Liz Shaw reached up and gently massaged her neck as she dropped down in a chair. One of the Doctor's latest experiments lay on a nearby table; an odd purple plant that vaguely resembled a potato was suspended by a complicated series of wires, hanging several inches above a Bunsen burner. A greenish-brown liquid occasionally dripped from a cut in its side, landing in a small bowl set up underneath it.
"Don't touch anything, he said," she muttered under her breath. "As if I were a child who didn't know any better."
She glanced over at the experiment, wrinkling her nose a bit at its amateurish appearance. Even though she knew that the Doctor wouldn't be bothering if it wasn't important, for the life of her she couldn't see the point. "Of course," she grumbled, "it would be easier to understand the experiment if he would bother to explain it."
As she expected, there was no reply. Liz shook her head, smiling despite herself. To the best of her knowledge, she had never been one to talk to herself when no one else was around; not until she had begun working with the Doctor. Still, she supposed, there were worse habits to have picked up.
She was still smiling when an explosion outside rocked the building.
One of the lab's windows exploded inward, sending shards of glass flying through the air. Liz instinctively threw herself to the floor, covering her face as best she could with her arms. She grimaced as a particularly large piece of glass hit her forehead, just below her fringe. Blood immediately began streaming down her face, trickling down her arms.
A few seconds later, when the sound of shattering glass disappeared, she tentatively pulled her arms away from her face and looked over at the window. Black smoke was billowing up, and she could hear frantic yelling. She was breathing heavily, her heart beating much faster than usual, and she struggled to calm herself.
Blood trickled into her eye, drawing her attention back to the cut on her forehead. She reached up and felt it, flinching a bit at the pain. It didn't feel as if it was too deep. Liz pushed herself to her feet and made her way over to one of the tables set up around the edges of the room. She picked up a clean cloth, holding it to the cut on her head with as much pressure as she could.
A sweet, cloying smell suddenly caught her attention. Startled, Liz spun around. The explosion had apparently shook the room enough to upset the Doctor's experiment, and the wires suspending the plant had dropped down so that it was directly in the flame. The liquid oozing out of it was bright green now, without a hint of brown, and it was. . . .
Liz felt the room start to spin. Her legs buckled under her, and the smell seemed to grow even stronger as she hit the floor. She doubled over, coughing as she tried to breathe.
"Miss Shaw?" The door to the lab was flung open as the Brigadier came storming in, looking even more harried than usual. "Is there any damage in . . . oh dear Lord."
The Brigadier started coughing almost immediately. He yanked a handkerchief out of his pocket, bringing it up to cover his mouth and nose. As he started toward Liz, she hurriedly shook her head and gestured toward the table in the middle of the room.
"Burner," she choked out. "Turn . . . it off."
The Brigadier glanced over at the experiment, his eyes widening in comprehension as he rushed over to turn off the Bunsen burner. Then, still coughing even with his face covered, he hurried over to where she was sprawled. Letting the cloth drop to the floor, he picked her up as if she didn't weigh anything and hurried toward the door.
As he made it out into the hall, the Brigadier kicked the door shut behind them. Then he staggered down the corridor, heading toward the nearest stairs.
The sergeant came hurrying toward them, suddenly seeming much blurrier than usual. Liz blinked as her vision faded in and out of focus. She still couldn't breathe properly, and she could feel the lack of oxygen having an effect on her.
"Evacuate everyone off this floor!" The Brigadier doubled over, coughing. He barely managed to keep from dropping Liz to the floor. "And find out where in the hell the Doctor is and get him back here!"
Liz vaguely heard Benton's crisp "yes, sir!" as the world faded to black.
Liz reluctantly let one of the UNIT doctors take away the oxygen mask she'd been using for the past ten minutes. Her head was pounding, both from her inability to breathe earlier and the large cut on her forehead. It had taken several stitches to stop the bleeding, and the injury was beginning to throb now that both her adrenaline and the local anesthetic the doctors had given her was finally fading away.
She glanced over at the Brigadier, who was impatiently pushing away his own mask. "Keep that dratted thing away from me," he snapped. "I should be outside with my men. . ."
". . . finding out which fool accidentally set off the ordinance," the doctor who had been running tests on him cut in, doing a fairly decent impression of the Brigadier's tone. "Yes, sir, you've mentioned in several times."
The Brigadier glared daggers at him.
The doctor glared right back. "Until we know exactly what happened in the lab, neither you nor Miss Shaw will be going anywhere."
Liz sighed as she looked between the two of them. "Dr. Jones," she said, drawing startled glances from both men, "do you honestly think we're in any danger?"
The doctor stared at her a moment before shaking his head. "No, I don't."
Snorting, the Brigadier started to stand up. The doctor quickly reached out and put a hand on his shoulder. "Sir," he said matter-of-factly, "my personal opinion isn't important at the moment. Your own standing orders clearly state that no one is allowed to return to active duty after an incident like this until all test results are back."
The Brigadier looked like he was about to start arguing again, but he was stopped before he could begin when the door opened and Benton entered the room. He paused in the doorway a moment, obviously aware of the fact that he'd walked in on something.
"I'll leave you alone for a moment to talk to the sergeant," the doctor said, removing his hand from the Brigadier's shoulder. "I trust you will still be here when I come back?"
The doctor stood there, not moving, until the Brigadier reluctantly nodded in agreement. Once he had, the doctor smiled and walked toward the other side of the room, where several men were being treated for burns and other injuries related to the ordinance explosion.
The Brigadier immediately turned his attention to Benton. "Did you get in touch with the Doctor?"
"Yes, sir, he's on his way back now," Benton said, nodding. "He asked me to pass along his apologies to both you and Miss Shaw."
The Brigadier sighed. "Just tell me what he said."
"Sorry, sir," Benton said, sounding a bit worried if Liz wasn't off her mark. "The Doctor's on his way back now and suggests that we evacuate the floors above and below his lab as well, just to be on the safe side."
The Brigadier stared at Benton. "And?"
This time, there was no hiding the concerned look on Benton's face. "It's just that the Doctor seemed quite worried when I told him what happened, sir."
Liz blinked at that statement. The words "Doctor" and "worried" seemed as different as night and day. In the short time that she'd worked with UNIT, she'd never truly seen a time when that description would work for the Doctor.
The Brigadier apparently had the same though, because he snorted. "I'm assuming you're exaggerating a bit."
Benton cleared his throat. "Excuse me, sir, but I don't think so. Apparently the reaction from the plant was . . ." He trailed off, looking even more uncomfortable than before.
"Spit it out, sergeant," the Brigadier said dryly.
"It can be deadly to humans," Benton continued reluctantly. "He said that it takes hardly any exposure, and the two of you are damn lucky to be alive." Benton paused, shooting Liz an apologetic look. "Of course, he didn't use those exact words."
Liz shook her head, smiling a bit.
"Of course," the Brigadier said tiredly. "Have you found out anything about the explosion?"
Benton shook his head. "Not yet, sir. A few names are being bandied about, but there's no proof yet."
The Brigadier sighed. "Of course not," he said under his breath. "It couldn't be simple."
Benton shifted in place, not quite standing at attention but not at ease either. "Yes, sir?" he agreed tentatively.
Shaking his head, the Brigadier gestured toward the door. "Go, try to find some answers by the time I'm allowed to leave."
"I'll do my best," Benton said with a nod. He turned around and made his way over to the door.
As soon as Benton was gone, the door shut firmly behind him, the Brigadier glanced over at Liz. He shot her a rueful smile. "Well, Miss Shaw, it looks as if we're going to be here at least until the Doctor returns."
"Apparently," Liz agreed, a wry smile on her own face.
They settled into an uncomfortable silence, neither of them saying a word. After a few minutes, Liz couldn't help but reach up and rub at her aching head again. The Brigadier frowned as he watched.
"Is your head still bothering you?"
Liz nodded, flinching as even that small movement sent another wave of pain through her head. "I'm afraid so."
"Wait until I get my hands on the Doctor," the Brigadier grumbled under his breath. "I've told him a thousand times not to set up any experiments that are dangerous. And especially not in my HQ."
Liz sighed, still gingerly rubbing her throbbing temples. "He didn't say it was any danger to him," she pointed out, hissing in pain when she accidentally touched the edges of the cut. "Only that it was deadly to humans."
The Brigadier kept staring at her, and she self-consciously brought her hand down. "I'm going to kill him," he muttered. "Military asset or not, I'm going to wring that neck of his."
"No, you're not." Liz looked down at her hands resting in her lap, not meeting his gaze.
He didn't reply for several seconds. Then without warning he chuckled. "I supposed you're right," he admitted.
Her mouth curled up at the corners, revealing a tiny smile. After a few seconds, she glanced in his direction. "Brigadier?"
He looked over at her and cocked an eyebrow.
Liz tentatively reached out and placed her hand on top of his, squeezing it slightly. "Thank you," she said softly.
The Brigadier stared at her a moment, a startled look on his face, before he smiled. "It was my pleasure, Dr. Shaw."
"Hand me that wire!" the Doctor shouted, gesturing wildly at a jumbled stack of wires and other metal pieces that lay just out of his reach.
Liz shot him an incredulous look, but she obediently crawled over and started rummaging through the pile. "Could you be a little more specific?"
The Doctor shot her an exasperated look. "That one," he said, pointing toward one a few inches from her left hand. "The one with the greenish hue."
Biting the urge to retort, Liz grabbed the wire. She moved forward just enough for the Doctor to grab it out of her hands before once again focusing entirely on the device sitting on the ground in front of him.
Liz dropped immediately, flinching as she heard something go whizzing directly over her head. She shot Benton a grateful look, carefully glancing between him and the Brigadier to see where things stood.
They were severely outnumbered, and the aliens had somehow managed to block their communications so that they couldn't call for backup from UNIT. At the moment, their only hope was the Doctor and the device that he was working on frantically. He had yet to explain what it did, but he had said that it would stop the aliens from trying to kill them.
At the moment, that was enough for Liz.
The Brigadier and Sergeant Benton were both flanking their position, trying to provide covering fire to keep the aliens' attention away from the Doctor's work. So far it was working, though Liz couldn't help but wonder how much longer it would last.
Without warning, the Brigadier let out a grunt of pain and his gun dropped from his grip. He fell back, clutching at his right shoulder. Blood streamed between his fingers, the flow much heavier than it should have been for a shoulder wound.
The Doctor glanced over at him, hesitating for a second before turning back toward Liz. He gestured toward the Brigadier with his head. "You can help him more than me at the moment."
Liz nodded, not saying a word as she began crawling over to the Brigadier's side.
Benton glanced worriedly over at them, moving to a better position so that he'd be able to cover the three of them more effectively. Liz shot him a grateful look before turning her attention toward the Brigadier.
He gritted his teeth as she reached out and gently pulled his hand away from his shoulder, and she couldn't help but flinch when she saw the injury. "I thought our weapons were bad enough," she said softly, pressing his hand back against the wound.
"Don't worry about me," the Brigadier said, trying to smile. He didn't come close to succeeding. "Go and help the Doctor. I've had worse."
Liz took out a white cloth that she'd tucked in her pocket earlier, folding it several times. She pulled the Brigadier's hand away from his shoulder long enough to slide it over the injury. "Hold this against your shoulder," she said matter-of-factly. "We need to slow the bleeding."
The Brigadier coughed. "I mean it," he said firmly. "Get back over there any help the Doctor."
"The Doctor needs an assistant for two reasons," Liz shot back, rolling her eyes, "to hand him things and to tell him that he's a genius. At this moment, I think neither would be very helpful."
He chuckled at her reply, not arguing.
Out of the corner of her eye, Liz saw the Doctor's eyes widen in alarm. "Liz, behind you!"
Liz reacted without thinking, grabbing the Brigadier's gun from the ground where it had dropped. Half-remembered lessons fluttered through her mind, handsome young men volunteering to teach her to shoot for a chance to get their hands on her. She'd been much younger then, eager to catch their gaze.
Those thoughts rushing through her head, she spun around. She saw one of the aliens standing there, looking almost human, one of their evil-looking weapons clutched in its claws. Without hesitating, she pulled the trigger. As the alien jerked from the bullet's impact, she pulled it again.
She watched, startled, as the alien's back arched. It crumbled to the ground, a purple liquid that she assumed was blood trickling from the bullet holes in its chest.
"I have it!"
The Doctor's device started to hum, a bright blue light bathing the entire area for several seconds. As the light faded away, the aliens that had still been standing dropped down to their knees.
Liz sat there, still staring at the one she had killed.
After several more seconds had passed, the Brigadier reached up and gently pulled the gun from her hands.
". . . and then he had the nerve to say that included all human scientists!"
Liz raked her hands through her hair, utterly frustrated. "I just can't believe him sometimes," she continued. "He doesn't need a scientist working for him. All he needs is someone to hand him test tubes and tell him how brilliant he is every now and then. A parrot could give him everything he needs in an assistant!"
She took in a deep breath, slowly letting it out.
The Brigadier lifted an eyebrow. "Do you feel better?"
"A little," Liz admitted grudgingly.
Shaking his head, the Brigadier pushed his chair away from his desk and stood up. It took a few seconds longer than usual thanks to the sling his right arm was in, but he managed without much difficulty. He started toward the door, obviously planning on opening it for her.
"Does it ever get easier?" Liz asked quietly.
The Brigadier glanced over at her. "What?" he asked, smiling.
"Shooting someone. Or something, as the case may be."
He froze. "You had no other choice," he said without hesitation. "Even the Doctor said as much."
Liz looked away, not meeting his gaze.
"Miss Shaw, look at me."
She didn't move.
He sighed, and she heard the sound of movement. Liz started a bit as he reached out and gently patted her shoulder, looking up before she had a chance to think. She stared into his eyes for a moment before quickly pulling away.
The Brigadier frowned. He reached out again and grabbed her arm with his good hand, the strength in his grip surprising her. "Look at me."
After a few seconds, she reluctantly met his gaze.
"I wouldn't be here right now if you hadn't pulled that trigger," he said firmly, not leaving any room for doubt. "Neither would you, for that matter."
"Let go of my arm," Liz said, trying to pull away from him.
"No," he replied. "Not until I know you're listening to me."
She glared at him, her eyes narrowing. He glared right back. Then, without warning, they kissed.
Liz couldn't help but let out a startled "oomph" as she felt his lips on hers. She wasn't certain if he'd made the first move or if it had been her, but now that it had started she didn't want to stop. She felt the Brigadier's grip loosen on her arm, sliding around to rest on her lower back.
There was a quick knock on the door, and it was flung open before either of them had a chance to react. The door slammed shut almost immediately, and they hurriedly pulled apart. Liz couldn't meet the Brigadier's gaze, and she could tell from the heat on her face that she was blushing.
After a few seconds, there was another knock at the door. This one was much louder. The Brigadier cleared his throat, and out of the corner of her eye Liz saw him straighten up. "Come in."
Benton poked his head in the door, purposely not meeting their eyes. "I'm sorry to disturb you, sir, but the Doctor needs to see both of you in his laboratory. It seemed rather urgent."
"Of course," the Brigadier replied, "tell him we'll be there in just a moment."
Benton nodded, gratefully pulling his head back and shutting the door again.
The two of them stood there a moment, staring awkwardly at each other. The Brigadier finally nodded, smiling gently. Liz slowly smiled back.
The Brigadier frowned as he stood in the door to his office. "Dr. Shaw," he said loudly, "a moment please."
Pointedly ignoring the looks being shot in her direction, some of them more knowing than she'd like, Liz made her way toward him. She slid past him in the doorway and walked over to his desk, not reacting when he shut the door behind her.
"Do you know why I called you in here?"
Liz calmly met his gaze. "I have an idea."
The Brigadier's face was expressionless for a moment. Then he started to smile, chuckling softly as he walked over to where she was standing. "I imagine you do," he said wryly.
Smiling back, Liz kissed him. He kissed back, pushing against her so that she had no choice but to slide up onto his desk and sit on its edge. One of his hands rested in her hair, tugging slightly at it. The other slid around to rest on the small of her back, unconsciously rubbing in a circular motion.
Liz let out a moan as the kiss deepened. She brought her hands up to rest behind his head, pulling him closer to her.
Then someone knocked at the door.
They pulled away immediately, and the Brigadier frowned. "What is it?" he called out.
The door didn't open, but they could clearly hear Benton's voice. "I'm sorry, sir, but the Doctor says it's an emergency."
"Of course he does," the Brigadier muttered under his breath. Then, raising his voice, he called out: "I'll be there in a moment."
Liz sighed as she slid off the desk, straightening her rumpled clothes. "Next time?"
Liz tugged at the edges of the bandage wrapped around her arm, pulling at one of the loose threads. It barely hurt, and she honestly thought that the stitches the doctor had used to close it were a bit of an overkill. Of course, as he had pointed out, she wasn't a physician so she'd keep that opinion to herself.
Someone cleared his throat in the lab's doorway, and Liz looked up in surprise.
"Brigadier," she said, nodding.
He nodded back. "Dr. Shaw."
She gestured around the room. "If you're looking for the Doctor, he's not here," she said. "He left with Captain Yates a little while ago. Apparently there was a bit of a problem with Torchwood, and the Doctor's trying to determine just how dangerous the object they found happens to be."
The Brigadier's face darkened at that bit of news.
"As far as Torchwood's concerned, Dr. John Smith is a perfectly normal human," Liz said hurriedly, reading his expression. "The queen herself arranged for his false documents, as you know very well."
He shook his head. "I know," he said ruefully. "That doesn't mean I like him walking right into their clutches."
Liz gave him a gentle smile. "Maybe if you told him they're after him. . . ."
The Brigadier pointedly cleared his throat, cutting her off. "I was actually looking for you," he said, obviously changing the subject. "I heard that you were injured and wanted to see how bad it was."
"Oh, this?" Liz held up her bandaged arm, shrugging. "It's honestly nothing. A beaker exploded and I happened to be a little too close."
"Ah." The Brigadier didn't say anything more, but Liz could read his face clearly.
"It was just a minor accident," she said irritably. "You don't have to be worried, Alistair."
He drew back, startled. "I wasn't planning on it, Elizabeth," he said placatingly. His tone said something else entirely.
The Brigadier patted her hand, letting his fingers linger there for a moment, before turning to leave. Liz sat there, not saying a word as she watched him go.
Then she sighed.
Liz laughed as she poured another glass of wine and handed it to Alistair. He accepted it gratefully, taking a small sip before placing it on the table beside his empty plate.
"Dinner was delicious," he said, smiling.
She smiled back. "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
They sat there in silence for a moment before he leaned back in his chair, taking another sip of wine. "You know, I'm surprised you can cook this well."
Liz cocked an eyebrow. "And why's that?" she asked teasingly.
The Brigadier laughed. "Well, because of your occupation."
Her smile grew a bit forced. "Because I'm a scientist?" she asked, trying to keep her tone even.
He shot her a puzzled look. "Well, yes," he said, shrugging. "Anyway, it's been quite awhile since I've enjoyed a meal like this one."
"Really?" Liz asked, trying to smile.
"Since Fiona left me, at least," he replied, nodding. "We might have had our troubles, but I have to admit that she was a wonderful cook."
Liz stopped even attempting to smile.
The Brigadier grimaced when he noticed the expression on her face. "I probably shouldn't have mentioned my ex-wife tonight."
"It would have been nice," Liz said wryly.
He cleared his throat. "Did I mention it was a nice meal?"
Rolling her eyes, Liz pushed her chair away from the table and stood up. "I'm going for a walk," she said, turning and walking toward the door.
She spun around, shooting him a cold look. "What?"
The Brigadier smiled, almost smirking. "It's your flat."
"I know," she shot back. His smile started to fade. "But it makes more sense for you to stay, since you've already made yourself at home."
She stormed out, slamming the door behind her.
Liz sighed as she slid her key into the lock, slipping into her flat. She hadn't meant to be gone as long as she had, but the warm night air had been so inviting that she'd lost track of time.
She started, looking up in surprise. The Brigadier was sitting in one of her chairs, smiling ruefully at her.
"I put away the dishes," he continued. "I wasn't certain where a few went, so I had to guess."
Liz gave him a slight smile. "You're still here."
He nodded, pulling himself to his feet. "I'm still here."
They stood there a moment, staring at each other, before Liz walked over to where he was standing. She stopped just in front of him, meeting his gaze. Then she smiled tentatively at him and held out her hand.
"Come to bed?"
Liz gasped as the Brigadier flung himself over her, knocking the wind out of her lungs. He rolled off a few seconds later, his back a bit singed but otherwise fine.
"You didn't have to do that," Liz said irritably. "I was already close enough to the ground that the flames wouldn't have hit me."
He patted at his back, putting out a few spots on his uniform that were smoldering. "You can't know that for certain."
She met his gaze coolly. "I have a degree in physics," she said pointedly. "I'm fairly certain that I can estimate angles."
The Brigadier stared right back, the expression on his face just as cool.
"Sorry!" the Doctor called out behind them. He nimbly made his way over to the device in the center of the room, hitting a few switches. Immediately flames stopped shooting out of it.
Benton stood up from where he had thrown himself the moment flames had started flying, patting at a smoking spot on his shoulder. He shot the Doctor a fond yet exasperated look before glancing over at the Brigadier and Liz. Then he froze.
Liz pushed herself to her feet, ignoring the Brigadier's hand when he offered it to her.
Benton cleared his throat nervously. "Doctor," he said, grabbing the Time Lord by the arm and steering him toward the door, "could you explain that latest experiment of yours one more time? The one you have set up out in the hangar?"
She didn't hear the Doctor's reply, but Liz assumed it was positive since he didn't turn around and come back. Shaking her head, she met the Brigadier's gaze without blinking.
"I didn't need your help," she repeated.
He stared right back at her. "That's not how it looked to me."
"Then maybe your eyes need to be checked," Liz snapped back.
The Brigadier blinked, startled.
Liz deflated a bit, shaking her head. "Never mind," she said softly. "We're never going to agree."
"Probably not," he said slowly, obviously not certain whether or not that was the right answer. "It certainly seems as if we never do."
She laughed quietly at that, her gaze dropping down to her hands. They were clasped together, her fingers unconsciously flexing as she tried not to let her emotions show. "Truer words were never spoken," she said, a hint of sarcasm in her voice.
He reached out and put his hand under her chin, lifting her head up a bit. "Maybe we could have dinner at your place again?" he suggested gently. "This weekend, perhaps?"
"We'll see," she said softly.
Biting her lip, she sighed. Liz leaned up and gave him a chaste kiss on the lips. Then she turned and walked out of the lab, not once meeting his gaze.
Liz stood in front of the Brigadier's desk for a moment, wavering between laying down the letter she was holding or waiting. She had wanted to give it to him personally, but it would be at least a day before he returned from the summit meeting. Now that she was actually here, standing in his office, she couldn't help but wonder if it wouldn't be easier to just put it here and leave.
This letter marks my immediate resignation from UNIT as the Doctor's personal assistant.
If she was honest with herself, she wasn't certain she was doing the right thing. UNIT had opened up so many doors for her, and what was she doing? Running back to Cambridge.
The Brigadier's face flashed in her mind, his mouth twisted up into a tiny smile that only those who really knew him could see. Liz felt something in the pit of her stomach, and she sighed. It was a simple choice: fight or flight. She could stay here, what lay in the future a complete mystery, or she could leave, returning to the status quo that her life had been before UNIT. Before the Doctor. Before Alistair.
Taking a deep breath, Liz lay the sheet of paper down on the Brigadier's desk. Then she put a smaller piece on top of it, a few sentences that she didn't want going into her official file for a variety of reasons.
I hope that you don't argue with the reasons that I gave in my letter. It won't hurt the Doctor's ego for the blame to fall on him, and there won't be any negative repercussions for you this way.
As she turned and walked away, she didn't look back.