Title: Never Quite Goodbye
Author: Unknown Kadath, aka kadath_or_bust
Characters: 11th Doctor, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Doris, Amy, Rory
Summary: Tribute Fic. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart receives a last visit from an old friend.
Disclaimer: Not Mine.
Betas: Mornea, tempusdominus10, and tardis-mole.
Author's Note: I've been watching Who for nearly two decades (over half my life) now. For most of that period (barring the TV Movie) there was only Classic Who, and the one character (barring the Master) who always seemed to be there, the one recurring constant as companions came and went, was the Brigadier. I always thought he'd come back one more time.
Rest in peace, Nicholas Courtney.
Never Quite Goodbye
There was a very old man.
There was a very young man.
The very young man lay in bed, propped up on thick white pillows. He had brittle white hair and skin that had gone tissue-paper thin and was covered in fine lines. The very old man sat in a chair by the bed. His hair was thick and dark, his skin smooth, his eyes clear but troubled, though he smiled warmly. He was wearing a bow-tie, trying to look younger than he was, trying to keep up with the young people.
The very young man in the bed smiled back at him, a smile that sparkled in his eyes and only bothered to tug up one corner of his mouth. "You've gotten younger again, Doctor."
"I really haven't, Alistair," said the very old man, wryly. "How did you guess it was me?"
"Saw you sonic the window open." The corner of his mouth twitched a little higher. "Ah, thought you caught me napping, did you? Well, old friend, I'm not quite that old yet."
"Not quite." The Doctor's smile widened, and the Brigadier thought it was one of the saddest things he'd ever seen. He'd been like that, since the War, carrying a deep well of sorrow. It wasn't, the Brigadier thought, the sort of thing that could be carried as a weight. That would surely crush anyone, even a Time Lord.
"Idiot boy. Could've come in through the door."
"Yeah, but!" The Doctor brightened, then frowned in frustration, struggling to explain himself. "Doors! Grand old house like this, you want something more exciting. Anyway …" He deflated again. "It was meant to be a surprise."
"You'll have put the ladder in the peony bed, I expect," said the Brigadier, almost as if this were all right and proper. "Doris won't be pleased."
"Oh. I'm sorry. I. Um. Yeah." The Doctor sank back into his chair, face falling comically, an ungainly collection of gangly limbs. He never seemed to have a body that fit quite right, thought the Brigadier. Or perhaps it was better to say he didn't know how to wear them—one of those people whose clothes always looked rumpled, no matter how freshly ironed.
He'd left the window open, the early spring air gusting through the curtains, and he smelled of the sun and rain-showers and the richness of the soil. Sprawled in the chair, so out of place, the Time Lord looked like something blown in by the wind and left behind by accident.
"Doris is out," said the Brigadier. "Told her to get out and have some fun. Went shopping with her sister, they'll be back by supper."
He said it casually, a statement of fact, but there was an unspoken question in it. Because there was the Doctor, and the sadness in his smile, and the way the dawning spring and lengthening days made Alistair feel more like drifting off to sleep than like waking up.
"I'm sure she'll be back in plenty of time," said the Doctor.
"Ah. Good." The Brigadier closed his eyes. The pale afternoon sun was falling across him, and the world seemed full of a soft light. He smelled the rain and earth outside, listened to the sounds of nature coming back to life outside, imagined the buds swelling in the garden. These were things that used to make him think of strategy and work—good work, work he enjoyed, plotting out the flowers and the vegetables, keeping up the grounds.
This year had been different, and he'd wondered why. Why he felt so content to sit back and watch, as if even the last small duties of his retirement had passed to someone else.
Well. The spring could take care of itself. Magnificently. Funny how he'd never thought of that before.
"Yeti, Autons, Daleks …" mused the Doctor, rolling the words around his tongue like fine wine of rare old vintage. "Cybermen and Silurians."
The Brigadier opened his eyes, and regarded the man in the chair. Not as old as the earth, but far older than the garden, as full of life as the spring, and apt to outlive the seedling oak planted last year.
And the Time Lord's life suddenly seemed as eternal as the spring, and as little in need of Alistair's tending. He found that thought comforting, too.
"Blimey, but we've had some times." The Doctor blinked as he said it, as if startled by the wonder of it all. Time had done that to him, in addition to putting shadows behind his eyes—made him like a child full of wonder, wonder that outshone the shadows.
And what wonderful things would he be in centuries to come?
"Come now, Doctor!" It came out softer than Alistair intended, but the spirit of his old hearty manner came through. "You talk as if it's all over."
This incarnation had the saddest, sweetest smile. "Isn't it?"
"You've got that time machine of yours, haven't you?"
The Doctor sighed. "It doesn't work like that. I don't work like that. Come back and pick over your life, looking for any bits I've missed after it's over? Like a vulture. No. No, it isn't right. You mourn, and you move on."
The Doctor's eyes widened in surprise, startled out of his grief.
Alistair chuckled. It turned into a hoarse cough, and the Doctor helped him sit up a bit further against the pillows, handing him a glass of water from the bedside table and hovering anxiously until his old friend recovered enough to pat his arm reassuringly and continue speaking.
"You couldn't keep your test-tubes in the correct order," the Brigadier said, still both wheezing and laughing slightly. "Much less your life. It's been a confounded nuisance," and here he smiled fondly, "always having to pretend to be surprised at your new face. Oh, come now, do you think they'd have put me in charge of a top-secret military operation if I couldn't keep a secret?"
"But," said the Doctor. "I. You. But." He pointed to the window he'd just climbed through.
"I may have been cheating," admitted the Brigadier. "But really. You went to the ruddy funeral—more than once, from what I hear. Don't try to deny it, Ace saw you. Never stopped you from coming back to see me after. For heaven's sake, you're the one who told me I'd die in bed!"
"Not always," countered the Doctor. "There was an alternate timeline. You were young again."
"So you've said." Again, the smile in his eyes. "And I'm sure it was a good life. But I've no regrets, none whatsoever."
The Doctor nodded, and they sat together in companionable silence for a while.
"It's still not right," the Time Lord said presently. "Crossing the timelines like that …"
"Don't tell me you're going through one of your responsible phases. D'you remember, back in the seventies? That Omega business. Three of you at the same time. And five, again, in the eighties. And don't forget that nonsense with the fairies. Four of you and three of me …"
"I don't remember that," said the Doctor.
"Oh?" The Brigadier frowned. "Yes. Well. Had your memory wiped, didn't you? Didn't get it back until … is it three years already? 2008, somewhere thereabouts."
The Doctor looked absolutely flabbergasted. He did that well in this incarnation. "Must remember to do that, then," he mused. "Or has it happened yet, for me? I hate remembering things I haven't done yet."
The Doctor fell out of his chair. "Sorry, sorry … what?"
"Oh, you've met her, have you? Wasn't sure. There are a lot of things we haven't done yet. So don't bother getting maudlin'. Mind you, sometimes I get the strangest feeling …"
"Yes?" asked the Doctor, worried.
"Well, that my memories are changing. Timelines, as you said, or some such thing. Just think, even after I'm gone, I'll still be having new adventures."
"It's not—never mind." The Doctor slumped a little into his chair, but his expression was more thoughtful than sad.
It's not the same, he probably would have said. "Doesn't matter," said the Brigadier. "As I said, no regrets. I've done my bit to see the world will carry on. I don't mind if it carries on without me, as long as it does carry on."
The Doctor nodded. "Oh, I'll see to it that it does."
"All I ask." The Brigadier let his eyes drift closed for a moment, then forced them back open. He felt sleepy, but he didn't want to sleep—not just yet. "And you, too."
"Oh, don't worry about me."
"The trouble you get yourself into? How can I not?"
"Trouble?" sniffed the Doctor. "Me?"
There was a soft tap at the door. "Alistair?"
"Come in, Doris!"
Doris came in, her eyes darting first to her husband, and then (after assuring herself that he seemed all right) to his surprise guest. A young couple (and they were obviously a couple, even if they hadn't been holding hands) followed her into the room.
The woman was tall and slender, with long flaming hair. She had a soft, sweet smile, and a hard glint of steel in the back of her eyes. The man was a weedy, nervous-looking sort. The Brigadier had seen men like that before. Looked like they'd run at the first sign of danger and always the last to break in a crisis.
"I ran into your friends outside, … Doctor?" said Doris. The Doctor nodded.
"We got tired of waiting by the TARDIS," said the woman. "Doris asked us in. Is this your friend?"
"Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart," said the Doctor. "And these are the Ponds. Amelia and Rory. They travel with me."
The Brigadier shook their hands. "Pleasure to meet you. Amy, Rory. Sorry for not getting up, bit under the weather. Looking after him for me, are you?"
The Ponds looked over at the Doctor. Amy smiled and Rory rolled his eyes fondly. "Something like that," she said, and, "Full time job," he said.
"Well. Now I believe you'll be all right, Doctor," said the Brigadier.
"Yes. Lovely to see you again, Alistair." The Doctor rose and shook his old friend's hand. "And Doris." He hugged the woman, much to her surprise. "Really must be going now, don't want to take up too much of your time … come along, Ponds."
The Brigadier's voice didn't reach its old volume, but it still carried enough authority to make the Doctor stop and turn around, knees and elbows shuffling in random directions. "Yes?"
One last smile. "Goodbye, Doctor."
The Doctor smiled broadly back at him. "Oh, no, Alistair. Au revoir."
And he was gone.
"Please tell me he didn't try to drag you off on some sort of emergency," said Doris. She was worried, but doing a good job of hiding it. She could guess the reason for today's visit just as well as her husband. But there was always a chance it was only an invasion.
Only the end of the world.
"And I hope you told him Dr. Patterson says you're to stay in bed at least until Friday," she added.
"No, nothing like that." He patted her hand reassuringly, knowing that his words would do anything but. "Just popped in to say—hello."
"Oh." He watched some of the animation drain out of her face. "Did he say …"
"Not as such. Did you enjoy your day out with your sister, dear?"
"Oh, yes. It was lovely. And I think the weather's turning. Once we're past this rain, I think it's going to be a glorious spring."
He reached up and wiped a tear from her cheek, and she leant down to brush a soft kiss against his lips, gentle and a bit desperate.
"Do you want me to call Dr. Patterson?" she asked.
"Whatever for?" he asked. "I feel fine. Might take a nap before supper, though."
"Why today?" said Doris. There was a trace of bitterness in her voice, sinking into resignation. "Why today?"
"Why today, and not some other day? Like tomorrow? Or yesterday?"
She nodded. "I see your point. It's as good a day as any."
"My dear, it's a better day than most. It's quite lovely out."
He patted the bed beside him, and Doris sat down, resting her head on his shoulder.
"You know," he said, "there are worlds out there—parallel universes, though I never quite understood it—where we're at the age where we first met, and we're falling in love for the first time. Saw one with him, once, long ago."
"That's a nice thought." Doris managed to smile again. "He's getting younger himself. Like an overgrown puppy." She started to laugh, softly.
"He's tracked mud and leaves all over the carpet."
"Great Scott. You're right. Like having a blasted dog …"
"And he seemed like such a nice young man. Hard to believe it's him."
"Wonderful chap. All of him." The Brigadier looked at the light of the setting sun over the garden out the window. The memories seemed brighter, now, like a beckoning dream. He was about ready for that nap, he thought. "You know, you're right. I think it's going to be a glorious spring."
Amy held Rory's hand, tiptoeing between the puddles as they followed the Doctor down the road. "So he's an old friend of yours, Doctor? Funny, he seemed like such a nice old man."
The Doctor looked back at her mischievous smile and grinned. "Best friend, actually. We never agreed. About anything."
"Oo, I like him even better. He was so sweet, can we see him again sometime? I'd like a chance to get to know him."
The Doctor felt his smile fade.
It was Rory who answered, Rory the nurse. "Uh, no, Amy, I don't think …" he said, looking at the Doctor's expression. "I mean …"
"Oh," said Amy. Then, face falling, "Oh." She looked at the Doctor. "I'm sorry—"
The Doctor smiled gently at her. "Come along. Mustn't dawdle. It's getting chilly out and you haven't got your coat." And he turned back to the road, away from the sorrow on her face.
They walked in silence for a bit. The Doctor took the opportunity to scan back through his memory, looking for gaps. He hated having his memory wiped. Must get that sorted out.
And how many other memories yet to be made? He realized what Alistair had done, wondered if it was deliberate. Probably, probably.
The Brigadier had dropped a few hints, offered him a year … and taken all his secrets with him to the grave. Or left them to the future. And since the Doctor couldn't very well go and interrogate the man now (he calculated that dear Alistair was at this very moment slipping gently into a sleep from which he would never awaken) he must learn the hard way, the way everyone learned. One day at a time, into the future.
He'd never know where it ended, now. Not until the day he himself died. He would never see his old friend and know that this was it, this was the last meeting, this was goodbye.
It was a sort of immortality, in a way.
"So did you tell him all about us, Doctor?"
That was Amy. Odd thing to ask. Bit self-centered. "No … don't think I mentioned anything."
"You did, though," said Rory. The Doctor stopped and turned to frown at him. "Because you introduced her as Amelia … but he called her …"
"What does that mean?" asked Amy.
The Doctor stared at them. Then a lunatic grin spread across his face. "It means it's never quite goodbye when you've got a time machine. Come on!"
The End (For Now ...)