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AN: My own tribute to the man who brought the Doctor's oldest and dearest human friend to life for so many years
A Time Lord Mourns
As he stood at the TARDIS console, staring at the message on the screen in front of him- the TARDIS had transferred the message from the transmitter to a text format on the computer when he hadn't immediately responded due to him being busy with the Kazran situation-, the Doctor was ashamed to admit that his first thought was to ignore it.
After all, he'd gone to the future at a time when his former companions were definitely dead before now, and he'd never even been tempted to so much as look up their obituaries; he didn't need to know how they'd died, he'd just needed to know that they'd go on and live good lives that tried to live up to the best parts of what they'd experienced with him (His moment of weakness in the face of Davros's taunts aside, his companions were heroes and soldiers who were willing to die in his name, not kill in it; the distinction was subtle, but it was an important one that he should have recognised sooner)...
But, on the other hand, it was this man whose funeral he was being asked to attend.
After everything that this man had been through with him, everything they'd seen together, everything they'd done together, the impact that each of them had made on the other's lives, the sheer amount of time he'd spent meeting up with this man, sometimes for no other reason than just to be there...
He couldn't not go to the funeral.
After everything the other man had done for him, this was the least he could do in memory of those times.
"Doctor?" Amy's voice said, breaking into his train of thought as he looked up to see his companions arriving. "What's wrong?"
"Just... got a call," the Doctor replied, waving his hand at the console as he walked around to activate the necessary controls. "Got to go; we've got... we've got a funeral to go to."
"A what?" Rory said, looking at the Doctor in surprise.
"A funeral," the Doctor repeated, looking solemnly back at the nurse. "It's not what I normally do, but... well, he's an old friend; I... I owe him this, at least."
The slight nod of understanding from Amy and Rory was all that the Doctor needed to know that they understood his motives before he turned back to the console, setting the controls for the date and time in the message.
Looking around the room at the various people assembled in the church where the Brigadier's funeral was taking place, the Doctor couldn't help but feel touched at this proof of the many people his old friend had touched over the years. There had been a larger 'official' military funeral of the kind that was almost expected when a soldier of the Brigadier's reputation and years of service died a day or two ago, but this one was a simpler, smaller funeral in the church near the house where the Brigadier had retired all those years ago, attended only by his remaining family, a few friends from his UNIT days, and an assortment of others...
Actually, when the Doctor looked, there were a few more than just familiar faces in certain parts of the church; there was an old man sitting up near the front with a young girl, a grey-haired man with a Beatles-style haircut in the row just behind, a white-haired man in frills and velvet sitting alongside the tearful Doris in the front row- the Doctor also noted that John Benton and Mike Yates were sitting just beside them-, while other seats around the church- always slightly behind the previous ones- were occupied by such diverse individuals as a brown-haired man in a long scarf, a fair-haired man in a cricket jumper, a man with curly fair hair in a sombre blue coat- evidently he'd taken that particular coat out of storage as his own means of showing respect to his friend; even his strange fashion sense at that time wasn't that bad-, a little man in a straw hat leaning contemplatively on an umbrella, a man in green velvet with Edwardian-esque hair, a short-haired man in a leather jacket, a man in a blue suit with a long brown overcoat...
The Doctor even thought that he could sense a few other people who he would know if he saw them in the back of his mind, but he resisted the temptation to turn around; they'd all chosen their seats to minimise the need for anything to be forgotten by younger Doctors seeing themselves in the future, and that was the way it would be from here on in unless necessity demanded otherwise (It wasn't quite breaking the Laws of Time if the younger yous didn't know you were there).
It was far from a simple bit of temporal engineering, of course, but it was worth it; this man had meant so much to them all over the years that it would have been insulting for him to receive anything less than their full attendance. Even those companions who didn't know who they were here for clearly recognised the importance of silence at this point; he thought he could see Grant Markham sitting silently beside the man in blue, and Sam was looking awkwardly around herself as though wondering if she should have worn something more formal than her dark jacket...
He even saw a few older and less familiar faces wondering if they should approach the Doctors they'd known or not, much to his satisfaction; it might have been a while since Alistair and Jo had worked together, but he should have known she'd still come to something this important- it was probably one reason his third self had chosen to come here at this time in his life; without anyone with him right now who might run into themselves if they came with him, he was taking advantage of the chance to do what he felt he should do-, and even Sarah Jane and her small group were visible off to the side, Luke looking particularly solemn as he stared at the coffin (The Doctor wouldn't be surprised if this was Luke's first real experience of a natural death; it was probably slightly hard for him to process something that simple after his own origins).
He was just grateful that Amy and Rory had been all right with this latest diversion, particularly after the way their honeymoon had nearly fallen apart on them during that mess with the fish. He'd felt a bit odd about the idea of asking them to attend the funeral of somebody they'd never even met, but they'd accepted his explanation of it being the funeral of an old friend of his and they'd been relatively understanding, without even a single question about the point of going to a funeral when he could easily travel back to a point before the person's death and see them then.
He might have once told Sam that the thing about time travel was that everyone was always alive, but that didn't mean that you shouldn't pay your respects when the time came for those people to reach the end of their time; time travellers could meet people whenever they wanted, but, in his opinion, the fact that you could see them any time didn't erase the need to acknowledge what they meant to you when their lives came to an end...
"It is written here that Alistair wanted 'the Doctor' to speak his eulogy," the priest said, his voice breaking into the Doctor's train of thought and drawing him back to the present. For a moment, the Doctor made a move to step forward, his visible past selves making various movements themselves, but then the moment passed and the rest of them sat down after a brief moment of telepathic contact and debate, leaving a man with shoulder-length brown hair dressed in a green velvet frock coat and cream-coloured waistcoat and trousers to walk up to pulpit.
"Who the-?" Amy began, looking over at the Doctor in confused indignation.
"Later," the Doctor whispered over to her, comforted by her automatic inclination to defend him from someone else taking 'his' even as his gaze fixed on his eighth incarnation, an approving smile on his lips at the choice.
The Brigadier had meant something to most of them- even the old man had a kind of connection to him, even if that was mainly from whatever remained in their minds after their past multi-incarnation encounters-, but, even if he'd spent most time with the Doctor he'd 'taken in' after his exile, the man who would destroy Gallifrey was the only one who'd ever really been good at expressing their emotions like this; if anyone was going to say how they'd felt about their old friend, it was him, Laws of Time and potential memory loss be damned (So long as he didn't take too long to speak, the younger Doctors could still get away with their memories intact, particularly since he'd met them all already).
"Hello," the younger Doctor said, looking out at the rest of the people in the church with an awkward smile. "I'm not all that used to these things- I have to admit that I normally avoid them, really-, but I'll try and do my part here anyway; after everything this man has meant to me- to us-, I can do nothing else."
He paused for a moment, his eyes shifting between the coffin lying alongside him and the people in front of him- including some of his other selves- before he nodded resolutely and began to speak.
"As those of you who know me are aware," he began, smiling slightly at the people in question before he continued, "I've lived a... well, I've lived a pretty diverse life. I've been to many places, filled many positions, fought with many enemies, and made a great deal of friends and casual acquaintances... but, out of all of them, while I might have had partners and assistants, Alistair was the first, last and only person I was ever proud to call my 'boss'."
A slight laugh arose from some of the others present, and the Doctor wasn't too surprised to note that many of those were his past companions; evidently they found the idea that he would respect anybody as a 'boss' as strange as he would have before his exile.
"I might have been forced to work for him in the long term out of necessity when we started out together," the younger Doctor continued, "but, even when we had our disagreements about what should be done, I knew that Alistair would always listen to what I had to say even when I didn't have any official authority to make him do anything. He might have been a soldier, but, for all that I could become exasperated by him at times, he proved more than once that 'military intelligence' was not a contradiction in terms, demonstrating an open mind and a willingness to consider my ideas even if he took some time to adapt to them at first.
"He never operated on the philosophy of 'might makes right' even when those opposing him- and sometimes even those working with him- did the same, always recognising when what he fought for was worth defending and unafraid to question the situation presented to him even when his superiors told him he didn't have to do so. Of the many types of leaders I have encountered, he was far and away the best class of commanding officer; the man who knows that he can trust his men to fulfil his orders because they know that he would be willing to do them himself, and simultaneously knows enough to always question the orders of others if he felt it was appropriate."
For a moment, the younger Doctor paused, a brief, slightly pained smile on his face as he looked at the wooden box beside him, before he swallowed slightly and continued.
"In many ways," he said, his voice shaking for a moment as he continued, "what I always admired most about the Brigadier... was that he respected me enough to tell me when he knew I was wrong. I spent years visiting places without ever really belonging anywhere, but it was when I spent time with the Brigadier that I began to realise for the first time that I kept coming back here because I like it here, not because I felt pressured or obligated by outside events to keep showing up in this area.
"Depending on the circumstances, I may regard some of you as closer friends when I'm in... certain conditions... than I do when I'm in other circumstances," the Edwardian-esque man continued- a neat way of talking about his other selves without actually saying the words, the Doctor noted; Doris and a few other relatives might know some of the truth about him, but there was no point confusing everybody here with talk about other selves and things like that-, "but I am unquestionably proud to say that, in all my travels, Alistair remained my best and most consistent friend, each of us working together to see past the worst of our mistakes when we made them and enjoying our opportunities for leisure time with each other when we found them."
Staring at the box, the younger Doctor took a shaky breath before he continued. "And... while I have faith that Alistair and I will see each other again... right now, in this moment, and until that time comes, we shall all feel that much lonelier for the absence of the man who reminded me more than once just why I like you all so much."
With that, he stepped down from the pulpit, pausing beside the coffin to lay his hand on the wooden lid.
"Goodbye, Alistair," he said, a weak smile on his face as he stared at the object before him, a slight extra shine around his eyes the only signs of the emotion the Doctor was only just now remembering he had felt during that speech. "We travel with the best... and you were unquestionably the best of that."
As his eighth self walked back to his place beside Sam, the Doctor smiled gratefully at the other man.
He might not have been good with words himself, but his eighth incarnation had proven them right in their choice; he was the best incarnation for this kind of job.
"Come on," the Doctor said, his voice low as he stood up to look at his companions. "Time for us to be off."
"But-" Amy began.
"Only thing left here is the soldier's salute, and as much I called him the Brigadier, Alistair was always about the man rather than the uniform," the Doctor said, as he carefully moved towards a side-door of the church, noting his other selves doing the same (He wondered how Alistair would have reacted if he'd ever told him why he always called him 'Brigadier'; when he wouldn't even acknowledge the authority his own people had over him, it was his way of showing respect to the man who'd done so much for him). "Got to be on our way if we're going to make the wake; best place to share memories, really-"
"But memories of who?" Rory asked, looking in confusion at the Doctor. "You said this was an old friend of yours, but who was he... and who was that man who gave the eulogy when they asked for you to do it?"
For a moment, the Doctor walked in silence, ignoring the sound of footsteps as the rest of him got up from their places in the church, each of them heading for their own destinations to catch some kind of transportation to the hotel where the wake was taking place, only speaking when he was sure they were far enough away from everyone else to not be overheard.
"His name was Brigadier Sir Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart," he said at last, looking at Amy and Rory with a proud smile at the name. "And... I was... so proud... to call him my friend."
Even as he reflected on the incredible times they'd shared in the past, and the possibility of future reunions with the Brigadier in his past, the Doctor couldn't shake the slightly empty feeling in his hearts, where the part that had been his friendship with Alistair had lived for so many years.
He would always remember his friend, but that wouldn't stop the part of him that would always feel just that little bit lonelier now that he would never experience any 'new' encounters with him...
AN 2: RIP, Nicholas Courtney/Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart; as long as the TARDIS wanders through time, may your name never be forgotten