was looking more exasperated with each one that popped up. “That’s what I was going for!”

   “I always knew it would go downhill after me. You can’t beat the classics. You just have to look at who’s behind me. He’s wearing a stick of celery! You couldn’t do that nowadays.”

   “Wherever I go, that’s always the first thing that people bring up,” the next one sighed, twiddling said vegetable. “They forget that there’s a person behind the celery. Did you know that I like cricket?”

   “You never shut up about it!” Question Marks answered back sharply. “I made sure to hide that godforsaken bat just in case we reverted back to that hellish time. We’re not built for exercise.”

   “But…it was also fun, wasn’t it?”

   “No one’s ever called cricket fun,” Sandshoes broke the news to him. “And that’s coming from me, the one who loves you the most.”

   “Now, now!” A deep, booming baritone commanded. “Let’s not insult one another. We should make the most of this strange opportunity and give ourselves some entertainment! Do you think that, if I stretched my scarf out completely, it would be able to wrap around all of us? It’d certainly bring us closer together, quite literally. We’ve always been a rather disparate bunch.”

   “Will you clowns keep the noise down?” The one that looked like a fancy James Bond was peering through the winding scarf of his successor. “I’m trying to sneak up on our captor so that I can take him down. He may be a wizard but he’s never come across a spot of Venusian Aikido.”

   “You can’t attack a wizard with kung fu!” Technicolour Dreamcoat complained. “Why were we so violent back then?”

   “I think you’ll find that you were more violent than all of us put together,” the cricketer remarked. “I still haven’t forgiven you for what you did to dear Peri.”

   “I was having a bad day! We’ve all had them!”

   Rainbows (why was she giving herself a nickname now?) was struggling to keep abreast of the situation. Under normal circumstances, she would have marvelled at what she was experiencing. But she was still trying to focus on her friends below, as unprotected as they now were from the threats of their current universe.

   “As much as I love a bit of Venusian aikido myself,” she remarked. “We need to find a way to get back to where we’re supposed to be. Surely we’ve got enough brains between us to figure this one out. We just have to work together!”

   “It’s no use.” Was that a recorder playing she could now hear? They all groaned as they realised what that meant. “I’ve been in these situations more than all of you combined. I’m always the one to get thrown together with my other faces. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learnt from those experiences, it’s that we simply can’t work together.”

   “We’ve managed it before. Begrudgingly.”

   “Our freshest face is right.” There was still one to come, and he’d popped up in the nick of time. “We can do this. You just need an overseer, hmm? It’s a role I’ve filled in before when I’ve had to control myself. Literally. If I managed to keep the dandy and clown in front of me in check, then there’s no reason why I can’t do it with all of you.”

   “I don’t think you’re going to have the time.” Ah, this was where things got complicated. Her other selves had been expecting One to be the last, and yet she knew that there was plenty more where that came from. Ruth was standing there, looking so impossibly cool even as she floated like the rest of them. Could she actually call her Ruth? It was like calling herself John Smith, she supposed.

   “Who are you?!”

   “I’d also like to know that,” Sandshoes concurred. 

   “We really don’t have time for that explanation,” Rainbows told them firmly. “I’m still trying to figure that one out for myself…ugh, do you feel that?” Her chest was feeling funny again. She looked at the others, watching them phase in and out of view. It was dizzying and nauseating, so much so that she closed her eyes tightly. When she opened them, she was standing back on firm ground. As soon as she began to move, a surprisingly difficult thing to get used to after being so weightless, Yaz was pouncing on her, wrapping her in a tight hug in relief.

   Wong was staring at her. “What was that? I’ve never seen that sort of thing before.”

   “You’ve got a cheek, saying that,” the Doctor responded. “What did you do to me?”

   “Separated your soul from your body,” he answered as if it were perfectly natural.

   “And do you go around doing that to lots of people?”

   “It’s a harmless way of exposing a potential threat…as well as efficiently showing a non-believer to the powers we have access to.”

   The Doctor was wringing her neck. She had an awful crick in it now. “It’s certainly done that. You just weren’t expecting there to be a lot more to my soul than a regular person.”

   “There were multiple people there! I could have allowed it to continue but it was becoming too much of a strain, even for my powers. You are a…marvel!”

   “We’ve got an abundance of them now,” Kamala commented drily. She hadn’t told Carol what her potential new superhero name could be just in case it made things awkward.”

   “You saw my other selves,” the Doctor explained.

   Yaz’s eyes went wide. “You mean I missed the chance to see the white haired Scotsman?”

   “And the rest.”

   “Is anyone else not following this?” Dan asked with a frown.

   Carol held up her hand. “I’m also extremely confused.”

   The Doctor didn't want to be having this conversation but knew that it would make things simpler. “Do you remember when I said that I didn't have any superpowers? Well, it’s not strictly that but…I can regenerate my body if it gets sufficiently damaged. And…in the process, my entire appearance changes. That’s what you saw, Wong. It was my soul, every single one of them. They just happened to look different.”

   “And you don’t see that as a superpower?” Kamala asked in wonder.

   “No, not really. A superpower wouldn’t come with that much pain and self doubt, but I’m not going to get into those details today.”

   “After viewing you in your entirety, you don’t appear to be a threat to our existence,” Wong said, though his tone still made him sound unsure. 

   “Finally! You see sense!”

   “But I still need to know how you came to be here. Multiversal travel should be impossible, barring a few individuals and incantations.”

   “We crashed! I could have told you that! Even ask Kamala! Our ship was completely dead when we managed to save her. The truth of the matter is that we don’t know what caused it to crash though.”

   “So it could be an accident,” Carol supposed, her arms folded, guarded.

   “Or someone wanted them to be here,” Wong hypothesised. “Which is a more troubling possibility.”

   “Is there any way of finding out which it is?” Yaz asked.

   “The boundaries between realities have become weaker than ever before. Your arrival could signal an influx of such events. I met someone very recently who can traverse the multiverse. If anyone could have seen what happened to you, it would be her. The only issue, of course, with someone with such powers, is finding them.”

Chapter Text

The last place that the Doctor expected to end up was a shopping centre. Under the instruction of Wong, they had travelled to Kamar Taj through one of the doors in the sanctum. If that wasn’t enough of an impossible marvel to occupy their minds, the Time Lord doing her best to try and rationalise such an incomprehensible contraption, then finding themselves in the training centre of the masters of the mystic arts was enough to blow their minds. Even in its devastated state, it was a magnificent sight to behold. Most of the repairs had been almost finished, thanks to the magic that was on offer, meaning that the majority of the people there were practising their powers. The Doctor only wished that she’d been able to sit there and watch the spectacle, fascinated by how so many people could conjure the same sparky, golden energy into existence. 

   They had another mission to occupy themselves with, though the Doctor vowed to return. It transpired that the girl they were searching for wasn’t in the same place that Wong had left her, making this much more difficult than it really needed to be. According to the Sorcerer Supreme, the girl had a tendency to wander off, especially since Doctor Strange had exemplified such behaviour. Wong could control an army of sorcerers but couldn’t corral a teenager. It was something that left him grumbling under his breath as he shook his head constantly. At the very least, it made him look more human. After the display he had greeted them with, appearing as some all powerful entity, it was a much needed rest bite to become more comfortable in his company.

   It was back through the doors they went, with Wong telling them that he knew exactly where she would be if she’d skived off her training. As much as Nepal was a vibrant city with plenty of opportunities for shopping, it seemed that their target had a taste for the American way of life, Wong telling them that there was a mall down the block from the sanctum that she had a particular favouritism for. When asked why he wasn’t coming with them to help identify her, he claimed that it was his duty not to leave the building unguarded. And that he didn't want to give her the satisfaction of chasing after her.

   “What’s her name again?” Yaz asked, looking at Kamala.

   They were walking through said shopping centre, weaving in and out between the other people going about their business. It was busy, which shouldn’t have been surprising. As much as things were incredibly different to their reality, lots of things were still the same. Most of the annoying parts of life that they’d hoped wouldn’t be hanging around, like getting caught behind a slow walker. Dan was about to shove the person in front of him for not going at an appropriate speed, before realising that it was a little old lady. He still gave it some thought.

   “America Chavez,” Kamala answered.

   “And is she some sort of superhero as well?” Dan queried. He was losing count of how many there were. If only he knew the half of it.

   “I’ve never heard of her before.”

   “Then she must be new because you’re obsessed with this sort of thing.”

   “It’s not an obsession! It’s just a…healthy interest that…dictates my every waking thought.”

   “Sounds super healthy.”

   “If I had such incredible powers as Wong was describing, I wouldn’t be risking walking around unguarded,” the Doctor commented. “It’s reckless. I bet there’s loads of people who would be willing to get their hands on her. I don’t know whether to believe the point that she can actually travel in between universes…but I definitely know some people who would like to have someone by their side who could do that.” She trembled at the thought. What would existence look like if the Daleks could cross over between realities? The Cybermen had managed it before and had almost destroyed both Earths in the process.

   Yaz was giving her a disapproving look. “Oh, come on. We know that you’d be more reckless than anyone if you could do anything like we’ve heard so far.”

   “I’m disappointed that you think so little of me, Yaz.”

   “And, you’ve got to remember…she’s still a teenager! It’s basically in their DNA to disobey direct orders, especially when they come from people older than them. No matter if she’s got powers, she’s still a human. Right?” She was quickly realising that she didn't actually know how it worked. 

   “I understand the feeling,” Kamala said, idly looking through the window of a clothes store. It wasn’t often that she got to go shopping without her parents’ supervision, who would invariably make all her choices for her as well. “The only reason that I discovered my powers the way I did is because I snuck out of the house when my mum expressly told me I wasn’t allowed to leave. It’s like a red rag to a bull, being told not to do something. It’s too tempting.”

   “See!” The Doctor waved her hands as if she was making a point. “This universe is chaotic because things like that can happen.”

   “All I wanted to do was go to Avengers Con!” Kamala protested.

   Dan frowned. “These Avengers…are they important then? Famous?”

   “Only the most well known people on the planet!” Kamala looked as if she still couldn’t believe they didn't know who they were, even though she’d learnt of their alternative origins. She spied the perfect shop to be able to make her explanation for her, knowing that it would take ages to go through it. Mainly because she would want to go through all the details with meticulous precision. She was sure that she had a powerpoint presentation saved on her laptop that would help with this. “Come on! In here?”

   “What? Have you found America?” the Doctor wondered, turning her neck in every feasible direction.

   “Nope. This is a little detour. The only way you’re going to be able to survive in this reality is if you know a thing or two. You don’t look particularly strange or any different to our people but you’re still managing to stick out like a sore thumb.”

   “I’m trying to not take that as an insult,” Dan complained.

   “Avengers Superstore?” Yaz read the sign, her nose wrinkling as she watched their newly appointed tour guide head towards it.

   It was a bright shop, large and colourful. It stood out from the more refined stores surrounding it in the mall, probably explaining why it was much more crowded than its counterparts. People were constantly filing in and they were beginning to wonder how so many of them were able to fit inside, before they realised just how large it was. There were two floors, making it seem more like the department stores Yaz had been dragged around when her mum had wanted to buy her some ‘proper’ clothes. Each aisle was just as vibrant as the one next to it, popping out in a similar fashion to the comic books they were selling. It was almost cartoonish, especially when the employees’ uniforms, matching the decor, were added to the mix.

   Comic books, lining a complete wall of the store, weren’t the only thing on offer. Kids were dragging their parents to the toy section, which was catching the eye of Dan. There was a homeware aisle, making Yaz question why anyone would want to eat off a giant green man’s face. Adorning any empty space were large cardboard cutouts of the superheroes they had briefly seen decorating Kamala’s bedroom walls, all bedecked in their signature costumes. The Doctor struck a pose, placing her fists on her hips and puffing her chest, to try and match the figures. Yaz simply patted her on the shoulder and told her that she was at least a powerful superhero in her eyes. 

   “I drag my family here whenever we go shopping,” Kamala explained. “There’s usually one in every shopping centre now and the ones that don’t have one aren’t really worth visiting in my view. Although that’s a bit odd. They seem to have gotten rid of the Scarlet Witch stuff.” She was looking around, trying to find that specific merchandise. One of the aisles looked strangely empty compared to the rest of them. “There’s obviously been chatter that she was involved in something weird. You hear stories about a town or something. I wouldn’t blame her though for not wanting to be involved in this anymore, after she lost her love. I cried for a day when I heard about Vision so I can’t imagine what she must have been like.”

   Kamala shuddered and they wondered whether she would be okay, suddenly looking very subdued. But then she was plastering a smile on her face to convince them that she was fine. “But plenty of people lost someone around then. And look! There’s Captain Marvel! Or should I be calling her Carol now? She has her own dedicated section, obviously . It’s what the most powerful Avenger deserves.”

   “Where is our resident superhero, anyway?” Dan wondered. “Is she too big and mighty to come investigating with us?”

   “We’re not really investigating. We’re just…stalking someone. I probably could have worded that better.” Kamala shook her head. “Don’t you listen though? Wong sent her on another mission. Something about a spike in strange energy somewhere off the coast of Norway.” She grinned in excitement, bringing her hands to her chest. “Isn’t this amazing? I’m talking about super secret hero missions because I’m in the loop now.”

   “Because those super secret details are going to remain private if you carry on shouting about you knowing them,” Dan pointed out sarcastically.

   “Hey, I’ll admit that I’m still getting the hang of this. But give me time! I’m new to this, even if it feels like I’ve been connected to it since I was a child.”

   Yaz nudged her with her shoulder. “You never know. You might have your own dedicated section in here one day. Right next to Carol.”

   Kamala blushed, though she grinned dreamily at the thought. “I don’t think people will ever be interested enough in me to warrant that. I’ll be happy with a couple of comics. That’s more than I could have ever imagined.”

   “That’s something that’s been bugging me,” Dan commented, walking up to the magazines. “How can you have comics about people who actually exist? From where we come from, we have comics about superheroes but they’re completely made up.”

   “I don’t know…I suppose it helps connect the public to their stories.”

   “Probably a nice and innocent way to keep the PR machine rolling along,” the Doctor said, surprising herself with her cynicism. “Although the artwork does look gorgeous.”

   “The best artists seem to want to be included. It’s the biggest market going. I dreamt of creating my own comic series once. Now I’m living in one.” Kamala idly flicked through the pages of the closest one to her, realising she already owned it. “If you want to learn about the Avengers, then this is the way to go to get all the details. They started out with Captain America during the Second World War. He was touring the army camps and they created these to go alongside the figure…I guess you could call that propaganda too, like you were saying.” She frowned. She hadn’t expected her view on the process to be tainted like that coming into the store.

   “And who’s this one?” the Doctor asked. “The one in the robot. It looks awfully like a red Cyberman, though they’d never be down with a new paint job. It goes against their morose, emotionless vibe.”

   “Cyber…what? I’m just going to have to accept that I’m not going to understand most of your references.”

   “Welcome to the club,” Dan remarked with a smirk.

   Kamala took the comic from the blonde woman. “As for who that is…it’s the man who started it all really. Iron Man. Tony Stark. When he unveiled his alter ego, it was like a dam burst. The world couldn’t ignore superheroes anymore because they were on the news, doing press conferences.”

   “I reckon I’d suit a suit like that.” The Doctor winked at Yaz, who didn't seem to have found her play on words as funny as she’d done. “Do you think he’d build me one if I asked nicely?”

   Kamala’s smile fell. “He…um…he died, a few years ago now. He sacrificed his life to save humanity. To save existence across the universe.”

   “Can one man really be that important?” Yaz asked, doubting it.

   “He was. Because the other option was Thanos and we’d already seen what he was capable of.”

   The Doctor sidled up next to her, all thought of the comics forgotten as she saw the weariness in Kamala’s eyes. It was a strange look on the girl, who was normally so energetic and full of life. “You’ve mentioned that name a few times already.”

   “It’s hard not to think about him after the impact he had on our lives. Everyone’s lives.”

   “Would you tell us about him?” Yaz asked softly, knowing it was potentially opening up old wounds.

   Kamala seemed to bite her lip in thought, as if considering now was the right time and place for such a heavy conversation. She wandered away from that part of the store, coming up to a large tub that was filled to the brim with plastic, golden gloves. The Doctor, the big kid that she was, simply had to put one on, admiring the colourful gems that had been stuck on with cheap glue. 

   “Thanos was this…alien,” Kamala began. “They called him the Mad Titan. He had this grand idea that, for the universe to be balanced, half of existence had to be removed. And, to do so, he collected six Infinity Stones, the most powerful objects in the cosmos, controlling different aspects of our existence, all meant to be hidden across the stars. He used the Infinity Gauntlet, which these are cheap knock-offs of, and brought their power together. He became the most powerful creature in the universe.”

   “I dealt with something similar once,” the Doctor remarked, breaking the tension that had been building. “The Key to Time, it was called. Six pieces as well, spread out across the galaxies. If you put them together, you’d have control over Time itself. So you can imagine how important it was for me to stop anyone from finding the different segments.”

   Yaz stared at her. “You’ve never mentioned this before.”

   The Doctor shrugged. “It was a very long time ago. I’ve had plenty of faces since then. I couldn’t possibly tell you about every adventure I’ve been on, Yaz. There isn’t enough time, even for me.”

   “I’d like to try.”

   “But you’re right, Doctor,” Kamala continued. “Thanos had to be stopped from collecting the Stones. The Avengers were the ones to try. They…almost succeeded. But, in the end, the Mad Titan fulfilled his promise. Using that invincible power, he wiped out half of the universe’s population with a click of his fingers. Within moments, people across the world were turning to dust.”

   Yaz was holding a hand over her mouth. “That’s not…possible.”

   “I really wish you were right. But it happened. The Avengers lost. Five years went by and only then did they find a way to reverse what had happened. The people came back in the exact same spots, thinking that no time had passed at all, only to discover that the world had tried to move on. You can understand how difficult that was.”

   The Doctor was giving her a sincere look. “Did you…”

   “I was one of the lucky ones. I didn't get dusted. But I knew plenty of people that did. We have big families in Pakistani culture. It made it impossible not to know someone who had vanished.”

   “I can’t imagine the torment the world must have gone through. And it was this Tony Stark that reverted everything back?”

   Kamala nodded her head. “He used the same Stones that Thanos had wielded to destroy him. But the process killed him too.”

   “But…everyone seems so happy!” Dan commented. “This shop…it’s so bright and colourful! How could you have moved on so quickly after something like that?” He looked down at the toy gauntlets on sale. “They’re selling these as if they’re not a reminder of what happened. How does that work?”

   “It’s all part of the process, I guess. Everyone had to come to terms with that. I think…people were just happy to have their friends and families back. Making toys and things like that sort of…trivialises it. People needed that. Still need it. Because how else could you comprehend something like that?”

   “And here I was, thinking that our world was pretty bad,” Yaz said.

   “I think it must be. Because you don’t have the superheroes. You don’t have that group who are always there, waiting in the wings to save the day. And they might not always succeed, like they did with Thanos. But they continue to fight because no one else can.”

   “It sounds like someone I know.” Yaz surreptitiously cast her gaze over to the Doctor, who suddenly looked rather shy and embarrassed.

   “Let’s not put me on any pedestal,” she said.

   “Too late,” Dan replied. “Have you seen the way Yaz looks at you?”

   The woman in question narrowed her eyes. “I’m now friends with a girl that could hit you very, very hard. Do you really want to be pushing your luck?”

   Dan looked helplessly at Kamala, nervous all of a sudden. “You wouldn’t hurt me, would you?”

   “I’m probably expected to use my powers responsibly and only for good,” she responded. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be an accident of some kind if you annoy Yaz.”

   “This isn’t fair! Now there’s three of you against me. I’m never going to get my own way.”

   “We can take up your complaints at a later date, Dan,” the Doctor told him, looking out through the shop window. “Because I think I may have spotted our target.” She dug through her coat pockets, which were much larger than they seemed (obviously. She had a track record), and pulled out a small device that Wong had given to them. Upon activation, it displayed a hologram of a girl’s face, the one they were searching for. An image that matched the person that had just walked by.

   The Doctor was ready to run out of the store and chase after her, before Yaz was grabbing her arm. The blonde woman frowned at her companion. “What?”

   “You can’t do that,” Yaz instructed her.

   “Do what?”

   “Run after her like that! We have to be…stealthy, I don’t know. I’ve never done this before! But I get the impression that chasing someone with superpowers that we don’t understand probably isn’t the best idea. We don’t want to scare her off. I get the sense that Wong is testing us with this task, like he wants to see whether we’re up to the job. I’d hate to miss out on the chance to impress him.”

   “Me too!” Kamala agreed. “If I do well here, he might use me for more missions! Hopefully bigger ones.”

   “We’re not here to impress some sorcerer,” the Doctor argued. “At least we’re not. I can’t control Kamala, but I can certainly try my best with you and Dan. We’re trying to find a way out of this universe. That’s what’s important.”

   “You’re no fun,” Yaz grumbled.

   “I can be fun! Just not when we’re breaking most of the laws of the natural world. We’re not supposed to be here. What if we get trapped? You might never see your family again!”

   “And what if we’re already trapped? What if there isn’t an easy fix?”

   The Doctor looked at the ground. “I don’t want to have let you down like that. You’re under my protection. You’re my responsibility. I’ve put you in danger just by bringing you here.”

   “It’s not as if it’s your fault!”

   “Guys!” Dan interrupted. “Can we have the domestic once we’ve actually got the girl? ‘Cos she’s getting away.”

   They emerged back into the bustling crowd, trying to look as innocuous as one could be in this situation. They were following the back of her head, tracking her through her distinctive denim jacket. America would occasionally turn her head or stop to admire the stall she was passing, making them free and look around naturally, as if they were really interested in the menu of the fruit smoothie place. The Doctor was leading the way, slowly getting closer to their target, until America rounded a corner. They followed, not really thinking, and found the girl waiting for them, her fists clenched.

   “I don’t know who you are but you’re going to stop following me now,” she said. Her eyes were starting to glow ominously and the Doctor was looking at her hands warily, expecting an attack at any moment.

   “Could we go five minutes without dealing with someone who can glow?” Dan complained. “Can everyone do it in this universe?”

   “This universe? What are you talking about? Who are you?” America had already dealt with one person recently who was obsessed with another universe. She didn't have the patience to go through that again. She idly noticed that other shoppers were looking at them, some getting their phones out to capture the potential situation and she cursed her luck. She was going to have to find a different mall now.

   “You knew we were following you?” the Doctor wondered.

   “You didn't exactly hide it. What? Is this your first time?”

   “You could say that, yeah.”

   “Are you going to tell me why you’ve been snooping on me?”

   “Wong sent us,” Yaz said simply, cutting straight to the point.

   America grumbled something under her breath, the menacing glow dissipating. “What does he want? Can’t he give me a moment’s peace?”

   “Sadly not,” the Doctor told her. “Because, from what we’ve been told about your powers, we could really do with your help.”

**********

   She landed on an open, grassy field, looking at the sign that greeted her. At least she was in the right place. It was pretty hard to miss on the coastline, sticking out like a sore thumb. The buildings were vastly different to everything else in the region, not that there was much else in terms of built-up area nearby. She watched, fascinated, as a ship flew through the sky, over the glistening buildings. She had to admit that she was impressed. They’d done a lot of work since its conception. But obviously something was wrong for her to be sent here. She didn't normally take orders anymore but she was doing her best to learn how to work as a team. Small steps.

   Two men approached, covered in armour, wielding golden spears. Needless, really. They wouldn’t be able to do much to stop her if she’d intended on doing anything malicious. She simply rolled her eyes at their presence, more interested in the woman they were escorting through the fields. They shared a smile. They hadn’t exactly spent much time together but fighting alongside one another on the battlefield was usually enough to create some sort of bond.

   “When we saw that the perimeter border had been breached, I really wasn’t expecting to see you here, Captain,” the woman remarked, gesturing for her guards to stand down. 

   Carol admired the woman’s sharp suit, fashionable business attire definitely suiting her. “What can I say? I’m full of surprises. I wish I could say that this was a social call.”

   Valkyrie nodded her head, understanding. The Captain was renowned for her no-nonsense approach to these sorts of situations. “I thought someone might be popping by after the latest developments. I just thought it might be someone else. Anyway…where are my manners? Welcome to New Asgard.”

Chapter Text

“I like what you’ve done with the place,” Carol remarked as she was led into the town hall. It was a strange mixture of old function with new design, the sort of thing that you could only get away with in this part of the world. She’d already walked past plenty of people who had instantly recognised her (not that she was keeping track, of course), asking for autographs or selfies. It had made their journey rather slow with progress constantly getting interrupted, but she wanted to create a better public image for herself. She’d been described as aloof a few times, mainly because she had spent so little time on Earth over the years since her change. She wanted to fix that, to become a part of the team. That’s what Fury had been talking about, with his Initiative, ever since he’d met her.

   “Thanks,” Valkyrie replied, smiling at the compliment. “You know, when Thor pronounced me king of New Asgard, I really wasn’t thrilled about it to begin with. I thought it was a whole lot of responsibility that I’d never asked for. It’s taken me a while to get accustomed to it but what I love the most about it is that I can put my own personal touch on the way we grow as a community. It’s made in my image, in a way. Obviously I’m not going to start having statues of my visage built around town…”

   “I don’t know…I think I’d like that. You’d definitely attract more visitors.”

   “Don’t tempt me. If people complain, I will be directing their comments to you.”

   “Go ahead. It’s not as if I’ve got an email account where they can reach me.”

   “I forgot, you’ve normally got your head in the stars, quite literally. People are always talking about when you’ll return and then it just so happens that you end up here. I should be honoured. I just never expected this to be the thing that grabbed your attention.”

   “In truth, I’m still yet to find out what this is. I was sent here because there was a massive outburst of energy in the vicinity. It got Wong’s notice at least and that’s why I’m here.”

   Valkyrie wrinkled her nose. “Ugh. Of course he’d be involved. He sent around a news blast reminding everyone that he’s the Sorcerer Supreme now and that any issues should be sent his way. It’s probably a good thing that you don’t have emails because he sends monthly newsletters. And yet I read them, because that man has a way with words. You wouldn’t think it with how quiet he is. But I might have preferred to have dealt with this myself.”

   “So you know what caused the pulse then?” Carol asked eagerly. She was growing more curious the longer she had to wait. 

   “I do indeed. But it’s strange. And a rather delicate situation too. In that case, I don’t reckon I’m the right person to be handling it. Then again, I don’t know whether you are either.”

   Carol looked affronted at the insinuation. “I can be delicate when I want to be.”

   “I don’t think the most powerful woman in the universe can also be delicate. You have to choose one or the other. You chose right, by the way. In my opinion. I very much prefer a woman who can handle herself in a fight.” Maybe she was appreciating the way Carol’s muscles were defined by her suit a bit too much but she was allowed to have a small look. She was king, after all. 

   As much as Carol might have liked the attention, she didn't particularly care for the comment. “I don’t want to be placed in some box where I can only be one thing. I’m more than just the superhero. Perhaps I’m just still trying to figure out what that entails.”

   “Whatever realisation you come to, it isn’t going to change the fact that you’re notoriously not a people person.”

   “I’m great with people!” Carol argued.

   Valkyrie rolled her eyes. “Take it from someone who is also not a people person. It’s not the worst thing in the world to be. It just means that we’re better suited for situations that don’t involve navigating tricky private dilemmas. Give me a bar fight any day of the week. But try putting me in a conversation about feelings…I’ll be flying away before you could utter the first mushy thing out of your mouth. And I probably wouldn’t even need Aragorn, my loyal steed, to do so.”

   “With the way you keep asking me if I’m good with people, I’d be inclined to think that the source of the energy was, in fact…a person.”

   “I’ve called for her. She should be here any minute. Just…don’t do anything rash. This is new to everybody but no one more than her. She doesn’t need to be taken away though. If you’re here to…I don’t know…experiment on her, then I’ll be telling her to keep her distance and you’ll have me to deal with.” Valkyrie stood to her full height, but still came up short against the captain.

   Carol was rather impressed at how bold the other woman was being. She’d just experienced the Doctor and Yaz refusing to back down against her, and now it was happening again with Valkyrie. Had something changed? Had a memo been sent around without her knowing? Maybe she needed an email account after all. She didn't want to think about the hit her ego was taking though, ignoring the fact that she may have liked it when people were intimidated by her. She knew that Valkyrie was skilled on the battlefield - if it did come to blows, it would at least be an entertaining contest.

   “So it’s a she,” Carol said. “I’m even more interested now.”

   “Valkyrie? Did you want to see me?” A voice rang through the hallway just outside. Definitely a woman. “The person you sent was actually nervous about coming up to me! Me ! I tried assuring them that I’m not dangerous or anything but…do I even know that for sure? I’m still trying to get a hold on these powers, rather unsuccessfully. Did you hear about the electrical grid going out for a few hours? That was…kind of…my fault. I was just experimenting! I’m a scientist, it’s what I’ve been trained to do. You can’t blame me for that. Well, some people were willing to complain to my face before they realised who I was.”

   Carol didn't know what she’d been expecting when she’d arrived on the Nordic coast, but she certainly hadn’t envisaged the woman who walked into the room. She was tall and muscular, long blonde hair running past her shoulders. A silver bodice of armour made sure to keep her toned arms on show, which Carol was fairly happy about. It wasn’t often that she got to meet someone like this, especially one who was carrying a fairly recognisable hammer. A bright red cape completed the impressive look. If this had happened recently, then she’d thrown herself into it completely.

   The woman came up short when she realised that Valkyrie wasn’t alone. “Oh, hi!” Her smile was brilliant and bright. Was that her superpower? “Um…I don’t want to sound rude but…I feel like I know you from somewhere.”

   “Jane, meet Captain Marvel,” Valkyrie said in introduction. 

   “No.”

   “Yes.”

   “Captain Marvel?”

   “You can see her right there, standing in front of you.”

   “ The Captain Marvel?”

   “Is there another one that I don’t know about? I can’t keep up with the amount of superheroes that keep popping up every week.”

   “You know, you could just call me Carol,” the Captain suggested. “Since we’re alone.”

   Jane walked up to her, arm outstretched. It was shaking visibly. It was quite surprising to see such an obviously powerful person showing that amount of nerves. “I’m Jane. Doctor Jane Foster.”

   “I don’t think I’ve ever come across a doctor quite like you before.” There was the other blonde one she was currently dealing with, but she seemed to defy all logical explanations. 

   Jane appeared to look down at herself. “Oh, this…yeah. I’m still getting used to this. But…I mean…you’re a proper, fully fledged superhero! I’m just some imposter.”

   Valkyrie rolled her eyes. “What have I told you? That’s not the case! You know the legends better than anyone. Even he would tell you that you have to accept this.”

   “He?” Carol asked, not quite following.

   “Thor,” Jane answered with a shy smile. “God of Thunder. Previous owner of Mjolnir. I can’t imagine how he’d react to seeing me like this.”

   “Jane’s an old flame of his,” Valkyrie told Carol in a hushed whisper that was just loud enough to be heard by their other companion.

   Carol nodded her head. “Oh, I’ve met Thor. I thought I recognised that hammer from somewhere.” She was still looking at Jane in an appraising fashion. “An old flame, then? Lucky girl.”

   The other woman blushed magnificently, which was at odds with the rest of her demeanour. If she hadn’t already been told, it would have been obvious to Carol that this was a completely new experience for her. “That was a long time ago. Before this happened. Maybe if this had happened a bit earlier then…we’d still be together. But he’s off amongst the stars and his returns to Earth are infrequent at best.”

   “Mainly because of the break up.” Valkyrie was giving her a sly look. “After that, he didn't have any reason to come back. I mean, I’d be at home all the time if this was waiting for me everyday.”

   “Can you not embarrass me in front of the superhero? Please ?”

   “I’m just saying what we’re all thinking! I’m not going to apologise for that.”

   “Even so, I’m sure that the Captain hasn’t come all the way here to discuss my old love life.” Jane frowned, turning her attention to Carol. “Why are you here?”

   “Because of you,” came the quick answer. There was no point beating around the bush. “We detected major energy spikes coming from this area and I was sent to investigate. Normally, I’d say that was above my pay grade but I’m rather pleased I didn't turn this job down.”

   “Mjolnir,” Jane whispered, understanding what had attracted them here. She should have known that it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed. She’d just wanted to keep this to herself for a bit longer whilst she attempted to figure out what this meant for her. If that was at all possible.

   “Why don’t you run through what happened for me? So I can assess whether this is going to happen again.”

   “That’s not going to happen.”

   “You sound remarkably sure of that for someone who just claimed they didn't understand what was going on.”

   “I didn't say that. I pride myself on knowing things. I’m just having to learn how to be comfortable with this. The reason this happened was because of this.” She lifted the hammer into view, resisting the urge to swing it. She didn't know what sort of damage she could do by accident if she inadvertently let go. She’d already sent it crashing through one roof which she was being billed for. Jane had hoped that Valkyrie would let it slide, since she was a friend of Thor’s, but that hadn’t been the case. Knowing the likelihood of a repeat offence in the future, they’d just set up a tab.

   Carol admired the weapon. “I’ve seen it in action on the battlefield. It’s certainly a force to be reckoned with.”

   “A force I never expected to wield. And yet here I am. Look…I’m not going to get into any details but…I was sick. I think I’m still very sick.” Jane lowered herself into one of the free chairs left standing in the meeting hall. “I’d run out of options. Modern medicine wasn’t working, which meant I had very little hope left remaining.”

   “I’m sorry to hear that.”

   “I’ve heard the pity all before. That was the annoying thing. Because the only thing that anyone else could do was say they were sorry. They couldn’t help me. I couldn’t help myself. There wasn’t anything I could do besides lie there and accept what was happening. That didn't seem fair.”

   “Because it isn’t.”

   “I realised that, if the modern world was letting me down, then maybe the answer lay in the past, in the myths and legends of the old world. And there was one legend that I’d already experienced for myself. So…using the little energy I had left and the little money in my bank account after all the treatment I’ve been through…I brought myself here.”

   “The foundations of this settlement were built primarily around the wreckage of Mjolnir,” Valkyrie explained. “It was destroyed by Thor’s sister, Hela, which is a long story that we’re not going to get into. The fragments of the hammer remained.”

   “I don’t know how to explain it but…I went to the site of the remains and…reached out to those pieces. It was stupid, really, based in no scientific fact…and yet the hammer reformed itself for me.”

   “And anyone who wields Mjolnir is bestowed with the powers of Thor.”

   “Meaning I have those powers now. I mean, I can fly! And can control lightning! I’ve barely even scratched the surface of what I can accomplish now. It’s only been a day or so since it happened.”

   “She gave the tourists an almighty scare. I did my best to remove the videos before they got posted online but I guess I forgot that sorcerers don’t get all their information from Twitter.”

   “I wouldn’t be so sure,” Carol quipped. “It does most of the heavy lifting from what I’ve seen.”

   Jane looked even more nervous than before. “Wait…sorcerers sent you here? What do they want with me?” She wiped a weary hand across her face. Her body was still feeling tired despite the electrified energy now running through her veins. “Listen to me, talking about sorcery as if it’s a normal part of life. I feel like I’ve truly abandoned my scientific background.”

   “I wouldn’t be so worried about the Sorcerer Supreme. He’s surprisingly chill.”

   “But there must be a reason why they sent you? Do they…want to take my powers away from me? I’d understand, obviously. I’m not supposed to have them. I could be a danger to society.”

   Carol got down on one knee so that she could look Jane in the eye, placing a hand on her shoulder. “The main reason that it caught our attention is because of the massive readings you emitted. The local weather patterns were sent haywire for a few moments. We had to make sure everyone was okay. The life of a superhero is mainly responding to calls that don’t turn out to be as serious as you first thought. But we do it because it’s our duty to protect this world, maybe even this universe. We’ve been given powers…whether it’s through pure dumb luck, a show of faith in the myths of old…”

   “Or it could be just naturally being gifted like me,” Valkyrie added.

   Carol gave her a look. “Or that. But those powers are a gift that come with a price. If the powers you have been given have saved your life, then you have to make the most of that extra time you’ve been given. You’re a superhero now. I don’t make the rules. I’m sorry to tell you but you’re in the club now. You can’t ever leave. What did Bruce call it? Oh, yeah…you’re a part of the circus now.”

**********

   “I can’t believe you sent babysitters after me.”

   America stomped into the Sanctum Sanctorum, where Wong was awaiting their return. He was casually leaning against the staircase, trying to appear stern after she’d blatantly ignored the rules he’d set himself. But maybe there was a soft spot that he had for the girl. He blamed Strange for that. Ever since he’d met the former surgeon, his gruff exterior had gradually been worn away. The Sorcerer Supreme needed to be stronger than that. He’d never asked for this job though so why did he have to follow all of the guidelines?

   “They’re not babysitters,” he argued. “They’re…newly recruited agents of mine.”

   The Doctor, following closely behind as she entered through the doors, beamed at that comment. “Are we proper agents now? Does that mean we get badges? Oh, a uniform! I’d love a good hat if you’ve got one lying around.”

   America rolled her eyes. “Your standards are slipping, Wong.”

   “I didn't have much choice with this group,” he responded, much to the annoyance of the ones he was talking about. Yaz frowned indignantly, whereas Dan could understand where he was coming from. Evidently, they were used to working with super powered individuals, something they couldn’t compete with. Unless he got bitten by something radioactive. “But they completed their mission. They rescued you.”

   “I didn't need saving.”

   “You required protecting from yourself. You were supposed to be continuing with your training at Kamar Taj and yet you bailed early once again. Don’t make me place a perimeter charm on you. Because that would be embarrassing for both of us.”

   Her eyes narrowed. “You wouldn’t dare.”

   “Just try me.”

   “I’m allowed to have fun though! I don’t deserve to be locked away.”

   “You’re not exactly locked away, are you? You get to learn in one of the greatest sites of mystical power on the planet! Many people would love to be trapped there. And yet you keep running from it.”

   “I love my training, I really do. But it’s a lot. I need a break sometimes. Am I really going to learn something when I’m not properly engaged and listening? Downtime ultimately helps me during the lessons I do attend.”

   “She does have a point,” Dan commented. Wong quickly glared at him. “Then again, I was never the best in school so why would you listen to me?”

   “America,” the sorcerer said. “You have unbelievable powers that no one else seems to have. We’ve already seen that people are willing to hurt you for that. You shouldn’t go out into the world on your own until you’ve learnt how to protect yourself.”

   “And how long will that take?”
  “Not as long as it is with you taking so many trips away.” He’d got her there. He was quite proud of that. “Believe it or not, I do worry about you. But I also have many other responsibilities that don’t revolve around looking over you.”

   “Hence why you’ve brought in the babysitters.”

   The Doctor held up a hand. “As one of those babysitters…by the way, I am extremely overqualified for that position so I will be asking for a pay rise…but I’m actually concerned about something you said. People have been trying to hurt her?”

   “A witch.” She said it as if it were a completely normal thing to go through.

   Kamala’s eyes went wide. “They were getting rid of Wanda’s merch at the store…that doesn’t have anything to do with it, does it?”

   “I can neither confirm nor deny those accusations,” Wong replied. “Can you tell that I’ve been working with a new lawyer? I got that phrase from her.”

   “Why would someone want to hurt a kid?” Yaz asked. America seemed perfectly innocent enough, besides all of the glowing.

   “The power to traverse the multiverse is a temptation that many cannot resist. You could accomplish a great deal, both good and bad, with such abilities. And it’s the reason why we had to find America, to fix your present problem.”

   “She can take us back,” the Doctor murmured quietly.

   “You mean they’re from a different universe?” America was looking at them with something akin to excitement. “They’re like me?”

   Wong nodded his head. “They shouldn’t be here. But you can rectify that mistake for them.”

   America knew what she had to do, walking towards the Doctor and gently holding her hand. The young girl closed her eyes in concentration. When they were next opened, they were alight with blue energy, blazing without hurting her. She moved away from the group, giving herself enough space to swing her arm. Her clenched fist punched a hole through the fabric of reality, a star now standing before them.

   Dan tentatively stepped towards the fissure. “It’s that easy? That’s our universe?”

   “I was able to get a read from your friend here,” America explained. “I’ve been honing my skills. I can pick whichever universe I want to go to now. It just takes quite a lot out of me.”

   “Which shows that you still need your training,” Wong pointed out.

   “Whatever.”

   The Doctor looked at her. “You said that you’re from another universe. You have the power to go home…but you’re still here. Why?”

   The girl’s expression became downcast. “I don’t have anything left for me back there anymore. And, as random as it was, I feel as if there was a reason why I was brought here. I’m just trying to figure that out.”

   The Time Lord turned her gaze towards Yaz and Dan. “This is it. You could go back. Step through and your families would be there, hopefully. The lives that you’re supposed to have.”

   “You keep saying ‘you’,” Yaz said suspiciously. “You’re coming with us.”

   “Of course.” The Doctor had never been able to lie convincingly to Yaz. At least not recently. “It’s just…we know how America was able to cross the divide between universes. She used her powers. But how did we do it?”

   “I thought it was just an accident,” Dan replied.

   “It could be. But multiversal travel is too complex for us to just assume it was an accident. What if someone wanted us here?”

   Yaz was struggling to follow her thought process, which wasn’t that surprising. “Is that possible? Could someone have that ability?”

   “I don’t know. I’ve had people do it to me before. Division, most recently. They tore me from my reality and placed me in the void space between universes. If they can do it, I’m sure there are others. Especially when this reality has so many people with incredible capabilities.”

   “And you want to find out who that is…” It wasn’t a question. It didn't have to be.

   “They could be a threat. To this world and every other.”

   “Someone meddling with the established order across realities would present one of the gravest threats we’ve ever faced,” Wong agreed. 

   “But that doesn’t mean you have to stay,” the Doctor told her companions.

   Yaz gave her one of her trademark looks of disapproval. “You know we’re never going to leave you behind.”

   “You’d risk never seeing your loved ones again.”

   “And I’d risk never seeing you again if you stayed!”

   “What if we just wait a bit?” Dan put to the group. “I mean, our ticket out of here isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. We could…assess the situation and find out whether it was an accident before leaving. I wouldn’t want to leave this world behind if we’ve attracted trouble to it.”

   “With America’s powers, we would have the opportunity to see if there is any force tampering with the fabric of realities,” Wong told them. “You could leave after that.”

   The Doctor didn't look too happy. “This isn’t your planet, guys. You’re risking everything to protect people who you shouldn’t even know.”

   “We know them now though.” Yaz was firm as she spoke. She looked at Kamala, who appeared hopeful that they were going to stay. “That’s enough reason to help. And, even if there isn’t a problem…I’ve always wondered what other universes could be like. We’ve just saved our reality recently. Maybe we can branch out a bit.”

   The Doctor couldn’t help the small smile growing on her lips as she admired her friends with fierce pride. “I mean…I’m not exactly going to complain about possibly meeting more superheroes!”

Chapter Text

   “Do you know what you’re doing then?”

   “You’ve only explained it four times already.”

   “I’d like to get a yes or no just so I can be sure.”

   America had her hands on her hips and was rolling her eyes as she spoke with Wong. Yaz was finding it highly amusing, watching the interaction. It was almost comforting to see that someone with such amazing powers was just a typical teenage girl at heart, giving the same sort of attitude that parents across the world knew all too well. The sort of attitude that she had likely given her own parents once or twice (or maybe more than that but who was keeping count?). Then there was Wong, the almighty Sorcerer Supreme, who was as helpless to corral her provocative mood as any other guardian. In a strange world with superheroes, it was comforting that some things didn't change.

   “I know,” America ground out through gritted teeth. “I’m to search through the multiverse, checking to see if there are any threats that could potentially traverse between realities. It’s a fairly easy reconnaissance mission.”

   “And that’s what I’m worried about,” Wong said. “Your attitude towards all this. It’s too relaxed. If such a threat does exist, then doing this will paint a target on your back. You need to be careful and constantly vigilant. Any sign of danger and you bring yourself back here right away.”

   “You worry far too much about me.”

   “I have a duty to protect you. Strange would never forgive me if something were to happen to you whilst he’s away. And…maybe I’ve grown fond of having you around, even if you’re the incessant cause of my migraines.”

   She did a little curtsy though Yaz could tell that the girl was rather taken aback by the comment. She wondered whether she had heard such affection from someone else before or whether it had just been an incredibly long time since she’d experienced that sort of feeling. The Doctor wasn’t too happy about the plan that was forming in front of her, which explained why she was now holding her hand up, waiting to be acknowledged.

   “Uh…you don’t need to do that,” Wong told her. “You can speak freely in the Sanctum. Unless I’m in the middle of one of my boxsets. No one’s allowed to distract me during that.”

   “Sorry,” the Doctor replied with a pout. “I was just trying to be polite. Thought I’d give it a whirl. Anyway…this plan of yours. Is it really the only option we have? Because I’m not too thrilled about risking someone’s life who is so…”

   “Young?” America finished for her, raising an eyebrow.

   “Oh, you’ve gone and done it now,” Wong muttered darkly. “I’m just glad that it’s not my fault this time. I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of what’s to come.”

   “First of all, I’m older than I look! And I’ve been through quite a lot! Let’s just gloss over the fact that I lost my mums because of my stupid mistake. We could focus on the fact that everyone who has come across me since hasn’t seen me for who I am, but as someone who could be utilised. I’m an object more than a person, at least until I came here. Even then, this world almost killed me. I am tired of people underestimating me, especially someone who hardly knows me.”

   The Doctor smirked, not phased by the backlash. “I just had to be sure. It’s good to know that our fate is in such good hands.”

   Whatever America had been expecting in response, it didn't appear to have been that. She took a step back, blinking. “Oh.”

   “All the spells I’ve learnt and mastered over the years,” Wong murmured. “After all the experiences I’ve been through. And I’ve never been able to silence her so effectively. Maybe I should be looking to you for guidance, Doctor.”

   She nodded her head in his direction. “I still think that this course of action could do with some tinkering. Why does she need to go alone? Couldn’t someone accompany her? Safety in numbers, that sort of thing. It could be a fun group activity!”

   Kamala raised her hand, prompting Wong to groan tiredly. “Miss Khan, if you have something to say, I have already told you that you can just say it.”

   The girl smiled bashfully. “I was just going to agree with that idea. I’d love to travel through the multiverse. Imagine the things I could see! Worlds where different fates happened!”

   “Absolutely not.”

   “But you’re letting America go! And we’re basically the same age!”

   “America is the only one out of us who can physically go through this process unassisted. Therefore, it is a decision born out of necessity rather than through any want of my own. And, frankly, I still need to assess your power levels. Do you have a family?” He paused, watching her nod her head. “Precisely another reason why you shouldn’t go. There’d be a pile of forms that I’d have to fill in afterwards if we lost you.”

   “But could we go?” Yaz asked excitedly. She was up for anything, especially something that she would probably never get to experience again.

   Kamala looked at her as if she’d been stabbed in the back. “Would you really go without me?”

   “There’s no need to answer that,” Wong interrupted before an argument could break out. “Because I don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to go with America. The journey will already be a difficult one as it is without the responsibility of looking after other people. As much as her skills have improved in a remarkable amount of time, honed to a certain level, exterior forces outside of our supervision could cause you to lose control of her powers. What happens if you are lost in another universe with no way to communicate with or reach us? I trust America to accomplish this task.”

   “Are you actually paying me compliments now?” she responded with a smile. “Because I could get used to this.”

   “I’m just bigging you up in front of the guests. Don’t let me down. I have a reputation to uphold.”

   “Looks like I’m going on a solo expedition. Is it wrong to be excited? This is my first proper mission. I’m basically a superhero now. Do I get to call myself an Avenger? I’ve been reading up on them.”

   “You can ask Strange to bring it up at the next meeting when he gets back.”

   “You said it. You promised now. You can’t take that back.” America pointed a finger at him in warning. “I’ll expect a badge or something when I get back.”

   With little fuss, she arched her arm back and punched the air, a now familiar star forming in front of them. They tried peering through the hole, trying to make sense of what lay beyond. It looked like a normal street, except all of the constructions were made out of over-sized sweets. Dan licked his lips hungrily, wondering whether he could sneak through without anyone noticing.

   America gave them one last smile before jumping through, the five-pointed opening quickly swallowing shut once she was away from it. A silence descended amongst the group as they tried to decide what to do next. It would be a waiting game now. Either America would return or trouble would turn up at their doorstep. One or the other. But the Doctor felt like there were worse places one could be with a long time to wait. She’d been thinking about the contents of the library ever since she’d first stepped inside. 

   Kamala lifted her hand and Wong began to walk away, realising that no one was going to listen to that rule. Why should they? He was only the Sorcerer Supreme after all. He liked being at Kamar Taj, mainly because everyone respected him there. Even Strange had bowed before him. This new group appeared to require a lot of breaking in. It was a job that he didn't know whether he was ready for.

   “I was just wondering if those Avengers badges are a real thing and whether there’s one going spare,” Kamala said. She didn't get a response.

**********

   Dan sat lazily in an armchair, his legs resting up against the arm of the seat, as he gently threw a small object into the air. He would catch it and repeat, keeping his mind occupied as they waited for any developments. This wasn’t like them. On their adventures, there wasn’t usually a lot of downtime. Even in the Tardis, they would invariably be transported from one disaster to the next. He should have been happy that he was being given the opportunity to relax for once. But it was as if his mind and body had become adjusted to that way of life, used to it by now, and he ached for some thrills once again. Surely this new world had more to offer than simply sitting around.

   The Doctor was prowling around the room, investigating every object on display that she came across with fascinated attention. Some of the names were impossible for her to pronounce and she wondered why the Tardis was struggling to translate them. Maybe her linguistic circuits weren’t up to scratch. Or maybe it was because this was a language from another world. It was something else for her to ponder. She could put it to the back of her mind for the time being, with much more important matters to attend to. 

   “So you’re telling me that there’s a guy who literally turns green when he gets angry?” Yaz was looking at Kamala with a disbelieving look. But how could she not trust her when this world contained such impossible things? Green men shouldn’t have been that surprising after she’d experienced magic right in front of her.

   “I think Doctor Banner would prefer to be known for his scientific mind…but yeah,” Kamala replied with a grin. This was her heaven. She was being given the chance to talk about her beloved passion to a group of people who had no knowledge of superheroes. They were a blank canvas for her to utilise. Maybe she would ask her dad to download her powerpoint presentation from her laptop, though she doubted whether he would be able to work the computer so deftly. “The lines between the man and the big guy are a bit blurred nowadays, judging from the accounts we can get. He’s a bit of recluse, as you can imagine if you had that ability. It makes having relationships practically impossible.”

   “So there are downsides to having these powers?” the Doctor pointed out, joining the conversation. There were only so many books she could go through before she wanted something else to occupy her mind with.

   “Well, there are downsides with everything,” Kamala argued. “Having superpowers is one of the greatest gifts you can have, in my view, but that means that the negatives have to be pretty heavy too. It’s like a counterbalance.”

   “Does that mean there are negatives with your powers?” Yaz asked gently, not wanting to push too hard. They hardly knew her after all.

   “When you first met me, I was floating in space against my will so it’s not all fun and games.” They could tell she was trying to joke about it, trying to make light of it, but it was clear to see that there was no true levity there. “I suppose the hardest thing about it was hiding my abilities from the people I cared about. I was worried that they would think I wasn’t trusting them or that I was somehow betraying the relationships we had. In the end, it felt like I was hiding my true self from them. I was lucky enough that my family were willing to embrace what I’d become, as well as my friends. I don’t think many people would have been that lucky.”

   “There must be a daunting amount of anonymity that comes with these powers,” the Doctor remarked. “Especially when it’s thrust upon you so randomly and unexpectedly. I honestly don’t know how you managed so well.”

   “I’m not too sure about that anonymity. You’d be surprised how many people have both their identities in the public eye. Tony Stark wasted no time in telling people. Of course, the public doesn't know that Kamala Khan is the new superhero roaming around New Jersey…but I reckon it’s only a matter of time before that secret gets out. I’ve got quite a big mouth.”

   Dan sat up straighter. “Does that scare you?”

   “I can’t be scared. These new abilities have given me a responsibility to use them…to help people with them. I can’t be scared of them, otherwise this would all be for nothing.”
  “Of course you can be scared!” the Doctor argued. “Being scared is what keeps us connected to everyone else. A basic instinct that you should never ignore. The key thing to do is never allow it to control you. Acknowledge it whilst using it to fuel everything you do. I’m scared every single day…but it’s what I’m scared of that makes me fight stronger.”

   Yaz wondered what could terrify the Doctor, who was basically the bravest person she’d ever met. Then again, wasn’t bravery being scared of something and still doing it anyway? She felt like she could use that phrase on the Doctor one day, when the opportunity arose. More than anything, she felt like the conversation had become slightly too heavy when they were supposed to be taking a break from all the potential doom and gloom.

   “So…” she began, “this Bruce Banner…and Tony Stark…they were a part of the Avengers?”

   Kamala’s face brightened considerably. “They were part of the founding members. The OG’s. Only half of them are still alive, along with Thor and Hawkeye. It seems that superheroes don’t get to live for very long, unless you’re lucky.”

   “Does that worry you?” Dan asked, though surely it was fairly obvious. “I mean…you’ve been given these powers basically against your will…that’s going to make your life a lot more difficult.”

   “To be fair, it’s very similar to what happened to you,” Yaz pointed out. “You got kidnapped by a giant dog from space and then your house was shrunk, meaning that your life got completely turned on its head. You were stuck with us from that point. And I reckon that’s made your life a bit more difficult.”

   “Mainly because I have to put up with you and your bullying of me. Not to mention having to deal with your flirting with the Doctor.”

   Yaz’s eyes went wide. “I do not flirt with her!”

   The Doctor pulled a face. “Do you not? I was sure that’s what you were doing. I thought I was doing my best to play along as well!”

   Yaz didn't know how to respond without her brain combusting, so chose to clamp her mouth shut. Dan was enjoying every second of the chaos he’d caused. The Doctor was also rather red in the face as she considered all the flirtatious comments she’d presumed she was dropping into conversations every so often, wondering whether she’d misjudged their relationship. Multiverses she could deal with, but Yasmin Khan she could not quite understand.

   Kamala was struggling to completely follow what was being spoken about. “I’m sorry but…did you mention something about a giant dog…from space?”

   “A mate of mine,” Dan answered. “Ultimately, his bark was worse than his bite. Mainly because he’d constantly choose to insult me.”

   “Strange,” Yaz commented, finding her voice. “Lots of people tend to do that. Maybe it’s just you.”

   “Do you really think you’re in any position to be talking right now?” His fingers slid over the small object he had been throwing. “I’ll throw this… thing at you. I’ve got a pretty good aim.”

   Kamala started laughing, not really knowing why. Maybe it was because she felt so at ease in their company, getting used to their antics and the way they spoke to one another. “The dog…could talk?”

   Dan rolled his eyes. “It was taller than me, walked on two legs, and…again…was from space. Are you really that surprised by the talking?”

   “I’m guessing that you don’t have any Lupari in this universe,” the Doctor said, leaning against the chair Yaz was sitting on. Even after their slight embarrassment, she still felt most comfortable when she was near her friend.

   “Not that I know of,” the youngest of the group said. “Maybe this universe isn’t as mind bogglingly crazy as we thought it was compared to yours.”

   “Or you just haven’t met a dog from space yet. Trust me, they take you by surprise.” Dan could still picture his door breaking door, the helmet being removed to reveal the furry face, getting trapped in an electrified cage. It had been one hell of a day. 

   “I don’t know you three act so surprised by what you see in this world when yours sounds so…thrilling! I wish I could see it.”

   “Honestly, without the Doctor, it’d be pretty boring,” Yaz said, looking at the Time Lord with a soft smile. “But it’s ours and I love it. Just not as exhilarating as being able to glow.”

   “I can do more than that! I’m still learning my full potential. That’s why I’m not worried about the…you know…increased chance of dying. It’s still so new to me. I suppose I’m still in the honeymoon period, just revelling in what I’ve been given. I’ve got to make the most of it. By the sounds of it, you lot go on wild adventures and don’t seem too fussed about the danger. Why should I be?”

   Dan held up his hands. “She makes a good point. I’m not trying to put a dampener on the whole experience for you. I’m just still completely baffled that… superheroes actually exist! And there’s an entire team of them! The Avengers! With guys who have names like Thor and Hawkeye . People back home don’t have those sorts of names.”

   “Thor sounds like some sort of pro-wrestler,” Yaz commented, picturing a muscular in a one-piece suit made out of material that was just a bit too thin.

   Kamala snorted with laughter. “I don’t know whether he’d appreciate being called that. Or whether you’d survive telling a Norse god that he’s just a fancy wrestler.”

   Yaz’s mouth hung open. “Come on…you have to be making this up now. You don’t have gods as your superheroes.”

   “Of course we do! Surely you’ve heard of Thor before!”

   “In mythology! Because it’s a legend! Strictly fictional!”

   “You wouldn’t be saying that if he was standing in front of you. Mainly because of the size of his muscles.” She stared dreamily into the middle distance. “So many muscles. He could probably lift me with his pinkie finger alone.”

   “To be fair, it’s not all too surprising,” the Doctor mentioned, giving her the benefit of the doubt. She didn't reckon that Kamala would care if she disagreed, with how focused she was on her current mental picture. “I’ve dealt with plenty of gods. Akhaten came close to killing me. The Dalek Emperor certainly saw himself as a god but he’d gone a bit barmy by that point. Then there was the actual Devil…that was a tough trip.”

   “I don’t know whether to take anything you say seriously.”

   “Join the club,” Dan remarked, going back to his lazy hobby of playing catch.

   “What are you doing?” Wong marched in in a huff. “Who said you could mess with the Sphere of Forgotten Curses? It isn’t some sort of toy!”

   “The sphere of…forgotten curses?” Dan looked rather pale as he obediently handed it over to the sorcerer.

   “Trust me, it’s a good job that they’ve been forgotten. Spells that were deemed to be too dark to even noterise in the ancient spell books. Open that up and it would be like a magical Pandora’s Box.”

   “And you just have that…lying around?” the Doctor clarified.

   “On display. Where it can be protected. Usually I don’t have to deal with guests interfering.”

   “Hang on…Dan threatened to throw that at me!” Yaz complained.

   The man in question gave her a sheepish smile. “Then it’s a good job that I didn't do that.”

   “Precisely,” Wong added. “It would have been one hell of a mess to pick up.”

   Dan was saved from a more severe tongue-lashing from his irate friend by a portal opening up in the room, the star-shaped hole now only serving to be a slight surprise. It was amazing what you could quickly become accustomed to in this world. It was all a part of the madness. The world beyond was vastly different to the one they had previously glimpsed, seemingly saturated in only black and white. It made it much easier to spot America coming towards them, her vibrant colour scheme standing out like a sore thumb.

   The girl jumped through the portal heavily, unable to land at all gracefully. The fact that she collapsed to the floor upon impact was the first sign that Wong detected that everything wasn’t alright. He was rushing over to her before the others could properly react, holding up her body as he crouched on the ground. It gave them a better chance to look at her. America was still conscious, which had to be a positive after her unorthodox entrance. She had scratches on her face, bruises mixed in with splotches of dirt and mud. She looked beaten up.

   “America!” Wong barked. He’d never had the best bedside manner. “What happened? Where did you end up? Who did this to you?”

   “Something’s coming,” she managed to croak out, feeling faint.

   With the obvious distraction in front of them, they barely noticed that two figures had walked into the room, using the conventional doors rather than an interdimensional portal. Yaz looked up at the sound of approaching footsteps, at first thinking that it could be something to do with whatever threat America had witnessed. She relaxed at the sight of Carol stepping cautiously towards them, though she didn't know who the other impressively-built blonde woman standing next to her was.

   Carol quirked an eyebrow. “Is this a bad time?”

Chapter Text

They didn't really know what to focus their attention on. America was still on the floor, clinging onto Wong’s robes with a tight grip. But the sight of the two formidable women was a worthy distraction, especially since they’d never been expecting Carol to return with a guest. The Sorcerer Supreme didn't exactly like the fact that someone had been invited inside the Sanctum without his permission but, even with his mighty abilities, he wasn’t about to challenge the Captain. It was just that his home was starting to become rather crowded. He’d have to build an extension at this rate. Perhaps a waiting room for other superheroes who wanted a piece of his time. If only they still had the Time Stone - it would have given more opportunities to handle each problem that was being added to the pile.

   “I go for five minutes and everything descends into chaos,” Carol quipped, though she was quite alarmed at how severe the situation was that they’d walked into.

   Jane was anxiously twiddling her fingers, nervous that she was interrupting a moment that didn't require her presence. “Maybe I should come back another time. You’re obviously busy with something important.” She made to move out of the room, giving them a polite smile, but Carol’s hand was already resting on the small of her back preemptively, stopping that plan before it had properly begun.

   “You’re not going anywhere. Judging by what’s going on, we might need some spare hands. Especially some that are as capable as yours.”

   “I don’t really know whether they’re capable though, remember. I’m still…learning…learning how to control these powers. It doesn’t look like you can afford the sort of distraction that’d come with that.”

   “Maybe you should introduce yourself before we decide to kick you out,” Yaz suggested. “Though I don’t think we’ll take that drastic action.”

   “Well…I suppose you could call me…Thor.” Jane bit her lip. “In my current form, at least. I don’t know what the rules are like. There have to be some sort of guidelines when it comes to this sort of thing. Then again…this sort of thing probably hasn’t happened before so how could there be any instructions?” She was twiddling with a strand of her long, blonde hair (something she was also struggling to get used to), showing the nerves that were still eating away at her. She thought superheroes weren’t supposed to succumb to such trivial feelings. Or did that come with practice? Jane reckoned she would have better luck channelling lightning rather than mastering her social awkwardness. 

   The Doctor scrunched up her nose in confusion, glancing at Kamala. “This is Thor? She’s not exactly what you were describing, though I do get what you were talking about with the muscles.” She stared at them unabashedly. Yaz coughed loudly into her hand (she didn't want to think about how completely jealous she was feeling at the adoration her friend was giving the other woman), which snapped the Doctor back to reality. “Very impressive. I’m really not the one to get bogged down by the limits of societal gender constructs…but I’m sure that we were told Thor was a… he .”

   “That’s because he is,” Kamala argued. “I’m sorry, Captain, but I think you’ve got the wrong person. An imposter. Maybe a really big fan.”

   “She doesn’t exactly look like an imposter,” Dan said, though he wasn’t going to look for lest he received his own reprimand from Yaz.

   “You’d be surprised. Some of the cosplayers I’ve seen at cons and online take their hobby very seriously. This level of detail is almost expected from the best ones.” She gave Jane a smile and a thumbs up. “Trust me, you’d be the winner straight away if I was judging.”

   Jane had quickly lost control of the conversation. “I’m not a… fan ! And I know he would find it highly amusing if he heard me being called that.” She could only imagine the guffaws of laughter she would receive. If they ever spoke to one another again. “And I’m certainly not an imposter.” There was a hint of indignation in her voice, her tone perhaps coloured by anger as well. Maybe thinking about Thor hadn’t been the best of ideas, adding to her irritation. She didn't really understand what was happening to her but she also didn't want to be dismissed so readily. The hammer hanging lazily in her hand began to flicker and fizzle with blue electricity. The lights above their heads dimmed as if she were draining the place of its own energy, channelling it into her display.

   Wong, making sure that Yaz was on hand to support America’s head, stood up promptly, giving them a hard look. “I’d appreciate it if we don’t descend into a fight. There’s enough power amongst this group to level the street, let alone the Sanctum itself. And I’ve just had this place cleaned.”

   Jane looked guilty, the sparkling energy dissipating. The heavy cracks lining Mjolnir stopped glowing and the atmosphere became less tense. Those in the room, especially the ones without any superpowers, breathed a sigh of relief. They had enough to be dealing with to also face ducking for cover. Could you run from the sort of lightning storm that she’d threatened to produce.

   “Sorry.” Jane shook her head, visibly disappointed with herself. “Like I said, I’m still struggling to get a handle on this sort of thing. It’s like the hammer wants to be used, seeking any opportunity when my emotions spike. It’s something that I really want to look into when I have the time. I’d write a research paper on it but the academics of the world would probably laugh me out of their societies if I published something like that.”

   “So…you’re another new superhero?” Wong assumed. “Just what we need. It’s not as if the world has plenty already. I’ll add you to the roster once I get a spare moment. Which should be in about a month’s time with the way things are going for me.”

   “I told you that I should have stayed at New Asgard.” Jane looked pleadingly at Carol, wondering whether they could make a hasty exit whilst she still had a modicum of dignity still intact.

   “And I told you that I knew a group of people who would really like to meet you. I just never expected them to be so…testy.”

   “You’d understand if you knew what was going on,” Yaz said, a touch defensively.

   Carol folded her arms. Of course, she wanted to be on a team, but she also didn't want to be spoken to in that manner. And she could give as good as she got. “Enlighten me then.” Her tone was clipped. Wong was worried that another potential fight was going to break out.

   “America was just about to tell us something important,” the Doctor explained, hoping to be the peacemaker. It was her usual position, unless she was the one causing the initial trouble.

   The Captain stepped forward, peering at the girl still on the floor. She was moving at least. What had she and Jane walked in on? “This is the girl that you were searching for when I left? I was going to say congrats on finding her…but I’m a bit concerned with what you’ve done to her?”

   “Do you really think we could do this to her?” Dan asked sceptically. “I could punch her in the face as hard as I possibly could, and I wouldn’t even cause a scratch.” He paused, reevaluating that statement. “Not that I go around…you know…hitting kids.”

   Even in a situation like this, he was able to make a clown out of himself. Yaz could only roll her eyes. Laughing would have moved the injured girl in her lap, so she stopped herself from doing that. “Thanks for the clarification.”

   “I’m not a kid,” America complained through a groan. She attempted to shift her position, winced a great deal, and was held in place by the woman currently holding her. There were worse places to be. She got a nice view of Yaz’s face from this angle when she managed to find the strength to open her eyes. It was a pretty face, mainly because of that smile. Though it wasn’t on show right now? What was she even talking about? America wasn’t sure whether she’d inadvertently said this all out loud, though Yaz hadn’t reacted to any of it. That was reassuring. Had she really been knocked this badly to leave her not thinking straight?

   “We tasked America with searching through the multiverse, hoping to find the cause behind our guests’ frankly impossible arrival,” Wong told the latest visitors. “It seems that something found her instead.”

   Jane had her hands up, Mjolnir now abandoned on the floor. She felt slightly weaker without it attached to her, though she was too excited to notice fully. “Hold on…the multiverse? As in…different realities? Are you saying that it actually exists?”

   Wong muttered something under his breath. “I’m growing rather bored of having this discussion on repeat. Yes, it exists. Yes, it’s amazing. Yes, I would like to talk about it more when I have a moment to sit down. As you can see, now is not that time.”

   She ran a hand through her hair, coming to terms with what she was being told. “But…this is revolutionary! This is going to change everything . The way we think, the way we view the world, the way we utilise science! Why is this being kept a secret?” Jane was walking in a small circle, pacing excitedly. “Obviously, there’d be a bit of a panic at first, which is probably why you’ve kept it under wraps. But…they’d get used to it eventually! This is…I can’t even put it into words! The number of theories I’ve researched into this sort of thing, most of which I threw right into the bin…I wonder if I could find those papers again.”

   “Are you Jane Foster?” Kamala asked out of the blue.

   It put an abrupt end to her feverish giddiness. “...yes? How did you figure that out?”

   “Well, you’re obviously connected to Thor in some manner with the powers you’ve got. I’ve seen pictures of you online before but you looked nothing like this.” Maybe Kamala was staring a bit too long, on the edge of making it weird. “But it was all the nerdy comments just then that really sealed the deal. You’re supposed to be like… super intelligent, right?”

   “I really don’t know how to take that because…half of it was fairly insulting…and then the other half was fairly pleasant.”

   Kamala gestured her head to the trio currently out of the loop. “Jane used to date Thor. They were like a proper power couple. But then she dumped him out of the blue. He hasn’t been the same ever since.”

   Jane scoffed. “I’ll have you know that it wasn’t out of the blue! It happened over a long and sustained period of time. And it was pretty much a mutual separation in the end, not that I should be going into detail about this with people I barely know. Although…do you really think that the break-up affected him that much?”

   “I don’t exactly know him but I’d be an emotional wreck if you left me.”

   “You know…when I risked my life to go on a mission for the team…I half expected my return to be the centre of attention,” America remarked groggily. “Not to be sidelined by some woman’s love life. Though it’s nice to meet you, I’m sure.” Jane gave her an unsure smile.

   “America’s right,” Wong agreed. “We’ve become distracted by gossip, one of my few weaknesses. I’m a sucker for any Desperate Housewives series.” He knelt down beside the girl, the Doctor mirroring his actions on the other side of her. “America…can you remember anything about what happened? Who attacked you?”

   “I…I don’t know. I tried to get out of there as quickly as possible once I knew something was wrong. It was like…they were expecting my arrival. But how could that happen? We didn't exactly plan it.”

   “We can’t underestimate the capabilities of those from other realities.”

   “I think there was like this…beacon I could see…just before I got out of there. It was golden. Yeah…golden. And they said something. One word.” She scrunched up her face in concentration. “Kang.”

   Wong looked to the others. “Does that mean anything to you? Is it something from your universe?”

   The Doctor was quick to shake her head. “I’ve never heard of it before. Maybe it’s from another language that we don’t understand yet. I’d suggest using the translation circuits of the Tardis but I don’t think she’s in any fit state to be in use right now.”

   “Kang,” Jane whispered.

   Wong was quick to look at her. “Does it ring a bell for you?” It was clear to see that he was shocked by the possibility.

   Jane was having to become accustomed to everyone looking at her constantly very quickly. She was half wishing that she hadn’t said anything. “Sort of? I don’t know. I’m sure I’ve read it somewhere…it might have cropped up when we were doing research…but, frankly, I’ve done my fair share of that over the years. And none of it relates to the multiverse. I shouldn’t have spoken up.”

   “You’re a part of the team now,” Carol reassured her. “And it’s not as if we’ve got any other leads to follow. We’ve got not loathing to lose by listening to you.”

   Wong nodded his head. “This research you speak of…do you still have access to it?”

   “Not on me,” Jane replied. “It’s all backed up on our systems though.” Something seemed to click, her eyes lighting up. “Do you have conference calls in this place? Facetime? Web chat?”

   The Sorcerer Supreme huffed. “The Sanctum Sanctorum contains a multitude of wonders that would defy most of the logic you seek comfort in. It is a safe place for objects with powers that could create or destroy worlds. I think I’ll be able to find you an iPad somewhere. I think Strange keeps one in his bedroom, not that I really want to be going through that.”

**********

   “Give it here. I’m an expert at using iPads.”

   “No one’s an expert in that, Dan. You just like playing the games on it. You accidentally charged fifteen pounds to the Doctor’s Apple account because you ‘needed’ upgrades for your characters.”

   “And I didn't even know that I had an Apple account in the first place.”

   Jane was busy setting up the tablet, attaching it to a stand so that she didn't need to hold it. What she was planning was a long shot but, as Carol had said, they didn't have many avenues to look down. She could feel a strange sort of pressure resting on her shoulders, knowing that this was her first proper involvement as part of the team. Was her career as an Avenger really going to start with a call to an old friend? If this didn't work, would the rest of them simply give up on her involvement and send her back to Asgard? Of course not. They seemed friendly enough. Even Wong had his moments.

   “Dialling now,” she told them, though they could all see it on the screen. She just felt nervous, needing to fill the silence with something . The strangest part about it, besides being surrounded by superheroes, was how small the tablet had felt in her hands. Jane was still getting used to the size difference of her new body compared to the old one.

   It didn't take long before the person on the other end of the call picked up. A man’s face appeared, haggard and weary. It was a comfort to see him again, even on a screen. His eyes were bleary and he blinked at them tiredly. It looked as if he was still in bed, and Jane was increasingly self conscious of the doubtful looks the others were sending her way.

   “Hello?” he said, his voice raspy and hoarse. Sometimes she forgot that he was, in some ways, still trying to recover from Loki’s influence.

   “Doctor Selvig?” she spoke into the screen, a bit too loudly judging from the way he flinched back. “Erik?”

   “Jane? Is that you?” His eyes were wide as he surveyed her. “You look different. Have you done something with your hair?”

   “We can discuss that a bit later…but there’s another reason why I’m calling you. It’s fairly urgent.”

   “Why is it so bright there? Are you still in America? Don’t you realise that there’s a pretty big time difference?”

   “Again, I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn't really need you. I’ll make it up to you. I’ll even take you to that fancy restaurant you like. The one you got kicked out of last time.”

   Erik seemed to smile at the memory. “That was a fun night. I can’t believe Darcy thought she could keep up with my drinking.” He moved his face closer to the camera, peering at them. “Hold on…are you with other people?”

   The Doctor and Kamala gave him energetic waves. The others were less sure of how to react. Carol simply smiled awkwardly, whilst Wong just nodded his head. It appeared that Erik was quick to recognise some of them, for he was suddenly shifting out of bed and sitting up straight. He attempted to fix his hair but he’d abandoned any such hopes of doing anything with it a good few years ago. 

   “You could have told me that you had guests,” he complained.

   “In fact, I’m technically their guest. It’s superhero business, Erik. You’ll understand.”

   “Has Thor returned? He still hasn’t paid me back for the lawnmower he broke.” He muttered something about the god trying to charge it directly with lightning, when it had been powered by petrol in the first place.

   Jane’s smile faltered slightly. “No, no he hasn’t. This is something completely different and I don’t want to keep them waiting much longer.” She could tell that Wong was growing particularly impatient.

   “Well, you know that I’ll do anything for you, Jane. I’m just…trying to get over how well you look! Last time I spoke to you, you were in the hospital and…”

   “And we don’t need to talk about that!” she quickly interrupted, glancing nervously at the group around her. That definitely wasn’t something she wanted to get into right now. “Do you have your computer with you?”

   Erik seemed perturbed by her sudden change in topic but he slowly nodded his head. “Always.”

   “I need you to do a keyword search through our database. Every piece of information we’ve ever collected. Just one word: Kang.”

   “Give me a minute.” The camera spun around, revealing his apartment bathed in darkness. They tried not to focus on the fact that the new angle, and the fact that he was now walking about, revealed that he had only been sleeping in his underwear. Thankfully, the lack of light obscured most of the details before it was back on his face, illuminated by the glow of a computer screen in front of him. They could hear a keyboard tapping away as he logged into the system. “Kang, did you say?”

   “K-A-N-G,” Jane spelled for good measure.

   A few, tense seconds passed. “There’s one result.”

   Everyone was on high alert now. Jane could feel her heart thundering. “What is it?”

   “It’s strange. It’s not a part of…you know…our official research. Remember when Thor crashed into our lives?”

   “As if I could forget…” It was still a memory she looked back on fondly, despite everything that had eventually happened.

   “We realised that our own mythologies could give us an insight into the way the universe actually worked. Norse legends transpired to stem from Asgard, so why couldn’t other cultures have come from other planets? Of course, it didn't end up being an especially fruitful line of reasoning, but the work is still on record. And that’s where this word has popped up. In a study of Ancient Egyptian history.”

   “Ancient Egypt?” Dan echoed. “You mean like…mummies and pyramids? Brendan Fraser?” He received empty looks. “Do you guys…have Brendan Fraser here?”

   Jane refocused on the task at hand, leaving it up to Yaz to give Dan a slight knock for interrupting. “What does it say about this word?”

   “Hardly anything. It’s barely in any records.” Erik scratched his chin, scrolling through the information in front of him. “The only known occurrence seems to come from the age of Rama-Tut, one of the pharaohs. A fairly short lived one. It pops up, and then appears to disappear with that ruler.”

   “Doesn’t look like it connects to this multiversal threat,” Carol commented.

   “Did she just say multiversal?” The professor looked more closely at her. “Hey! I’ve seen you on the news. Aren’t you…”

   “We really don’t have time to be going through introductions once again,” Wong quickly instructed, shutting down that tedious conversation before it began. “It seems that our best chance of figuring out whether this threat is linked to this period in time is by going to the source.”

   “I’d love to take you to Ancient Egypt,” the Doctor remarked. “But, again, the Tardis is knackered. Oh, you would have loved it! It’s absolutely gorgeous. My wife was Cleopatra at one stage…though that’s a long story.” It was her turn to be subjected to their questioning glances.

   “Modern day will have to suffice. Though I don’t think we should stop there. Carol…the mission you were previously on seems to be carrying more significance than we first thought. It was that which brought us to this point, bringing Kamala to these three outsiders. We need to discover the intended target of that signal.”

   “I’m on it,” the Captain responded, giving him a playful salute.

   “Perhaps it would be best if you discuss it further with the current owner of the Ten Rings.”

   “As long as he doesn’t force me to do karaoke with him and his friend.”

   “Could I…come with you?” Kamala asked, slightly anxious at voicing her desires. “I mean…it’s not as if these guys need this many hands to go to Egypt. You could use some help.”

   “You just want to spend time with me, don’t you?”

   “That…could be part of the equation, yes.”

   Carol smirked at the girl. “I don’t blame you. I am rather spectacular.”

   “So I’ll come with you as well,” Jane said hopefully, wanting to stick with the only person she kind of knew.

   She got a roll of the eyes from the other woman. “Nah. Me and Kamala have this sorted. But this will be good for you! Branch out! Mingle! You’re a superhero now. Make superhero friends.”

   “You make it sound easy.”

   “We don’t bite,” the Doctor assured her. “Unless you want me to.”

   “She doesn’t mean that,” Yaz said with an uneasy smile. “I think.”

   Jane gave Carol an agitated look, as if the previous comments had proved her point. “You’ll be fine!” she was told, though the Captain was a lot less convincing than she’d previously been.

   “What about me?” America asked, now lying on a bench. “Where do you want me to go?”

   “You’re staying here,” Wong told her firmly, holding up a hand to stop her from arguing. “You need rest. Those at Kamar Taj will look after you. But don’t worry…I’ll bring back a postcard of the pyramids for you.”

Chapter Text

 It was an ordinary side street, one that was obscured by the main event beyond. Always forgotten, left with overflowing dumpsters and the occasional rat for company. Nobody ever popped by, never wanting to pay a visit. And, if they did, it was usually not out of their volition. They would have to be forced to come down this side street, all dark and hidden. Nothing remotely spectacular happened in this tiny part of the city. It was simply a thin line on a map that everyone looked past and who could blame them for that?

   That was the case until fiery wisps of orange energy appeared in a circle out of nowhere.

   Four people stepped out through the impossible hole, leaving the safety of the sanctum behind. The Doctor led the way, confidently striding through the portal as if it were an everyday occurrence. Frankly, it was a miracle that her clumsy nature had allowed her to use the passage without any major hiccup. Yaz did her best to copy her, always wanting to be on the same level as her. After all, she had marched through much more daunting gateways than this before. Dan, on the other hand, tripped over the bottom rung of the magical force. He would have stumbled right into one of the dumpsters if it hadn’t been for Jane, who was able to use her newly acquired strength to hold him by the back of his shirt. He was just grateful that she hadn’t ripped it, which would have been even more embarrassing than falling over.

   Dan dusted himself off, trying to act nonchalant about the almost-accident. He gave the woman a quick smile. “Thanks for that.”

   “No problem.” She was more interested in the portal in truth. As much as she was used to the superpowered corner of the world (and beyond), there were still plenty of things that could amaze her. And she was thankful for that fact everyday, getting to walk through life with wide eyes. Even more so ever since her inadvertent acceptance of Thor’s powers.

   “It’s not as photogenic as I was expecting, Egypt,” Yaz remarked, turning her nose up at the sight of the rubbish that hadn’t quite made it to the bins. She swore she could see parts of it moving. “Maybe my expectations were too high. Or maybe this Egypt is just vastly different to the one I’m used to seeing in our world.”

   “Don’t judge it too quickly!” the Doctor instructed her, not phased by their current grim surroundings. “Once we move onto the proper streets, you’re going to be blown away. Mark my words. Egypt is gorgeous. Everyone always pictures it as a sandy wasteland thanks to those movies you humans are always watching, but it’s actually one of the most vibrant cities on the planet. High-rise towers and bustling roads right next to the pyramids of old. The past, present and future all mixing into one thanks to one city. I think it’s a marvel. An absolute marvel.”

   “I think you’re secretly happy that we got put on this mission.”

   “There’s nothing secret about it! Do you really think I’d listen to any instructions that I wouldn’t want to follow? Definitely not!”

   “This is where I must leave you.” Wong’s voice came the other side of the opening as he gave them a nod of his head. The others looked at him in parts confusion and alarm, wondering what he was talking about.

   “What are you talking about?” Jane asked. It was bad enough being with people who she didn't know, but it was a whole other thing when she was with people she didn't know who were also from a completely different universe entirely. What was she supposed to talk to them about? Well, probably the fact that they were from another reality but how was she supposed to casually slip that into conversation?

   “I have other business to attend to. Urgent business.”

   “More urgent than this?” Dan sounded sceptical, as they all were. “I thought we were going after some big multiversal threat!”

   “You are, and it’s very important work. But, at the moment, it’s basically just research and I get enough of that in my day job. Don’t worry, I’ll return to you fairly soon. This just simply cannot wait. I’m already late as it is and the person waiting for me really isn’t someone you want to make angry.”

   Before they could complain any further, the Sorcerer Supreme was closing the portal, cutting their responses off. For a few seconds, in the safety of the sanctum, he composed himself, knowing what was about to happen. He then produced yet another gateway, though this one was for a completely different destination. Checking the clock on the wall, he realised that he was even later than he first realised, choosing to jump through the hole to make it seem that he was in a rush. And it would add a certain dramatic flair that he always liked to deliver. 

   The room he now found himself in was devoid of all personality, all grey and metal walls. There were a few guards by the door, a thick barrier that probably wouldn’t have stopped someone with his powers. A long table was set up, a row of people in sharp suits turning their heads at his arrival. Through the glass window showing the viewing room, a collection of women in white gowns and floral headpieces watched on, which should have taken up more of his attention. In truth, the giant holding cell in the centre room was the thing that drew the eye, along with the curly haired woman who was currently glaring daggers at him.

   “My apologies, Miss Walters,” Wong said quickly, discovering a microphone right in front of him. His aim was too good sometimes. “Emil.” He got a small wave from the man residing in the cell.

   “Ah, finally!” Jennifer shouted at him. She smiled in a relieved fashion at the panel of judges.

   “I lost track of time,” he admitted, which was an understatement. How was he supposed to remember a court date when he was dealing with more superheroes (and people from alternate universes) than could fit in Kamar Taj?

   The lawyer was already getting to the point. “I…I’ve asked Wong here today because…he is the man responsible for Emil Blonsky leaving prison. And I do think you’ll see this whole thing in a totally different light after hearing from him.” The look she gave him told him that that definitely would be the case if he wanted to survive the ordeal.

   Wong cleared his throat, attention now fully on him. “Have you ever heard of a kumite?” He received completely blank looks from his audience. This was going to be more difficult than he envisaged.

**********

   “What was all that about?” Yaz asked, frowning at the sight where the portal had just been. 

   The Doctor shrugged. “Wong gives me the impression that he likes to add a dash of mystery to his presence. That must be why I like him so much. We share it in common.”

   “Maybe too much mystery at times,” her friend grumbled, remembering all the secrets that still hadn’t been properly shared.

   “Did you say something, Yaz?”

   “Nothing, nothing!” Now wasn’t the time to be having that discussion. They had a city to explore after all.

   “Does he really think that we’re going to be able to find anything that actually helps our cause without him guiding us?” Dan wondered. “He’s the one who came up with the idea in the first place! How are we supposed to know anything about Egyptian mythology?”

   “The whole point of this trip is because we don’t know a single thing about that.”

   The Doctor let out a small harrumph. “Speak for yourself. I know plenty about the mythology, thank you very much. I’ve battled my fair share of Osirans, and they acted as the foundations of Egyptian legends.”

   Yaz looked at her questioningly. “So you’ve heard of Rama-Tut before?”

   “Well…” The Doctor paused, pouting in annoyance. “Not exactly . There definitely wasn’t a Pharaoh named Rama-Tut back on your Earth. I definitely would have bumped into them.”

   “See, that’s the thing!” Dan gestured heavily with his hands as if she’d proven his point. “We can’t be expected to do this when we’re on a completely different Earth! We’re at a major disadvantage.”

   Yaz patted him on the back, though it was more to get him moving along rather than to encourage him. “We’ve gotten past bigger hurdles in the past.”

   “And tripped over in the process, slamming our faces into the track.”

   “Always the optimist.”

   Jane was looking at them with almost a gleam in her eye. “So…you guys are really from another universe?”

   “Oh, yes,” the Doctor replied. She was slightly nervous about what sort of reaction they were going to get after the tension it had initially caused in the Sanctum. She was still recovering from her dalliance with the astral plane. 

   “That’s…brilliant! I’m going to have to interview you guys for my journal when I eventually sit down to write about these findings. If I ever get the chance.” Something about her smile faltered but it was quickly put back in place. “The public will want to know how you got here, how you survived the process, how things are actually different between realities.”

   “We’re still trying to figure out the answer to all of those questions, but I’ll be sure to tell you straight away once we get an explanation.”

   “Did you hop between worlds or did you land on this one first?”

   “Thankfully, we crash landed up in space, so we didn't cause too much damage.”

   “And, to be fair, it was one of her better crash landings,” Yaz said. “There’s been a few.”

   “More than there should be,” Dan added. The Tardis had basically been in a perpetual state of crashing ever since he’d come aboard. He was starting to take it personally, as if the ship just didn't like him. The Time Lord hadn’t given him much reassurance when she’d told him it had happened in the past to a previous companion. At least the doors hadn’t been locked on him yet.

   The Doctor was frowning, seemingly not too pleased that her piloting skills were being put into question. “Maybe we should focus on the job at hand, which might involve actually venturing into the city instead of remaining in this alleyway. As pleasant as this spot is.” It really wasn’t, but she liked to see the best in everything, usually to her detriment.

   They nodded their heads, starting to walk towards the street just beyond. Once they were on the pavement, it was like being transported into another world (yet again). Whilst the ginnel had been dark and ominously quiet, the city streets of Cairo were brilliantly lit by the lights of the buildings and they were hit by a wall of noise coming from the bustling pedestrians and impatient cars beeping their homes. Traffic was a mad rush as night washed around them, people probably wanting to get home or, perhaps, heading out for a night on the town. The Doctor had never done that, hitting the streets for an alcohol-infused evening with her friends. If they hadn’t had a job to do, she might have considered changing that.

   “What’s the plan then?” Yaz was looking at her eagerly, tasting the sense of adventure. There were untold possibilities that she had the chance to grasp. 

   “Our best bet is heading towards the old part of the city,” the Doctor suggested, though it was more of an instruction. “Seeing as we’re wanting to delve into the history books. If anyone knows anything, then it’ll probably be there. But…just ask the odd person you come across about any strange events happening in the city recently. If Egypt is connected to this multiversal threat, then maybe something happened around the time that we were brought here. It’s quite possible that we might catch a break.”

   “When does that ever happen?” Dan gave her a sceptical look.

   “Our luck might change! Go on, do as you’re told. I’m the boss.”

   “Did Wong put you in charge?”

   “He didn't need to! I already am. It was a non verbal agreement.”

   “To be honest, I see Yaz more as my boss.”

   The woman in question shouted out in triumph. “Hey! That’s what I like to hear! It’s good to see that you’re finally seeing sense after all those years you’ve spent with me. Don’t worry, Doctor. I won’t let it go to my head. And you’re still my boss so…” She flashed a grin in her direction before walking away, dragging Dan with her to start their investigation.

   The Doctor hummed, rather liking the sound of that. She noticed Jane standing to her side, looking more nervous than any person with her physique and aura had any right to be. “Everything okay?”

   The other woman seemed relatively surprised at the question. “Me? Yeah. Just wondering what you want me to do…boss.”

   “You could partner up with me, seeing as those two have gone off on their own. Probably causing trouble already, knowing them.”

   “That sounds nice.”

   They made their way through the crowds slowly, initially moving in silence. Jane didn't know how to act, still feeling as if she were wandering through a dream. It had been a haze since she’d picked up the hammer, being pushed from one moment to the next. She hadn’t been allowed to take any of it in from the moment it had happened, with the Captain coming into her life and whisking her away. It left her breathless, and she always worried that was a sign of her underlying illness still tearing her down from the inside.

   “You’re not used to your powers yet, are you?” the Doctor asked with remarkably accurate perception.

   Jane gave her a weak smile. “You could say that again.”

   The Doctor was about to do as instructed before realising that it was just a saying. “You’ll get the hang of it eventually. I think. I don’t really know how superpowers work. One day, you’ll wake up and you’ll start carrying yourself with the confidence that you deserve.”

   Another smile, perhaps more genuine this time. “Thanks for the show of faith, even if you don’t know me.”

   “Well, let’s rectify that, shall we? You’re a scientist, right? That’s what Kamala said.”

   “Doctor Jane Foster…I worked for years to get that title, and all it took was a hammer to give me another one to overshadow it.”

   “It’s a good job that I’m a sucker for a scientist.” She attempted to bump her shoulder with Jane but almost bounced off with how strong her companion was. She rubbed her arm painfully. “I’d rather focus on your brilliant mind rather than your muscles, as remarkable as they are.”

   “I’m flattered, truly. They called you a Doctor as well…”

   “ The Doctor. It’s a technical difference but one I like to clamp down on.”

   “A doctor of what exactly?”

   “Loads of things. My certificates have probably expired by now. When I was working through the Academy, I tried to dabble in loads of different fields so that I knew I wasn’t missing out on anything. In the end, that meant I had far too many titles to know what to do with. It’d probably take someone half an hour to properly introduce me, so I tend to just go with the one title. It streamlines everything.”

   “Has…anyone told you that you’re a bit strange?”

   “Constantly!” The Doctor had her hands on her hips. “I’m still trying to figure out where those rumours are stemming from.” It was good to hear Jane laugh, even if it still wasn’t as carefree as she might have liked. It was a sign that her nerves were dissipating to a degree. “I don’t mean to pry…”

   “I think you really do.”

   “It’s a bad habit of mine, to be fair. But…if you’re willing to talk about it…”

   “That depends on what it is…”

   “When you were talking to Selvig on the phone, he mentioned something about you being in the hospital. Now, you shut that down very quickly and, with everything else going on around us, the others were perfectly happy to ignore it for the time being. But I’m not that sort of person.”

   Jane looked at the floor, watching her feet move without her properly thinking about it. “Sometimes I wish Erik didn't have as big of a mouth but he’s done too much for me in the past for me to truly curse him.”

   “You don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to. I know how private a matter it is. It’s just…I know hard it is to keep a secret from your team and, as new a team as we are, it’s still going to weigh you down.”

   “It might actually do me some good to talk about it. Ever since this …” Jane gestured at her transformed body. “...happened, I’ve been able to push it to the back of my mind but that was never going to work out for long.”

   They continued to walk, the Doctor not pushing the subject, giving Jane the time she required to compose herself. She idly wondered where her friends had gotten to, quickly lost in the wave of people moving to and fro. Despite being in such an open space, the volume of people gave them a paradoxical sense of privacy, their conversation remaining just between the two of them. It made Jane feel more comfortable, particularly compared to the number of discussions she’d been forced to have in stale white rooms with incessantly beeping monitors.

   “I’ve got cancer,” Jane eventually admitted, ripping off the plaster. It was best to just get it over with rather than messing around. She watched as the Doctor’s face fell and she expected the usual comments of sympathy that were kind but ultimately worthless. But the other woman kept looking at her patiently, knowing there was more to the tale and giving her the room to tell it how she wanted. “Terminal. Of course, it had to be terminal. As a scientist, I’ve spent my life believing that detailed research would always help us in the end. And yet, when I needed science the most, it was unable to help me. The only thing I had left was faith and that’s why I turned to this.” She lifted up Mjolnir, looking at it carefully. “It granted me these powers and gave me the sort of strength that my body shouldn’t be able to cope with. I think…it’s keeping me alive. I don’t want to ever let go because I’m scared of what I’ll find I am without it.”

   “I can’t claim to know how mystical forces like this work…”

   “I don’t expect you to. I don’t really know how it works. But it’s given me a second chance, which is probably why I threw myself into this escapade without thinking it through. Because I don’t know how long this chance is going to last.”

   The Doctor nodded her head slowly. “I have this friend. He had cancer too, and he was just as scared as you about it returning. He came to me for comfort once but I didn't want to give him empty platitudes to appease him. I wanted to say something truly helpful that he could cling onto. So I went away and thought about it, concocting the best message that I could think of. And I’m going to tell you the same thing I did to him, once I’d figured all that out. You’re not defined by this illness. You’re far greater than it because you choose to keep on fighting, despite how scared you are. And it’s okay to be scared, because it’s a sensation that proves that you’re still alive . You’re human…you’re fragile and breakable…and completely magnificent because of that, because you carry on doing wonderful things despite the things trying to pull you back down. I am constantly amazed by the human race, especially as I look at you now.”

   Jane wiped away something that she wasn’t going to admit was a tear. Superheroes didn't cry. “You should write speeches professionally.”

   “Eh, I’ve already got a day job that keeps me pretty occupied.” She smiled at her companion. “Thank you for telling me.”

   “Thank you for not thinking less of me. People find it hard to see past the cancer at times. It’s taken this sort of transformation to distract everyone from it.”

   “Doctor!” Yaz was hurrying towards them through the street, putting the two women on high alert.

   “What is it?” The Doctor was quickly looking for signs that she’d been hurt, immediately worried about her safety. She wondered where Dan was, worried about what could be keeping him from them. “Is something wrong?”

   “Not wrong, no. We might have found something. We were asking around, like you suggested. And then this guy was telling us about the stars moving out of place, the entire night sky shifting. Not to mention that a bunch of people were left dead with no explanation.”

   “That certainly sounds like something we should be investigating.”

   “Dan’s watching over him whilst I came to get you. I thought you’d be able to find out some extra details.”

   By the time they reached Dan, however, he was alone, nervously tapping his foot against the ground. He looked rather sheepish when he spotted them approaching, particularly when Yaz’s eyes went wide. She sent a glare in his direction, marching up to him with her arms crossed.

   “Where is he?” she barked. “What did you do? You’re making me look bad in front of the superhero!”

   He held his hands out to defend himself, not that she was hitting him just yet. “Okay, hear me out. I brought him away from the street so that I could keep a better eye on him. I turned my back for one second and he was gone! Like he vanished in the night. I’m wondering if it was a teleport…or maybe he has powers too and he’s involved in all of this.”

   “It was me,” a voice said from the shadows. A woman appeared, walking tentatively towards them. Her curly brown hair framed her face, though they were more focused on the gun she was pointing at them. Jane gripped Mjolnir tighter, which the assailant picked up on straight away. “Ah ah ah,” she tsked. “I don’t want to start a fight. But you’ve been making a lot of noise since you’ve got here…asking questions that people tend to shy away from me…and I’m wanting answers.”

   The Doctor took one step forward, going against Yaz’s wishes, and held her hands up in surrender. “We’ll tell you whatever you want. As long as you put that gun away and tell us who you are.”

   “The name’s Layla…and you have no idea what you’re messing with.”

Chapter Text

“I can’t believe I’m on a road trip with Captain Marvel! The actual Captain Marvel!”

   Carol looked at the young girl beside and smirked. As much as she was loath to admit it, her never ending enthusiasm was strangely infectious. They walked casually along the street, cars going by without realising who they were. For Kamala, that was nothing strange and she hoped that it stayed that way for quite some time. For Carol, it was a blessed relief as she was able to go by unnoticed. Before leaving the Sanctum Sanctorum, they’d decided it was best for her to dress more casually. Kamala had called it incognito. Pretty much anything was plainer than the Captain’s usual outfit, meaning her combo of jeans, an old AC/DC top of Wong’s, and a hoodie made her fairly unrecognisable. She still had the suit on underneath, of course. Just in case trouble arrived when they least expected. The life of a superhero was always one of preparing for the worst.

   “Does it count as a road trip if we didn't travel by car?” Carol asked. 

   All Wong had done was open a portal and pushed them through with little fanfare. He’d been in a hurry for some reason, muttering something about a court hearing. It was surprising to see that even the Sorcerer Supreme couldn’t escape the law, though they both wanted to meet the sort of lawyer that could make him sweat that much.

   “I don’t care. I’m counting it as one,” Kamala argued. “Then again, calling it interdimensional travel also sounds wicked. If you’d told me a few weeks ago that I’d be dealing with magic, I would have laughed in your face. Not your face. Your wonderful…gorgeous…face…” She was getting distracted, in awe of the woman she was with.

   “Okay, maybe tone it down a bit, yeah? We’re partners now. That means you can’t ogle me every chance you get. Unless I’m not looking. Then I might allow it if it keeps you happy.”

   “Sorry…I’m still getting used to this.” Kamala smiled sheepishly. She’d prepared for this moment all her life and now was making an absolute fool of herself. Was she surprised? Not really.

   “You don’t have to apologise. You know…I never got the chance to properly acknowledge what happened to me. Not at first. After I got my powers, I was immediately taken by the Kree and trained as one of their soldiers. I didn't have any memories of the accident until I found myself back on Earth.”

   “Oh, don’t worry. I know your story off by heart. I’ve got all the variations of the comic detailing your origins. And there isn’t a YouTube video on the topic that I haven’t watched, though most of them are inaccurate nonsense. I always make sure to leave a comment telling them that.” 

   Carol laughed, considering how strange the universe was to put the two of them together. “What I’m trying to tell you is that…you don’t have to understand everything to be a good superhero. And, trust me, you’re never going to get used to it.”

   “Oh, please. You’re Captain goddamn Marvel! The strongest person alive! Nothing phases you. You didn't even blink when Thanos headbutted you.”

   “How do you know about that?” Carol looked questioningly at her, only to receive a look in return that said she shouldn’t have been surprised. “That was good. Before I got slammed by an infinity stone. But…don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourself to me. You have your own powers now so forge your own identity to go with them. Then people will start making tons of YouTube videos about you instead.”

   Kamala grinned dreamily at the prospect. “You’re not going to be annoyed when I become more popular than you and lead the Avengers?”

   “Don’t push your luck, kid.” She gave the girl a little nudge, being careful not to use her own powers lest she wanted Kamala to end up flying into one of the buildings they were walking past. 

   “By the way…did you just say that we’re… partners ?!” Kamala let out a little, excited squeal, doing a happy jig. She didn't care that passers-by gave her odd looks, thinking that she was just another weirdo on the streets.

   “I’m going to regret saying that, aren’t I?”

   “You can’t take it back now! Otherwise I might start crying and that’s really not going to look good in front of whoever we’re trying to recruit.”

   “Please don’t cry.” Carol almost sounded afraid. “Mad Titans and alien invasions I can deal with. But I’m not suited to managing emotional teenagers.”

   “I’m slightly honoured that I terrify you.”

   “I wouldn’t call it terror. Maybe…a gentle fear.” She wasn’t one to admit to any sort of weakness. “But I was right in what I said. We’re partners. I suppose I got you into this mess…”

   “By inadvertently teleporting me into the vacuum of space.”

   “...something which I’ve apologised for already. But it means I’m going to look out for you from this point forward. And if you’re going to do the same…”

   “Definitely. I would die for you, Captain Marvel!”

   “Do you remember when I asked you to tone it down? And to call me Carol?” She waited for Kamala to reluctantly nod her head. “If we’ve both got each other’s backs, then that’s the definition of a partnership in my eyes.”

   “Do I get a badge? Oh! We could get matching t-shirts.”

   “I’d be down for that. I’m sure Wong could make them with a click of his fingers.”

   “ Magical matching t-shirts. I like the way you think…Carol.”

   “See, you’re getting the hang of it already.”

   Kamala studied their surroundings as they continued to walk. She was starting to wish that Wong had placed them exactly where they needed to be, though at least this was giving her a chance to spend more time with her idol. She was never going to complain about that. It was just that, wherever she had expected to end up on her first proper mission, it wasn’t this part of town.

   “I’ve never been to San Francisco before.”

   “Same here. I’ve travelled to distant planets and yet there’s still places on my bucket list right next door.”

   “Do you think we’ll have time to do some sightseeing?” Kamala asked eagerly. “I want to cycle across the Golden Gate Bridge.”

   “Well, the fate of the multiverse and this reality specifically hangs in the balance…so we’ll probably have to save that until later.”

   “That sounds like a promise for us to actually do that once we’re finished with this mess.”

   “I’ll even pay for the bike rental.”

   “So you know how to ride a bike?”

   Carol gave the girl an incredulous look. “What are you talking about? Of course I do! You know, I was a normal person right up until my twenties. I can ride a bike, thank you very much.”

   “I just can’t…you know…picture you on one. Then again, it doesn’t feel right thinking of any superhero on a bike. Like…does Bruce Banner have an oversized bike for when he wants to do exercise? Because I know he’s chosen to stay in Hulk form since the Blip.”

   “That’s where you’re wrong. This is some proper insider info but I was talking to him only recently. Last time I saw him, he was back as normal Banner after he wielded the stones. He has this sort of device that…I don’t know…I was too busy to properly pay attention.”

   “Everyone on the Reddit forums is going to love this gossip!” She was already pulling out her phone but Carol grabbed a hold of her arm.

   “I think it’s a wise choice not to broadcast all our secrets to the world, yeah? And, knowing him, he’s probably found a way to change back and then you’d look like a liar. Posters are nothing without their credibility.”

   “You…know how the forums work?”

   “I get bored sometimes and have a small gander at what’s going down.”

   Kamala was deathly pale. “You’re joking, right? You have to be joking.”

   Carol shrugged nonchalantly, finding herself in a strangely playful mood. “I’m considering not telling you either way just to see your reaction.”

   “I never knew that you were actually a super villain . They always tell you not to meet your heroes…”

   The Captain smirked, bringing up the scrap of paper with the address they were looking for scribbled on it. She would have thought that a practitioner of the Mystic Arts would use something a bit more complex to jot down notes, but then magic didn't need to be used for everyone, she supposed. Carol looked up at the street sign as they arrived at a junction, turning obligingly towards their destination.

   “We’re almost there, I think.”

   “Good. It was a longer walk than I was expecting. It’s funny…walking just feels boring now. I’m usually hopping from platform to platform.”

   “It would have made it a lot quicker to get there.”

   “You can fly! I’m starting to realise that you could have just picked me up and gotten us there within seconds!”

   “Maybe I wanted to be normal for a short while. It’s not an opportunity I get afforded very often. I’m always focused on the business that I need to attend to. I have to be extremely narrow minded at times to get the job done. Perhaps you’re making me appreciate the wonder of it all again.”

   Kamala grinned, feeling a deep sense of pride at the comment. “I’m glad to be of service.”

   “Even if that wonder comes with the world potentially ending. Nearly every week.”

   “Yeah, that’s not good.” 

   Kamala started walking backwards so that she could look directly at Carol, somehow avoiding the obstacles in her path through sheer dumb luck. The Captain winced whenever she got close to a lamppost or another pedestrian, but it was another example of her exuberance that she couldn’t fault at all. Carol had lost some of that playfulness and humanity over the years thanks to her Kree indoctrination. Being around Kamala was like getting a dose injected back into her veins.

   “I was thinking…” Kamala began, biting her lip. “...seeing as we’re in San Francisco, I know that there’s another superhero who lives nearby.”

   “Go on…” Carol said tentatively.

   “Antman! I’ve always wanted to meet Scott Lang! I listen to his podcast every week. Honestly, if I get to work with him, that’d be a dream come true.”

   Carol was trying not to be insulted. “I thought I was your favourite…”

   “You are! I’m not forgetting you. It’s just…everybody loves Scott. And , if we’re dealing with something from another dimension, then surely he would be a good addition to the squad we’re assembling! He’s the reason why the Avengers figured out time travel to defeat Thanos! No one gives him any credit for that.”

   “I’m sure he’ll love hearing that from you when your paths eventually cross.” She held up a hand, seeing the girl get giddy. “But we’ve been given strict instructions to collect one superhero for the time being. Trust me, you don’t want to go against Wong’s orders. His robes get in a right twist. Once we know what we’re actually dealing with, then I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to call more people in to help.”

   “Does that mean you have Scott’s number?”

   “There’s an Avengers Whatsapp group.”

   “...you’re messing with me again, aren’t you?”

   “Maybe a little. But you look like an overexcited puppy every single time I do and it’s actually adorable.”

   “Captain Marvel just called me adorable. That’s definitely going to be my yearbook quote for when I graduate.”

   Carol looked at the piece of paper once more, coming to a sudden halt. Kamala almost walked straight into her, playing it off as something she’d intended to do. There were a row of buildings along the street in front of him, all measuring to different heights and painted in different colours. It was an eclectic mix of architecture, that was for sure. The bottom floors were comprised of local businesses: a small restaurant, a bookshop, another bookshop that also sold vinyl and CDs. Kamala was more interested in the Mandarin symbols along the signs; this obviously wasn’t the sort of place she would regularly frequent. She was just happy that the changes in her life meant she could immerse herself in other cultures. 

   Carol, on the other hand, was ignoring the businesses for the time being and walking up to a machine on the side of the door. She selected the right apartment number, double checking to make sure she’d pressed for the right one, and waited for it to buzz. The door clicked open and she stepped inside. The building itself was rather dark and murky, the sort of hallway where you could tell the occupants always wanted to rush to get inside their own homes. 

   “Are you sure that this is the right place?” Kamala wondered, trying to make sense of the graffiti on the wall. 

   “It’s the address Wong gave me and I’m not about to tell him that he’s wrong.” 

   She began to walk up the narrow staircase, Kamala following closely behind. Neither of them wanted to risk getting in the elevator. It didn't look like it had received a maintenance visit in at least a decade. The stairs weren’t much better. Kamala frowned as her hand met some sort of sticky substance on the bannister, attempting to wipe it off fairly unsuccessfully. She’d always thought that the life of a superhero would be a glamorous one. It was starting to become apparent that not everyone was able to have the Tony Stark lifestyle.

   “Who are we looking for again?”

   “Shang Chi,” Carol told her.

   “Sean?”

   “ Shang . There’s a ‘g’ on the end. Although I think he did go by Sean when he first moved to America.”

   “It’s not very imaginative, is it?”

   “We’re not getting him for his imagination.”

   “Then why are we getting him? I’ve never heard of him. And, if I haven’t heard of a superhero, then you know something weird is going on.”

   “To be fair, he’s been keeping it fairly quiet. Though I think he did go viral for a fight on a bus. There was a guy with a razor blade for an arm or something? His friend was trying to brag when we met.”

   “No! I think I remember that! He had some sick moves. I tried replicating them and almost broke my shoulder.”

   “And that was before he got his powers, which stem from the Ten Rings. That’s the reason why we’ve come for him. Wong believes that the Rings have a part to play in what’s causing the barriers between realities to break down. I don’t know how but I don’t claim to know anything about that stuff.”

   “He was doing all that without powers?”

   “Not all superheroes need powers, Kamala. You should know that by now. Did Iron Man have powers? Rhodey? Sam Wilson?”

   “They had extremely expensive suits.”

   “That’s true. But Shang had a dragon so I reckon that’s more impressive.”

   Kamala narrowed her eyes. “I know what you’re doing. You’re messing with me again. You’re not going to trick me again!”

   Carol knocked on the door now in front of them. “This time, I’m actually telling the truth.”

   The door opened and a figure appeared. The young man had his shirt off, rubbing sleep from his eyes. Evidently, he didn't realise at first that they were still there, coming to a shocked stop at their presence. Kamala didn't really know where to focus her eyes. He definitely had a physique of a superhero judging from his toned body. She almost felt as if she had to look away out of decency. Her mum would have had a fit if she’d known what she was up to.

   “Um…you guys normally just leave the package by the door,” he muttered, stifling a yawn. 

   “Shang, we’re not here for a delivery, I’m sorry to say,” Carol responded, pulling down the hood of her jacket to properly reveal her identity. 

   He took another step back in surprise. “Oh. Captain. Have I…um…done something wrong? I really feel like that I…should be wearing a shirt when speaking to you.”

   “I’m not complaining.”

   “Who’s the new recruit?” He smiled pleasantly at Kamala, who was fully prepared to swoon at his feet. 

   “Someone just like you. Someone who’s trying to learn the full extent of her powers. And, to be honest, there are plenty of people who want to learn that too.”

   “I’m being called in, aren’t I? By the big guy?”

   “Well, you weren’t answering your phone so he had to send me instead. What sort of mood do you think that’ll have put him in?”

   He winced. “I’ll go grab a shirt…”

   “And don’t forget the rings! There’s something really strange happening that we’re trying not to blame you for.”

   “How strange are we talking?”

   “It’s probably going to make the dragon look like a walk in the park.”

***********

   “Layla?” the Doctor said. “That’s a lovely name. It’s very nice to meet you. Now, if you could just lower the gun.”

   “Not until you tell me what you’re doing here,” the other woman replied, hands remaining firm. “I’ve had enough people tampering with things in this city that they don’t understand.”

   “Then I suppose we’ve got a little conundrum because I’m not going to talk if I’m facing the end of the barrel.”

   “I don’t think you’re in the position to be negotiating.”

   “Is that so?” Jane asked. Electricity flickered around Mjolnir ominously and there was a slight reaction of fear on Layla’s face.

   The Doctor held up a hand. “Jane…we’re not here to start a fight.”

   The scientist smiled bashfully. “Sorry…I get carried away sometimes. These powers feel like they want to be used.”

   “What sort of a group are you?” Layla asked. Besides the one called Jane, none of them looked remotely threatening. But the one doing most of the talking certainly knew how to take control of a conversation, carrying an aura that most people could never generate.

   “The sort of group that’s simply looking for answers,” the Doctor explained.

   “About what happened recently? The deaths?”

   “Possibly. We’ve been sent to focus on anything strange, particularly involving the history of this city.”

   Layla lowered the gun but only slightly. “I’ve had to deal with that sort of thing far too much for my liking over the past months.”

   “Do you think you can help us then?” Yaz asked hopefully. 

   “What specifically do you want to know?”

   “Any details we can find on a specific pharoah,” the Doctor told her. “One that doesn’t seem to crop up too much in the history books.”

   “And this is just what? Research?”

   “You could call it that, yeah. Though I might add that your reality could fracture if we don’t carry out this research.”

   “So…let me get this straight. You want to know about a niche part of Egyptian history and the world is facing mortal danger if you don’t find this information?”

   “You’ve summarised it very succinctly, yeah.”

   “I think I might know a guy that could help.”

Chapter Text

Layla was doubting her decision making as she led the group through an unassuming complex of flats, just on the outskirts of the city. It was much cheaper than attempting to rent anywhere near the centre and, when neither of your personalities had much money to their name, that was pretty much vital. Layla already knew what sort of reaction she was going to get when they realised why she was visiting, at least from one of them anyway. She was still debating whether she could trust the people currently following her, but they certainly seemed like the real deal. She’d never thought that she’d be thrust into the world of superheroes but, if the glowing hammer was any indication of the path her life had taken, it was already too late to avoid it. 

   “How is this person going to help us?” Yaz asked, not liking the fact that they’d ventured so far from where they’d started. It wasn’t usually the best plan to allow someone you hardly knew to take you to a rather tatty building that no one would bother looking in if something was to happen to you. 

   “It’s…hard to explain the full details,” Layla admitted. She really didn't have the patience to run through the journey they’d experienced in recent months. “All you need to know is that he’s an expert on everything about Egypt. Some people might call him an absolute dork…I find his enthusiasm adorable.”

   “Ah,” Dan said with a knowing smirk. “So that’s how you know him.”

   Layla was quick to hide the soft smile that had appeared on her face. “Honestly, I don’t know any of you well enough to talk about that.”

   “Don’t mind him,” the Doctor told her. “We’re just having to meet a lot of people recently, and that comes with an expected level of familiarity that really isn’t normal. But when our reality is at stake, there isn’t usually a lot of time for small talk.”

   “This feels dangerously like small talk. It’s not something I normally like.”

   “It’s not something they really give you a choice on,” Jane remarked. “I was bombarded with questions before I knew what was actually happening.”

   “I guess we’re all coming out of our comfort zones today,” the Doctor said, rolling her eyes. Why did people always kick up such a fuss when all she was doing was trying to be nice? She could have been grumpy like her previous incarnation so everyone should have counted themselves lucky.

   Layla didn't know what to make of that. “Then I suppose that it’s a good job that we’re here.”

   She came to a stop in front of a door that was completely the same as all the others they’d walked past, as boring and characterless as the rest of the building. She sent one last anxious glance at her companions, wondering whether she could turn them away at the last minute. They would probably complain. Perhaps even start a fight. She didn't have her gifted powers anymore (something she didn't know how to feel about) but Layla reckoned she could take most of them if it descended into a brawl. The only unknown was the towering woman with the impeccable physique, the one equipped with the seemingly magic construction tool. That was probably asking too much of her to go up against that.

   With no other option, knowing she was going to get backlash from someone whichever choice she made, Layla knocked on the door.

   The group didn't know what they’d been expecting. In a building like this, probably someone who was able to defend themselves, large with tattoos covering their bulging muscles. So, when a seemingly mild-mannered man appeared in the doorway after a few moments, they didn't know how to feel. They supposed that there weren’t many experts in Egyptology who were also bodybuilders so they shouldn’t have really been shocked. He had a mop of messy brown hair on top of his head, and a sunken face that only appeared to light up when he spotted who was there.

   “Layla!” he exclaimed happily, the smile making him instantly look fresher. 

   They also hadn’t been expecting him to be British. Their latest endeavour looked to just be a series of surprises that they would have to quickly move on from. For Yaz and Dan, it was nice to hear another accent familiar to theirs. As nice as everyone had been, the American twang was one that could become overbearing after a while. Then again, they knew that the others were probably thinking the same about their distinctive accents. It was a miracle that anyone had been able to understand a word that had been said so far.

   “Steven?” Layla asked cautiously, squinting her eyes at the man.

   “At the moment.”

   The Doctor frowned at the comment. If she was learning anything about this world, it was that looks could be grossly misleading. She wouldn’t be at ease until she knew the full identity of the person greeting them. And maybe there was a part of her (one she didn't want to acknowledge) that was quietly excited about finding out what secrets this latest individual was hiding.

   “What are you doing here?” Steven asked, only now turning his attention to the rest of them. He’d simply been too pleased to see that gorgeous woman to notice anyone else. It was a real problem that she distracted him so easily, but a problem he wasn’t intending to fix. “You’ve brought friends!”

   “Not friends,” Layla told him. “I’d call them…acquaintances.”

   “And here I thought that we were really getting along,” the Doctor grumbled. 

   Steven appeared confused, which they couldn’t blame him for. He kept looking at Jane as if to make sure that she was actually real, which was the sort of interaction that she was struggling to get used to. In this new form, it was impossible to walk around unnoticed. Perhaps the glamorous armour wasn’t helping her efforts to remain incognito, but Mjolnir wasn’t giving her a choice on that matter. It seemed that one of the powers that Thor possessed was the need to be the centre of attention, though she had gotten rid of her helmet for the time being. It was as low-key as the outfit got.

   “Why’ve you brought them here then?” Steven asked, wringing his hands together. “When I first saw you through the peephole, I thought you might have been coming round to…you know…”

   Layla’s eyes widened almost imperceptibly. “Business first, pleasure later.”

   “Does that mean that there is going to be pleasure at a future date? Because I’d like to prepare myself sufficiently beforehand.”

   “Steven…can we come in?” She tried to move past him but his arm moved instinctively, blocking her path. She glared dangerously at him. “What do you think you’re doing?”

   “I’d like to know what’s going on before I invite you all inside. Frankly, I’m putting my foot down.”

   Layla was close to laughing. “As annoying as you’re being, I do like seeing this side of you.”

   “You know I’ve got loads of layers. I’m like an onion.”

   “I’m sure that sounded more impressive in your head.”

   “It did, yeah.”

   Layla sighed. “I stumbled across these people walking through Cairo. They’re looking for information about some obscure pharoah. I obviously saw you as the best person to come to.”

   Steven’s eyes lit up. “Well, why didn't you say so?” He moved to the side, beckoning them all in. “Come on, come on! If I’d known you just wanted a history lesson, I wouldn’t have gone all tough on you.”

   “That was you being tough?” Yaz asked sceptically.

   “You don’t want to see it when I get into my mean-guy persona, trust me.”

   The inside of the apartment was fairly bare, as if it had barely been lived in. There was a tatty sofa in the middle, and a few wooden chairs sporadically placed across the room. There was no television but plenty of books, which took up most of the space. The window was open, allowing warm air to come through as the curtains blew around gently. Steven wandered around slowly, watching them all file in. The women remained standing, though Dan was perfectly happy to sit down. It had been a long walk to get there and he wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to rest.

   Steven scratched the back of his head. “Sorry about the state of this place. I’m not really prepared for hosting at the moment. There might be a few drinks in the fridge but I can’t remember how long they’ve been there for. If you want to risk…”

   Layla patiently put a hand on his arm, calming him down instantly. “Let’s leave that for later, once you’ve told us what you know.”

   “I can only do that if you tell me what I’m actually supposed to be talking about.”

   “That’s…a fair point.” Layla looked over at the Doctor, who was perfectly happy to take control.

   “We were hoping for you to give us any information on a Pharaoh by the name of Rama-Tut,” she explained, looking intently at him. “We believe that he’s somehow connected to a growing threat that could see this world thrown into turmoil, so we really need to get to the bottom of who that person was.”

   “I’ve had enough turmoil to last me a lifetime recently, so I obviously want to help you. But I’ve never heard of a Rama-Tut before.”

   “What?” Layla looked absolutely dumbfounded. “But this is your thing! You talked endlessly about working in the museum and knowing more than the actual tour guides.”

   “You work in a museum?” Dan asked. “Same here, mate! Well, it’s probably classed as volunteering that none of the staff asked for but, like you, I provide a lot more entertainment than the proper guides.”

   “Finally! Someone understands what it’s like,” Steven replied, wanting to delve into a more detailed conversation about it. “I did technically lose the job a few months ago for gross destruction of property but that wasn’t really my fault. They just couldn’t see the jackal on the security videos.”

   Jane’s eyebrows were rising higher with every sentence that was being said. “Did you just say jackal?” 

   “You know…death dogs. Summoned by the worst deities you could think of to do their dirty work.”

   “We’re getting distracted!” Layla pointed out, growing frustrated at every tangent they went down. “You really don’t know about Rama-Tut?”

   “Do you?”

   “Well…no. But I’m not a proper expert like you. I haven’t spent my life researching this sort of thing.” She moved closer to him. “I may have bigged you up on the way here so you’re starting to make me look bad in front of everyone.”

   “You were complimenting me, were you? How sweet! What were you saying?”

   “Things that I’m regretting the longer you give me that smarmy look.”

   “Spoil sport. But I can safely assure you that I’ve never heard the name Rama-Tut. Are you sure that he even existed?”

   “He was in that history book!” Yaz pointed out. “Or, at least, whatever that book was that Wong showed us. He must have been real.”

   “Why are you so obsessed with knowing about him though?”

   “It’s superhero business,” the Doctor answered, trying to avoid that topic. 

   “Is that why she looks so powerful?” Steven pointed at Jane, who flicked her hair bashfully.

   Dan was trying not to be insulted. “Are you saying that we don’t look like superheroes?”

   “ Are you superheroes?”

   “That’s…not the point. But we have been working with them. The Avengers sent us on this mission!”

   Layla folded her arms, looking at them suspiciously. “The Avengers? Why would they send you ?”

   “Let’s just say that we’ve been through some strange experiences recently that put us in the perfect position to research this problem,” the Doctor replied before Dan could dig himself into a deeper hole.

   “What sort of threat are we talking about here?”

   “Would you believe me if I said multiversal?”

   Layla shrugged. “I’ve seen enough strange things to not baulk at the idea.”

   “If we don’t find this person or whatever they’re connected to, then it might see the multiverse collapse in on itself. This is the only lead we have, which is why we’re really desperate for any information you can give us.”

   Layla looked at Steven. “If you don’t have any clue, then there’s one person who’ll definitely know if this pharaoh was real.”

   His expression darkened. “No.”

   “He would have been there whenever this person was alive! This is our best shot at finding out one way or the other.”

   “I said no.”

   Steven’s entire demeanour had changed in an instant. The way he carried his body had shifted, his back straighter, none of the nervous habits present anymore. There was a different glint in his eye, one that was more menacing and cold. Layla didn't seem perturbed by the alteration, though the others remained on edge. It felt as if something in the air had shifted along with the person. Jane gripped Mjolnir tighter, ready for anything that happened.

   “Are you threatening me?” he asked, his voice changed as much as his physicality, glaring at Jane.

   “I don’t know,” she replied honestly. “Do I need to?”

   “Marc?” Layla whispered quietly.

   “Hold on, I thought his name was Steven,” Dan said, now standing up to potentially guard Yaz from the potential threat. Though it would probably end up being her looking after him, as it had been for their three years together.

   “It’s complicated,” Marc replied coolly. “Steven’s gone for the moment. You’re stuck with me now.”

   The Doctor stepped forward, staring at him in wonderment. “Dissociative Identity Disorder. Two or more identities, with full consciousness and their full set of memories, living within one body. You are…remarkable! A true example of the power of human minds.”

   “I don’t feel remarkable. Nor am I any sort of example for other people to follow.”

   “Marc,” Layla reiterated. “We need to speak to him.”

   “This isn’t something that we can do. It’s solely down to me. You know that already. Would you make me go through that again?”

   “Only if it was totally worth it and our only option.” She looked to the Doctor, hoping for some assistance.

   “Definitely worth it,” the Time Lord added. “I can safely say that everyone on this planet…and all the planets beyond…could be in catastrophic danger if we don’t get to the bottom of this.”

   “Why’s it up to me to sort that out?” Marc asked bitterly. “I didn't sign up for this. I’m not a part of the Avengers. I should leave that up to you guys.”

   “I wouldn’t be asking unless you were the only person we’ve got who can help. I can’t claim to know what you’re planning but, if it’ll shed some light on what’s going on, then I have to implore you to at least consider it.”

   “Is there any way of contacting him?” Layla asked. “Some way for you to talk to him?”

   “He’s always here,” Marc told her, his expression grim. “He’s always lurking, always waiting for this moment. He’s like a parasite that won’t admit when he’s defeated.”

   “I’m starting to doubt whether this is a good idea,” Dan remarked.

   Jane nodded her head thoroughly. “I second that notion.”

   Marc was looking to the window. “It’s too late. He’s here.”

   It was like a cold had descended upon the room, a wind picking up. The curtains fluttered furiously. The sky outside seemed to darken. Marc’s expression darkened, seemingly reacting to something. But the others couldn’t see what was in front of them, a looming figure hidden from plain sight, only showing itself to those it could use. The figure was delighted about being summoned once again, being given a second chance to play his games. Even if Marc didn't realise that the games hadn’t truly stopped in the first place.

   “Marc Spector,” the voice boomed, unheard by all of them besides the desired target.

   “Khonshu…” Marc said in greeting, knowing that he couldn’t run away now.

   Dan nudged Yaz. “Who’s he talking to?” He only got a shush in response.

   Yaz was trying to follow what was going on, frowning as less of the situation made sense. The Doctor appeared completely fascinated by everything going on, discreetly scanning their surroundings with the sonic. The readings were going absolutely haywire, though the device had barely settled down since they'd arrived in this universe. Jane's reaction was a bit more serious, as if she could sense another presence that matched her own. If she were technically a god, then that left only one possibility as to the identity of whatever had joined them. Layla, on the other hand, knew exactly what was going on, but looked just as concerned as the rest of them, understanding what the man beside her was going through.

   “It seems that you need my assistance,” the god proclaimed, his hideous bird-like face peering at him through slots where his eyes should have been. He was still wearing the same, ancient robes that served to accentuate his skeletal features.

   Marc gritted his teeth. “I don’t. They do.”

   “If they need me, then they also need you. I won’t do anything for them on their own.”

   He glared at the group behind him, wondering whether this was really worth the price. Even being in the god’s presence was bad enough. “What do you know of a pharaoh by the name of Rama-Tut?”

   “Ah. A troublesome period in humanity’s history, one we gods sought to be rid of. But now the name returns, does it not?”

   “So you know him?” Marc spotted some hopeful looks from the others as they attempted to decipher one half of the conversation.

   “Sadly. He desecrated the society we’d built. It’s not a name I wish to speak of.”

   “Tell me. Tell me everything about him.”

   Khonshu appeared to grow angry. “You dare ask for my services as if they come freely? There is always a price.”

   “I don’t think I even want to know…”

   “You have forsaken me, Marc Spector. I am not usually a forgiving god but I have made many exceptions for you along our journeys together. I’ll give you a second chance. I’ll tell you everything you know, everything that will help save your reality. As long as you swear yourself to me once more…”

Chapter Text

For someone who was usually in control of any given situation, the Doctor was growing increasingly annoyed that she had absolutely no clue what was going on. The man, either Steven or Marc, was certainly acting as if he was talking to someone actually there. It was just that, if he hadn’t lost his mind and was having a psychotic breakdown, they couldn’t see who it was. She’d dealt with invisible creatures in the past and they were always tricky customers. And, if this was their best shot of finding out what on earth Kang meant in relation to the threat they were facing, then she didn't really want to be kept out of the loop like this.

   The only solace was that the others appeared to be suffering with the same conundrum. Dan was wearing a confused look on his face, though that was mainly his default expression since he’d joined the Tardis. Jane, as a woman of science, was struggling to process what was going on, but her recent experiences had taught her to avoid reaching conclusions without all the information. Yaz was looking to her for answers that weren’t coming; the Doctor could tell that Yaz was more concerned about her lack of knowledge rather than the actual situation. A part of her felt like she was letting her friend down by not having any explanation, as if she was always the one who was meant to provide the answers. In a very real sense, that was her primary job when she was leading these humans on a myriad of adventures. There was a part of her that felt slightly excited about the unknown element, though she was only going to admit that to Yaz if she felt it was safe to do so.

   Layla, having known this man previously, appeared to be used to his erratic behaviour, providing a small level of comfort for the others. She seemed to be waiting for the apparently one-sided conversation to reach its natural conclusion, not that they had any indication as to when that was going to be. Yet, despite having an inkling of what was happening in front of them, the Doctor would have been quick to say that she looked more concerned than any of them. It felt like she was dreading what was going on because she knew the implications, compared to their collective dread at the thought of something occurring outside of their control.

   The Doctor sidled up next to her, her eyes still fixated on Marc as he scowled at a spot on the ceiling. “What’s he doing? Is he okay?”

   Layla nibbled on her bottom lip. “You wouldn’t believe me even if I told you.”

   “We’ve experienced plenty of impossible things,” Yaz told her, joining the conversation. “You’d be surprised at our threshold when it comes to the bonkers things life can throw at us.”

   “And, from what we’ve seen, there’s very little in this world that can be classed as normal,” Dan added, not wanting to be left out. He hated it when that happened. “So you may as well tell us, because we’re the sort of people who don’t get out of your hair until we’ve got what we came for.”

   “And what did you come for?” Layla asked suspiciously. “We’d moved on from this part of our lives before you showed up. We’d finally gotten away from its grasp, and it’s because of you that this has been dredged up again.” She laughed bitterly. “I can’t believe that I actually made myself think that we could get our normal lives back. We were going to share that together…until I bumped into you three. I’m starting to fantasise about a reality where I wasn’t in Cairo when you were, a reality where we could have ignored this problem. Ignorance is bliss, but I’ve never been allowed to be ignorant of anything .”

   The Doctor gave her an apologetic smile. She considered telling her that, if the barriers across the multiverse were failing, then there was every chance that there was a reality where they’d never come across one another. But that definitely wouldn’t have helped the situation.

   “I want to say sorry…” she began tentatively. “...but I can’t until I know what I’m saying sorry for . What were you running from before we met you?”

   “The gods,” Layla answered simply. 

   Dan frowned. “I hope you’re talking figuratively.”

   “We’ve never been that lucky.” She gave the Doctor a hard stare. “You don’t seem as shocked as I might have imagined. People would normally be running away from me by now if I’d sprouted such information. To be fair, it’s something that I normally like to keep close to my chest.”

   “Thank you for being so open with us,” the Doctor replied earnestly. “But there’s no need to be worried. I’ve had plenty of run-ins with gods in the past, some of them more real than others. Whatever you’ve got to throw at us, I can handle it. And I can vouch for these two that they’ll at least approach it with open minds.”

   “Not to mention that I’ve met a number of gods,” Jane told them. “I think…I technically am one at the moment. Though, with the way you’re talking about them, I should probably have kept that to myself.”

   “I don’t think I could lay a scratch on you.”

   “It sounds as if you’ve thought about it.”

   “I’ve been taught to always be like that. Don’t take it personally.”

   “As long as you’ve come to the realisation that you don’t need to hurt any of us,” the Doctor said gently, testing the waters.

   Layla raised an eyebrow. “Do you think I’d tell you whichever way I chose? Where’s the fun in that?” She may have liked watching them squirm. “It’s helping that your reactions to what I’m saying have been a lot more calm than what I’d typically get from people.”

   “Well, we’re not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill sort of people.”

   “I’m starting to see that, yeah.”

   “I feel like we’re glossing over the fact that she said that we’re dealing with gods,” Dan reminded them. “Isn’t it bad enough already to be dealing with the collapse of reality? Of course gods had to be thrown into the mix too.”

   “The gods of Ancient Egypt are still very much prevalent in society today,” Layla explained. “They operate through avatars…people who devote themselves to the individual cause that a certain god is centred in. In return for their service, they’re granted powers beyond any normal human. The powers of the gods themselves.”

   “And…how do you know this?” Yaz wondered, feeling like she already knew the answer.

   “Because I was one. For a very short period of time. Things were desperate and I didn't have much of a choice. To be fair, it came with a pretty cool suit. I sometimes miss it. The outfit, not the obligation to do another creature’s bidding.” The wings would certainly have come in handy a few times since she’d left Taweret behind. “The thing is…your service can be quite a peaceful process, depending on the god you’re working with. Marc…sadly…was discovered by Khonshu.”

   “God of the Moon,” the Doctor said, nodding her head. Layla looked impressed at her knowledge. “I always felt an affinity with that god. His name literally means traveller, and his main job was to help aid the passage of time. I felt that summed me up fairly well.”

   “Trust me…you don’t want to be like Khonshu. Those fables have been fabricated over the centuries, obscuring the true nature of that particular god. He likes to call himself benevolent, using avatars to carry out a supposedly deserved form of justice on wrongdoers in society.”

   “Doesn’t sound so bad to me,” Dan commented.

   “It sounds as if he made himself judge, jury and executioner,” the Doctor remarked bitterly, starting to understand. “Now, if Marc was selected as his avatar…that means…”

   “That he was the puppet being directed by the strings, yes,” Layla finished. “He was the one who had to carry out the justice.”

   “But he got away,” Jane assumed. “Like you.”

   “You can’t escape them for long. Once the gods have their eyes on you, there’s no place that you can hide forever.”

   Khonshu scowled at her, not that Layla could see. Nor could one really tell when he was frowning, thanks to his face being a skull. There was very little movement afforded in his expression. He turned his pointed head back towards Marc, whose visage hadn’t changed from the grim look set upon his face. Khonshu was bitterly disappointed that the man had turned against him after so long, their relationship souring to this detestable point. What had gone wrong? Marc Spector had been the perfect sword for him to wield; now his blade was blunted and useless.

   “Have you heard the way she talks about me?” he fired at the man before him. “After all the good I’ve done for this world.”

   “You know, the worst thing about you is that you still think you’re good,” Marc spat. 

   “You’re wrong about that. You still don’t understand my philosophy. I’ve never claimed to be good . But my deeds are. Sometimes, the process to reach the most desirable outcome is more morally grey than the end result. I won’t apologise for that.”

   “And that’s the choice I have to make, right? We need the information and the only way we get that is if I do this morally grey thing.”

   “Maybe you’re starting to understand after all.”

   “You can’t be considering it,” Steven suddenly said, taking back control whilst he saw the situation falling out of hand. “We just got rid of him!”

   “We need this,” Marc replied, knocking his other self back. “They said that this information is crucial. And I’ve never been above a bit of self sacrifice before.”

   “Why are we even listening to these people? We don’t know them! They could be lying! This could be a trap! A part of Khonshu’s plan to bind us back to him forever.”

   “Do you think he realises that we can hear him?” Dan asked the group whilst the man tussled with himself. “I’m trying not to be insulted by the fact that he thinks we’re untrustworthy!”

   Marc chose to ignore him, deciding to deal with Steven first. “I don’t care about what they say. That’s not why I’m considering this.”

   Steven was there again, his face falling as realisation dawned. “Of course. The one thing that is always going to unite us.”

   “Layla. If Layla is asking us to do this, after knowing what it feels like and what it almost did to all of us…then I have complete faith that this has to be done. I trust her more than anyone.”

   “Even more than me?” Steven was trying (and failing) to not sound offended. 

   “Especially more than you.” He looked over to the woman in question, seeing her smiling sadly at him. It filled him with an even stronger resolve that this was the only path he could take. She hadn’t led him wrong before.

   The Doctor was by his side as swiftly as Khonshu was normally able to sneak up on him. “I don’t mean to intrude or anything…”

   “I’m getting the impression that you actually do.”

   She gave him a lopsided smile. “See, we’re already getting to know each other. We’re practically friends by this point. And I look after my friends. It’s a duty that I take very seriously, which means that I need to know what you’re planning. We’ve been left in the dark for far too long.”

   “The only way he’ll tell us about what happened with Rama-Tut is if I pledge myself to him once more. There’s always a price when it comes to him.”

   “Let me speak to him.”

   “Pardon?”

   “If he spoke to you before you were granted his powers, that means he can show himself to anyone he fancies. It must be some sort of power play, hiding himself from view whilst terrorising people. Well, I want to talk to him…face to face.”

   “Are you sure that’s a good idea?” Steven asked.

   “It’s not up to us,” Marc argued.

   “The woman has spirit,” Khonshu muttered. “And there is more to her than meets the eye. My interest is piqued.”

   The Doctor wasn’t expecting it to work so fast. Normally, when she asked for things, she never got the response that she was looking for. She was doubting whether this was actually what she wanted when the towering figure showed himself for the first time, allowing the other occupants in the room to see him properly. Dan stumbled backwards, almost falling over a chair. Yaz’s first thought was to grab hold of the Doctor, dragging her away from the imposing creature. Jane, on the other hand, had her helmet on, prepared for battle. Seeing a threat right in front of them, she flung Mjolnir in Khonshu’s direction, only for him to disappear from view temporarily, reforming in a different corner of the room. The hammer returned to her, and she had the good grace to look embarrassed.

   “You may have the powers of a god, but I am a god,” Khonshu bellowed in his deep voice.

   “Let’s not antagonise him any more than we need to,” the Doctor suggested, silently telling Yaz to keep an eye on Jane for the time being. She stepped forward, refusing to be intimidated by the powerful figure. “I’m guessing you’re Khonshu then.”

   “And you…you are not of this world, nor of this dimension. You’re far from home. Yours is an energy that I haven’t experienced in a very long time.”

   The Doctor caught Layla looking at her with wide eyes. “I told you that we were telling the truth.” She shoved her hands in her pockets. “If you’ve sensed this energy before, then that means you’ve dealt with other multiversal entities, right?”

   “You’re an intelligent person. But do you really expect me to provide you with any information for free?”

   “He won’t do anything without me,” Marc growled. “There’s no point delaying any further.”

   “Only if you’re sure about this,” the Doctor said to him. “I wouldn’t ask you if there was any other way.”

   “I’ve managed to wriggle free from his control before. I’ll be able to do it again. And anyway…with the way things are seeming, I can sense that some sort of fight is coming. If that’s the case, you’re really going to want the other guy.”

   He stood before Khonshu, who looked down upon his servant. “I’m glad you’re seeing sense, Marc.”

   “I’m not doing this for you.”

   “It was never for me. You first gave yourself up to save your life.”

   “Now I do it to potentially save the world. Maybe I should be thanking you for giving me the opportunity to grow as a person. Or maybe I should be planning on ways to kill you for putting me in this position. I’ll probably choose the latter.”

   “That sort of fight and anger is going to make things so much easier. It’s good to have you back…Moon Knight.”

   Marc’s eyes began to glow, orbs of dazzling blue. His back arched under the strain of the process. Dan looked to be considering moving to help him, but Layla kept him back with a strong arm. Any interference could potentially jeopardise the entire thing and she didn't want to risk Marc’s life any more than she currently was. Jane put herself in front of them all, knowing that any repercussions of whatever was going on would harm her less, preparing herself for some sort of aftershock. It never came though, as they watched the man’s clothes change, transforming into a cream outfit. Dan thought it resembled a mummy, which was pretty fitting for the location. He wasn’t going to tell him that with the way he was looking now, fully robed and masked. It was a sight that Layla had never wished to see again, but she couldn’t ignore the way the air now crackled with his untempered power. 

   “Can we all get a suit like that?” Dan asked, rather liking the look of it. “I reckon I could pull it off.”

   “There’s absolutely no way that you’d look good in that,” Yaz retorted, laughing at the mental image of what it might have looked like.

   “I’ll have you know that I look good in anything. The only reason why I brought it up is because we’re starting to look quite underdressed.” He eyed Jane, who was resplendent in her armour. “We’re working with superheroes now! We should look the part!”

   “I’m no superhero,” Moon Knight assured him, feeling on edge as he spotted Layla slowly walking towards him. “No hero has to do what I do.”

   The woman stroked his covered cheek tenderly. “Is that still you in there? He hasn’t changed you in a different way?”

   “For once, I think he chose not to play any games. Which gives me hope that he’ll stick to his promise and tell us what happened.” He faced the god, standing much taller now, feeling that familiar sense of power coursing through his veins. “Am I right, Khonshu?”

   The hideous figure bowed its head. “I have always been a god of his word, especially when it concerns someone I care for as much as you.”

   “Cut it out with the fake pandering. You never once cared about me. I’m a tool in your eyes. Well, if you want that tool to do the job, you’re going to have to give us what we want.”

   It was almost nonchalant, the movement that Khonshu made with his arm as he transformed their surroundings. The dingy room melted away, replaced by the arid landscape of a bygone Egypt. Sand whipped around them, leaving them in a sweltering desert (though they couldn’t strictly feel the heat, it was like their minds were telling them they were supposed to). They looked around, seeing the pyramids in the near distance, the signs of civilization not too far away. The sort of built-up settlement that some of them hadn’t expected to exist this far in the past.

   “When is this?” the Doctor asked, cautious to move forward. She could sense that it was a mere projection rather than any actual teleportation taking place. She could taste the artificial nature in the air.

   “The day he arrived,” Khonshu explained gravely, gesturing with his crescent moon staff towards a spot nearby.

   They watched in silence as the air fizzled with a strange energy before the space seemed to be torn in two, a hole appearing in the fabric of reality. The Doctor was fascinated by the sight of the portal, wondering what lay beyond, but was even more curious by the figure that stepped out. It was a man, wearing clothes that didn't remotely match the time period. He seemed amazed by what he’d just done, as if he’d expected it to fail. Perhaps he hadn’t even meant to do it. But he was quickly dusting himself off, beginning the march to the nearby city. 

   “When people woke that day, they never anticipated having a new pharaoh by the time night fell,” Khonshu continued. “But he was able to persuade their minds unlike anything I’d seen…unlike anything I’ve still seen up to this point.”

   “Pharaoh?” Moon Knight echoed. “You mean that guy is Rama-Tut?”

   “A name he believed gave him a better chance of assimilating into our society. A society he wanted to transform, bringing technologies from his own world that would have diverted the natural progression of humanity. The gods attempted to stand in his way in the effort of preserving the righteous path, and it took all their united might to eventually be rid of him.”

   “You said that Rama-Tut was a name he created for himself,” the Doctor said. “Do you know what his real name was?”

   Khonshu peered at her. “When he first arrived, he called himself Kang.”

Chapter Text

   They’d been made to wait quite a while, which was rather embarrassing when they were still trying to impress their new friends (the Doctor had taken to referring to them as such, even if both Layla and Moon Knight were strongly against the idea). They’d tried the contact details a number of times, the phone going to voicemail every single time. The Doctor was starting to curse their luck that the Tardis wasn’t in any fit state to come and pick them up, meaning that they were now reliant on this seemingly undependable means of travel. They weren’t going to fork for a plane ticket back to the US; they definitely didn't have enough money, nor enough time, to be considering that. 

   When the fiery portal had eventually appeared, taking up most of the space in the cramped apartment, the Doctor had given the group a relieved smile. She was going to be having words with Wong when she next saw him, which was going to be incredibly soon. After describing the location they were destined to reach, Moon Knight had decided that it was best to leave Khonshu behind, knowing that magic and gods weren’t going to mix very well. And he also wanted any excuse to be rid of that infernal presence, especially after being bound to him once again. Khonshu, meanwhile, had been more than happy to miss, stating that he could never trust what a sorcerer would want to do with him if he was spotted. Though his departing remarks, a reminder to Moon Knight that the debt of servitude was still owed, showed how he wasn’t too worried not to come after him if he needed to.

   Layla had experienced many miraculous things over the years. She had even been possessed by a literal god for an evening. But taking one step in Egypt and having the next one fall in America was certainly towards the top of the strangest things she’d done. She looked around at their new surroundings with wide eyes, feeling the place glow with an unknown energy. Even Moon Knight was impressed with the feat, though he was much better at hiding it. Dan was simply pleased that he’d been able to make it through the portal this time without almost falling over; if this sort of progress continued, then he would be a pro in no time. 

   Their host hurried into the room, discreetly rubbing at his eyes for a reason they couldn’t tell. Wong looked slightly dishevelled and they were left wondering what sort of urgent business had taken him away when he’d last left them behind. Even if he was in a haggard state, it wasn’t enough to stop the Doctor from marching up to him with her hands on her hips, a look of clear displeasure etched onto her face. He may have been the Sorcerer Supreme but she’d faced down plenty of people with fancy titles before, and she’d do it many times afterwards. It was the main reason why she had so many titles herself.

   “What time do you call this?” she asked angrily. “We’ve been waiting for you to open this portal for nearly an hour! Do you know how embarrassing that is when you tell people your bezzie mates with a wizard?”

   “I’ll ask you again not to call me a wizard,” Wong replied.

   “I don’t think you’re in any position to be complaining at me . I’ll call you whatever I want for as long as I’m annoyed at you.” Her expression softened somewhat. “Which won’t be for long, I must admit. I’m not one to hold grudges for ages.”

   He held up his hands. “I can only apologise for my tardiness, everyone. As you’ll remember, I had very urgent business to attend to. You won’t believe how hectic and arduous the time has been. Court trials, fake magicians, demons…and that’s only scratching the surface.”

   “Does that have anything to do with what we’re facing?” Dan asked, now worried that he was going to have to fight demons alongside the other major threat looming over them.

   “Thankfully not. This was more of a personal matter. Sadly, even when the world is in danger, other irritating problems continue to persist. But that should be dealt with now, which means you have my full attention. I’m hoping you bring with you some useful information.” He glanced past the Doctor to observe the newcomers, not even surprised by the get-up of one of them. “Since it seems you’ve also added a few more members to our team.”

   “Oh, yeah!” the Doctor said with a smile, always liking to show off her new friendships. It wasn’t exactly a competition but she was the best at making friends. “This is Layla.” She paused to allow the other woman the chance to wave, which didn't come. “And the one in the brilliant outfit is Marc…and Steven…though it’s probably easier to call them Moon Knight for the time being otherwise…”

   “Wongers!” a voice shouted from somewhere deeper in the sanctum, interrupting the Doctor’s ramblings (which left a heavy pout on her face). It was a rather shrill tone, definitely feminine. They were starting to think that they’d interrupted something a little bit more intimate .

   For what it was worth, Wong appeared equally as perturbed by the disturbance, covering his face in what seemed like embarrassment. He turned away from the rest of the group, hoping to stop the approaching person before she showed herself. He got to the end of the hallway, almost getting there in time, but then a woman appeared wearing an oversized fluffy hoodie. The Doctor thought it looked rather comfortable, though she was curious to know whether she was actually wearing anything underneath (it was really rather hard to tell). The woman skidded to a halt when she realised that there were other people there, though her smile didn't show any awkwardness that Wong was evidently feeling. His port of call was to try ushering her away, but she had set her sights on the makings of what could have been an excellent party.

   “Wongers!” the woman repeated in a disappointed, chiding tone. “You didn't tell me that you were having friends over! I would have come to say hi! And I would have dressed up a bit more. I can’t believe you’re allowing people to see me like this!”

   “Funnily enough, he didn't tell us that he had another guest either,” the Doctor commented, folding her arms and staring pointedly at the sorcerer.

   “Well, he’s always like this, isn’t he? It’s who he is. He’s a sorcerer …” She wiggled her fingers dramatically to accentuate her point. “...they have to have a bit of mystery and keep loads of secrets. It’s in the job description.”

   “I’m sorry…I’m confused.” Jane raised a hand, obviously struggling with this new development that came in a long line of new developments. “Is she another superhero? Have you been assembling more of a team?”

   Wong was still trying to direct her out of the room. “Madisynn was just leaving . She isn’t involved in this and I’d prefer to keep it that way. Mainly for her safety.”

   Madisynn successfully outmanoeuvred him, which was a real low point for him. “He’s always worried about my wellbeing. He’s such a cutie like that!” She flicked her hair, staggering towards where Jane was standing. “Can I just say that you look amazing ? I’m going to have to get the deets of your designer because I reckon I would serve going to the clubs looking like you.” She wrapped a hand around one of Jane’s biceps, with the superpowered scientist still too dazed to react properly. “Although I might need to bulk up a bit if I’m going to pull it off. Maybe you could throw in the number of your personal too, along with the one for your stylist. And maybe your hairdresser too because those curls are to die for.”

   Jane had never really been complimented to such an extent like this, and she couldn’t help but blush at the praise. “Why…thank you…”

   “I’m still waiting for an explanation as to who this is,” the Doctor reminded them, now tapping her foot impatiently.

   “Is it normally like this around here?” Layla wondered.

   Moon Knight was shaking his head. “I’m already doubting the choice we made when we agreed to come with them.”

   “Things are a little bit chaotic,” the Doctor allowed. “That’s for sure. But I think, given the circumstances, we can let that slide. All we need is a few introductions and we can get on with the job.”

   The woman stepped forward, appearing to be preparing herself for her big moment. “I’m Madisynn. That’s why two n’s and a y, but it’s not where you thiiiiiink.” She did a small dance; the Doctor didn't know whether this was just an accepted form of introduction in this world and began to awkwardly boogie with her, before Yaz put an arm on her shoulder to stop her. All she got as an explanation from her companion was a shake of the head.

   Wong groaned wearily. “Happy that introductions are over now? Can I get rid of her now?”

   “Wongers!” She lightly hit him on the arm. “You shouldn’t speak to me like that. You’re supposed to keep me sweet.”

   As much as their interactions were rather amusing, the Doctor knew that there were more pressing things to attend to. They couldn’t afford this sort of distraction, especially when she was fizzing with eager energy after their latest discoveries. At times, she was like a toddler, desperately wanting to tell anyone within a certain radius the new information she’d learnt.

   “Is this why you took so long in responding to us?” she asked.

   He held up his hands, seeing that the situation had completely spiralled out of control. “I can explain…”

   “We were just getting to the finale of one of the seasons of the Sopranos,” Madisynn butted in, something Wong seemed distraught about. “Very emotional. Very dramatic. I suggested it would be best for us to switch off all mobile devices so that we could properly immerse ourselves in the experience. Let me tell you…me turning off my phone is practically unheard of but I’m willing to make sacrifices when it comes to my new bestie.”

   “I thought I saw you wiping away a few tears!” Dan shouted, pointing a finger. “Is that why? Were you crying at the Sopranos?”

   “...it was a very moving episode,” Wong said, refusing to look anyone in the eye. “I’m not going to apologise for being in tune with my emotions.”

   “Yeah, but you’re going to apologise for forgetting about the mission in a time of crisis just so that you could watch a bit of tv!” the Doctor argued.

   “I’ll have you know that it’s more than a bit of tv ,” Madisynn pointed out, as if that was helping defuse the steadily growing tension.

   “Listen,” Wong said. “Like I told you, I’ve had a fairly stressful day. I was simply taking a comfort break. I presumed that you were still in Cairo and that our other team was still busy in San Francisco. Maybe it wasn’t the best idea.”

   “But I can be very persuasive when I want to be.”

   Dan raised his eyebrows. “We should probably steer clear of those details.”

   The Doctor looked confused. “Why? What’s she implying? Why’s Wong going red in the face?”

   Yaz rolled her eyes. “Doctor, you’ve got too innocent a mind to be told about such things. Let’s leave it at that.”

   Wong cleared his throat. “Can we please move on? You’re here now, bringing new information on the problem at hand. If you’d care to divulge that…although I should probably call for America since she’s had the most experience with this multiversal threat.” His face suddenly went pale. “Oh dear…that reminds me. You’re not the only ones that I’ve forgotten to check in on.”

   He moved to the side of the room so that he’d have enough space, and drew a circle in the air. The same golden sparks they’d seen a few times now appeared, creating a new portal. Madisynn clapped her hands in appreciation, cheering him on. Through the hole, they could see an unremarkable street. Or it might have been a pretty ordinary street if it hadn’t been for the group of people waiting there, led by a blonde woman in a flashy uniform. 

   Carol stepped forward, entering the sanctum, and glared at the sorcerer. She was promptly followed by Kamala, who looked to be glad at being reunited with the rest of them (though she was looking anxiously at the newcomers, who were just as apprehensive). The other two people that arrived hadn’t been introduced to them yet, both appearing to be fairly young. Their clothes didn't denote anything special about them, but the Doctor was quick to note the glimmer of the rings on the man’s arms. Even without analysing them with the sonic, she knew that they contained a great deal of power. They practically thrummed with potential.

   Wong could already tell that he was going to get shouted at. “Before you start…”

   “Two hours,” Carol ground out through gritted teeth. “We’ve been waiting for two hours. I could have flown here and back about a dozen times, but I didn't want to leave these guys behind.”

   “I was up for her trying that before I remembered that she goes so fast that we’d be set on fire,” Kamala said. “Then I thought it best for us just to wait.”

   “It seems as if we’ve come at a busy time…”

   “You’re not the only one who’s had to wait,” the Doctor told them unhappily. “I’m not the sort of person who usually has to hang around for time to take the linear path.”

   “Can we focus on the true matter at hand?” Wong asked desperately.

   “I think we should be focusing on the fact that you went on a date whilst we’re trying to save the universe!” Dan complained.

   “It wasn’t a date!”

   “It wasn’t?” Madisynn wondered, quietly.

   The sorcerer suddenly looked all shy. “Well…I didn't want to presume anything…it’s been a very long time since I’ve done anything like this.”

   She wrapped an arm around his shoulders, planting a quick kiss on his cheek. “Awy, Wingers…you’re actually like…the sweetest person I’ve ever met.”

   Carol was tapping her foot in irritation. “As adorable as this is to watch, we’ve still got a whole lot of work to do. I’ve brought you Shang-Chi, like you asked.”

   The man in question waved awkwardly at the people he didn't know. “Hi. I have the rings as well. Captain Marvel told me that this probably has something to do with them.”

   She ran a hand over her face. “Just one person. I just want one person to refer to me by my actual name. That’s all I ask.”

   “I’m Katy, by the way,” the woman next to Shang said, feeling as if she’d been forgotten. “I’m just here for the ride, it seems. And because Shang was secretly nervous about being in a room full of superheroes again.”

   “There’s nothing secret about it. I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Me receiving the rings seems to have activated that signal, and now I’m being told that might have kickstarted some sort of multiversal conflict? Yeah, I’m going to be nervous about hanging out with the people whose job it is to actively stop things like that.”

   “It’s very nice to meet you, Shang, Katy. Not to take the limelight away from you, but we’ve acquired the finest experts on Egyptian history and mythology,” the Doctor proudly announced, gesturing spectacularly at Layla and Moon Knight. They’d been trying, now unsuccessfully, to simply keep to the background of the discussion but the Doctor’s pronouncement put an end to those aspirations. 

   “No way!” Kamala shouted, staring with wide eyes at Layla. 

   The other woman took a step back nervously. “Have I got something on my face? Why are you looking at me like that?”

   “I’ve seen you before. Well, online. People were taking videos of a fight in Egypt and you were definitely there! Although you looked a bit different. You had a whole gold theme going on that was really working for you. And you had wings…I can’t forget that.” She absentmindedly glanced at Layla’s back, as if she would find the feathered appendages hidden away somewhere. “What were they calling you again? The Scarlet Scarab! That’s it!”

   “They…gave me a superhero name?” Layla couldn’t help but feel a little bit honoured, even if she hadn’t really wanted the powers in the first place. She doubted that many people did when they first went through that sort of transformation.

   “You don’t know? Oh my god, you’ve been tearing up the reddit forums ever since you first appeared. And then you vanished off the face of the earth and people were losing their minds, coming up with theories about when you’d next show up. You’re gathering quite a bit of a fan base, me included.”

   “I’d like to point out that I was also there,” Moon Knight reminded the young woman. “Have people been talking about me? Not that I’m bothered or anything…”

   “It’d be pretty hard for you not to stand out dressed like that. I didn't even think when the guys were going to Egypt that they could bump into you. There’s so much that I want to ask you about. How did you get your powers? If that’s not too personal a question? Are you planning on teaming up with other heroes? Well, that’s a stupid thing to ask because you’re standing right here…”

   Layla put a hand on her arm to slow her down. At the rate Kamala was talking, it looked as if she was close to having her head explode. “It’s safe to say that neither of us wanted those abilities you’ve seen on the internet. I, for one, have packed it in, which means that the wings have been hung up for good.”

   “But…you looked so good,” Kamala pleaded. “And look at us all. We’re actually forming a team here! We’re creating our own version of the Avengers! This has basically been my dream since I was a little kid. We definitely need someone who can fly like you.”

   “Um, I can,” Jane said, trying not to be insulted. “Well, it’s more like Mjolnir carries me but that’s just semantics.”

   “I’m getting the hang of it too,” Shang-Chi said. “There’s a certain thing that you can do with the rings to propel yourself, though, if it goes wrong, it really goes wrong, if you know what I mean.”

   Katy was smirking at the memory. “Don’t worry, everyone. I’ve got plenty of videos of him landing face first on the ground that I’d be perfectly willing to show you all. For a very reasonable price.”

   Carol coughed loudly, rather perturbed that Kamala had forgotten about her in particular. It wasn’t that she liked having a superfan but, now that she’d got a taste of it, she also didn't want to lose it either. “Do I need to remind you that I can fly? Across space?”

   “But the Scarlet Scarab has wings,” Kamala argued. “And they’re gold.”

   “Please! Everyone!” Wong yelled, feeling a headache growing. “This is really getting out of hand.”

   “You only have yourself to blame for that,” the Doctor said to him quietly, not caring that she sounded rather smug.

   “I’m getting that sense, yes. But we have a lot to discuss. If we can just head over to…” He was interrupted by a phone ringing. “Oh, come on!”

   Jane was the guilty culprit, bringing out her phone awkwardly. When she saw who was calling, she knew she had to answer, no matter how dark the glares were that she was receiving. “Valkyrie? What’s up?”

   On the small screen, she could see the season warrior fighting off some sort of creature whilst still managing to keep her face in shot. “You need to get back here! We’re being overrun and could do with an extra pair of hands! Some sort of shadow creatures are attacking New Asgard!”

   Of all the things she’d been expecting, it hadn’t been that. For a split second, she’d even considered that Thor might have returned after somehow sensing the change to his trusty hammer. “How did this happen?!”

   “Do you really want me to go into details right now or are you going to fly over and help?”

   Jane looked at the group. “I should really see what this is about. For all we know, it might be connected to this threat we’re chasing.”

   “An excellent idea,” Wong said. “Be sure to report back as soon as possible.” And, with that, he produced yet another portal, this time leading to the coast of Norway, and sent Jane through it. It didn't sound as if she had enough time to be flying there.

   “We didn't even get to say goodbye!” Yaz complained.

   “Miss Khan, you’ll find that this business doesn’t usually leave a lot of room for farewells. Especially when we’ve wasted so much of our time, as it is! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to Kamar Taj and I hope that you’ll all follow me. Otherwise, please enjoy the snacks that I’d prepared for my now ruined Sopranos marathon.”

Chapter Text

Wong let out a heavy sigh of relief as they stepped into the main chamber of Kamar Taj, feeling as if he’d left some of the chaos in the sanctum behind. Even if the same people who had been giving him a headache had followed him through. It had taken quite a lot of persuading, and the promise of another night-in together, to get Madisynn to leave, though she’d warned him that she would be video calling him later to get all the juicy gossip. She didn't want to miss out, after all. Wong hadn’t had the energy to fight her on it; in truth, he was growing to like her so much that he didn't really want to in the first place, something which might have troubled him if he wasn’t dealing with a crumbling reality.

   Dan nudged the Doctor in the back. “I think I just saw a giant bull walking on its hind legs.”

   “It’s rude to stare,” she reprimanded him. “Are you telling me that you’ve never seen one of those before?”

   He gave her an incredulous look. “No! Of course I haven’t! What do you think my life was like before I met you? The strangest thing I ever saw was this old guy running starkers across the pitch during a Liverpool game.”

   “That’s Rintrah,” Wong explained. “He’s used to the staring by now, though most people who train here have learnt not to be so surprised by his presence. And I would always ask you not to talk about Liverpool whilst you’re here. It brings bad energy, at least for me.” He did a little shiver.

   “Finally…someone else telling him off for going on about them all the time,” Yaz quipped, much to her friend’s annoyance.

   “You’re back!” America came charging over towards the group, doing her best to ignore the sharp pain in her right knee whenever she moved it. She wasn’t that good at hiding her wince from those who were watching her closely. “You’ve been ages! I started to think that you’d forgotten about me, or benched me. That’d be cruel, you know? Pushing me to the sidelines after I did all the hard work.”

   Wong stared at her with a steely gaze, the one he had been practising for moments when he needed to act as her guardian. He’d been watching any media he could get his hands on - tv shows, films, youtube videos - so that he could see what parents normally did. He was just glad that he’d missed the diaper-changing phase. Even with magic at his fingertips, that would have been a ghastly affair. One he probably would have left to Stephen.

   “You’re supposed to be resting,” he said pointedly, observing how the scratches were still on her face, not fully healed. With the physicians they had on hand in the Nepal stronghold, it was rather alarming to see that they hadn’t completely mended her. It spoke of a great power that they were being pitted against.

   “How can I sit still when I know what’s going on? What did you expect me to do? I saw you arrive. I was obviously going to come running.”

   “We would have come to you.”

   “See, I was just trying to help you. I’m that nice. And I’m not hearing any thanks…after all you bang on about making sure I use my manners, and you pull this on me.”

   Marc folded his arms. “Who’s the girl?” He was feeling as if there were too many people to keep track of at the moment.

   America wasn’t one to back down, even when the other person looked rather intimidating. “Who’s the mummy?”

   The Doctor shivered, leaning closer to Yaz. “I just got a flashback to when I was in wartime London, chasing a young boy in a gas mask,” she whispered quietly.

   Her companion could only give her a bemused, sideways look. “You know, if I wasn’t surrounded by superheroes, I’d probably ask you to elaborate on that story.”

   “Miss Chavez is the one who first brought this threat to light,” Wong explained. “As you can see, she only just managed to bring this information to us with her life still intact.”

   The young woman pouted. “I didn't think that I looked that bad.”

   “It makes you look cool,” Kamala assured her. “Everyone needs a few battle scars so that they’ve got something impressive to show people.”

   Carol patted her on the shoulder. “I’m going to ask you not to purposefully go out and get injured just so that you can show off at a later date.”

   “I’m not making any promises.”

   “Do you know who attacked her?” Layla asked, trying to bring everyone back on track. It seemed like an almost impossible task.

   “That’s what we were trying to discover,” Wong outlined, grateful for her intervention. “All we know for sure is that they were from another universe.”

   “So…Captain Marvel wasn’t lying when she told us about that,” Katy said, her eyes wide.

   Carol glared at her. “Do I look like the sort of person who tends to lie?”

   “I don’t know whether you want me to answer that.”

   “You’re being awfully brave for someone without powers.”

   Katy lifted her chin in defiance. “That’s because I’ve got my best friend here who can protect me from any of you. You’re no match for him. I’ve seen what he can do.”

   Shang’s face went pale when he quickly realised who his friend was talking about. He held out his hands, looking pleadingly at the others. “Don’t listen to her! Whatever you do, don’t listen to her. I really don’t want to fight any of you. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to! I’m not that impressive.”

   “You do a disservice to your abilities,” Wong told him. “You would make a formidable opponent, for sure. And I’ve battled quite a few.”

   “As much as I’d normally like to hear the Sorcerer Supreme bigging me up, I’d rather you do it under any other circumstances.”

   The Doctor coughed loudly into her hand. “If I may go back to Layla’s question…” She waited for someone to argue against that, though no such response was forthcoming. “The one clue we had about the origins of this threat was the phrase ‘Kang’. Now, thanks to your help in Egypt, we can start to assume that Kang was actually a name. Perhaps the person who attacked America.”

   She looked to Moon Knight, allowing him to take over. “Using some intel that I’m not comfortable with disclosing the source of, we discovered that this Kang has visited Earth before, in the guise of a pharaoh multiple centuries ago. He managed to infiltrate Egyptian civilization for a certain time, though we can’t know for sure what his intentions were before he was eventually rooted out.”

   “So he’s got the power to travel between universes,” America summarised gravely. “Like me. I didn't know that there was anyone else like me.” It was strangely comforting. If he hadn’t attacked her, she might have considered seeking him out for advice on how to control her powers.

   “For all we know, those abilities may not have come naturally to him,” Wong hypothesised. “Perhaps a spell assisted him. Or a machine.”

   “Could a machine really do that?” Yaz asked. “It sounds like it’d take a lot of power.”

   “The vastness of the multiverse means that we can’t assume what technological advances may have occurred in his reality.”

   “Not to mention that the Tardis did it,” the Doctor pointed out. “Albeit less than gracefully.”

   “That’s putting it lightly,” Dan quipped.

   “We’re not focusing on the right thing though,” Carol said, stepping forward. “If it’s really the same guy that got to this Earth in the past…if he has that capability…then why hasn’t he done it again?”

   “He might not be able to,” the Doctor suggested. “It might have been a one time thing. Like with us. It could have been an accident.”

   “Trust me, as the person who was getting shot at, it didn't feel remotely accidental,” America told her.

   “Perhaps he wasn’t expecting the level of resistance he faced,” Marc proposed. “He probably assumed that it’d be an easy process. But then the gods stood against him and expelled him.”

   Kamala raised a hand. “Did he just mention gods? And no one’s really batting an eyelid? I feel as if we should be prioritising that information a bit more.”

   “They’re really not worth your time. I’m speaking from experience.”

   The Doctor was tapping the side of her head as she thought. “So maybe it was accidental. Maybe he was licking his wounds after such a heavy defeat. Or maybe he’s just been waiting to come back…waiting for the perfect moment.”

   Yaz looked at her. “And do we know when this perfect moment is happening?”

   “It might have already started.”

   “What could one man do?” Katy was sounding rather sceptical. “Seriously? We’ve got a bunch of superheroes standing in one room…with a few people I’ve never heard of before.” She gestured at the Doctor and her companions. “One man against that? I don’t know why you’re sweating so much.”

   Once more, Shang-chi smiled awkwardly at the group. “Again, I’d just like to apologise for her butting in so repeatedly. She obviously doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”

   She shrugged off his attempts to pull her back. “They’re supposed to be Earth’s mightiest defenders! I’m sorry if I was just believing the hype.”

   “I think you’re mistaking us for the Avengers,” Kamala responded. “We haven’t reached that level yet.” Her eyes lit up. “We need a group name! Something just as good.”

   Marc put his hand over his masked face wearily. “Are we really going to think about that right now?”

   She wasn’t put off by his resistance. “I just think that it’d bring us together even more and help us win.”

   “I’m thinking… Super Fam! ” the Doctor proposed, gesturing with her hands theatrically. “I like the sound of that.”

   Yaz winced at her suggestion. “You really need to think of a new word. You can’t keep reusing it.”

   “Why not? It’s a good word. A great word! You’re just jealous because you didn't think of it.”

   “Excuse me?” She folded her arms whilst giving the Time Lord a dangerous look in warning.

   “It’s alright to admit it, Yaz. I won’t think any less of you. You’re brilliant at lots of other things.”

   “Can you keep the flirting on the down low until we’ve figured all this out?” Dan asked, though he was enjoying the spectacle. He just felt now wasn’t the time for them to be entering that territory. He pictured such a romantic confession in an equally romantic setting, not surrounded by a group of people they barely knew whilst they discussed battle plans. It wasn’t as if he’d been planning the perfect moment for them to finally get things out in the open. Definitely not.

   “We’re not flirting!” Yaz growled.

   “It kinda sounded like flirting from over here,” Kamala added. “Or at least the beginnings of some heavy flirting.”

   Wong turned to Katy. “Are you starting to see how even one man can pose such a threat to us? We’re constantly getting distracted by trivial matters.”

   “Says the one who was on a date less than five minutes ago,” Yaz argued, feeling rather tetchy that he’d considered them trivial .

   America’s eyes were like Dalek saucers when she heard that. “You were on a what ?!” She shouted so loud that some of the other occupants in the temple stopped to look at them, further adding to Wong’s embarrassment.

   “I thought we’d moved past this.”

   “Not a chance! This is the first time I’m hearing about this! I want all the details. Who is she? Where did you meet? Where’s she from? Does she have powers? Oh, can she use magic? Does she know that you have magic? How long have you known her for?”

   It was such a heavy barrage of questions that the sorcerer felt he was under some sort of agonising spell. “Barely a day!” he growled, mainly to get her to stop. The mental strain had caused him to let it slip, when he’d been planning on avoiding all of her queries. His standards were slacking. 

   “Wong, you sly dog! I didn't know that you had it in you! I’m actually impressed. And here I was, thinking that Stephen was the one getting all the female attention.”

   It was a step too far, playing on his ego. “You do realise that, when you met him for the first time, he was coming from the wedding of the woman he loved? As a guest ? I’m much more of a lady killer, I’ll have you know.”

   She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Okay, maybe this has gone too far. I didn't need to hear you saying that. At all . Please, someone…talk about anything else other than this. I can’t stop picturing it.”

   “Possibly the wisest choice anyone’s suggested today,” Wong agreed hastily. “Shang. The rings if you would.”

   The man in question seemed surprised about being put in the spotlight, but he dutifully did as instructed. He outstretched his arms and the ten individual objects gracefully flew off, floating in the air as they danced in a golden circle. The Doctor stepped closer to the spectacle, her eyes reflecting the magnificence before her. She had seen some wondrous things over her many years but she never stopped being amazed by what the universe had to offer. What every universe had to offer.

   “They’re beautiful,” she whispered, reaching a hand out and feeling the warmth of the hovering rings.

   “You’re going to make me blush,” Shang replied, rubbing his neck sheepishly. 

   “There was a reason why we sent Carol and Kamala to collect you,” Wong outlined, creating an intricate pattern with his hands as he cast a spell. “Events have been unfolding since the Ten Rings were activated. Carol’s investigations brought her to Kamala, after Kamala was brought to the Doctor and her new friends. The only indication so far that the boundaries between realities have been fatally weakened.”

   “That doesn’t sound too good.”

   “Precisely why we need to take a closer look at them.”

   He completed the incantation and the rings fell onto a nearby table, rendered inert by whatever he’d done. A projection appeared, an enlarged picture of one of them, showing it in all its glorious detail. Again, the Doctor was straight over to examine it closely, marvelling at the power being demonstrated. A gentle flick of Wong’s wrist sent the hologram diving further into the inner workings of the ring, showing the blaring signal that had first attracted his attention to Shang. 

   “That’s what I saw,” America murmured, standing next to the Doctor.

   Wong peered at her curiously. “What do you mean?”

   “When I was searching through the multiverse…when I stumbled across Kang or some people connected to him…I saw that. I told you that there was a sort of…beacon. It looked exactly like that.”

   “Are you sure? America, you need to be completely certain. This could be of the utmost importance.”

   “It was definitely the same. It was like they were monitoring it or something. I wasn’t able to get a long look at it, because I was spotted soon after and chased out of there.”

   Carol appeared to be just as interested in this development as Wong was. “Does this mean what I think it means?”

   The sorcerer nodded his head. “I would presume so. It seems that we’ve identified the target of the signal. Upon activation, this message was relayed to those people. To Kang.”

   Not for the first time, Shang had a guilty look on his face. “Sorry, guys!”

   “It’s not your fault. Not technically.”

   “That ‘technically’ is doing a lot of heavy lifting,” Katy said, not easing any of her friend’s concerns.

   “But why?” Shang-chi wondered. “Why was it connected to him? Why would he want to know when I claimed the rings?”

   “There’s more to it than that,” the Doctor told them, still staring at the projection. She had everyone’s attention now. “This isn’t just a beacon. It’s a map!”

   “It doesn’t look like a very good map,” Dan argued. “What’s it supposed to look like?”

   “Space! Look more closely!” She waved her hand, tracing the tendrils of magical energy. “You almost zoomed in so much that you didn't understand what you were looking at. It’s not an ordinary pattern that magic could create, though there’s nothing very ordinary about that. It’s the cosmos! And that …is a coordinate for whoever was receiving the message. Our friend called Kang.”

   “Is there anything there?” Yaz asked. “Anything of note? Do you recognise it?”

   “Not really. This isn’t my universe. It all looks slightly different to me. I couldn’t properly place it.”

   “But I could.” Carol was already preparing herself. “If someone can send me those coordinates, I should be able to get there fairly quickly and examine if there’s anything special about it. Maybe I’ll even intercept whoever’s been tracking it.”

   “Be careful,” the Doctor instructed her. “Like we keep saying, we don’t know the capabilities of what we’re going up against.”

   “I’m always careful!” She got a few doubtful looks. “Well, sometimes. But that’s not the point.”

   “You’re a part of a team,” Kamala reminded her.

   “The Super Fam,” the Doctor said quietly, getting a nudge from Yaz. 

   “You don’t need to do everything by yourself. If you do find something, come back straight away and tell us. Then we can all deal with it. That’s the point of bringing so many people together.”

   “I’ll consider it, kid,” Carol allowed. “And that’s all you’re getting.”

   She was about to walk out the room when the display changed. Not by a lot. The image remained the same, besides the small beacon that they were so intently focused on it. Along with its periodic flashing, it was now emitting a small, high pitched tone. Everyone looked between one another, trying to figure out what this meant. It didn't feel like it was going to be good.

   “Let me guess,” Marc began. “It hasn’t done that before.”

   Wong shook his head. “Your assumptions are correct. I can’t know for certain…but it appears as if someone is responding to the message.”

Chapter Text

“So…basically…there’s this guy who really hates gods…like, properly despises them…and he wants them all to die. He turned up at New Asgard, as you know, and he’s managed to kidnap all the children from the village. We don’t know why yet, but it’s obviously not for any reasons that are going to be good. He was using these…creatures that were made out of shadows, which meant we were preoccupied when he started targeting the kids. Because…how can you kill a shadow? Mjolnir’s good but not that good. So you can understand if this is going to take up quite a lot of my time.”

   Jane was on video call, giving a much needed update to the rest of the group. They were crowded around the screen, trying to get a good look at her. Whatever powers the hammer had given her, it had bestowed the ability to look positively radiant even when she’d been involved in a battle moments before. There was a slight smudge of dirt on her cheek and her hair was tousled ever so gently, but in the sort of way that managed to make her look even more attractive. Yaz was rather pleased that she’d been called away on another mission, because a hot scientist like that was only going to garner the Doctor’s attention after a while, if she hadn’t done so already. 

   There was a bit of a lull in the sanctum. None of them really knew what to do next after learning that the threat was potentially on its way. They couldn’t meet it head on, because they didn't know where it was going to make landfall. There was no telling whether Kang would even target the planet they were on, with plenty to choose from across this brand new universe. Carol was currently off-world, investigating the coordinates that the Doctor had provided her. All the Time Lord wanted to do was to follow her, to run into the Tardis and snoop around. For the time being, she was grounded and it had been a very long time since that had happened. She’d had curly white hair and a bright yellow car, a phase she still reminisced on fondly.

   “I didn't really know that gods were that easy to kill,” Dan commented. “I thought they were…you know…immortal. Sounds like this guy is just stabbing them.”

   “I’m told it’s some sort of special sword,” Jane outlined. “Not that it’s a scientific explanation, but hardly anything about this is scientific. I’m having to get the hang of that.”

   “I’ve got a god that I’d like this guy to meet,” Marc muttered darkly. “Is he available for hire or does he pick and choose himself?”

   Layla nudged him. “I rather liked my god. I hope she’s alright.”

   “And I suppose we need Khonshu alive if I’m to keep my powers. That’s the only reason I’ve been brought into this mess.”

   “Then why am I here?”

   “Mainly because you look good and bring a refined grace to any room you’re in?”

   She rolled her eyes. “I think you’ve been taking tips from Steven on how to properly flirt.”

   “How am I doing?”

   “All I’ll say is that you’re getting better at it. Not that it was an especially high bar to clear, but any progress is progress in my eyes.”

   “Mister Spector is right, of course,” Wong interrupted their discussion. “This may not be linked to the larger threat we’re facing, but it’s still important for our endeavours that you successfully take care of this problem.”

   “No pressure then,” Jane replied with a chuckle.

   Yaz leaned forward. “Have you got any plans? How are you going to defeat him? Do you need any help?”

   The Doctor eyed her warily, tugging her back softly. “Woah, Yaz. I’m not having you going anywhere near any sort of ‘god butcher’. That’s the sort of thing I’m programmed to keep you away from.”

   “I never knew you were so protective of me.”

   “Then you really haven’t been paying attention, have you?”

   “I bet you’d let me go,” Dan said, a touch bitterly. “Just because you want to wrap her up in cotton wool, whilst I got shoved into every situation with barely any clue about what’s going on.”

   The Doctor smirked at him, shrugging nonchalantly. “You can’t blame me for having favourites.”

   Yaz laughed triumphantly. “Ha! I told you, Dan.”

   He looked distraught. “You’re not supposed to have favourites.” He folded his arms up petulantly. “How was I ever supposed to compete against her when you’re both madly in…” He was prevented from saying anything more thanks to a sharp kick in the shins from Yaz. When the Doctor peered at him curiously as he winced in pain, her other companion simply smiled innocently, silently pleading with her to not look too deeply into it.

   “I’m fine for help,” Jane assured them. “Don’t worry. Thor has decided that we need to enlist some professionals in this field…he mentioned something about Zeus but I don’t know how much he was exaggerating about that.”

   Kamala’s eyes went comically wide, so much so that it looked as if they might physically pop out of her head. She quickly snatched the tablet away, earning a few protests from the others. She didn't waste any time with pleasantries.

   “Did you just say Thor ?” Her voice was going extremely high pitched and she was on the verge of doing a little jig in excitement. 

   Jane looked rather sheepish. “Yeah…he’s um…he’s come back to Earth…when he heard about New Asgard being attacked.”

   “Is Thor the one Jane was dating?” Yaz asked.

   “He’s only the God of Lightning ,” Kamala explained giddily, much to Jane’s embarrassment. “I’m very much a Captain Marvel kind of girl…but if he were to turn up at my doorstep…”

   “He’s just so dreamy,” Katy added wistfully. “I could dangle from those biceps from his like I’m a kid on the monkey bars. I just want to bite a chunk into them and…”

   “Okay, maybe we should keep you quiet for a little bit,” Shang-Chi cleverly intervened before it became too graphic. 

   “Has it been awkward?” Kamala asked. “You know…meeting the ex after so long. I bet he must have been shocked when he saw you, with the changes you’ve been through. I can picture his face now. His perfectly sculpted, impossibly chiselled face…”

   Jane couldn’t hide her smile at the younger woman’s behaviour. “It’s certainly…strange to be seeing him again when I’m like this. The issue is that he looks even better than the last time I saw him, which really isn’t fair.”

   Dan was frowning. “I doubt any man can look as good as you’re saying.”

   Yaz snorted in laughter. “Are you jealous of him getting all the attention?”

   “I’m just saying…I think they’re setting him up to be a let down if we ever meet him.”

   “Why don’t you put him on the phone?” Kamala suggested, only adding to Yaz’s enjoyment. “Then you can see what we’re talking about.”

   “Do it. I’m not scared.”

   “Oh, I don’t know,” Jane said, sounding as if she really didn't like that idea. “He’s probably busy…”

   “I’ll only ask of you this one thing,” Kamala pleaded, fully prepared to get on her hands and knees. “We won’t say anything too embarrassing.”

   “Trust me, it’s already been embarrassing enough. I don’t think there’s room for any more.” She shook her head ruefully. “Fine…I’ll go and find him. Give me a sec…”

   Kamala squealed with delight. It was now a fight between her and Katy as to who would be holding the tablet when he appeared. The latter was fiddling with her hair to make it more alluring. Wong grumbled something under his breath, walking away. The Doctor couldn’t understand any of their behaviour, trying to figure out why one person would cause such a reaction. She happened to glance at Yaz at that moment, quickly realising how that effect worked.

   Marc was quite displeased to see that Layla was edging closer to the screen. “Please tell me that you’re not interested in this guy…”

   She gave him an innocent smile. “I must have a thing for gods.”

   “Hello? Hello? Friends of Jane?”

   A new voice entered the fray, deep and commanding even when it was coming through the device. Kamala looked like she might faint when Thor’s face appeared, Jane standing close behind him. Katy made some sort of guttural noise that Shang had never heard from her before. Layla was twirling her hair around her finger like a schoolgirl talking to her crush, making her go severely down in Marc’s estimations. Dan took one look and his mouth fell open.

   “Okay,” he said, getting up from his seat. “I understand now. I’m going to keep my mouth shut from now on. I’m also going to the other side of the room, because I don’t think it’s fair that I have to share the same space as someone who looks like that .”

   “I’ll take that as a compliment!” Thor shouted. “Whoever you are. What a funny little accent you have.”

   The Doctor scrunched up her nose. “Is someone screaming in the background where you are?”

   “Ah, no! Those are my goats! And…might I say…what a lovely sight you are?”

   Yaz bristled. “No, you may not.”

   “Why are your goats screaming like that?” the Doctor asked, trying to understand why Yaz was being so defensive of her. 

   Thor’s large smile faltered slightly. “They…um…they tend to do that. I don’t know why. But they were a present. And I’ve grown rather fond of them now.”

   “Much to the annoyance of everyone here,” Jane added. “It’s a good job that they’ve got more important things to be worrying about for the time being.”

   “And Jane! Would you look at Jane? I’m told you’re all friends with her? Teammates ? I can’t believe…she’s started a superhero team…and didn't even think to invite me. Let me tell you…I was not expecting to find her here, looking like that. I might go as far as to say that she’s stolen my look…but I’m not bitter about it. Not at all.” He did an odd, strained laugh that everyone could see through.

   Jane wanted to be rid of the awkward air as quickly as possible. “Feel sorry for me, guys. I’m going to have to put up with those goats for a little longer yet. They’re taking us to our next destination.”

   “Omnipotence City. A truly magical place. And they’re very strict on people being late…so maybe we should kick the goats into gear.” He waved at the group, already becoming distracted by his next task. “Farewell, friends of Jane! I hope we can team up one day, when I’m actually included.”

   “Bye!” Kamala cried as he disappeared from the screen. She had her head in her hands. “I can’t believe that I was completely tongue-tied when he was in front of me. I’m never going to get a chance to talk to him again!”

   “I’ll get him to sign something for you,” Jane reassured her. “To make up for it. Don’t worry. But he’s right…we’d best be going. I’ll see you guys on the other side. And if things go really wrong on your end, don’t hesitate to give me a call. I just hope that I get service in space.”

   “Be safe!” Yaz said.

   “Good luck getting back together with Thor!” Kamala added. “I ship it completely!”

   “I’m going to pretend that you didn't say that!”

   And then the screen went blank, much to their disappointment. Not only because they’d been forced to say goodbye to Jane for a second time, though Yaz was at least content that she’d been given the chance to do so this time. But also because it meant they were left with nothing else to do but wait for something to happen. They hoped that Carol wouldn’t take much longer, with Kamala having assured them that she was incredibly speedy when in flight. The Doctor despised it when all she could do was twiddle her thumbs. She wanted to be proactive, to take the fight to anyone who dared threaten this planet, no matter which version of it it was. She’d always presumed that superheroes would run into battle more easily than this, not that she’d even given much thought to superheroes existing. There had been that one time at Christmas, but that was all down to an alien artefact tampering with human biology. It didn't count.

   Dan wandered back to the group. “Is it safe to return? Has the impossibly attractive man gone?”

   Yaz patted the space next to her on the sofa for him to sit down. “You’re alright now. There’s no one here to damage your strong, masculine ego.”

   Marc crossed his arms. “I don’t know how to take that.”

   Shang was equally as disgruntled. “I put a lot of work into the way I look and I’m getting dismissed because I can’t actually compare to a god . Like, a literal god.”

   Yaz noticed the Doctor crossing and uncrossing her legs repeatedly. They were sitting so close together that it would have been difficult to miss it. “Is everything okay with you?”

   The Doctor gave her a sideways glance. “Hmm? Me? Yeah, of course, Yaz! I’m always okay. I’m the king of okay. Oh…I was supposed to never say that again. That’s yet another promise I’ve broken to myself.” She was trying to be more jovial than she was feeling, a facade that her friend was able to easily see through. “Ugh, fine. I’m not as chipper as you might expect.”

   “Who would have guessed?”

   “I can’t hide anything from you, can I?”

   “Not anymore. Especially when you’re constantly fidgeting because of the sheer amount of nervous energy you’re feeling.”

   The Doctor made sure to grip her knees tightly to stop her legs from moving so much. “It’s just…I’m not used to this. I’m not supposed to hang around and hope that something falls into my lap. The Tardis is out of action, and that’s like having a part of me violently ripped out. I’m not whole without her. And I’m not going to be able to save everyone if I’m stuck in this place, even if it is incredibly gorgeous. Maybe I should have a look around to work off some of this pent up energy. I’m sure that there’s nothing too dangerous that I could set off just by prodding it.”

   Dan smirked. “Have you seen your track record?”

   Wong reentered the room. “The artefacts in Kamar-Taj should only be approached by trained individuals.”

   The Doctor pouted. “I’m trained! In lots of things! I’ve probably got more qualifications than you, as a matter of fact.”

   “It’s not a competition.”

   “Maybe it isn’t when you’re losing so badly.” The Doctor pulled a face. “Don’t you have some way of analysing the danger more closely?”

   “The only way we can safely observe the multiverse is through using America’s powers and, as you’ve probably seen, that hasn’t turned out to be too safe.” He held up a hand before she or America could protest. “But there’s no need to jump to such hasty ideas just yet. Because the Captain has returned.”

   He moved out of the way, allowing Carol to walk unceremoniously into the room. She didn't look remotely like she’d been flying across space, besides a slight rosy tint to her cheeks. Yaz thought it was unfair that someone could look so perfect after doing something so extreme. She became a sweaty mess if she unpacked the dishwasher too vigorously. Her mood was only further soured by how the Doctor sprang to her feet eagerly at the sight of the other woman, showing a level of exuberance that was normally just reserved for her .

   “Did you find it?” the Doctor asked.

   Carol put her hands on her hips. “What? No pleasantries?”

   The Doctor rolled her eyes, choosing to ignore her request. “Did you get there alright? You look relatively unscathed, so I’m presuming you didn't have to fight your way out.”

   “It was just a casual trip to outer space. Nothing special.”

   Katy nudged Shang. “We’re now hanging out with people who think interstellar travel is cool!”

   “And?” the Doctor pressed the Captain, not liking how hesitant she was being.

   “Nothing,” came the dreaded reply.

   “Pardon? I’m really hoping that I misheard you.”

   “Nope. There was nothing there. Just empty space. Nothing to distinguish it from the rest of it. The only thing I could detect was a faint hint of an energy surge. But that seems to have originated quite a while ago, way before the message was received. I doubt it was linked.”

   The Doctor sagged into her seat. “What do we do now then?”

   Wong noticed the tablet was ringing again, looking to see who it was, and put it down whilst rolling his eyes. “Perhaps we need to do more research. We need to learn what the goals of Kang are for when he arrives.” He looked at Marc and Layla. “Perhaps if we discover what he did in Egypt all those years ago.”

   Marc was reluctant to go down that avenue. “My source isn’t going to give us much more information. I’ve already had to pay a heavy price for what he’s given us so far. He doesn’t want to relive that part of history.”

   Wong was going to respond when the tablet rang for a second time. He answered it angrily. “Yes, Madisynn? Is this important? As you can guess, I’m rather busy at the moment!”

   America stood up, a smile on her face, trying to catch a look. “Is this your new girlfriend?” Her injuries meant she was too slow to evade his successful deflections, keeping the device out of her reach.

   Madisynn was twirling her hair. “I just thought you’d like to know. At first, I thought you’d put a movie on for me, which would have been so nice of you. But then I realised that it was actually the news. I was getting bored before they started adding special effects.”

   Wong ran a weary hand across his face. “Special effects?”

   “Maybe you should take a look for yourself.”

   He was muttering under his breath but he did as instructed, producing a portal directly in front of his television back in the Sanctum. A news report was playing, helicopter footage of a cityscape. With everyone now curious about what was happening, they looked at the screen, watching as people were captured running away on camera, screaming hysterically. The most alarming part were the waves of red energy that were continuously rolling along the streets, distorting every object that it came in contact with.

   “Is that live?” the Doctor asked.

   “It’s San Francisco,” Shang answered. “Oh my god. That’s not too far from where I live.”

   Katy was clutching his arm. “What about my family? Are they going to be okay? What’s going on?”

   “What sort of thing could produce that energy?” Yaz wondered, almost mesmerised by the way it swirled and coalesced. 

   Wong had a grim look on his face. “That’s no ordinary energy. That’s magic. Untempered, undiluted…chaos magic.”

   “That really doesn’t sound good,” Dan remarked, the colour from his face draining. “It does look pretty chaotic.”

   “It’s even worse than it seems. Because there’s only one person who can produce that, especially on such a scale. And I thought she’d been removed from the picture.”

   The Doctor stepped forward. “She?”

   “...the Scarlet Witch.”

Chapter Text

As soon as the fresh portal was opened, it was clear to see the carnage that was happening up close. A heavy gust of wind swept through the chamber of Kamar Taj, leaving them unsteady on their feet. Most of them had seen nothing like it, and those who had weren’t especially looking forward to experiencing it again. They were only given a snapshot of what was going on, a red storm swarming the streets in ferocious waves. Cars were flying around in front of them, crashing heavily in all sorts of angles. One would have flown right towards them if it hadn’t been for Wong’s quick thinking, swatting it away with a practised move of his hand. Even still, the Doctor put herself in front of Yaz as if she would be able to protect her from the impact.

   Kamala stepped forward, refusing to back down. “Why is this happening? Why would she attack the city?”

   “I don’t know,” Wong replied grimly. “But she’s the only one capable of producing such an event.”

   “So the rumours were true then? She’s turned dark? No wonder they were removing all of her merchandise from the shops. They knew that something like this could happen.”

   The sorcerer held up his hands. “No one could have predicted that this would happen. This isn’t like her.”

   “I think the evidence is pointing to the contrary, mate,” Dan argued.

   “It’s true that Wanda was led down a dark path by the Darkhold, a mystical book that has the power to warp even the strongest of minds. But she rid herself of that influence! I saw it happen. She regretted the damage she’d caused. This doesn’t fall in line with the woman we left behind.”

   “I’m someone who should be holding a grudge against her,” America said. “She hunted me down after all, wanting to take my powers from me. But she was only doing that for her children. Like Wong says…something about this doesn’t feel right. Not to mention that I was under the impression that she died.”

   Kamala’s eyes widened. “She did?”

   Wong nodded his head. “Or so we were led to believe. She destroyed Mount Wundagore, the last remaining site of the Darkhold, and brought it down upon herself. But perhaps that wasn’t enough to kill her, as evidenced by her presence in San Francisco.”

   “But if that wasn’t enough to get rid of her, then what is?” Layla wondered, really wishing she had her powers at the moment.

   “There’s only one way to find out,” Carol said, before her face was covered by her distinctive mask and she flew through the open portal, straight into the chaos.

   Wong groaned. “I really wish she hadn’t done that. This will require a tactical approach. None of us, not even the Captain, can defeat her on our own.”

   “I guess Carol is still getting used to the whole ‘working on a team’ concept,” Kamala reasoned.

   “I was afraid that was going to be the case, yes.”

   “What are we standing around for?” Shang-Chi asked. His rings were back on his arm, already starting to glow. It was amazing to see the transformation he went through now that he was required to be the superhero, instead of the awkward young man he usually was. “That’s my home she’s destroying. The more time we spend chatting, the more people that are going to die.”

   “The kids right,” Marc agreed, marching towards the portal. “I don’t care if this Wanda was one of the good guys at one point. She’s causing a lot of harm to innocent people, and that can’t be allowed to happen. Khonshu’s entire purpose is to stop this sort of thing from happening.” He glanced back. “Layla, I know you’re not going to like this, but you’re going to have to stay behind.”

   “I was worried you were going to say that,” the woman grumbled.

   “Unless you want to have a chat with Taweret…otherwise I’ll just be focusing on protecting you when there’s other people who need my help.”

   Layla gave him a small smile, at least pleased to see that his own personality was more able to fight off Khonshu’s influence since they’d separated. “Be careful out there.”

   “I’m really wishing that you didn't bring these people onto my doorstep. I was doing fine, taking a break from this sort of thing.” He shook his head before he and Shang stepped through, immediately getting picked up by the tidal waves of magical energy.

   The Doctor stepped forward. “I guess this is going to be fun.”

   Wong looked at her in alarm, placing a hand on her chest. “What do you think you’re doing?”

   “Helping everyone else.”

   “You don’t have any powers!”

   “I don’t need any! I’ve faced plenty of threats in my time without superpowers. But people are in trouble, and I never refuse that call. You’ll find that I’m surprisingly durable. You said that we need a tactical approach. I’m exactly the sort of person you want for that then.”

   “Mate, you’re not going to be able to persuade her otherwise,” Dan told him. “She’s incredibly stubborn when it comes to things like this.”

   “When I joined a superhero team, I didn't exactly think I’d be thrown into the deep end this early on,” Kamala commented. “I’ve been fangirling over Wanda for years, and now I’m expected to fight her.”

   America wrapped an arm around her. “Let me tell you, it’s even worse than it sounds. A punched her through a multiversal opening and she didn't even get a scratch.”

   “You’re really building up my confidence.”

   Yaz was ready to charge towards the portal. “There’s no point hanging around then…”

   “Woah, woah, woah!” It was the Doctor’s turn to block her path. “Not a chance!”

   “What? If you’re going, I definitely am. I’m not letting you face this on your own.”

   “I won’t be on my own. I’ll have plenty of support from people who are less fragile than you.”

   “Fragile?” Yaz practically recoiled at her words as if she’d been slapped. “I’ve told you numerous times before…I’m with you until the very end. That includes stuff like this.”

   “My duty is to protect you more than anything else. If you step one foot out there, you’ll be swept away in an instant. I’m not going to let that happen. Please, Yaz, stay here. For me.”

   “No.”

   The Doctor had apparently expected that to work. “What?”

   “You’re not leaving me again. I’ve made that mistake before. I’ve allowed you to face death on your own, and it was one of my biggest regrets. I won’t go through it a second time. We either do this together, or we both stay here.”

   “I guess that means I don’t have a choice.”

   Yaz saw her nod her head at Dan but didn't realise what it meant until it was too late. She felt Dan edge closer, just as the Doctor began to step away. He had his arms around her before she could process what was happening. With one last, mournful look, the Doctor was walking through the portal, doing her best to ignore Yaz’s strained shouts as she attempted to free herself from Dan’s grasp. Kamala and America looked between them all, wondering what to do, before choosing to follow the Time Lord. Wong was the last to leave, closing the portal behind him with a final, curt nod of his head.

   “No!” Yaz shouted. “No!” Only now did Dan let her go, watching her fling herself to where the magical entrance had been. “Why?” She collapsed to the ground, turning her head to look at Dan. “Why did you do that?”

   “Because she was right,” he replied calmly, far too laid back for her liking. “You’d only get yourself hurt by going there. And what could you realistically bring to the table in that situation, other than being someone else to think about? It’s safer for you to be there.”

   “I don’t care about being safe! What’s important is helping people! I can’t do that by staying here, locked away.”

   “It’s that sort of attitude that’s going to get you killed one day!” Yaz had very rarely heard Dan shout, especially when it was aimed at her. He ran a weary hand across his face. “That’s what the Doc’s worried about. You keep pushing yourself, taking things to the extreme. She can’t look after you forever and, one day, it’s going to go too far. You’ll get seriously hurt, or worse. She’s not pushing you to the sidelines or anything like that. She’s saving your life and I’m damn well not going to apologise for helping her do that. No matter how much you hate me as a result.”

   “That’s the second time you’ve had to drag me away from getting to her,” she said, some of the anger slowly dissipating, though there was a growing pile of spite in the pit of her stomach. “The first time was just before she was transformed into a Weeping Angel, and I didn't get to see her for years after that.”

   “Do you want me to apologise for that?” he asked with a shrug. “Because you wouldn’t have survived that experience either. You should be thanking me.”

   Yaz laughed harshly. “Thanking you? Do you really want me to hit you?”

   “If that’s what it takes to stop you acting like an idiot, then yeah.”

   She pushed herself up, walking up to him dangerously. “Do you not even care that she’s put herself in that situation and we may never see her again?”

   “That was her choice to make.”

   “I deserved the same choice then! But you took that away from me!”

   “The Doctor will be alright.” Dan risked putting his hands on her shoulders, but she didn't resist as much as he’d expected. “She knows what she’s capable of, and knows when to leave it to other people. It’s not as if she’s on her own. She’s surrounded by literal superheroes.”

   “If she gets hurt and I'm not there to prevent that, then I will never forgive you.”

   “Okay. I’ll just comfort myself with the knowledge that, if you’d gotten hurt and I could have stopped that from happening, then I never would have forgiven my self. I guess we both can’t win at the end of the day.”

   “What do we do now then?” Yaz asked, feeling defeated. “I can’t keep moping around. There’s absolutely no way that I can reach them. They’re on the other side of the world, and we don’t have a sorcerer supreme who can get us there, or a working Tardis.”

   “If I might interject…” Layla stepped forward, smiling sheepishly. “...sorry. I didn't think I was supposed to talk during that. It seemed rather personal…”

   “I’m glad you said it,” Katy quipped. “God, that was awkward. I was doing my best to blend in with the surroundings. Like, standing really still so that you wouldn’t notice me during that…whole thing.”

   “Sorry about that,” Yaz said guiltily, having almost forgotten that they were there too. “Were you going to suggest something, Layla?”

   “I think our best shout is to find a tv and stick the news on,” the woman suggested. “At least then we can get a live feed of what’s going on. We’ll be able to see if they’re facing really big problems, and that’s when we might have to intervene.”

   “How would we be able to remotely help?” Dan wondered sceptically. “If you hadn’t noticed, all I’m good for is making funny quips every so often. I can’t turn invisible. I haven’t got super strength. I can’t fly.”

   Layla arched an eyebrow. “But I can. I’d just need to pop back to Egypt.”

   “If you haven’t noticed, we’ve been left in the mountains of Nepal,” Katy pointed out.

   “And Wong isn’t here to teleport us wherever we want to go,” Yaz added.

   “Haven’t you been looking around?” Layla had her hands on her hips as she spoke, as if she were disappointed in them. “There are plenty of other sorcerers here, who could be convinced to lend us a helping hand. But only if things get really bad.”

   “They’re facing some sort of all powerful witch, right? Who’s terrorising an entire city? I don’t think things can get much worse.”

   “How are we supposed to convince these people to help us?” Dan was always coming up with problems rather than solutions. “I reckon they must have sworn obedience to Wong or something, and they won’t break that sort of promise.”

   “I can be extremely persuasive,” Katy said, moving her hips in what she thought was an enticing manner.

   Dan raised his eyebrows. “Good luck with that. Because I’m definitely not flirting with that walking, talking bull I saw earlier.” 

**********

   As much as the Doctor was adamant that she’d made the right choice in leaving Yaz behind, she was now most definitely second guessing her decision to join the team in San Francisco. It wasn’t that she was frightened. It was just that it was incredibly difficult to keep her footing as she shielded herself against the red haze. She was currently clinging onto a lamppost, her arm wrapped tightly against the metal pole. That was until it was uprooted from its spot on the pavement, joining the other objects flying through the air. She was forced to dive for cover, its wiry tendrils almost slashing her across her face. If she arrived back at Kamar Taj with giant scars, there was no telling how irate Yaz would become.

   The others had quickly charged into battle, with very little visible success. The Doctor had already spotted Moon Knight being tossed across the street, wincing when he’d crashed into one of the large windows of a nearby apartment block. Shang Chi had only managed to survive a big fall thanks to the timely intervention of his mystical rings, though the force they exuded had left a shallow crater in the middle of the road. The Doctor was sure that the city council wouldn’t mind too much if they were able to stop this threat from growing any larger. 

   Wong was showing a high degree of flexibility that she hadn’t expected from the Sorcerer Supreme, flipping over a few tendrils of magic that threatened to attack him. He managed to land skilfully on his feet, skidding to a halt just in front of the Doctor. A golden shield appeared above his head just as some slabs of pavement came raining down, thankfully being directed away from where she was crouching. She really needed to learn how to do that; it would be a handy trick in every sort of deadly situation she usually found herself in. 

   “How are you doing?” Wong asked, having to shout over the noise of the destruction.

   “Splendid!” the Doctor replied with more than a hint of irony. “This is exactly how I wanted my day to go.”

   She watched as Kamala jumped through the air, using platforms that she was creating with her own crystalline powers. The young girl was doing well to dodge the worst parts of the storm, but then the front end of a town car was surging towards her, and it was only down to the hasty shield that she was able to produce that stopped her from taking the blunt force of it. Even so, she was sent spiralling towards the ground, eventually sent rolling away to safety thanks to one of Wong’s portals. The sorcerer was already looking tired after using up so much of his energy. 

   “Remember when I said that we needed to approach this as a united force?” Wong queried grumpily. “No one’s listening to those instructions!”

   America tried to punch her way through a particularly thick section of the magical build-up, only to be thrown backwards by the aftershock. The Doctor could barely watch as she picked herself back up again. “It’s starting to look as if even a team effort won’t be enough.”

   “Wanda’s chaos magic is incredibly resistant to my own. I can barely fight against it. Most of my actions have been ones of defence, rather than attack.”

   “I thought you were supposed to be the most powerful sorcerer!”

   “A title that I’m very proud to own, but Wanda is much greater than that. The whole point is that she’s better than this. None of this makes sense.”

   “Do we still not know what her plan is? What does she want with the city? Is it as simple as wanting to destroy it? To kill everyone?”

   “She never wanted to do that. I know her personally, Doctor. She’s not the sort of person to kill unless she had a personal reason.”

   The Doctor was forced to move out of the way of an out-of-control bin. “I’m going to start taking it pretty personally if she throws one more thing at me!”

   Carol landed heavily in front of them. She’d been able to travel to space and back without breaking sweat, so it was rather troubling to see her haggard and out of breath now. “I can’t get through to her. Literally. She’s forticated herself with her own magic. At a guess, I’d say it’s like she doesn’t want to be seen.”

   “Maybe out of shame? Maybe she doesn’t want to do this? Could someone be controlling her?”

   “It’d take an almighty sort of power to control her,” Wong commented. 

   “The fact of the matter is that we can’t get close to her.” The Captain was shaking her head. She wasn’t quite defeated yet but she was on the path to that end result. “Even with the amount of force I can use, I’m just bouncing off her.”

   The Doctor crossed her arms. “Right then…let’s get our thinking caps on. If we can’t stop her right now, what’s our first port of call?”

   “Protect as many people as we can from her. We need to get everyone away from the street and out of the buildings. There’s no telling how many lives she could end just by bringing one of the towers down. If she started doing that, I don’t think I’d be able to stop it.”

   “Then it’s a good job that I decided to come with you.” The Doctor triumphantly held the sonic screwdriver aloft, scanning the area. “The magic is interfering with the sonic’s capabilities, but it’s still giving me some fairly accurate readings on the local life signs. I think quite a lot of people must have run away already…I’m not going to think about the alternative reason behind there being so few signals. But they’re concentrated in that complex across the street.” She pointed her hand to an unappealing brown building. 

   “The door has been completely blocked,” Wong pointed out after a closer inspection. “They must all be trapped inside.”

   “I’m on it!” Kamala shouted, bounding over in her embiggened form.

   “Was anyone going to tell me that she can do that?” Carol asked, watching the girl with wide eyes.

   “We like to save some information for surprises,” Wong said, watching Kamala start to lift rubble from the doorway. America was soon by her side, removing the debris that was being left behind and prying the doors open.

   “Now they’ve got that sorted, we need to be able to talk to Wanda,” the Doctor instructed, taking charge of the situation. Neither of the people beside her were used to falling into that dynamic, usually controlling things themselves. “Perhaps if we can get to her eye level. The only way we can prevent this from getting worse is if we can speak to her.”

   “Are you sure that she’s going to listen?” Carol asked, her arms crossed, clearly doubtful of that happening.

   “I don’t know. What I do know is that I’ll always give people the chance to change their minds, to make amends. That doesn’t change with whatever universe I find myself in.”

   “We could potentially communicate with her on that rooftop,” Wong suggested, gesturing to one of the tallest buildings on the street. “But it’d leave us in a more vulnerable and compromising position.”

   “We’ve got to take that risk. Just don’t tell Yaz how dangerous this is, otherwise I’ll never hear the end of it.”

   The Doctor was still getting used to the ease of travel they had, with one portal allowing them to step onto the desired rooftop. The wind was even wilder up there, despite the magical storm mainly affecting the street far below. It was a good job that the Doctor wasn’t scared of heights, though she should have been with some of the fates she’d suffered from. Wong was quickly moving to the very edge of the building, cupping his mouth to amplify his voice.

   “Wanda!” he yelled desperately. “What are you doing? Why are you doing this? This isn’t like you!”

   There was no response and the Doctor sighed. “Either she can’t hear us, which wouldn’t surprise me with what’s going on, or she’s choosing to ignore us. Which also wouldn’t be the most shocking news today.”

   “Maybe we can create a pathway,” the Captain suggested, once again landing next to them. She’d picked up Marc along the way, who didn't look too pleased about being carried. Shang was more than grateful that he’d been able to use the rings to get himself there instead.

   “If we focus our powers, that might just be possible,” Wong agreed. “We could cut through her magic just enough to expose her to us.”

   “I could help with that,” Marc said, trying to earn back some dignity after his unorthodox arrival. “I haven’t tried this too much but Khonshu has told me in the past of how I can drain a person’s energy through physical contact. I might be able to do that if I touch her magic.”

   “Is now the best time to be trying it out?” the Doctor wondered.

   Moon Knight shrugged. “No time like the present. If I can weaken her even remotely, that should make your job a lot easier.”

   “Be careful,” Wong told him. “And be sure to fortify your mind. Wanda’s magic is especially good at tampering one’s equilibrium.”

   “Then it’s probably a good job that I’ve never had the need for that.”

   His appearance suddenly changed, transforming into a slicker white suit, no longer draped in a cape. “Are you really going to make us do this, Marc?”

   Moon Knight returned almost immediately. “We can debate it once it’s over, Steven. Let me concentrate. I’m going to need your support as well on this.”

   Even with his mask on, they could tell he was gritting his teeth. His hand reached out to one of the red tendrils of energy, and he began to yell out in pain as soon as he grabbed hold of it. Marc was brought to his knees but he didn't let go, refusing to give up. The others watched as the brightness of the magic seemed to fade slightly, but only in the small region near him. It seemed to be as good as they were going to get.

   Shang acted first, firing his rings at the bubbling ball of energy. Carol followed it up with an attack of her own, a dull chime ringing out as her powers collided with Wanda’s. Wong created a few patterns with his hands, building up a particular charm, before he sent it in the same direction. It appeared to imprint itself upon the magic, staying in place for a couple of seconds before fading away. They repeated the cycle repeatedly, increasing the frequency, until the three of them were practically working in unison.

   “I think it might be working!” the Doctor told them, bringing her sonic to the closest patch. “The readings are dropping, but only slightly.”

   “There’s a hole forming!” Wong added, just as he was producing yet another spell. “I think…I think I can see her.”

   “Is she paying us any attention?” 

   The sorcerer was frowning deeply. “Something’s wrong. She looks…different.”

   Carol wasn’t liking the sound of that. “What do you mean?”

   “Only the Scarlet Witch could produce a spectacle like this. But it’s not Wanda. I’ve met her plenty of times. I know what she looks like. That’s not her.”

   “Then who is?” Shang asked, growing tired of the repetitive action of using his rings. Each ball of energy he produced was bringing him closer to the point of exhaustion.”

   “I just told you. It’s the Scarlet Witch.”

   “Okay, you’ve officially lost me.”

   “If the boundaries between realities are weakening…”

   “...then this doesn’t have to be the Scarlet Witch from this universe,” the Doctor finished gravely. “It’s another one.”

   “Does that change anything?” Carol wondered. “The way I see it, it’s the same person we’ve got to get rid of.”

   “It could change everything,” Wong declared, the barest of smiles beginning to form on his face. “Because that isn’t Wanda, meaning we may have an ace up our sleeve. Because how do you defeat the Scarlet Witch, other than with a Scarlet Witch of your own?”

Chapter Text

 Yaz was growing understandably impatient as the minutes ticked by. Sure, it was to be expected that this was going to take a sizable amount of time, but that didn't stop her from being grumpy. She had taken the seat nearest to the television whilst they stuck the news on. It had taken a lot of persuading of one of the trainees at Kamar Taj to forge a portal back to the Sanctum, since it transpired that the temple in Nepal didn't own a single tv screen. It should have been a crime in the modern age. Yaz had considered asking the sorcerer to take her directly to San Francisco, but they’d quickly shut that idea down. It turned out that they were risking annoying Wong just by doing this for them, and putting her right in the line of fire would be a step too far. Yaz doubted that Dan would allow her to go, regardless of whether it was possible or not.

   He was keeping an exceptionally close eye on her, she knew that. Even as they huddled into Wong’s private quarters, Dan was watching her, making sure that she was coping as well as could be expected. It probably wasn’t helping that the live cameras on the scene were unable to show much detail. It seemed that the abundance of magic was interfering with the technical equipment, which meant that none of them could really tell what was going on. It was possible to see that as a good thing, since it allowed them to believe that no one had been harmed and nothing had gone wrong. Surely the cameras would cut away if people were dying. The issue was that Yaz had never been very positive as a person, especially when it came to the Doctor’s wellbeing. 

   Frustrated, Yaz stood up from the sofa, allowing Katy to quickly take her spot. She’d been hovering awkwardly to one side, waiting for her moment to pounce. Layla pulled a face at how heavily she landed on the cushions, whereas Madisynn (who had chosen to stick around the Sanctum despite Wong’s pleas with her to go home) giggled at the way she bounced. Dan was no longer focused on the television, looking at his friend as she paced around. She was moving so furiously that she was likely to wear down the wooden panels underfoot, which wouldn’t have been a good thing since they weren’t on the ground floor. 

   “She wouldn’t want you to stress like this,” Dan commented, knowing it was a risk to even test her ire.

   “I can’t believe that you’re not panicking!” Yaz countered heatedly. “You’re supposed to be her friend!”

   “I am her friend, which means that I have to respect her decisions at times, including choosing to go off and do something really dangerous. As much as I might not like it.”

   “The way I see it, being a friend is standing in their way and preventing them from doing something stupid.”

   “What do you think I’ve been doing with you?” Dan asked with a smirk. “I’ve always been closer to you. I can’t help it. We had all those years together away from her, before I really knew who she was. I’m always going to be more protective over you.”

   It was a comment that had the desired effect of dampening her anxiety somewhat, only because it gave her something else to focus on. “You’re not going mushy on me, Scouse, are you?”

   “Only if it distracts you for long enough.”

   “I understand what you’re going through,” Madisynn added to the conversation, turning to lean against the back of the sofa.

   Yaz didn't know if that was really the case, but she was grateful for the sentiment all the same. “Thank…you?”

   “Yeah, I wouldn’t Wongers there just as much as you don’t want your girlfriend there. I mean, look at it! It’s really dangerous! The news reporter is even refusing to get out of the van. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I’ve been to hell…”

   Dan snorted in laughter. Yaz’s eyes went wide. “Oh…um…me and the Doctor…we’re not…girlfriends.” Even saying the word sent a tingle down her spine. She’d thought about it, yes, but she’d never uttered that word before in the context of the Doctor. She didn't think she’d said it yet in the context of herself either.

   Madisynn scrunched up her nose. “What are you playing at, then? Because it’s pretty obvious that you both want it.”

   Yaz was doing well to ignore Dan’s increasing enjoyment of the path the conversation has taken. “It…is?” It was suddenly really easy to ignore everything else that was going on, with the intense thundering of blood pounding around her ears.

   “Trust me, I know a thing or two when it comes to this sort of thing. I’ve barely spent any time with you, and yet I’ve seen you both giving each other the look.”

   “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

   Dan simply huffed. “I wouldn’t waste your breath, Madisynn. I’ve tried on multiple occasions to speak some sense into her and it never works. She won’t see what’s right in front of her! That the Doc likes her just as much as she does!”

   “Tell her as soon as you next see her,” Madisynn suggested excitedly, jumping up and down, much to Layla’s continuing discomfort. “That’d be so romantic! Her, just coming back from a death-defying ordeal, falling into your arms, the two of you locking eyes, leaning ever closer…”

   “Alright!” Yaz interrupted before more was said. She could barely cope with the current level of detail. “I really don’t want to be having this conversation right now.”

   “If it’s any comfort, I’m in the same boat,” Layla contributed to the conversation. “Me and Marc…we’ve got a fairly complicated history. Not only because I think I might be falling for Steven too, who’s technically the same person…but also couldn’t be further away from who Marc is. I’ve been avoiding thinking about it…but I’m sure I’ve just seen him get thrown across the street…and I’m worried I’m not going to get the chance to ever talk to him about it, to explore what might be.” It was as if she suddenly realised where she was and who she was speaking to, because she quickly gave them an apologetic smile. “Sorry…I don’t know where that came from. I guess I must have really needed to unload. It’s not something I do very often. Let me assure you, I’m not normally like this.”

   Madisynn wrapped an arm around her. “No! This is good. I could sense a bit of a barrier between us two but this is exactly the sort of thing we can bond ever!”

   “...great.” Layla wasn’t too successful at showing a genuine smile.

   “What about you, Katy? Anything to add? I saw how close you were standing to Shang…”

   Katy looked very alarmed about being the current centre of attention. “Nope. Not in the slightest. Sorry. We’re just friends. Of course, I’m worried about him right now. He’s the only person who truly understands me. It’s not as if my family does. If I were to lose that…” She stopped herself. “...can we go back to talking about Yaz and the Doctor?”

   “You’ve been talking about us?”

   Yaz didn't know what to think when she heard that voice. There was an overriding sense of relief as she spun around to see the Doctor standing there as if nothing had happened, Wong coming up behind her with a few tendrils of golden energy betraying how they’d gotten there. Then again, there was also a massive swelling of fear as she wondered just how long the Doctor had been standing there. Even if she’d only gotten the trail end of the conversation, putting the context together would have easily pieced why the Doctor had been brought up. She was suddenly very eager to take on a rampaging witch rather than contend with the potential embarrassment.

   “You’re okay…” she whispered in relief.

   “I can’t believe you ever doubted me, Yaz. I’m just relieved that we found you. I started to panic when you weren’t at Kamar Taj. I thought you might have done something reckless, or something that I might have done.”

   “I’ll be having strong words with the sorcerer that allowed you to come here,” Wong said, folding his arms. “Although it was a good sign of the progression of his training.”

   Yaz wasn’t at all fussed about what Wong was saying. Despite the concerns plaguing her, she was unable to contain her happiness at seeing the Doctor, quickly closing the distance and wrapping the Time Lord in a tight hug. It seemed to take the other woman by surprise - this was something they didn't do very often. There had been the time that the Doctor had initiated a similar embrace after they’d been separated during the Flux. But this was the first time that Yaz was the instigator, and it felt right . There were no thoughts about the others or what they must have been thinking; this was just for them. What pleased her the most was the way that the Doctor appeared to be melting into it too, when she was usually so touch averse. If they could do this more often, then neither of them were going to complain.

   “I didn't think I was gone that long,” the Doctor murmured, before pulling back and looking at Yaz in concern. “It hasn’t been long, has it? Has something gone wrong with time? Oh, Yaz…I’m tired of losing time with you…”

   Yaz hadn’t expected her to go off the rails so suddenly, placing a hand on her arm to slow her down. “Woah! It’s barely been an hour. I was just…really worried about you.”

   “Oh…good. Not good because you were worried, but good because…well…we’ve got a lot of things to occupy ourselves with without time also breaking down.”

   “And Yaz doesn’t think that the Doctor likes her back?” Madisynn asked as quietly as she could to the people closest to her, which wasn’t as subtle as Yaz might have liked. “Look at the way they’re clinging onto each other…”

   Yaz chose to ignore her. It was an entire can of worms that would be best avoided. She focused instead on the woman standing in front of her, some of the residual anger still remaining. “What have I told you about leaving me behind?”

   The Doctor gave her an awkward grimace, having hoped the worst of her fury would have been diluted by now. “These were…extreme circumstances.”

   “No kidding,” Katy commented. “We’ve had the news on. It still looks fairly serious.”

   “It begs the question as to why you’re even here,” Layla added. “Because it doesn’t like you’ve sorted anything out. In fact, I’d say you’ve probably made things worse.”

   Wong grumbled under his breath. “We’re trying to find the Scarlet Witch.”

   It was a point that served to confuse everyone there, with Dan gesturing towards the tv screen. “Hold on…I thought you were fighting her already. Have you banged your heads? She’s still tearing up Lombard Street by the looks of things.”

   “The Scarlet Witch you’re seeing is a multiversal entity. Just as powerful, but not the woman I know. Our task is to find the one from our universe since she’s our best shot at taking down this threat.”

   “Didn't you say that you thought she’d died recently?” Yaz sagely pointed out.

   “We’ll clear that hurdle when we get to it. I think I’d know if Wanda had truly died. I’d feel the disturbance in the metaphysical realm.”

   The Doctor was starting to pull Yaz by the arm. “That’s why we’re here. We can help with locating her, if she’s still alive. The Tardis will be able to pick up any traces of her unique energy.”

   “I thought the Tardis was completely out of juice,” Dan reminded her. “That's why we left her behind at Kamala’s house. I dread to think what people must be thinking about it. It’s probably taking up someone’s parking space.”

   “Have some faith, Dan! You’re right that the Tardis’ energy stores have been severely depleted, but only for the engines. We were able to keep the shield up, remember? There’s still a spark somewhere in the systems, and that’s all we need. We just have to get back to her, which is why I’m really glad we’re friends with Wong, here.”

   The Sorcerer Supreme bowed his head, preparing to create the portal to their required destination, when Layla stood up. She looked determined about something, though Wong wasn’t too happy about the delay. The last thing he wanted was another discussion about who needed to stay behind for their own safety.

   “Before you go,” she began, “could you create another portal for me? There’s a way that I can help in the fight.”

**********

   In a world of chaos, it was a tender moment to watch as the Doctor was reunited with her Tardis. The Khan household stood behind them, the family inside oblivious to the fact that they were there. They were potentially oblivious to the fact that their daughter was involved in the fight they were likely watching on the news, though Yaz wasn’t going to tell them that. Instead, she put all her effort into focusing on the subtle ways the Doctor was interacting with her ship. The way she stroked the outside wood, the way a smile lit up her face as she opened the doors, the way she looked at Yaz because it didn't feel right to be inside without her.

   “Hi, old girl,” she whispered as they all entered.

   For a change, Wong was the most uncertain out of their group. Dan had to basically shove him through the doors after growing sufficiently impatient. The console room was darker than it usually was, just the way they’d left it. They could tell that it was trying to return to its former glory at their arrival, but the Doctor stroked one of the crystalline columns and shushed it softly, reassuring the ship that it was okay. There was no need to strain herself when they had a limited amount of energy as it was.

   “How…how have you created this place?” Wong asked slowly, taking it all in. It was still a magnificent sight, no matter how sick the Tardis was. “It’s…”

   “Bigger on the inside, yes,” the Doctor finished for him abruptly, already busying herself with the consoles. “Sorry. Normally I really like hearing people say that for the first time…but I’m a bit…preoccupied…” She was reaching under the console, evidently trying to find something.

   “I wasn’t aware that you had access to such a magical marvel.”

   Yaz laughed. “This is all science, mate. There are some things that even your spells can’t match, and the Tardis is certainly in that category.”

   “Found it!” the Doctor explained triumphantly. She appeared once more holding a metal headpiece that was vaguely familiar to Yaz. She remembered Graham being forced to wear it at one point. The Doctor thrust it in Wong’s direction. “Here you go!”

   The sorcerer looked at it warily. “What do you want me to do with it?”

   She rolled her eyes dramatically. “What do you think? You’re not exactly going to eat it, are you?” She puffed out her cheeks, playfully nudging Yaz. “I didn't expect him to be this slow.”

   “Play nice,” Yaz said, though she was enjoying seeing this side of the Doctor. She seemed bouncier just by being back in the old blue box.

   “Only ‘cos I’m programmed to listen to your instructions.” She turned back to Wong, shoving the strange device onto his head. “ This is connected to the matrix of the Tardis and the telepathic circuits. As soon as I switch it on, I need you to concentrate on nothing else other than the Scarlet Witch. Think about what she looks like, what energy she carries, past experiences you’ve had with her. Normally, the Tardis would use this connection to materialise near the person or place, but she isn’t in the state to do that at the moment. But she should be able to give us a precise location, which you can then take us to. Like I said, it’s very handy having a sorcerer around. I wouldn’t mind you staying with us once we’re done with this mess.”

   “You’re not replacing me, are you?” Dan asked worriedly.

   The Doctor gave him a serious look. “You’d best get practising your magic.” Her stern expression wasn’t maintained for long. “Only joking! As if I could get rid of you. I’d never hear the end of it from Yaz.”

   She rushed back over to the console, fiddling with buttons and switches that didn't bring their usual exuberant end product. It was all a bit of a whimper but the Doctor kept moving, shifting the screen right in front of her, nodding her head in Wong’s direction, and waiting for something to happen. The sorcerer closed his eyes and close to a minute passed, with Wong occasionally opening his eyes to check that he was doing the right thing. The only sign that anything had happened was a soft ding like a microwave going off, which felt rather anticlimactic given the severity of the overarching situation.

   “There! Got it!” the Doctor told them giddily.

   “Which means she’s alive,” Yaz pointed out.

   “It’d be pretty awkward if she isn’t. Have you ever landed on someone’s grave? Let me tell you, people do not like it.” She looked at Wong, who was analysing the map that had come up. “Do you think you can get us there?”

   “Easily,” he assured her. “And I’ll come with you to find Wanda.”

   “You’re probably more needed in the fight that’s currently going on,” Dan said. Maybe the sorcerer was scared about going back. Any sane person would be.

   “I don’t want you dealing with Wanda on your own. The way things ended the last time I saw her…I don’t know what we’re going to come across. And they won’t be missing my presence. I’ve instructed every willing sorcerer from Kamar Taj to join the battle, which should give the other Scarlet Witch plenty to deal with.”

   Stepping through yet another portal was becoming a dizzying experience, even when they should have been used to it by now. The Doctor was sad to leave the Tardis behind yet again, but had departed with a firm promise that it wouldn’t be for as long. She would find a way to restore her home to its former glory. If the Scarlet Witch was as powerful as people claimed, then maybe she would be able to lend a hand. If they caught her in a good mood. From all accounts, that wasn’t set in stone.

   They found themselves on the edge of a stormy coastline, the clouds grey and menacing. The sea below rolled against the cliff face violently, taking it in turns to wear away the stone. The Doctor peered over the edge slightly, careful not to get too close. She didn't have the fondest of memories of cliffs after some of the things she’d learnt about herself. The only thing of note was a small cabin, nothing more than a shack, made out of old logs and nothing much else. It looked as if it was destined to fall into the ocean one day. 

   “Have we got the right place?” Dan asked, not feeling confident about the answer. He was suddenly wishing that he was wearing more layers, having grown accustomed to a warmer climate. Even Kamar Taj, high up in the mountains, didn't feel this cold.

   “Are you doubting the Tardis’ capabilities?” the Doctor asked dangerously.

   “Well, she isn’t working properly so…”

   “I wouldn’t finish that sentence if I were you,” Yaz suggested.

   Wong’s face was set in a steely gaze. “She’s here. I can sense her powers…”

   The door to the cabin opened, showing no light inside. A woman was standing in front of them, surprising them in the fact that she was wearing perfectly normal clothes. The Doctor had at least expected her to look a bit more like the powerful woman she’d caught a glimpse of in San Francisco. Then again, dealing with multiversal entities was always going to be a lottery.

   “I don’t know what you want with me,” the woman said. “But you really shouldn’t have come here.”

Chapter Text

  If Marc was growing tired of one thing, it was being thrown against walls. Sure, he didn't really experience the physical pain of the violent act, but it still wounded his ego. Particularly when it kept happening, the red wave of magical energy slapping him back every time he got close to the conjurer. Where was his god when he needed him? Perhaps even Khonshu was scared of such a powerful being, a woman who could rip through realities, a woman who could potentially expose him to the world. Or maybe Marc should have been grateful that his overseer wasn’t present, for he would have taken immense pleasure out of watching him get repeatedly thrown into a building. 

   As brilliant as his gifted powers were, they couldn’t stop the force of gravity when he was thrown so vigorously. His cape was practically worthless, a mere piece of clothing rather than a part of his arsenal. But a giant hand made of some sort of glowing substance did have the capacity to slow him down, catching his tumbling body before he went through his second window of the day. The fact was that such an unusual savour wasn’t even the strangest thing he’d experienced in the past twenty-four hours, really bringing home how he needed to get his life in check. He’d been quietly alone in an apartment in Egypt a short while ago; now he was nothing more than a kite in a scarlet storm.

   The arrival of multiple sorcerers from Kamar Taj had been a much-needed and pleasant surprise. They were now doing most of the heavy lifting, directing the majority of the Scarlet Witch’s ire at them. Most people would have seen it as a glorious spectacle of power as the individual fighters fought as one coherent unit, bringing their magic together to contend with a stronger foe. The scene around them was now a clash of red and gold, with the former still looking as if it was winning. Marc wasn’t too fussed about the beauty of the situation, just counting his lucky stars that he could take a breather.

   Staggering to his feet and attempting to keep some of his dignity intact, Marc gave Kamala a half-hearted thumbs up. There was very little time to have a break but he felt that he deserved one. Ever since Wong and the Doctor had (smartly) left them behind, they’d all been forced to put in an extra shift. After manipulating the magic, trying to drain some of the Scarlet Witch’s energy, it had ironically left him sapped of his willingness to fight. He really needed to think things through before he offered his services, if there was a next time. Marc was desperately hoping that this was his last fight, though he knew he wasn’t that lucky. 

   “Nice catch,” he muttered as the young girl strode towards him. She was looking far too chipper for his liking, adding insult to his growing injuries.

   “Thanks,” Kamala returned easily, as if she wasn’t having a chat with an actual superhero. Then again, Marc wasn’t on the official list just yet, and she doubted that he wanted that to change. “My dad wanted me to get into baseball as a kid, but I eventually discovered comic books and the rest is history…it’s just a good job that I remembered some stuff from my playing days.”

   “I reckon that extendable limbs would count as cheating.”

   “Well, you’re much heavier than a ball so I think I’m allowed to bend the rules somewhat.”

   “It’s good to see that it’s not just my body taking a beating today. It’s also my ego.”

   “You think you’ve taken some hits? I think Shang’s face has been imprinted on some of the brickwork round the corner.”

   Marc waved a dismissive hand. “He’s got those special rings. He’s magical or something. He can withstand that sort of thing.”

   “I reckon he might question that line of thinking.”

   “I reckon he screams like a girl when he’s being thrown across the street.”

   Kamala put her hands on her hips. “You’re not much of a team player, are you?”

   His appearance changed before her eyes, his outfit transforming into a meticulously clean white suit that was out of place with how dirty everything was around them. The colour scheme really wasn’t practical for their line of work. She’d take it up with him when he was in a better mood, when they weren’t getting attacked by a witch, and when she’d fully understood how he was able to change his personality so seamlessly.

   Steven raised his hand. “I’d like to point out that I’m very good on a team. Although I’d usually get picked last for any team sports at school. God, that’s bringing back some dark memories. There was this one time where I actually did get picked for basketball but then it turned out that the other kids just wanted to use me as a ball. It took the teachers hours before they realised I was stuck in the hoop.”

   Kamala didn't know whether to laugh or cry. “Riiiiight…”

   He changed back, Marc looking particularly angry with himself, his rueful expression even transcending the limitations of his mask. “Please don’t listen to anything he has to say.”

   “No! It’s endearing! It makes you more likeable.”

   “In a pitiful sort of way.”

   “You have to take what you can get sometimes.”

   “You’re awfully blaise to say you’re currently standing in a battlefield.”

   She shrugged nonchalantly. “If I start thinking about how absurd things are, I’d probably start laughing and never stop.”

   “Please don’t do that. I think I’d be more terrified of that than the actual witch floating above us.”

   “You know, when you show more of your personality, you’re actually fun to be around,” Kamala said with a light laugh.

   Marc rolled his eyes, which was some feat whilst wearing his disguise. “Don’t get too attached. We’re temporary teammates, not friends.”

   “I’m pretty sure the Avengers thought that at the beginning and now they’re basically a family.”

   “And most of the members are dead so maybe you should steer clear of that sort of lifestyle.”

   “I’m…thinking of retracting my previous statement.”

   “No but you’ve got me thinking. The Avengers! Comic books!”

   “Are you talking to your other self or are you expecting me to decipher what you actually mean?”

   “Kid, you just said that you’re really into comic books! Surely that means you know if the Scarlet Witch has any weaknesses…” He was practically crossing his fingers and toes by this point, praying for some good fortune to finally find them.

   “First of all, don’t call me a kid. Secondly, I’ve scoured pretty much every comic book that I can get my hands on over the years, meaning I know all the details that are worth knowing…”

   “Great! Share with the class if you’d please…”

   “...and she doesn’t have one weak spot. Not when she’s like this. She’s the most powerful Avenger. Don’t tell the Captain that I said that, otherwise I’ll have to resign as leader of the fan club.”

   “There’s nothing we can do to stop her?”

   “You experienced how much effort it took just to make a chink in her armour.”

   “Then…can I ask…what’s the point of us doing this?”

   “Because it’s the job,” Carol suddenly chimed in, floating above them.

   It was basically a dream come true for Kamala, getting to see her idol in her full glory. Every part of her was aglow, the ends of her hair standing up. She’d taken a proper beating like the rest of them, only to still look resplendent in her iconic suit. It probably wasn’t the best time to be fangirling but all Kamala could do was look up with starry eyes and a bright smile. She wanted to be like the woman above her. In many respects, she had taken gigantic strides in that direction. But she couldn’t compare to Captain Marvel when she was in this sort of mood.

   “Is there a reason why you’ve spent so much time talking?” the Captain asked impatiently.

   “Can’t we take a bit of a rest?” Marc complained. “We’ve got magic on our side now. Let them get thrown around for a little bit.”

   “I almost expected better from you, Moon Knight.” She was wearing a playful smirk.

   “I know what you’re doing. You’re trying to goad me into fighting again.”

   “Is it working?”

   “Much to my disappointment, it is. Which really says a lot about my psyche.”

   “How are you doing?” Kamala asked the older woman.

   “Surprisingly fine,” Carol assured, being careful to dodge an out of control piece of debris. “She’s only attacking if she’s provoked now, like she’s on the defensive. The issue is that I can’t resist poking her.”

   “But that doesn’t make sense!” Marc complained. “If she’s as powerful as she seems, then why is she holding back? What’s stopping her?”

   “Maybe we shouldn’t complain about that,” Steven argued, taking momentary control.

   “Did I ask you?” Marc retorted, quickly setting things back to the way they were.

   “Steven’s right,” Carol said, if only to annoy him further. “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth. If she’s not going on the rampage, then we should be thankful for that. Seeing as we’re struggling enough as it is without her using her full powers.”

   “Aren’t you a little bit curious though?” Kamala asked. 

   “I’ve learnt over the years that it’s usually better to be curious after the battle’s over with. If you waste any time thinking about something else, you’re going to take a big hit. I really don’t want to see that happen to you.”

   “Are you looking out for me?” She had a massive, cheesy grin on her face.

   Carol looked distinctly uncomfortable about growing close to anyone, but she couldn’t deny her fondness for the girl. “Well…it’s technically my fault that you’ve been brought into this particular mess.”

   “I don’t think there’s anything technical about it.”

   “Don’t ruin what we’ve got, Kamala.”

   “Can I also add how much of a thrill it is for me to hear you say my name?”

   “Give me a break,” Marc muttered with a roll of his eyes.

   “As much as I appreciate your honesty, Kamala …” Carol liked the giddy dance the girl did at that. “...but maybe save it until the job is done. Then you can tell me all about it afterwards.”

   Kamala raised her hand needlessly but politely. “Does that mean we’re going to hang out even when the mission is over?”

   “Don’t make me regret agreeing to this…”

   “I’ll keep my lips sealed for the foreseeable future, just so I don’t risk missing out on this opportunity.”

   “Sounds like a plan. Speaking of…have we got all locals out of the vicinity? They have to be our main focus whilst the threat remains largely neutralised.”

   “They’re clear of the nearest buildings. America’s got her work cut out in telling them to stay away. I think a lot of people want to get some videos for social media.”

   “I’ll never understand humanity as much as I used to. Maybe you should go and help her. It seems like we’ve got everything under control…”

   As if the universe was trying to make Carol look as if she didn't know what she was doing, it was at that very moment when the swirling torrent violently shuddered, careening to one side as if it was falling. Anyone in its line of fire hurried to get out of the way, with numerous portals forming to lead people to safety. The cloud tumbled into one of the buildings with a horrendous crash, completely eviscerating the front facade in a matter of moments. The only blessing they could see was that the energy had apparently dissipated during the unexpected event, allowing the blue sky to return once more. Alarms were now blaring from cars and the apartment block that had been taken out by the sudden collapse. They wanted to think that the problem was now over with, but there was still a remaining element of concern as they slowly approached the scene.

   Shang Chi landed heavily, wincing at a gash on his left leg. “What the hell happened?”

   “I…don’t know,” Carol replied honestly, and she hated it when she was in the dark.

   Kamala was sure that she could hear some form of buzzing in close proximity to her face, waving her hand at the offending cause. She should have known who it was just from that, but got irrefutable confirmation when a man, clad in a strange red leather suit with a metal helmet, appeared out of thin air. Instinctively, the others were ready to attack, mainly those who had never met the man before. Kamala, on the other hand, had listened to every episode of his podcast and, although most of her room was dominated by posters of Captain Marvel, there was still room for a few dedications to the latest superhero she was getting to meet.

   Fricking Antman was standing in front of her.

   Scott Lang pressed the appropriate button to reveal his face, his grin huge and infectious. “Did you guys see that?” He was bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet, nervous energy coursing through his body. “I mean…I’ve done a lot of stuff since being given this suit…but that’s got to be top of my list.”

   “Who the hell are you?” Marc shouted, wielding a curved blade that he definitely looked like he could use effectively.

   Scott’s face fell. “You…you don’t know?”

   Kamala stepped forward, really wishing she’d brought something along to get an autograph. Was now the wrong time to be asking for a photo with him? She quickly realised that she’d left her phone back at the sanctum, putting an end to those hopes. But people wouldn’t believe her if she didn't have physical proof! Was it too much to ask Carol to quickly fly her over to New York to pick up the device, and then come straight back? It seemed like things were in order now so it wasn’t as if they were really busy. There were plenty of people there to deal with the cleaning-up process.

   “Mister Lang,” she began anxiously.

   “Please, Mister Lang was my dad and the less said about him the better. Call me Scott.”

   “Okay…Scott.” She was now on a first name basis with multiple superheroes. Her life had peaked already. “Don’t let their lack of knowledge and manners put us down in your estimations. I am such a huge fan! Like…you’re Antman! The smallest Avenger with the biggest heart.”

   He brought a hand to his chin. “Hmm, I quite like that. Would you mind if I used that as the new tagline for the podcast?”

   “As long as you invite me on it as a guest.” She was pushing her luck but life was all about living dangerously.

   “Well, judging from what I’ve seen, you’re a part of the team now. Of course you can come on! Just talk to my agent and she’ll sort something out.” 

   “If you’re finished setting up meetings…” Carol quipped, her arms folded.

   It didn't perturb Scott. “Ah, Captain, nice to see you again.” His easy grin faded at her lack of reaction. “You do remember me, right? We…battled Thanos together? I was the key in unlocking time travel so that we could save half of the universe? I brought the little quiches for Tony’s wake.”

   “Oh, yes! Those were delicious. You’ll have to give me the recipe.”

   His eyes lit up. “Of course! I’ll add you to the Whatsapp group. Maybe you can friend me on Facebook or give me a follow on Twitter. Tiktok! I’ve moved onto Tiktok too if you want to live a little and…you were joking, weren’t you?”

   “How could you tell?”

   “Mainly the way your fingers are drumming impatiently on your crossed arms. I thought you’d be happy! I just saved the day!”

   “Yeah, I’d like to know how you did that when we all couldn’t get past her defences.”

   Scott seemed only too happy to regale them with the story. “I obviously saw what was happening on the news. I was like, ‘this my home town, girl! ‘I ain’t letting you stamp all over it!’ So I hopped on Anthony Hopkins…not the real dude, by the way…and got here as fast as I could. I saw what you did to the Scarlet Witch, where you made a tiny hole in her magic. It’s a good job that I can fit through anything. Some precise flying and punch right to the face later, and she was sent flying to the ground. She never saw me coming. You’re very welcome.”

   “You…punched her?” Shang asked.

   “Yup. Nice physique, by the way, man. I’ve been trying to get into shape myself…I don’t know whether you can tell through the suit…”

   “I mean…you just punched her?”

   “What more could I do? I don’t have any magic. Although I can do this really neat card trick that I’ll show you later if you’re not busy.”

   “You’re not listening!” Shang said more urgently. “A punch won’t stop her. If anything, that’ll only serve to make her angrier…”

   The building that the Scarlet Witch had been thrown into suddenly groaned loudly, the concrete structure lifting as a red mist descended. The metal skeleton of the apartment block twisted out of place so that a figure could return to the street. A singular woman, dressed completely in red, with a face they didn't recognise. That had been established already. The concerning new development was just how deep the scowl was on that face, as he fingers began to dance.

   Scott grimaced. “Oh.”

**********

   Wanda stood in front of them, seemingly unaffected by the cold climate. Dan really didn't like the way she was eyeing them up, surveying them, calculating their potential threat. He made sure to keep himself firmly placed behind the Doctor and Yaz, with the latter rolling her eyes at his lack of bravery. He didn't care. He was all too happy to disprove the myth of the ‘macho man’. Only idiots wouldn’t be scared of an actual witch, though he wasn’t able to call his friends that. Only because Yaz was definitely the sort of person who would seek retribution, potentially throwing him back into the firing line.

   “We don’t want any trouble, Wanda,” Wong said, holding up a placating hand.

   She cocked her head to the side. “Then you wouldn’t have disturbed me.”

   “I wouldn’t have done so if the situation wasn’t so dire.”

   “And you couldn’t make the journey alone?” Wanda observed the other three with a similarly calculating glare.

   “All we’re interested in is getting your help,” the Doctor explained, stepping forward despite Yaz’s silent attempts to stop her. “We don’t know anything about what you’ve done before. All that matters is what you can do now.”

   “I’m sure Wong has told you of what I’m capable of.”

   “Perhaps. But he also told us your reasons, and how regretful you were of what happened. I’ve learnt over my many years that people are defined by how they want to view themselves. I don’t think you view yourself as a villain…”

   “Lots of people would disagree. Just look at how defensive Wong has become in my presence…”

   “Believe it or not, Wanda, but I’m happy that you’re alive. You didn't deserve to die for wanting a family.”

   “Even so, I deserve to do my time. That’s why I holed myself up here, away from everyone else, so that I couldn’t hurt anyone again.”

   “But if you’ve got that mindset, then surely you’re not going to do it,” Yaz argued, earning an appraising look from the Doctor. “People change. A wise person once taught me that.” She smiled softly at the Time Lord.

   Wong inched forward, wary of the way her hands glowed at his proximity. “Regardless of your intentions, Wanda, you’re hurting people right now.”

   Her mask slipped slightly. “What do you mean?”

   “You’ve seen the scope of the multiverse. And someone is trying to weaponize that. You won’t have seen what’s happening on the news…”

   “How could she?” Dan quipped. “I doubt she gets a tv signal here.”

   Yaz nudged him. “You’re not helping.”

   “What’s happening?” Wanda asked quietly.

   The Sorcerer Supreme was pleased to see that she was at least willing to listen. “Another version of you, Wanda. Ripping through the streets of a peaceful city. Destroying your reputation even further.”

   “I don’t care about that in the slightest. That's irredeemable now”

   “True. But you care about the defenceless families being torn apart. You discovered the error of your ways. Only you can show yourself that path again. Like I said, we wouldn’t have come here unless we were desperate. Who knows…you might even get yourself back on the lunchboxes…”

Chapter Text

“AAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

   Scott, not for the first time in the last few minutes, was thrown across the street, with his trusty legion of ants unable to cushion his fall. It seemed that, following the brief moment he’d been able to take the Scarlet Witch by surprise, she was now fully aware of his tactics. Even when he shrunk himself down to a miniature size, she somehow saw him coming, evading his attacks and, worst of all, dealing some damage of her own. His visor was already cracked and the suit was blaring out warnings at him left, right and centre. He wasn’t looking forward to taking it back to Hank, who would no doubt launch into a lecture about how exceedingly expensive the equipment was and how, if he broke it beyond repair, it wasn’t as if he could simply make another one. It was a speech that Scott had been subjected to a few times already, and he wasn’t at all excited to catch the rerun.

   “I’m starting to regret all the gloating I was doing,” he grumbled, taking a moment to have a breather as he leant against a chipped wall. 

   “I wonder who could have warned you about that,” Carol quipped, gently placing herself on the ground and offering a hand to help him up. 

   In the background, America had rejoined the fight and, buoyed by her previous encounters with the Scarlet Witch, she wasn’t backing down. A few punches had found their target with a satisfying thud, but nothing that was slowing the other woman down. She’d attempted to dip into her new arsenal of magical powers, thanks to her time at Kamar Taj, but that had ended in utterly miserable fashion. America’s poorly constructed spell had ricocheted harmlessly off the witch, landing with a clang on the ground. She’d been thrown into the air in response to her audacity.

   “Yeah…well…I’m not as powerful as you,” Scott complained, accepting her assistance. “I’ve got to make the most of the time I do something well. For a second, I thought I’d defeated someone even Captain Marvel couldn’t lay a glove on.”

   “Okay, first of all, I’ve definitely got a few hits in, before you damage my ego too much.”

   “It didn't look like it from over here. It seems like she’s enjoying batting you away more than anyone else.”

   “I was just about to comfort you…but I guess I’ll forget that now.”

   “No, no, no!” He held up his hands, just about stopping her from taking off. “I’d take it as a compliment. She sees you as the biggest threat. You’re the most powerful Avenger after all. That’s why I was so amazed when it looked as if I’d ended the fight. Guess I messed that up too…”

   “Aren’t you the guy who figured out time travel and saved the universe?” Carol fired at him.

   “You’ve listened to my podcast?”

   “I heard you bragging about it just a few minutes ago.”

   Kamala and Shang were now attempting to partner up in the vain hope of tackling the Scarlet Witch themselves. Kamala would produce a series of glowing orbs, using them to dazzle their opponent and disorientate her. Using the distraction, Shang would then pounce, using his Rings as an almighty power source. The first time they’d done it, it had worked rather well. Wanda, if that was her name in her own universe, had been sent careening across the pavement, her face dragging across the hard dirt. They were pleased to see that their efforts had caused some damage, with a few cuts now visible, but that had only served to anger her more. Shang had just about been able to jump out of the way when a car was thrown in the exact spot he’d just been standing in.

   Scott nodded his head. “Ah, that makes more sense. Although…now I’ve told you about it, it would be great to get you on an episode. I think your name could definitely boost the number of subscribers we’re getting.”

   The Captain glared at him. “Are you really networking right now?”

   “I don’t know when I'm going to have a conversation with you next, one on one. You only miss the shots you don’t take.”

   “Do you regret saying that just now?”

   “A little bit, yeah.”

   “Can you do one thing for me? Because, right now, you’re next to useless. Not to be too rude…”

   “That’s you not being rude?”

   “Right now, you’re being Scott Lang, the celebrity, the guy everyone wants to go to the pub with.”

   He smiled bashfully. “You really think everyone wants to be friends with me?” The grin dropped when he received a hard stare in response.

   “I’m currently working on how to better be a part of a team. The crucial thing I’ve discovered is that focusing on being an individual kills everything. We haven’t got much hope right now against Wanda…at least until the others arrive…but we’ve got a better chance if we fight as one. And that involves you being Antman, the guy who saved the universe. ‘Cos if you managed that, then what’s one witch going to do to you?”

   “Turn me into a frog. Have you not read any of the fairytales?”

   Moon Knight’s efforts to thwart the Scarlet Witch, or at least to keep her stuck in one place, were a marvel to watch for any spectator. He would charge as fast as he could towards her, wielding a vast array of weapons. Once he was close enough and had her full attention, he would allow Steven to take control of the body. At first, his other self had complained that that would just mean he was put in the firing line, taking the hit in a fight Steven had started. But the switch to Mister Knight was enough to confuse Wanda, now suddenly faced with a completely different target, and his flexibility allowed him to dodge her distracted attacks, giving him the opportunity to land a few blows of his own. He’d very quickly given control back to Marc as soon as he’d seen how furious that had made her.

   Carol crossed her arms. “I guess I’m never going to have any spare time to appear on your podcast if you keep this attitude up.”

   Scott glared at her. “How dare you use my most treasured thing against me!” He paused, glancing around as if to check that no one else had overheard him. “Please don’t tell Cassie that I said that. Or Hope. I’ll be sleeping on the couch for a month at this rate.”

   “That depends…I could accidentally let it slip in conversation after accidentally bumping into them…or…you could buck your ideas up and help me with this plan.”

   “I’m listening…”

   “As much as it pains me to admit it, you’re the one who’s dealt the most damage to her. We weren’t able to get close to her before you arrived.”

   “You’re going to make me blush.”

   “Right now, she’s as vulnerable as she’s likely to get. She’s exposed. If you can prove to be enough of an annoying menace…”

   “You’ll find that that’s my middle name!”

   “...then that should distract her long enough for me to get a clear shot.”

   “But…there’s one flaw in this plan of yours…”

   “Which is…?”

   “She’s the Scarlet Witch . She would have killed Thanos on her own if he hadn’t decimated his own army to stop her. Not to mention how there’s currently a legion of trained sorcerers fighting around us and she’s swatting them away like flies.”

   Carol’s body began to glow, perhaps in defiance to his lack of faith. “Well… I’m Captain Marvel. I want to take back the crown as the most powerful Avenger. Do you really think that anyone’s going to be able to stop me from doing that?” And she flew away, fully expecting Scott to follow her.

   He pulled down his visor, regardless of how cracked it now was. “At least I don’t have to answer that question to her face.”

   The Captain glided through the air, fist poised and clenched as she approached her target. She idly noted that Kamala was cheering her name as she busied herself with picking Shang up from the floor. Carol refocused herself, aware that Wanda also had her sights on her. Watching as the witch lifted herself into the air, Carol continued regardless, picking up speed. If this didn't work as planned, then it was really going to hurt. She’d almost forgotten what actual pain was ever since her transformation, and she wasn’t too excited about being reacquainted. 

   Wanda, perhaps showing a glimmer of uncertainty and fear on her face, began to block the Captain’s path with balls of fierce energy, but they were easily navigated. Carol almost suspected that the other woman was going easy on her, which only riled her up further. There were plenty of things she could tolerate, but pity wasn’t one of them. With that added incentive (not that she really needed one), she ploughed on, hurtling so quickly that it became impossible to see any of her body, her movements transforming her into a bright blur that streaked across the sky.

   For the first time that day, Wanda gave priority to defence rather than attack. She raised her hands in front of her face, producing a wall of energy to shield her from the anticipated assault. That was the moment Carol had been waiting for, completely changing her course of direction at the last second, swerving the floating woman. The shield remained intact, Wanda continued to stay unharmed. At one point, growing confused when the impact didn't come, she even looked past her magic in the attempt of locating the assailant. 

   With her looking forward, she was finally distracted enough for Scott to strike. He was buzzing behind her, an army of flying ants aiding his ascent. As soon as Carol stormed past, he returned to his normal size, landing a heavy punch on the back of Wanda’s head. As soon as she turned around, he was shrunk down again, effortlessly gliding past her gaze before he could land a second hit. He was growing cocky, watching the way she faltered with each thud. Over confidence was always going to be his hubris. 

   Going for a third attack in quick succession, knowing that Carol was on her way to finish the job, Scott brought himself to his full size one last time, ready to strike. Yet Wanda had anticipated the move, holding out her hand and easily freezing him in place. He struggled against the grip of her magic, feeling its tendrils force their way into his suit, squeezing it around him, choking him alive. There was that malfunction warning again, as if he couldn’t already tell that things were looking incredibly dire. He could no longer move and didn't have the ability to shrink down either, the technology betraying him in the face of a stronger power. All he could was look at her, staring into her grim expression. He’d expected her to look satisfied, or almost gleeful, but there was a reluctance in her eyes that confused him.

   “Let him go!” Carol bellowed, charging at the pair of them.

   Under normal circumstances, Scott would have been thrilled (he’d go as far as saying he’d be over the moon) about getting rescued when everything seemed helpless. Yet, when your saviour was flying towards you at the speed of light, it was natural that your confidence would wane. If she struck them with the force she was showcasing, then Wanda wouldn’t likely survive. But he’d most certainly be turned into dust, and that was a fate he’d much rather avoid if it were possible.

   He was saved from that awkward predicament by the one woman who was currently threatening to kill him. It was a strange conundrum that Scott found himself in. He shouldn’t have been happy about Wanda effortlessly stopping the Captain in her tracks with a single twitch of her fingers. As his suit constricted further, the happiness faded somewhat. He watched as Carol fought against her unseen bonds, creeping an inch forward, worrying the witch only slightly before she increased her level of control.

   “I don’t want to kill you,” Wanda said firmly, gritting her teeth, likely down to her frustrations or the concentration she was having to use. “That wasn’t the plan.”

   Scott looked at her curiously, instantly wanting to know what she meant by that. “If it’s any consolation…I don’t want you to kill me either.” Each word came out as a choke, his breaths taking longer to come.

   And then he was falling. He didn't know why, though it felt better than what he’d just been experiencing. With his vision blurry, Scott could just about make out some sort of red wave rolling across the sky, encompassing everyone within a short radius. He should have been scared and yet the scene felt different somehow. He’d go as far as describing himself as hopeful, though that was partly shattered when he landed heavily on the ground. As much as he wanted to watch what was now developing, he’d lost most of his strength, unable to get back up, and it was so tempting to let his eyes drift shut.

   The golden portal closed behind them, and the Doctor confidently strode onto the street as if an almighty battle wasn’t taking place. Yaz and Dan remained by her side, at least thankful that they’d been allowed to tag along for the ride this time. Wong, on the other hand, had charged forward, joining his comrades in the battle. The other sorcerers had been spooked by their arrival, looking at them in concern. Though that had more to do with the second Scarlet Witch entering the fray, attacking her alternate self.

   It would have been difficult to tell which was which as they fought, with their battle in the sky too far above to distinguish between their faces. But the Wanda they knew was clad in a simple outfit, in a stark contrast to the power she was wielding. Set against the multiversal threat, dressed in her full scarlet regalia, most people would have bet against her on appearances alone. But Wanda had the element of surprise on her side, catching herself unawares as she fired crimson thunderbolts in quick succession. She watched as her opponent tumbled through the air, only stopping herself from crashing down completely with a last-minute shield. 

   “Tell me what you want,” Wanda instructed in a commanding tone of voice. “Tell me why you’re here.”

   The other witch brushed a bit of her hair from her face. “I was wondering when you’d show your face. He never knew if you’d be brave enough to come out of hiding.”

   The comment seemed to strike a nerve, Wanda rashly hurling a few balls of magic at her. Her aiming was off as she was distracted by the memory of her past actions, bringing up chunks of pavement and brickwork. None of them had hit her target, who had deftly moved out of the way in time, as if she’d known what was about to happen. It was starting to dawn on Wanda that she hadn’t used her powers for quite some time, thanks to her self-implemented isolation, and she could feel herself working through the rustiness.

   The momentary lapse of concentration exposed Wanda just enough to allow an attack slip through her defences. The others watched, wincing and frowning, as she landed on the ground. For a second, they didn't think that she was going to get back up, with the Doctor and her friends especially not knowing the sort of punishment she could handle. Because of that, the Time Lord raced across the road, weaving past half-destroyed cars and an upside down bus to get to her. She turned the witch around, practically cradling her face.

   “How are you doing?” the Doctor asked, giving her a hopeful smile.

   “Just brilliant,” Wanda growled, pushing herself up.

   “Can I just say thanks for deciding to come with us again?”

   “I’m starting to second guess that choice, if I’m being honest.”

   “Is there anything we can do to help you?”

   “Do you have any powers?”

   The Doctor scrunched up her nose. “...I have a sonic screwdriver, which is really good at scanning things. And it’s an expert at unlocking things. Besides wood. I’ve always said I’d fit in an upgrade but I’ve never got round to it.”

   Wanda rolled her eyes. “Then I’d suggest you to get out of my way.”

   “You’re not going to win,” the other witch pronounced, floating high above them. “I’m surprised, really. You’re not as strong as I thought you would be. Is this really what I’m like in this universe? I have to say I’m disappointed.”

   “I’m sorry that you had such high expectations.” Wanda brought herself back to her feet, refusing the support that the Doctor offered. “I was hoping you might understand some of the things I’d been through. I thought you might be the only one who could possibly understand.”

   The witch’s smirk transformed into a scowl. “You have no idea what I’ve been put through. Do you think I want to be doing this?”

   The Doctor latched onto that. “Then don’t do it! Whatever your reasons, we can work out a solution.”

   “The solution’s simple: I complete the job. If that involves destroying myself, then I at least expected it to be more of a challenge.”

   Wanda’s hands began to glow. “You may have more power than me. You may have more practice. But I’ve got one thing on my side that you seemingly don’t.”

   The witch didn't appear too phased. “Which is?”

   “I’ve wanted to destroy the Scarlet Witch for much longer than you.”

   She glanced at Wong as she flew up, both of them nodding her heads. The Sorcerer Supreme turned to his comrades. “Sorcerers! Assist her!” He wasn’t best pleased at their hesitation, even if he could understand why they were so reluctant to help. They’d been fighting against her not too long ago, and she had slaughtered quite a high percentage of their number. But personal grievances had no place on the battlefield. “Do it or I’ll be changing the WiFi password at Kamar Taj and I won’t be telling any of you what it is!”

   That seemed to spark them into life and, as Wanda met her opponent, they began to produce spells of their own. Orange chains, looking as if they were on fire, formed in their hands and, using them as lassos, they hurled them towards the Scarlet Witch. She was able to bat away the first dozen or so as if they were nothing more than mere nuisances. But Wanda chose to join their efforts, using her own magic to bind the other woman. Carol arrived, clinging onto the witch’s back as she held her arms at a painful angle, hoping it would stop her from casting anything else. 

   “You can’t win,” the Captain echoed the witch’s previous remarks. “Because you’re on your own.”

   “Oh, that’s where you’re wrong.” They were perturbed by how she didn't seem too cross about being bound so tightly. “Because I’m not the only one that he sent…”

Chapter Text

   “Keep hold of her, yeah?”

   “Do you really think I’m going to let go after we’ve just captured her?”

   Wanda shook her head at Carol’s sarcastic tone, feeling as if it wasn’t helping the situation. She prowled in front of her alternate self as the figure was slowly lowered to the ground, taking the moment to compose herself after taking a torrid beating. The others were starting to crowd around them, though the other sorcerers maintained their tight leash around the Scarlet Witch. It was difficult to make out what her expression really meant, whether she was actually enjoying just how many people it was taking to corral her. Wanda wanted nothing more than to just knock her unconscious so that she no longer had to deal with the growing headache that came with being around her. But after her teasing comments, they couldn’t afford to silence the only person with the answers they needed.

   Carol turned her attention to her fallen comrade. “How’s Scott doing?” She didn't think she’d seen him moving properly since he’d taken the last big hit, and the longer that trend continued, the more worried she became. She’d only known him for an extremely short amount of time, and now all she could think about was his well being. Fighting battles on your own at least left fewer things to worry about.

   “America’s watching over him,” Kamala assured her. “I think he’s already been taken to Kamar Taj, which is going to be a strange place to wake up in for the first time.”

   “What did you mean before?” Wong asked the witch, brave enough to walk towards her. “How many more of you are there? Where are they?”

   The woman clicked her tongue. “You’re not understanding. It’s not me you’re going to have to deal with. That’d be boring. He said that he wanted to put on a show to get your attention.”

   The Sorcerer Supreme took a steadying step backwards. “Who? Who’s put you up to this?”

   “I’m not at liberty to say.”

   “Because you’ve been instructed to do that or because you just don’t want to?”

   “That probably depends on how you view me.”

   “You threw me into the floor at least a dozen times so it isn’t going to be too positive,” Marc grumbled. 

   The witch shrugged. “Don’t take it personally.”

   “You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d been repeatedly smashed into a building,” Shang added, attempting to massage his shoulder. He could feel a growing lump there that was painful to the touch, and he wasn’t going to risk looking in a mirror for quite some time, fearful of what sort of a mess it’d be in.

   “I’m currently chained to the ground so I’ve got a sense of what you went through. If it’s any consolation…I never wanted to hurt you…too much.”

   “I’m sure I saw you smirking the second time you bounced me like a basketball through a window.”

   The Doctor strode closer to their collective opponent. “We can get rid of the chains if you’d like.”

   Mister Knight was quick to make an appearance, holding up a hand as his glowing eyes widened. “Can I point out that she definitely doesn’t speak for us, because I think she might be insane.”

   The Time Lord rolled her eyes. “I know that someone in restraints isn’t going to talk freely to the people that put them in that position.”

   “If you didn't notice, we had no choice!” the Captain reminded her. “If she wasn’t attacking us, then we wouldn’t have had to do this.”

   “Even so…a show of faith never hurt anyone.”

   “I wonder if the people of Troy would agree with you after they allowed that Greek horse into the city,” Kamala remarked, before realising that everyone was now looking at her with raised eyebrows. “What? I like history in school. I can have other interests other than superheroes! I’m not one-dimensional.”

   “Good subject to enjoy,” the Doctor said with a nod of approval. “I was there in Troy that day. I was squashed in the left leg of the horse.”

   “Doc…I think you’re getting off track,” Dan helpfully pointed out to her.

   She winced and gave everyone an apologetic look. “Sorry. I get excited about history too. But…to get back to the matter at hand…I think it’s best if we let her go. She knows that we can stop her now. And…I have the feeling that she doesn’t really want to be doing this.” She put her face uncomfortably close to the witch’s. “I’ve faced many evil people over my innumerable years, and they always have that glint in their eyes that betrays their true intentions. You don’t have that darkness in your gaze.”

   “Do you want to put that to the test?” the witch asked.

   “If you go on a rampage and kill us all, I’ll hold my hands up and say I got it wrong.”

   “That’s not at all comforting,” Marc complained, taking back control of the body to get his jape in.

   “I don’t want to sound big headed but I’m very rarely wrong about matters like this. You’re being made to do this, aren’t you, Wanda? By the person who sent you here? Is it Kang?”

   For the first time, there was a flicker of true emotion on the woman’s face. “You know him?”

   “His reputation obviously precedes him.”

   “You mustn’t know him properly if you use his name without fear.”

   “The only way we can help you against him is if you tell us what’s going on. We need some warning of what he’s planning.”

   “You mentioned something about these manacles being removed…because they’re starting to burn my wrists…”

   The Doctor nodded her head at Wong. “You know what instruction to give.”

   “Are you sure about this, Doctor?” he asked.

   “Can we ever be sure about anything?”

   “A yes or no answer would have been preferable.” He turned around, holding up his hands towards his followers. “Sorcerers! Stand down!”

   “You’re making a mistake,” Marc argued but the order had already been given, the chains disappearing without delay. “This is why I never normally choose to be on a team. Because no one has the same sort of common sense as me.”

   The Scarlet Witch still wasn’t able to move though, despite her magical binds fading from existence. Carol was still maintaining a tight hold on her, gritting her teeth in the face of the Doctor’s disapproving look. Wanda didn't struggle against her growing tighthold, unwilling to show any weakness. In this position, it would have been the easiest it could have ever been to kill such a powerful foe, with one swift movement likely to break her neck. She’d destroyed an entire street and there was no telling what else she could do. But there was still more to the story that needed to be heard, and Carol had never been one to take a life without enough reason.

   The Doctor tried to plead to her more understanding nature. “I know this might not make a lot of sense right now…but part of being a team is sometimes following someone’s idea when it goes against every one of your instincts.”

   Carol hesitated before her fingers unlocked, allowing the witch to stumble forward, free from her grasp at last. The others waited, hands raised, ready to defend themselves if she chose to continue with her attacks. She was breathing heavily, looking at them all, as if she was considering what her next choice could be. The Doctor was standing right in front of her in a brazen show of faith, with Yaz lingering close by, though how she could defend her friend in this scenario was left to be seen. 

   “I’m still trapped though, aren’t I?” the witch said tiredly. “I’m not free to leave.”

   “There are only so many compromises I’m willing to make. You may not have killed anyone, which is why I’m being surprisingly lenient with you, but you could have done. You can’t expect us to let you go.”

   “I suppose not, though I was hoping you were proving to be the reasonable one around here.”

   “I’m standing in front of you without any powers other than my big mouth. I’m trusting you and, right now, that’s more than you deserve. I’m treating you like a person…not a monster, as the people here today will probably view you as…nor as a tool, as I’m suspecting your master has been treating you.”

   “Do you think kindness is going to win me to your side?”

   “Can’t that be enough?” the Doctor asked with a shrug. “I think it’s something you haven’t been given for quite a long time. So…I’m putting this to you nicely …why are you here? If it wasn’t to kill…”

   “He’s not interested in death,” the witch replied. “There wouldn’t be anyone to rule over if he killed everyone in his wake.”

   “Kang? Is that what he wants? To rule over people?”

   “Eventually.”

   “Is there a certain group of people that he wants to rule?” Yaz queried. “This world?”

   The Doctor smiled at her. “That’s a very good question, Yasmin Khan.” The woman in question beamed in response. 

   The witch was considering her words carefully. “This world…and every other.”

   Wong’s face grew grave. “The multiverse? No man can hold enough power to control that.”

   “That’s the sort of mindset that’d disgust him. The Sorcerer Supreme himself, limited by his vision alone. It’s not a good look.”

   “Limited by logic and morals. A man who wants to wrap us all in chains is no just man.”

   “I never said he was just. But don’t you think it’s rich saying that, after you just bound me without any second thought?”

   “You know that’s different.”

   “Is it?”

   “Let’s not get into a back and forth because that’s not going to be helpful,” the Doctor interrupted, sending a warning glance at Wong. There were very few people who were willing to look at him like that. “Forget Kang for the moment. Why you? Why did he choose you to do this?”

   “Isn’t that obvious?” Marc retorted. “It’s because she’s got enough power to defeat us all.”

   “But she didn't,” the Time Lord argued, refusing to be perturbed by his negative perspective. “She said as much…she was never supposed to seriously harm any of us. So it can’t just be about her power levels.”

   “Perhaps it’s because she’s the most malleable,” Wanda suggested grimly, looking closely at her other self. The face may have been different, but some of the expressions were remarkably similar. They were slight idiosyncrasies that she could resonate with. 

   “That’s definitely not a word I’d use to describe her,” Shang said.

   “I know her though. I know how easy it is to transform the woman into the Scarlet Witch, to make her do your bidding.” She looked at Wong. “It’s the entire reason why I did things I did, why I lost myself to the Darkhold.”

   It didn't take long for realisation to dawn on his face. “No…he wouldn’t, would he?”

   “It sounds as if he’d do anything to claim his triumph…including capturing two beautiful children and using them to his advantage.” She could see it clearly written on the corresponding face. “Am I right?”

   “He said that, if I didn't do what he ordered, then they’d be the first to die,” the witch explained. “I had no choice after that.”

   “Kang took your children?” the Doctor summarised.

   “Billy and Tommy. I…don’t know where they are. I don’t even know if they’re still alive.”

   The Doctor risked placing a hand on her shoulder. “You believe that he doesn’t want to kill anyone…so that has to apply to them too. You need to keep faith, as difficult as that may be. The only way we can help them is you start cooperating with us.”

   The witch bowed her head. “What do you want to know?”

   “You mentioned that other attacks are imminent. Where are they going to happen? Who else has he coerced?”

   “I don’t know…but they’ll be just as noticeable as me.”

   “We need to get access to a tv screen again,” Wong muttered. “If there’s another similar attack, then the news will have it covered.”

   “And we can contact other superheroes across the globe to keep a lookout,” Kamala suggested. “Not just because I want to meet more of you or anything…” She grinned awkwardly at her universe’s Wanda. “I’m a big fan, by the way.”

   “You shouldn’t be,” Wanda replied.

   “Is there a reason for that noticeability?” the Doctor pressed on. “You called Kang a showman…”

   “A showman’s livelihood depends on grabbing your attention.”

   “Is anyone else starting to get really worried as to why he wants our attention?” Dan wondered, seeing some of the others nod their heads vigorously.

   “Kang had to ensure that you were here…the next attacks are solely designed as a distraction.”

   The Doctor’s eyebrows knitted together. “A distraction from what? Why did we have to be here?”

   The witch shook her head slowly. “Not we . You .” She had a hold of the Doctor’s arm before the Time Lord could even think about stepping away in time, thanks to their close proximity. “I’m sorry…but I can’t lose my boys.”

   Yaz saw the red magic form around the witch’s hands. Without thinking, she leapt forward. How many times had they been separated? Losing the Doctor on Gallifrey, the angels taking her in Medderton…she was not going to let it happen again. The witch was taking her friend again; she could see the magic consuming them. Her hand clutched the Doctor’s shoulder as she shouted out, putting all of her strength into holding on. For a few seconds, that was all she knew as she got swept away in the scarlet storm. 

   By the time it eventually stopped, Yaz found herself landing against a thankfully solid floor. Her eyes were bleary after the tumultuous journey, especially with how dark their new location was in comparison to where they’d just been. Her first instincts were to feel the entirety of her body to make sure that everything was still there. It seemed to be the case, though her mind was so frazzled that she could have easily miscounted the number of digits she still had. 

   She felt movement underneath her and suddenly the Doctor was shifting, pulling her up by the hand. “Yaz! What did you do?”

   For a brief moment, she could ignore everything else. She could ignore the gloomy surroundings. She barely registered the Scarlet Witch standing there, looking worse for wear. All she wanted to focus on was having the Doctor in front of her. She’d succeeded. Whatever happened next, they would face it together, and that’s all she’d ever wanted throughout their relationship. And, more surprising than the fact that she’d actually done it, was that the Doctor, despite the panic in her tone, was clinging onto Yaz with a similar level of vigour and neediness. It was all the encouragement Yaz needed to pull her into a tight hug, probably the first time she’d initiated such a show of affection.

   “I couldn’t lose you,” she whispered into the Doctor’s ear. “Not again.”

   “You’ve put yourself in danger.”

   “Is it concerning that I don’t even care.”

   The Doctor pulled away slightly, though she kept her hands tightly around Yaz’s waist. It felt natural to have them fall there. “Yes, it is. Because I’ve travelled with people in the past who started getting cocky, who started taking risks, who started trying to be like me…and it ended in disaster. I won’t make the same mistakes. I won’t let you do that.”

   “I don’t think there’s any way of sending me back.”

   “No, you’re definitely right about that.”

   The Doctor glanced around, taking in the large room they were in. As dark as it was, there were still signs of advanced technology. Phasing blue tubes connecting to places unseen, machines on the wall that were slim and sleek, a viewing window that was currently covered by metal blinds. Under normal circumstances, the Doctor would have been positively giddy at the prospect of analysing all of the technology, savouring the chance to gain new knowledge. But with Yaz at her side and the others back at home, potentially about to face large threats on their own, she was honing all of her attention into being the Doctor, the person who fought off the monsters.

   “Can’t you be a little bit glad that I’m here?”

   Despite her ill feelings, the Doctor couldn’t help but grin. “You have no idea how happy I am whenever you’re with me.”

   “You shouldn’t have come here,” Wanda said to Yaz. “That wasn’t a part of his instructions. He won’t be happy.”

   “Don’t worry, Wanda,” a soothing choice calmed her from the shadows. A man walked into the light, his face surprisingly warm and smiling. “I knew this would happen. It’s exactly how it was supposed to happen.”

   The Doctor reluctantly let go of Yaz, setting her back straight as she pulled herself to her full height. “Kang, I presume…”

   “Doctor,” he replied with a soft giggle. “It is an honour . You have no idea how long I’ve been waiting to meet you.”

Chapter Text

Watching multiple wizards stand around him, repairing the street with just their bare hands, should have been a sight that amazed him. He barely registered the phenomenon. He was aware that people were cautiously moving back to their homes, thanking the heroes profusely for how much they’d helped. He didn't acknowledge them though, choosing to stand in the corner to avoid any attention (not that anyone knew who he was in this world). The fact that he was in an alternate reality should have baffled his mind, and yet all it did now was make his heart sink. Walking through a portal, taking a step in San Francisco and then ending up in New York by the next, was the sort of thing that fantasies were made of. He made the journey with a depressed scowl, like he was doing nothing more than walking back home after his cab hadn’t turned up.

   As soon as they made it back to the Sanctum, people were moving around hectically, trying to make sense of the dark warning they’d been given. Some of them had chosen to stay in San Francisco, just in case it was targeted again, and to also help with the process of cleaning up. Others, such as Carol, were using their aerial abilities to cover a larger area, hoping to spot the next from high above. The more traditional route was to just stick the television on and hope that the news cameras alerted them to a dangerous presence once again. The whole point of the threat was that it would be large enough not to be missed, so the job shouldn’t have been that difficult.

   All through that chaos and endeavour, Dan simply sat on the sofa, staring into the middle distance, having absolutely no clue what he was supposed to do. He’d watched his two friends, the only people in this universe who understood who he truly was, disappear right in front of his eyes. Yaz had been quick to reach the Doctor just in time, but he’d been too slow to react in the end. They’d vanished before he could properly register what was happening, the Scarlet Witch seemingly going with them. It had left a strange feeling in the air, everyone knowing that the immediate danger had been neutralised whilst also realising that the trouble was only just starting.

   He felt the sofa sink slightly, Kamala choosing to sit next to him and break his self-imposed solitude. Dan didn't feel up to having any sort of company, though he knew the girl was the last person to be warded off with a few choice words. She was too stubborn for that, too eager to help. Kamala carried the same sort of mindset that he’d seen in Yaz during their time stuck in the past together. It made him miss his friend even more. Through every setback during their travels together, he and Yaz had always been together. They’d been separated from the Doctor on occasion, but had always been lucky enough to have a friend close by. Now the roles were reversed, and he was left achingly alone.

   “They’re going to be okay,” Kamala said quietly, knowing what was troubling him the most.

   Dan smiled softly, though there was an element of bitterness to it. “You can’t know that for sure.”

   “They survived crashing through one universe and into another one, so they’re made of sturdy stuff.”

   “They’ve got to go up against a witch who could probably kill them with a click of her fingers, and the man who was probably behind bringing us here in the first place. That means he must be insanely powerful. And they’re probably in his lair or something, right where he wants them.”

   “I never knew you were such a defeatist.”

   “It’s called being realistic. Nothing in my life has ever gone right. Then I stumbled across the Doc and Yaz, things were starting to look so much better, and now they’ve been taken from me. I think I’m allowed to be upset.” He put his head in his hands, leaning forward and groaning miserably.

   “Then it’s a good job that I’m here,” Kamala pressed on. “I can keep poking you with positivity until you get out of this slump.”

   He glanced at her, though nothing else about his position changed. “That’s going to get incredibly annoying very quickly.”

   “That’s exactly the point.”

   “Don’t you…I don’t know…have superhero things to be getting on with? They’ll need your help with whatever’s about to hit.”

   Kamala looked back, examining how everyone was rushing about (besides Madisynn, who was taking her duty as chief tv-watcher very seriously). “Probably. But I saw a friend who was struggling and decided that was more important to attend to.”

   “I didn't know we were friends,” he replied with a smirk. 

   “You’re stuck with me now, I’m afraid.”

   “You’ll make me feel envious of the predicament Yaz and the Doctor are in.”

   She nudged him gently, though she made sure to get a jab with her elbow in. “I’m going to focus on the fact that you’re able to joke about what’s happening, which is a sign that you’re feeling better, rather than the massive insult you just gave me.”

   “That’s probably for the best.” He’d sat up now, though most of his body still felt numb from the overriding sense of despair. 

   Kamala turned to face him properly, crossing her legs underneath her. “Listen…you need to think about this rationally. Let’s agree for the moment that Kang was the reason why you were pulled into this universe…if he was able to do that, then surely it would have been absolutely simple for him to kill you all without a second thought.”

   “You’re not making me feel any better about this.”

   She rolled her eyes. “Let me finish. Because, if he could do that, why would he go to the effort of sending someone else to capture the Doctor? Unless…”

   “...he needs her for some reason,” Dan finished, his eyes slowly lighting up, his back straightening.

   “Precisely,” she said with a grin, enjoying how she’d been able to to turn his emotions around. “If that’s the case, then there’s no chance that she’s dead.”

   “That doesn’t mean that Yaz is protected. She wasn’t supposed to go with them when the witch took the Doctor. He could see her as a nuisance.”

   “If Yaz was harmed in any way, would the Doctor do anything that the perpetrator wanted afterwards?”

   “There’d be absolutely no chance. Even if it put her in harm’s way.”

   “Kang must be reasonably intelligent to have done what he’s accomplished so far, so he must know that he’ll have to keep the Doctor sweet until he’s got what he wants from her.”

   “And then what? He just gets rid of them when they’ve got no use left or something. Throws them into a pit of lava or a pool full of sharks.”

   Kamala stared at him for a few moments. “Lava? Sharks? He’s not a supervillain from a cheesy action movie.”

   “He could be.”

   “Well…even if he is…it won’t matter, because we’ll have got to them before it reaches that point and saved them. There’s your plan of action.”

   “It’s not really a plan, is it? It’s a list of hopes.”

   “I can’t think of everything around here. We’re surrounded by some of the most powerful people in the universe. They’ll find a way.”

   “That’s the thing,” Dan returned glumly. “Everyone has a use. Everyone can be involved in the fight. I just feel that I’m just in the way now. I can’t help. I can’t help you, and I can’t help my friends.”

   “You can…by not giving up. They need you more than ever.”

   “I don’t exactly have any superpowers to contribute anything worthwhile. Unless you’ve got a radioactive spider hanging around somewhere…”

   “I could ask for one…”

   “You’re joking, right?”

   “Whatever it takes to cheer you up. Trust me…I understand that mindset. I was looking at this world through the pages of comics, always wanting to be a part of it but never actually being able to. Until I got an opportunity out of the blue, and I refused to let go of it.”

   “Maybe if I wore your bangle, it’d unlock something within me too.”

   She covered the object protectively. “No. That’s mine. Get your own.”

   He smirked at her response, a reminder that she was still very much a child. The smile fell when there was a commotion coming from the room beyond, making them get up to investigate. As much as Dan might have been seen as someone who was simply taking up valuable space now, he was going to make sure that he was kept in the loop until they told him to get lost, and even then it’d take some big threats to budge him. Kamala was just happy to see him up and about after his momentary lull, wondering whether she could become some sort of therapist if the superhero gig didn't work out. Unless she became a therapist for superheroes. Out of all the people on the planet, they were probably the ones who needed psychiatric help the most. It would be a gold mine. She’d be practically printing money within the first week.

   The two of them ventured through the corridors, spotting Wong and America hurriedly coming up the stairs. They both looked panicked, barely registering their presence until they nearly ran into them. At the interruption, Wong looked disgruntled more than anything, as if they were holding him up just by being there. That played into Dan’s worries about being a nuisance instead of an actual form of help, though he stood his ground, trying to take on Kamala’s advice. He wasn’t going to be of any use if he focused on his fears. He’d fought Daleks and Cybermen so he wasn’t an inexperienced novice. He’d even saved one universe already in his short time in the Tardis, so was it really that big of a deal to save another?

   “What’s happening?” Kamala asked.

   “Carol tried flying through the glass window because she was in such a haste to tell us the news,” Wong complained. “I’m sure it wouldn’t have taken her much longer to use the front door, which I kindly asked her to do.”

   “And we already know what she’s going to say,” America told them, beckoning them into another room where a tv was playing a live helicopter feed.

   Madisynn was on the sofa, leaning forward with her eyes glued on the screen and the remote clutched tightly in her hand. Katy was no longer there, opting to go with Shang to Kamar Taj where he was getting his rather serious wounds tended to. With Scott already there, Dan reckoned the sorcerers must have been happy that Moon Knight had waved off any concerns, claiming he could get treatment once he was dead (a sentiment that Mister Knight had strongly advised against).

   Dan peered at the television. “Is that Big Ben?”

   “You’d think it was a movie, right?” Madisynn responded. “But I double checked to make sure I was definitely on the news channel. I didn't want to give you any fake news.”

   “But what’s happening in London? Is that where the next attack is going to happen?”

   They didn't have to answer his questions, for the reason behind the report was soon blindingly obvious. A monster rounded one side of the clock tower, a great big red creature that roared into the sky, looking directly into the camera. Before they knew it, it was tearing one of the gigantic hands off from one of the clock faces and throwing it straight towards the helicopter that was proving to be too much of an annoyance. Understandably, the camera feed instantly turned to crackling black, and they grimaced at the implications.

   Dan was at a loss. “What was that thing? Is that just something normal that happens in this universe?”

   “Yes and no,” Wong replied.

   Kamala turned to the Sorcerer Supreme. “It almost looked like a…”

   “Hulk, yes. It seems so. The damage one could do to a city as densely populated as London is unfathomable.” He paused as the Captain strode into the room, looking particularly displeased at being forced to take such a mundane route. “It’s alright, Captain. We’ve already seen the latest developments. We’ll need our strongest team to take on this multiversal Hulk.”

   Carol frowned, her hands on her hips. “What are you talking about? I was going to tell you that Wakanda has solidified its defences. I’m trying to make contact with them but it seems like they might be under attack.”

   “Two things at once…dear lord. And you haven’t been able to get a visual yet of what’s targeting them?”

   “Nothing so far. I thought it best that I get the news back to you, so we can send in a strike team to deal with it.”

   “This is exactly what Kang wanted,” Dan said. “The Scarlet Witch said it herself…everything is working as a distraction so that we forget to help the Doctor and Yaz.”

   Carol’s expression softened, placing a strong hand on his shoulder. “Sadly it’s working. I know what you must be thinking right now, but our duty is to protect everyone in danger. Right now, more people are going to die if we don’t get a handle on this. Then , we can work out a way to reach the others.”

   “With the injuries we’ve already sustained, I reckon we’re going to need a few more recruits,” Wong reasoned. “It’s a good job that I’ve got a few contacts who are perfectly designed to go toe to toe with a Hulk…”

**********

   The Doctor watched the man prowl in front of them, making sure to keep Yaz as close as possible. She’d even considered holding the other woman’s hand, before realising that she needed to show all of her strength in the face of this latest adversary. Now that he’d walked into the light, they could better see just what Kang was wearing. It might have been considered a spacesuit if it wasn’t so ridiculously colourful, as if he wanted to exude power whilst also showing a touch of personality. It was the sort of mindset that she’d come up against plenty of times, where someone was driven by their ego more than anything. She only had to think of the Master to conjure up an example. 

   She turned to face Yaz, seeking the comfort that came from such an innocent gesture, whilst also using it to do some surreptitious investigating. Whilst looking around at the chamber they’d been brought to, refusing to be amazed by the advancements on show, the Doctor activated her sonic, which stayed in her pocket as she did so. She wanted to get as many details as possible that didn't have to come from the horse’s mouth, particularly concerning the strange suit he was sporting. The issue was that she didn't want to give him any indication as to what she was doing, which is why she gave Yaz a warm smile.

   “Be brave,” the Doctor said to her. “Just as I know you can be. I don’t know what’s going to happen here, but I need you to stay by my side, no matter what.”

   Yaz nodded her head. “Always.”

   Kang allowed them to have their short chat before bringing attention back to him. “I’m sure you’ve got a lot of questions.”

   The Doctor spun slowly to look at him again, her expression hard and unmoving. “First things first…where are her children?” She pointed a hand at Wanda, who looked surprised at the mention.

   Kang seemed to be just as perplexed. “Seriously? After everything that’s happened… that’s what you want to ask me before anything else?”

   The Doctor shrugged. “I’ll always focus on any kids that are in danger. You drove her to do some despicable stuff, which shows just how much she loves those boys. I won’t begrudge her doing anything in the name of such strong feelings. I’ve fallen into that trap far too many times. She’s completed the job. Now let her have her reward.”

   “Well…I don’t see why not. I’m a reasonable man, after all.” He clicked his fingers and an imposing, slender robot appeared from the walls, waiting for its instructions. Yaz took a step back at the sight. “Take our dear friend to holding pen seventeen. A mother deserves to see her children.” Before they left, he clutched the witch’s arm, hinting at the strength he possessed, though still wearing a smile. “I want you to know that I ensured they were looked after properly. You’ll find them in perfect health. And I know you’ll want them to stay that way.”

   The warning was clear and they watched the witch leave with her metal convoy, leaving them alone with the men in charge. The Doctor didn't mind that. One of the first rules of dealing with an enemy was to get captured so that you could glean information from those who put you in bonds. And, if she could take anything from the initial exposure she’d had to Kang, she’d guess that he was exactly the sort of man who liked to talk, especially when the topic was himself.

   “Any more questions?” he put to them, throwing his arms out wide. “Treat this as a sort of…Q&A, I suppose.”

   “Where are we?” the Doctor asked.

   “That’s more what I was expecting from you.”

   Kang trudged over to the barricaded window, pressing a button on the wall. The metal shutters began to rise, revealing the scenery beyond. The Doctor was quick to take a look. It was a glistening metropolis outside, gleaming towers dominating the skyline as hovering vehicles soared between them. There were numerous statues dotted about the place, all in the visage of the man they were currently accompanied by. The Time Lord wanted to explore every corner of it, something that Yaz picked up on almost instantly. She nudged the Doctor’s elbow gently, as if to remind her friend that she needed to remain focused.

   “Earth,” Kang said, joining them by the viewing point. He enjoyed the way Yaz’s eyes widened at that declaration. “I know what you’re thinking. This can’t possibly be Earth! Look how amazing it is! But that’s what you get in the thirty-first century. Technological advancement after technological advancement. There’s so much for you to learn here.”

   “I didn't think we’d get the chance to,” the Doctor said. “Seeing as we’re obviously your prisoners.”

   “That’s not a word I like to use. You should see yourselves more as…guests. You won’t come under any harm as long as you’re a valued guest under my protection.”

   Yaz could easily pick up on what that really meant. If they annoyed him, they’d lose their value and their protection in one fell swoop. “If this place is so amazing, why have you been so focused on the other Earth?”

   “Because I’ve built a society that is amazing. Why shouldn’t I share that with other realities? I could bring these advancements to the planet ten centuries before they naturally evolve. Just think of how many people I could save, how much environmental damage I could resolve…”

   “It doesn’t work like that,” the Doctor argued. “You have to give humanity the chance to grow themselves.”

   “Not when you’re me. The rules don’t apply.”

   “That’s a very dangerous perspective to have.”

   “Why should I let humanity make countless mistakes when I know I can eradicate them? I want to help them to create a better society.”

   “And that’s why you ended up in Ancient Egypt…”

   “A trial run to test if my bridge between realities could work. And it did ! It was glorious. The only issue was that, for some reason, I faced resistance.”

   “Funny that,” Yaz fired at him. “Who would have thought that the human race wouldn’t want an egotistical overlord?”

   Kang bit his lip, the first crack showing in his mask. “They were too stupid to understand what I was trying to create. So I reasoned that I would have to pick a more suitable time, when they had enough knowledge to accept what a magnificent gift they were being given. But I also came away from that initial experience with a new mindset. I couldn’t allow myself to go there without a means of…reinforcing my work.”

   The Doctor arched an eyebrow. “Which is why you’ve been taking superheroes from one reality and placing them in the other.”

   “No.” It was the first time that he’d properly put her on the backfoot. “I’ve got an army for that, if I face any backlash. That’s simple. They’ll be armed with weapons that no civilisation from the dark ages could stand against. Muscle is not what I’m lacking.”

   “Then what are you hindered by?”

   “The painful reality of the fragility of life. I could change one world…and then the next…and then the next…but I would grow old, soon turning to dust before I could bask in my brilliance. Yet…that’s where you come in, Doctor. Because you have a power no one else seems to have. It’s why I brought you here. I provide a gift to humanity…in exchange for a gift of my choosing. You can regenerate, Doctor. And frankly...I want a piece of the action.

Chapter Text

Waiting.

   That’s what he’d been forced to do for longer than expected. Thankfully, it was something that he’d become fairly used to over his years of confinement. Sure, he’d been given a taste of freedom recently, but he’d failed to make the most of that before it had been taken away yet again. It was his own fault, looking back. Maybe he’d needed that time away to truly realise that he hadn’t actually changed as a person as much as he might have liked. The question was…how many more haikus was it going to take before he finally reached that heightened spiritual plain? At least he’d have plenty of opportunities to write them now, with nothing else to do in a giant glass prison, making him feel like some sort of zoo exhibit. He wondered how much the DODC would charge to allow people to look at him. He liked to think it would be a pretty penny.

   They’d probably have to slash the ticket prices if they were left with an empty exhibit, which he hoped would be the case as soon as he saw the portal open to his right hand side. He didn't even bother to get up, so unimpressed he was now by the phenomenon after witnessing it so many times. Thinking back on the person he’d once been, he should have realised that his boredom technically signified that he had changed in some respects over the years. The military veteran of old would have baulked at the notion of magic existing; the monster that had taken his place didn't have the capacity to be surprised by anything anymore.

   A person who likely constituted his only friend stepped out from the newly formed opening, looking haggard and worried. Still, he didn't sit up, too annoyed at the delay. “You took your time.”

   Wong stared at Emil Blonsky, dressed in a red and grey jumpsuit, in disbelief. Most people would have applauded at the feat of sorcery. He liked it when people clapped, especially since it very rarely happened when he spent most of his time with other sorcerers. The blunt greeting was enough to make him doubt whether this idea was a good one, though it was safe to say that he was running out of options. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Wong knew that he would likely get in serious trouble for this but he’d enjoy watching any form of law enforcement track him down. Would they really punish him for helping to save the multiverse? He doubted any average police officer would understand the concept.

   He held up his hands, knowing how he needed to approach the man sitting in front of him. Blonsky had an ego, which needed to be catered to. “Emil, my apologies for the delay. If you’d just let me explain…”

   “Hmm…you got sucked into another show, didn't you?”

   Wong smirked. “We’re really in a golden era of peak tv. But that’s not what’s been holding me back, I’m afraid. Your…predicament…will mean you won’t have seen the news.”

   “Yeah, for some reason, they won’t pay for my cable subscriptions. I’ve written several complaints, using my finest calligraphy skills, but I reckon the workers just throw the paper straight into the bin.”

   “You’re going to have bigger things to worry about very soon if you come with me.”

   “It’s not as if I have much of a choice. I’d take some excitement any day of the week.”

   “That’s good to hear. Now…do you have all of your things?”

   At last, Emil stood up, wrapping his arm through the strap of a pathetically light satchel. The policies in the facility didn't really allow him to keep a lot of belongings. “What’s the guest policy at Kamar Taj? Is there a shared fridge?”

   Wong was put on the backfoot by the question, such a trivial matter to be focused on with the events surrounding them. “We’re…we’re more a sort of ‘one with everything’ kind of vibe. But, like I was saying…”

   Emil began to walk through the portal. “Wifi? Do you have wifi?”

   “Of course we have wifi. We’re sorcerers, not recluses. Again, that’s something that you don’t need to really concern yourself with, as you’ll see that we’re not going straight to Kamar Taj. We’re making a quick stop-off.”

   Blonsky was surprised when his feet landed on a soft patch of grass. He was in a park, and it was much colder than he’d been expecting. They definitely weren’t in Nepal, which was signalled by a big red bus driving past on the road beyond. It was advertising a comedy performance at the Hammersmith Apollo and his face went pale. Of all the places he’d thought of being taken to, this certainly had been fairly low down on the list. 

   “London? You’ve taken me to London?” He threw his bag on the ground, clearly unhappy with this latest development. “I did everything I could to get away from this blasted country. I’d rather go back to prison.

   Wong had been anticipating this reaction. “You know I wouldn’t have done it if it wasn’t abundantly necessary. We need your help, Emil. I’d love to explain why but you’re not the only person I need to collect, and that’s undoubtedly going to lead to some even more awkward questions. I’ll allow the others to debrief you.”

   The Sorcerer Supreme didn't leave any time for a response or argument, disappearing through yet another glowing gateway. Blonsky hadn’t yet realised that they weren’t alone. He was greeted by the sight of what was, from his outside perspective, an incredibly strange collection of people. There was a young girl clad in an odd purple outfit, though that was made to look normal by the guy dressed completely in white with a huge cape languishing behind him. The only person who appeared remotely sane was the guy standing off to one side, though he seemed nervous just to be there. None of this filled Blonsky with much hope. He was used to working with crack squads of highly-trained military men. The group before him was the clearest indicator yet of just how far he’d fallen.

   “Is someone going to tell me what the bloody hell is going on?” he asked, feeling his temper rising, something he’d gotten good at controlling. When you thought you were being treated to a relaxing break away in the mountains, only to be plonked in the middle of the country of your birth, that was enough to get your blood pressure rising. 

   “Hey, he’s from England!” Dan exclaimed happily. “It’s about time that I had someone around me who I can understand. Not that I haven’t enjoyed being with you.” He looked sheepishly at the others.

   Blonsky folded his arms. “Who’s the scouse joker? I haven’t seen teeth that white since I raided a salon that was actually a front for a drug cartel.”

   Dan covered up his mouth. “Well, I was hoping that Wong would have found us someone who’s a bit more pleasant.”

   “I’m normally a lot more zen than this but my meditation schedule has been properly messed up by my jailors. They have no respect for my lifestyle. I was hoping that moving into Kamar Taj, with its resplendent scenery and atmosphere, would give me the chance to find myself once again.”

   “Are we going to skip over the fact that he’s been in jail?” Steven wondered as he came to the forefront of their shared mind. 

   Blonsky blinked in surprise at the sudden change in the man’s appearance, though he should have known that the sorcerer would put him in league with some strange people. “We all have our past grievances that we should learn to overlook and move on from.”

   “That’s exactly the sort of thing someone in prison would say!”

   “To be fair, we’ve done a lot of stuff that should have had us locked away,” Marc commented.

   “You! You did that stuff! Not me!”

   “Are you forgetting the number of people you fought in the streets in Cairo? I’m sure that’s an offence in most countries, especially with the state you left them in.”

   “Bad people.” Steven sounded as if he wanted the others to know that he wasn’t the sort of person who went around bashing people’s heads in just for fun. “People who were trying to kill us. Not to mention Harrow. It was basically self defence.”

   “Whatever you want to tell yourself…”

   “You know, if you were looking for some counselling to bring your united souls more together, I’m exactly the guy you’re looking for,” Blonsky told them. “I’ve got a qualification in professionally easing one’s chakra.” He wasn’t going to mention that he’d bought the certificate from an online website. “I come with great recommendations and I’d just love to examine someone like you, who’s obviously at war with himself. It’s incredibly interesting. I’ll get Wong to take us to my retreat, as long as the authorities haven’t seized it already.”

   “I think we’re too busy for that, mate,” Dan pointed out.

   “I’m still to find out what I’m doing here. Why London? Why am I joining this apparent circus?”

   “Funnily enough, we’d like to know the same thing. We were told we were getting a valuable addition to the team. And then you walked out, talking about meditation, feng shui and origami…”

   “There are so many things wrong with what you just said. I’m actually aghast. Look, my mouth is literally hanging open at the cultural insults you just lambasted me with. It’s on the floor. My jaw is on the floor.”

   “I’m not excited about working with him,” Kamala said.

   “It’s nice to meet you too.”

   “Do you know him?” Dan asked.

   “His face has been plastered all over the news for months,” the girl explained. “ He’s Emil Blonsky. Just got out of prison for good behaviour, only to be sent right back because he defied the rules of his bail.”

   Blonsky smiled. “It sounds as if I’ve got a fan.”

   Kamala wrinkled her nose up in disgust. “Hardly. Not after the things you’ve done.”

   “Woah, woah, woah!” He held up his hands in what he hoped was a placating manner. “I think I’ve got an idea as to what’s got you so tightly wound up, which could be easily solved with daily yoga and breathing exercises, by the way. Are you judging me for what he did?”

   “If by he , you mean the great, big monster you turn into, then yeah.”

   Dan blanched. “Great…big…monster?” He took a nervous step backwards, now more wary of the rather weaselly-looking man.

   “Abomination. You can get the jist of what he’s like just from the name. He nearly killed the Hulk a decade ago.”

   Blonsky rolled his eyes. “Please. Is that still hanging over my head? I’ve done my time for that, for the actions of a creature I’m currently not. Is that fair? The imprisonment, I can accept, but I’ll take less of the judgement, thank you very much.”

   “Is there a reason why Wong would want us to work with him if he’s so bad?” Dan asked, wondering what a beast by such a name could possibly look like. 

   “I’m not bad! I…write poetry! I help other super powered individuals learn to be true to their real selves, rather than their alter egos. I shouldn’t be defined by the behaviour of something I can’t technically control.”

   “Wasn’t part of your plea to get out of prison based on the fact that you could control how and when you change?” Kamala retorted.

   “...I was hoping you might have missed that. But it doesn’t change anything! Because that’s now, whereas back then, I was hopped up on a cocktail of chemicals that I couldn’t possibly understand. Tell me this, do you blame Bruce Banner for all the destruction the Hulk has caused over the years? All the death? Or does that not fit into your pretty little picture of your beloved Avenger?”

   Kamala didn't have a straight answer. She hadn’t anticipated needing to defend her beliefs when she’d agreed to come to London. “You claim to be nice but there’s still a lot of anger there…”

   Blonsky shrugged. “People are allowed to be complex and three-dimensional. I have layers. That’s what I want people to understand. I deserve the chance to prove to people that I can do some good in the world.”

   “You might get the chance to do so,” Dan remarked. “If we’ve got a fight to get to, then we’ll probably need your help.”

   “Fight? No, I’m not about that anymore. Nope. No chance. I’m strictly a peaceful person nowadays.”

   Marc dragged a hand across his face. “That really isn’t going to help us right now!”

   “I’m not going to apologise for wanting to promote love instead of war.”

   “You might just be the most infuriating person I’ve ever met.”

   “That’s it…channel that anger…voice your fury and it will no longer rule you.”

   “Would anyone complain if I punched him in the face?”

   “We’d probably be put in a difficult position if you did, because he’d turn into that beast I mentioned earlier,” Kamala warned him.

   “I’m the master of my emotions,” Blonsky persisted. “One hit wouldn’t be enough to make me change. Or would it? Do you want to find out?” He was wearing a goading grin, practically begging Marc to instigate something. From his demeanour, they wouldn’t have guessed that he was there to promote any sort of peace.

   Thankfully, at least from Dan and Kamala’s point of view, the portal reopened, preventing the fight from breaking out just in the nick of time. Blonsky appeared rather disappointed, as did Marc, though they were sure that Steven was currently strongly debating the merits of his plan to attack their latest recruit. Wong calmly stepped through, silently surveying the scene that he was coming across. The tension could have been picked up from a mile away, it was that blatant. He should have known that it was never going to be easy. Emil wasn’t the sort of person who got on well with others straight away, unless they were paying his wages as a therapist.

   Their attention wasn’t directed at the sorcerer, but at the woman who followed closely behind. Dan was growing more confused by the minute as he saw the short figure join them. She appeared perfectly normal, dressed in a smart business suit with wild, curly brown hair. She seemed particularly intrigued about what she’d been called for, wide-eyed excitement consuming her. The last thing she looked like was the sort of superhero that they needed at the moment, but Dan had learnt from recent experiences that you really couldn’t judge anyone from what they looked like. The young girl standing next to him was testament to that.

   “Wong,” she was saying, the others catching them mid-conversation. “Are you going to tell me what you want? I had a really big day planned. Do you know how rare it is for me to have a day off? Do you know how many box sets I’ve got waiting for me? You can’t just escape to appear in the middle of my front room and…” Her eager energy dissipated in an instant, a scowl colouring her face. “What is he doing here?”

   “Jennifer,” Emil greeted the woman gentilly. “How lovely to see you again! So soon as well. I thought this would only happen if you came during visiting hours.”

   “I wish I could say the same thing. Wong !” Jennifer turned to the sorcerer. It was the first time the others had seen him remotely scared. “Please tell me that I’m imagining things…”

   “I can explain…” he attempted to say, but was quickly cut off.

   “Because, from the looks of things, I’d hazard a guess that you’ve broken Blonsky out of prison again ! Why would you drag me into this? You could be throwing my entire reputation down the garbage can!” She was clenching her fists tightly. “You better have a damn good reason for this.”

   “Have you not caught the latest news?”

   “San Francisco? I thought that was sorted.”

   “Sadly, that was only the beginning. There’s another threat. Or two, at least. I’ve brought you here because you’re perfectly suited for the task at hand.”

   “Is it kicking Blonsky’s butt? Because I’d really like to do that.”

   “I’m going to need you to take down a Hulk.”

   “Bruce? What’s he doing this time? Why would I need to fight him? The only time he ever gets mad now is when someone knocks over his test tubes or tells him that he doesn’t suit jogging bottoms. And why would he be in London? I’ve always wanted to come, though I felt it’d be under more…you know…romantic getaway vibes, you know what I’m saying?”

   “There’s nothing romantic about London,” Dan said to her. “Everyone’s much friendlier in the North.”

   “I should probably ask who these guys are as well, shouldn’t I? But can we circle back to the Hulk?”

   “It’s not your cousin, but a version of him from a different universe,” Wong explained, getting straight to the point.

   She narrowed her eyes. “I’m sure I left you for basically five minutes and this is the sort of trouble you’ve gotten yourself into?”

   “Tell me about it,” he grumbled. “It’s been an incredibly long day, and it’s not going to end anytime soon.”

   “So you brought me here to…?”

   “Don’t make me say it…”

   “Come on! I want you to say it. Please. Otherwise, I go home and leave you to it. Although I guess I’ll have to find the nearest airport for that, which means you could save us both a lot of time if you just say it !”

   “Jennifer…I need you to smash.”

   Kamala, whose eyes were sparkling at the interaction, nudged Dan. “You’re going to want to watch this. I’ve seen it on Twitter…but to get it right in front of me…if the world wasn’t ending, I’d say this has been the best day of my life.”

   Dan was going to respond about how he knew how such a contradictory mindset could be reached after finding enjoyment in life despite being chased by Daleks and Sontarans, but was stopped in his tracks by the sight of Jennifer transforming before his very eyes. She cocked her head to the side and, in one swift movement, every part of her body was growing and elongating. Her hair became longer and straighter, though the most noticeable change was definitely the fact that her skin was now a bright green. At least he’d been proven right not to prejudge her arrival.

   “I had a mate who could turn green like that,” he said sarcastically. “Though that was because he never listened to us when we told him the fried chicken shop down the road was giving him food poisoning.”

   “I like you,” Jennifer remarked. 

   “That’s a relief. I wouldn’t want to be on your bad side right now.” He was talking to a giant woman. This shouldn’t have been normal.

   “Unlike this guy who wants to be my relative” She was already walking away. “Wong, point me in the direction of this imposter.” A roar in the distance gave her all the answers she needed. “Well, that’s slightly terrifying. Blonsky, I’m giving you one free pass. If you don’t help me, you’ll be back in that cell before you can spit out another haiku. And I’ll be personally delivering you.”

   Emil rolled his eyes. “Since you asked so nicely…”

Chapter Text

 “You won’t lay a hand on her!”

   Yaz shoved past the Doctor to stand in between her and Kang, imbued with the sort of bravery that probably wasn’t rational in their present situation. For what it was worth, the man didn't react angrily, instead allowing a smirk to wash over his face. It was an indifference that infuriated Yaz, as if he didn't care about the ramifications of what he was suggesting. She could feel the Doctor tugging her on the arm, trying to pull her back to safety, but she fought with all of her might to stay strong. She wouldn’t allow anything to take the Doctor away from her again. Yaz had thrown herself at a witch just to stay with her; any man paled in significance.

   “Yaz,” the Doctor said in warning. “Don’t do anything stupid.”

   She turned her head slightly to glare at the Time Lord. “Protecting you isn’t stupid. It’s my job. My life.”

   “I can protect myself without you getting hurt in the process.”

   Yaz laughed, a soft, disbelieving chuckle. “Have you taken a look at your track record?”

   “Whatever he wants to do to me…it’s not worth you sacrificing yourself. We can’t have a universe without Yasmin Khan. There’s no Doctor without Yasmin Khan. So…step…away.” Her voice was growing louder and more authoritative, as if she believed she could intimidate her friend into submission.

   “That sort of anger might work on Dan, but I’ve been around you long enough not to be scared of you.”

   “Then you haven’t been paying much attention.”

   “Can I just say that I’m really enjoying this spectacle?” Kang interjected, raising a hand and waving to have the focus return to him.

   “What are you going to do to her?” Yaz asked angrily, still ignoring the Doctor.

   “I’ve already outlined that. Have you not been listening? I’ve been waiting for her arrival for quite some time…there’s a chamber just through there…” He paused to point at an innocuous door that now terrified Yaz. “...made from my brilliance and the technology this realm has to offer. It’ll take her regenerative energy…every last ounce of it…and place it into me. You have to marvel at my genius.”

   “I won’t let you.”

   “You really don’t get a say in this, Yasmin Khan.”

   “You’ll kill her.”

   “Not necessarily,” the Doctor murmured. “Yes, he’d take my ability to regenerate, but I wouldn’t die from that. It’d just make me more…fragile. More…”

   “...human,” Yaz finished quietly. 

   “I’d have one life. I’d grow old.”

   And there was the temptation, clear to see. The one thing that had been standing in the way of Yaz’s hopes of being with the Doctor had always been the irrefutable fact that the alien had an infinitely longer lifespan than her. She could travel in the Tardis for the rest of her days, but that would only represent a small chapter in the story of the Doctor’s life. If she were to lose that spark of what made her so different, then the barrier would fall between them. They’d grow old together . In the multiverse of possibilities, Yaz had never once considered that that could ever happen. It was now just one choice away from becoming reality.

   “You can’t seriously be considering this,” she said to her friend. “We’ve heard of the damage he’s done…how he’s manipulated people…turning them into his own weapons. If he could regenerate, then he’d be able to do that over and over again. You wouldn’t normally stand for that. You wouldn’t be so accepting of this. So what’s changed, Doctor? What have I not realised yet?”

   The Doctor bowed her head, her shoulders slumping. “He’s got one bargaining chip that I can’t overlook.”

   “Which is?”

   The Time Lord’s gaze, once it returned, was filled with such sincerity and meaning that it almost made Yaz step back. “You.”

   “I…I don’t understand.”

   “Kang said that he saw us coming. He always knew that you’d put yourself in harm’s way to join me here, even if that supposedly wasn’t a part of his plan. But what if he allowed that to happen? What if he wanted that to happen?”

   “Because I’ve been studying the Doctor,” Kang said, taking over the explanation. “And she’s got one weakness. The Doctor wouldn’t stand for injustice or insult. The Doctor wouldn’t stand by as someone threatened the world.” He reached out a hand, grasping Yaz’s chin with a warning show of strength. “Unless her pretty friend was in danger.”

   “He didn't prevent you from coming, Yaz, because you’re useful to him. You’re the one person in one universe or the next with enough power to manipulate me.”

   Kang seemed particularly pleased with the direction the conversation had turned, enjoying the look of bemusement on Yaz’s face. “If she doesn’t do what I say…if she doesn’t step inside that box…you’ll be killed, slowly and painfully.”

   “And I could never watch that happen, knowing there was something I could do to stop it.”

   “No!” Yaz protested. “I’m not worth it! I’m not worth sacrificing yourself for, Doctor!”

   She smiled sadly at her companion. “Yasmin Khan…you’re the only thing worth that.”

   “I won’t allow you to do it then.”

   “This is my choice. My burden to carry.”

   “He’ll go to that universe and tear it down, piece by piece, and all those friends we’ve made won’t have a chance of stopping him. You have to make the hard decision here, Doctor. You have to put the universe before me. Let me die so that they have a chance of living. It’s not even a close debate.”

   “You shouldn’t be so willing to die! Is this what I’ve done to you? Have I taught you that you’re nothing more than a sacrifice? That’s never been the lesson I wanted to show you. You should be scared right now, just as much as I am.”

   “Maybe someone has to be brave enough for the two of us. I’m alright in doing that, as long as you figure out a way of getting out of here afterwards.”

   “I’m not leaving without you,” the Doctor replied firmly, putting her foot down.

   Yaz could feel tears burning in her eyes. “Why not?!”

   “Don’t you understand yet? If I give him my regenerations, there’s still a chance that we’ll find a way to stop him. Plenty of Time Lords have died in the past despite that genetic advantage. All of them, in fact. But if I lose you…that’s permanent. And everyone in that universe…everyone in all the universes…would kiss their chances of survival goodbye because I wouldn’t be able to carry on. Not without you. I’d watch the universe burn if you were no longer in it, Yaz.”

   “You can’t…mean that.”

   The Doctor took Yaz’s hands in her own. “Let me save you. Let me do this.”

   Yaz glared at Kang. “What happened to you being so benevolent? You said you want to improve the world. Does that start with threatening to kill people?”

   He shrugged nonchalantly. “Certain sacrifices have to be made for the betterment of reality. I’m sure you’ll understand. No one has to die, as long as no one stands in my way.” His warm expression cooled considerably. “Now Yaz…are you going to stand in my way?”

   She hesitated, feeling the Doctor by her side. “You better know what you’re doing.”

   “Let’s get this over with,” the other woman commanded. 

   “What?” Kang asked. “No ceremony?”

   “Do you want me to change my mind?”

   “Ah, ah…I don’t think you can, Doctor. The universe or your love…you were always going to come to one decision. This is how it’s supposed to be. This is how I foresaw it.”

   The Doctor stiffened at his choice of words, now unable to look at Yaz out of fear of what she might see in return. She sensed her companion’s grip slacken and was left to wonder what she must have been thinking, whether all the pieces had been put into place for her to realise why she was doing this. If things went wrong, if the process didn't allow her to survive, then at least she could be comforted by the fact that she’d basically admitted her feelings. Without saying the words themselves. It’d hurt too much to say them for it to end immediately afterwards.

   The Time Lord sensed the presence of Kang’s automated guards before they showed themselves, but she moved on her own free will, stepping into the chamber that was waiting for them on the other side of the door. They found two glass boxes situated in the centre of the room, tall and wide enough for a person to stand in. The Doctor scowled at the sight, whereas Kang clapped his hands together in delight. Yaz felt like she was walking on autopilot, still trying to figure out if there was a way she could stop this from happening.

   Towards the back of the space, a larger machine stood. It was sleek and circular, giving off the impression that it housed a lot of power. It dwarfed the two boxes and, under normal circumstances, the Doctor would have been rushing over to investigate the display of advanced technology. Instead she focused on taking each step at a time, the surety in which she’d made her decision ebbing away the closer she got to it happening. Because, if it did go wrong, she’d be leaving Yaz in this place with no obvious means of escape. Could she take that risk? But she also couldn’t risk refusing their captor’s wishes. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn't.

   Kang nudged the Doctor playfully. “What do you think? Perhaps a bit minimalist for my liking, but this is for function over looks.”

   “What happens now?” she asked.

   “You’re the one who wanted to get this over with. I was going to do a big speech to commemorate the occasion.” He sighed dramatically, always the showman. “You’re ruining my fun, Doctor, but who am I to complain when you’re about to give me the greatest gift imaginable? Life . Just step inside and let the magic happen.”

   “And if I do this, you won’t hurt Yaz in any way?”

   “I only harm people who dare defy me. You’ve proven to be so helpful. That’ll only get rewarded, not punished.”

   The Doctor’s expression turned resolute as she approached the box, her hand resting on the handle. Kang busied himself with pressing an array of buttons outside its partner, before stepping inside and closing the door firmly. If she locked him in, then they’d have a chance of running away. Where they’d go, she didn't fully know. But he’d eventually find them, she was sure of that. And that was when the punishment would be handed out. Yaz wouldn’t survive his fury, which forced the Doctor’s hand.

   She forced herself to go inside, hearing the door shut with a heavy suction. Yaz cried out in one last, desperate attempt to make her change her mind. She put her hand against the glass, watching as the Doctor copied her action. They stayed that way for a few moments, neither of them knowing what to say. What words could possibly do them justice? How could they say goodbye in a suitably meaningful manner when it wasn’t even known whether they’d be leaving each other?

   “Don’t do this,” Yaz whispered. “There has to be another way.”

   “Oh, Yaz…I’m going to give you a big hug once I’m out of here. That’s what humans do, right? I’ll basically be like you after this, if Kang hasn’t lied and betrayed us. Let’s not focus on that, hey? Focus on hope. I’ll see you on the other side.”

   “You won’t be you anymore if you do this.”

   “I’ll still be by your side. That defines who I am more than any innate power. You know…when I was first taken to Gallifrey, they harvested my powers. Tecteun used me for exactly the same reason as Kang. I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s come full circle. A life this long, you tend to repeat a few storylines.”

   “But you kept your abilities then…maybe this will be the same…” As instructed, Yaz was trying to cling onto the hope that things wouldn’t be as bad as they thought.

   “I want every last drop,” Kang told them. “I’m not taking any chances.”

   “I’ll be okay,” the Doctor said quietly. “I’m not going to leave you again.”

   “You’ve made that promise too many times, Doctor,” Yaz argued in an equally soft voice. “One day, I might stop believing you.”

   “Is today that day?”

   “...no.”

   “Then I can do this. I can do this with your belief in me, Yasmin Khan.”

   The Doctor sent her friend - a term that didn't carry the weight of feeling required - one last wink as Yaz took a few shaky steps backwards. Kang didn't wait for her to be fully clear before activating the machine, a low rumble immediately starting around them. The tops of the boxes glowed ominously and, for a couple of seconds, nothing happened. Yaz started to believe that he hadn’t built it right, that he’d been too cocky to believe that he could extract such an enigmatic power source.

   But then the Doctor was sent spiralling towards her knees, her hands beginning to glow with golden wisps of energy. She yelled out in pain, making Yaz run towards her but, before she could even contemplate opening the door, one of the robot guards stood in her way, holding her back. As much as she tried to fight its staunch grip, there was no use in battling against such elevated strength. She struggled against its metal arms, watching as the Doctor looked towards her, her entire body beginning to be consumed by the force. A dreaded feeling took over Yaz’s mind as she considered whether she was about to watch her Doctor not just lose her powers but also change in the process. That would be too much to bear.

   Kang began to shout as the energy was extracted through a connecting tube in the roofs of the boxes, the shards of power striking the glass like lightning bolts. Although it must have been a painful process, his yells weren’t as anguished as the Doctor’s, almost sounding like he was somehow enjoying the sensation. Yaz tried to tune him out, focusing solely on the state of her friend, whose form was now slumped on the floor, the last vestiges of her energy draining out of her. Her fingers fell from her constraints, not enough strength in her body to support the weight any longer.

   It was a startling fast thing to watch and, before long, Yaz was let go, allowed to charge towards the chamber. She swung open with the door with little regard of damaging it, desperately needing to know whether the other woman was alright. The Doctor shifted ever so slightly and Yaz exhaled a breath she hadn’t even realised she’d been breathing. She hugged her close, not considering whether it might have hurt the alien, just needing to feel her body, to feel her hearts still beating.

   “Yaz,” the Doctor murmured. “Yaz…”

   “I’m here. Don’t worry.”

   “Is it done?”

   “I think so.”

   “I feel…weird.”

   “I don’t think that should come as a surprise.” The attempt at levity fell flat. “You’re okay though, right?”

   “My body doesn’t seem to be shutting down, which is a pleasant development.”

   “Did you expect it to?”

   “There’s always a possibility of things going wrong.”

   “And you didn't think to tell me?”

   “You barely let me step inside this thing as it was…I wasn’t going to take any chances.”

   “You’re insufferable, I hope you know that.”

   “Love you too, Yaz.”

   Her eyes ballooned comically. “Pardon?”

   “Did I say something?” the Doctor asked quizzically, just about finding enough energy to lift her head up, her hair falling messily over her eyes.

   Yaz’s smile was pained, though she tried to hide that feeling as she wiped the strands from the Doctor’s face. “Your brain must be going all haywire. Don’t worry about it. You’re alive. That’s all that matters.”

   “Whereas I’m more than alive!” Kang was up on his feet, staggering out from his confines, using the structure to support himself. “I can feel it coursing through my body! So much power! I’ve evolved. I’ve become more than human, the next step on the timeline, the next page of the story.” His blue suit flashed with gold and his body adjusted to the changes.

   He turned to one of his robots. “I want to take this for a test drive. Shoot me.” His happy demeanour vanished when his servant hesitated. “SHOOT ME!”

   The figure obeyed, aiming its right arm at its leader before firing two red bolts into his chest. Kang stumbled backwards, laughing as he did so. Yaz thought he was insane, praying that he’d miscalculated something and that he’d just taken a fatal hit. But then his fingers started to dance with the now familiar hue of regeneration energy, making his smile grow larger. He unleashed a full blast as his body contorted, Yaz shielding her eyes from the spectacle. His screams were louder than before, but they turned into a gleeful cackle once it stopped.

   A new man was standing in his place. His skin was still dark but he was taller now, his nose more pointed. “Get me a mirror!” A virtual one flickered in front of him and he took in his transformed appearance, fiddling with his smaller ears and his flatter chin. “Ha ha ha ha! Oh, Doctor…you never told me how brilliant this feels! I’m going to have to get the statues changed, though the next universe won’t have that problem. They’ll only know this face from now on! Until it changes again, if I get bored and fancy something different. Who knows how long it’ll take to reach that point? And it doesn’t matter, because I can do what I want!”

   He rushed towards them, trying to pick the Doctor up. “Come on, no time to lose!”

   “Get off her!” Yaz shouted but it didn't stop him. “What are you doing?”

   “We can open the gate again.” He gestured wildly to the circular structure behind them. “A portal to the next dimension. Your young friend glimpsed it, I believe, when she made the mistake of coming here. I allowed her to leave, of course, to set the trap, to layer the temptation. But I don’t have to wait anymore! I have everything I need! What do you say? Is it time that I paid your pals a visit?”