Vestigium Memoria (Traces of Memory)
Featuring the Third Doctor and Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart
Timeline: between Spearhead from Space and the Silurians
Summary: "Sometimes those traces of memory are all we have of those we've lost." The Brigadier is hunting for coffee, while the Doctor's nursing wounds.
Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart heaved a heavy and weary sigh from his chest as he rubbed the painful crick in the back of his neck. The timepiece on the wall, ticking methodically away like a good soldier's march, marked the hour as sometime near two o'clock. AM, he amended mentally, and groaned to himself. Paperwork, though essential to keeping a well-organized secret organization such as UNIT running properly, was sometimes a literal pain in the neck.
The Brigadier reached for a mug of coffee near his left hand, brewed hours ago, when he was still just working late, rather than burning the midnight oil.
He took a tentative sip, and grimaced. It was far too cool to be palatable, and had the consistency of syrup. Standing up from his chair with a grunt of relief, the Brigadier went in search of fresh coffee.
The halls of the headquarters were silent in the dark hours of the morning. Those off duty, Alistair envisioned, would be either in the barracks, sleeping soundly as they waited for their shifts to begin, or out for a night on the town. Well, at this hour, perhaps they all were curled up snug and warm beneath the duvets of their respective beds. Those on duty were few, mostly reserved to the guards posted at the gates and perimeter –so the short walk from his office to the communal coffee pot in the kitchens was undisturbed.
Unfortunately, so was the coffee pot. There were no coffee filters, and no coffee.
Alistair decided to try the labs – the scientists, he knew, thrived on caffeine, and it was as good a place as any to start with.
It was the light from a particular lab door he passed, however, that made him hesitate.
The Doctor's lab.
Didn't that man ever sleep?
"Doctor, I thought-" The Brigadier began, as he pushed open the door, then he halted as he noticed the man bent over the workbench, examining something in his hands. The new, maroon-velvet smoking jacket that had caught the man's eye in the store was hung meticulously over the back of the chair, and he seemed lost in thought. But, as a minute passed without change, Lethbridge-Stewart decided he wasn't interrupting anything highly important.
"Doctor, I thought I told –no, I ordered you to get some rest," he said, conveying a tone of annoyance even in his low volume as he let the lab door swing quietly shut behind him. The Doctor barely glanced up from his work, a small desk lamp illuminating a weary face and the metal of the mechanical part before him.
"You can't 'order' me to do anything, Brigadier," came the reply, touched with a minor petulance. "I'm not in your military. Anyways I'm not even human. How do you know I even need sleep?" The head of curly white hair bounced slightly as one callused hand picked up a mug near his arm, and drank a portion of the contents.
"You can't give me that excuse Doctor; not four days ago you were curled up very comfortably in that bed in hospital," the Brigadier replied dryly, wandering over and giving the alien a pointed look. "And since that business with the Autons cleared up, I know for a fact you haven't slept one wink. Your fellow staff – Liz especially – have been supplying reports." The Doctor gave him a blearily dark look, but he continued. "Alright, I can accept the fact that you may need less sleep then us humans, but really. You're tired, and irritable, and have you seen yourself in the mirror?"
"Yes. You so kindly borrowed one from Liz to lend to me," The Doctor replied tartly, taking another drink of the contents of the mug. The Brigadier grunted indignantly.
"That's not what I meant, Doctor – What is that, coffee?" He eyed the mug speculatively, frowning.
"Venusian brandy," the man muttered sourly. "You're out of coffee. Better requisition some."
The Brigadier was taken aback, and not just by the Time Lord's bitter tone. As long as he'd known the Doctor, in both his lives, he had never known the man to touch a drop of hard spirits.
The surprise must've shown on his face, or else the Doctor could read his mind (could he?) for he laughed shortly, a harsh, sarcastic-sounding chuckle, and wrapped his hands securely around the drink. "There's a lot to be learned about me, Brigadier, which would shock you more then alien brandy."
Alistair wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Too many questions rose and fell from the forefront of his mind, but the one that managed to leave his lips was the most sensible.
"Everything alright, Doctor?"
It earned him another grim, half-hearted laugh, and the Doctor sat back, looking up at the Brigadier for the first time since he'd entered the room.
"No, I'm afraid not, Brigadier," he said, with a heavy sigh. "Nothing has been alright since I was exiled to this blasted planet. I," he added, silencing any insulted protest the Brigadier might've had, "unfortunately, have all my memories back."
The Doctor hesitated and scowled darkly, though not at Lethbridge-Stewart. "Not all. Still can't fly the TARDIS – we're still stuck in your lovely company."
The Brigadier's patience was rapidly growing thin, fuelled by the late hour and the lack of coffee. "So then what's –"
"I can remember everything else." There was a haunted look in the Doctor's eyes, one the Brigadier had seen many times before: the pain of loosing someone, friend or comrade, in the heat of battle. The curse of surviving when they hadn't made it. It effectively snuffed his annoyance like a flame in the wind.
"Your young friends…McCrimmon and…Zoe, wasn't it?" He said, with realization. "I had wondered…wanted to ask…"
"What became of them," the Doctor finished, his voice soft. Alistair nodded solemnly. The Time Lord smiled slightly, perhaps in thanks for the sympathy, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Jamie and Zoe…"
"They were…taken. Returned to their own times and places." He contemplated the murky, amber surface of his brandy. "Suppose it was for the best; they would've gone as mad as I feel had they been stuck with me in exile."
He suddenly thumped his fist onto the ceramic countertop with a force that made the glassware jump and clatter. "But for all the cheek, those insufferable…infuriating…othering xenophobic tarts…They wiped their memories, Alistair. All those adventures, all that experience, that knowledge, and They just took it from them!"
He was breathing somewhat harshly, and the hand holding the brandy had begun to shake. Alistair discreetly extracted it from his grasp before he could drop it, or fling it across the room, and set it safely on the counter. The Doctor didn't seem to notice.
"Zoe was so determined to prove her friends on the Wheel she wasn't just a head full of numbers. She stowed away, y'know, and when we found her she demanded to come with us. Even after I showed her what we might face. The Daleks, the Cybermen…it didn't faze her a bit. And she was so smart…sometimes irritatingly so, but…I admired her."
"And Jamie…he was from 1746. Even in his own time he was a rebel, fighting against the redcoats. But despite being from the past he took everything in his stride. Never backed down from a challenge, dear Jamie…he always made an effort to understand everything new. And I think I needed him as much as he needed me. Sometimes he came up with the answers to everything, simply because he thought so basically."
"And now…they won't remember any of it. Racing around Gatwick Airport, facing up to pirates, Daleks, tackling the Ice Warriors, the Yeti…all gone, just to preserve the bloody web of time."
The Doctor had risen, and had paced the room as he talked, but now he had stilled, brandy once again in hand as he gazed longingly into the blank of thin air.
"They'll never remember me, either."
A firm hand rested on his shoulder, and drew the Doctor's attention to Alistair's face. The soldier had the deepest sympathy and sorrow resting in his eyes, but his expression remained the stalwart bravado of a battle-hardened warrior.
"At least they won't be entirely forgotten, Doctor. You still remember them, and sometimes those traces of memory are all we have of those we've lost," he said sombrely.
The Doctor was silent, but his gaze spoke thanks beyond the sadness in his blue eyes. Lethbridge-Stewart sighed softly, and let his hand drop back to his side, running his thumb over the cool handle of his empty coffee mug.
"I had better get back to my paperwork – requisition some more coffee," he said, leaving the taste of the humour hanging in the air, as a lifeline for his companion's grief. He turned to leave the man in peace.
"I miss them, Alistair."
The Brigadier paused, his hand resting on the lab door. He cast a look back at the alien, silently watching him return to the desk, and to the mechanical part he had been twiddling with.
Some scars healed easily. These…would take time.
He knew. He had fought the same battles himself.
"I know, Doctor," he said simply.
The Doctor looked up, his attention caught by something in his tone, and Alistair had the curious feeling that he was being examined for the first time. As though, until now, the Doctor had been content to assume that the Brigadier was the same man he had met with the Yetis.
"I think," the Doctor said finally, "that you do."
Alistair coughed, suddenly realising how very emotional the atmosphere had become.
The Doctor seemed to sense it. "We getting too soppy for your British sensibilities, Brigadier?" he asked, just a whisper of a smile playing across his lips.
The joke eased the tension somewhat, and Alistair returned the smile.
"Get some rest, Doctor," he said to the man's back. "That's an order."
Then he left the alien to his work, and headed back down the corridor to his office.
Written for the UNIT(underscore)family LJ ficathon, submitted 2/9/07
Written for bibliophile1887, who wanted The Brig and Three have an awkward conversation about where Zoe and Jamie are.
Beta'd by Emery Board