Can't keep waiting
"Doctor, just once in a while, I wish you'd wait for back-up," said the Brigadier, pulling his gun from its holster as he preceded the Doctor through the door of the old house the Time Lord had led them to.
"Time distortions wait for no man, Brigadier," said the Doctor, breezing through the door as though he didn't have a care in the world, "One has to track them while they persist. Once they're gone…"
He looked down at the strange instrument he was carrying, and Liz wondered again what exactly the dials were supposed to measure. The Doctor had been tinkering with it when the strange readings began and he had scooped it up, announced that he had detected something 'odd', and rushed off to start Bessie. Liz and the Brigadier had barely had time to jump in the back of the car before it set off, and for once she was glad of the check-point gate, for it had allowed the Brigadier time to order the sentry to alert Captain Yates to their expedition. "Tell him to gather a team and follow us as soon as possible," he'd called, as the gate swung open and the Doctor pressed the accelerator.
Now, as she followed the two men into the house, Liz wondered if they weren't on a fool's errand. The place appeared to be deserted, the wood-panelled hallway evoking nothing more than a rich and lengthy history, rather than any sense of menace. She began to think that no-one had answered their knock because the owners of the place were out, and hoped that they wouldn't get arrested if the Lord of the Manor came home and found them sneaking about the place.
"Blast it. I've lost the signal," said the Doctor then, as though choosing a route at random, started up the staircase.
"If you ask me, it never existed," said Liz, drawing a pained look from the Brigadier as he passed her to precede her up the stairs, "You were repairing that detector after all."
"Nonsense," came the reply from the top of the stairs, "It only needed a slight adjustment. It was never completely out of order."
Liz heard the Brigadier's sigh, and knew that he didn't believe that story any more than she did – but she noticed he still had his gun in his hand. The upstairs rooms were all empty, Liz gaining no more than glimpses of four-posters and walnut cabinets as they proceeded along a corridor and the Doctor flung doors open then closed them again. At the end of the corridor, one last door led into a Library, and the Doctor muttered with annoyance as he entered the room and put his strange machine down on the circular table in the middle of the room.
"Well, Doctor," said the Brigadier, putting his gun back in its holster, "It seems to me…"
He broke off suddenly, and after listening for a moment, Liz identified the noise that had alerted him – feet on stairs. Quiet, creeping feet that might have gone unheard by anyone but a trained soldier.
In another second, the Brigadier's gaze had swept around the room, and then he was pushing Liz and the Doctor toward a short staircase set against the back wall of the Library. "The mezzanine – quick!"
The stairs led to a tiny balcony that circuited the room. There was no other way on or off, so far as Liz could see, but a small balustrade ran around its outside edge and they all ducked down behind it just as the door opened and two men burst in, brandishing what looked like machine guns. With some sort of metallic helmet entirely covering their heads and faces, and what appeared to be flexible armour suits, Liz found herself wondering if they were human – though the voice that came from one of them sounded terrestrial enough: "Doctor!" he called, "We know you're in here! Your car's outside, and your time-detector is here on the table. Don't make us come up there and find you."
Liz saw the Brigadier glance around the balustrade and duck back, looking both furious and frustrated. She guessed that he knew his revolver would be useless against the body armour, and that he was angry and annoyed that there didn't appear to be anything he could do. The Doctor appeared to be on the point of standing up, and she was about to call out to him not to when the Brigadier intervened with a straight right. The punch was so sudden, so unexpected, that Liz gasped – and the Doctor fell without a sound, the Brigadier catching him as he fell and lowering him to the floor.
"If I come out," called the Brigadier, pulling off his beret, tie, holster and jacket as Liz looked on, "Will you leave my friends alone?"
"We're not interested in them. Just you, Doctor. Come down here alone and we won't hurt anyone."
Liz understood then what the Brigadier intended to do, and was horrified. "No!" She crawled the few yards to where he was tugging at the Doctor's jacket, and put a hand on his arm, whispering, "When they find out you're not him, they'll kill you!"
"It doesn't matter." Clear grey eyes looked straight into hers and her heart lurched. She knew she hadn't a hope of talking him out of this, as much as she wanted to – she had come to know that determined expression too well. "I'm expendable. He isn't." He pulled his arm free of her grip and, to her surprise, he gave a faint smile as he placed his hand gently against her cheek. "Nor are you."
With that, he pulled the blue velvet jacket over his shirt and stood up, hands raised. "Alright," he called, "I'm coming. Don't shoot."
As he turned to descend the little stairway, he shot Liz a last look and jerked his chin at the Doctor's still form. "Look after him," he murmured, "And tell him I'm sorry."
"Well, what about the helicopter, haven't they seen anything?"
The Doctor was sitting in one of the wing-backed armchairs in the ground floor smoking room, while Liz pressed a cold cloth against the bruise on his jaw. He had been in a fury since coming round, and she knew that his foul mood was due as much to worry about the Brigadier as it was to his annoyance at being knocked cold. At the moment, the object of his wrath was the hapless Captain Yates, who had done everything any of them could think of to track down the UNIT commander and the men who had taken him.
"We don't even know what sort of vehicle we're searching for, Doctor," said Yates, adding, with a sigh, "Or whether we're looking for a vehicle at all. That time device of yours…"
"Yes, yes, I know," muttered the Doctor, "They could have taken him anywhen, not just anywhere. But I don't think they have. I think that the time distortion I detected was a localised field, sent out to lure me here. I don't think it was used to actually transport anyone anywhere. We have to work on the assumption that the Brigadier is still in the here and now, Captain."
The young officer nodded. "I'll see how those road blocks are coming along," he said, and gave them a nod as he turned and exited.
The Doctor pushed Liz's damp cloth away, and she put it down on the small table next to him and stood up, feeling the need to do something, but unable to think of anything constructive. She paced back and forth, while her mind conjured all sorts of worst-case-scenarios and the Doctor sat rubbing his jaw, apparently lost in thought.
Picking up the Brigadier's jacket from the chair where it had been deposited by the Doctor, Liz folded it carefully over her arm and sat down. Absent-mindedly, she hugged it close, lowering her face toward it and catching the faint scent of expensive aftershave lingering on the cloth.
Feeling tears threatening, she jumped back up and draped the jacket over the back of the chair, smoothing it as she did so. Her fingers brushed against the neat rows of medal ribbons and she traced the edges of his Distinguished Service Order– a decoration she recognised from her grandfather's collection as being awarded for "conspicuous gallantry."
"Bloody idiot!" she blurted, wishing he had been a little less gallant and a little less brave – and knowing that she wouldn't admire him nearly as much if he had been.
"Oh dear." The Doctor's sad tones made her turn to face him, wondering what was the matter now. He was still sitting in the same chair, but his gaze was now directed at her and his expression was one of pity. "Poor Liz. You have got it bad, haven't you?"
It took Liz a moment to work out what the Doctor was implying, and she put all the indignance she could muster into the single word, "What?!"
"Oh, come on, Liz, I haven't got to my age without being able to recognise the symptoms," he said, "All that sniping and sneering you do – I've seen it before, it's a defence mechanism. The Brigadier is tall, dark, handsome, brave, and has what my young companion Zoe once rather regrettably described as a 'come-to-bed' voice. He also has some views and opinions which are diametrically opposed to yours. So you don't want to want him, but you can't help yourself. Hence…" He picked up the cloth and brandished it at her, "The defence mechanism."
"But… that's just not true!" spluttered Liz.
Except that, now the Doctor had said it, she knew that it was.
Feeling suddenly weak and very foolish, she sat down again and said, "How long do you think it will take for them to realise he's not you?" Her voice sounded frail and soft, a reflection of how she felt, and for a brief moment she hated the Brigadier for making her feel this way, herself for giving in to it, and the Doctor for knowing it.
Then the Doctor answered her question, and helplessness overwhelmed her again despite her best efforts: "I don't know, Liz. I suppose it rather depends on what it is they want 'me' to do."