Battle Scarred, But Never Broken
As Ace approached the Doctor's side she smiled to herself to see that the Brigadier had survived the explosion. His face was a little singed, and his uniform covered in a thick layer of dust and debris, but he was at least alive.
"Ace," She was a little taken aback to hear the old man use her proper name as he sat up. After being referred to as 'the latest one' only earlier that same day she now thought that she had judged him a little harshly perhaps, he had after all just saved the Doctor's life.
"Yes Brigadier?" She asked, looking down at the man sitting on the ground before her, and suddenly she didn't see an old man anymore at all, but rather quite a young man trapped in an ageing body. The flames were creeping closer, and as they licked around the Brigadier's feet Ace observed that he was in quite some danger of getting burnt, but still he did not move.
"I'm getting too old for this sort of thing." He coughed as the Doctor helped him to his feet. "He's all yours from now on.
I'm going home to Doris." He added with a smile.
"Doris?" The Doctor asked, sounding rather affronted.
"My wife!" He exclaimed, as though it was the most obvious thing in the world, and the Doctor smiled as he brushed his friend's uniform down and great plums of dust mushroomed up from the kaki jacket.
"Oh, so she got you in the end?" The Time Lord laughed.
As the small group slowly began to make their way away from the smoke and scene of devastation they left in their wake however, the Doctor and Ace out in front with the Brigadier trailing along behind, the slightly ageing and now retired commanding officer called the young girl back.
"Ace," He addressed her quietly as she side stepped the Doctor and slowed her pace to synchronise step with him, "I know I may have put a little weight on since my younger days – Doris is a brilliant cook after all – but I do think blimp is a little harsh."
"You heard me?" She exclaimed, sounding shocked and perhaps even a little embarrassed and slightly ashamed, but the Brigadier didn't appear offended as he spoke.
"Of course I heard." He explained. "I used to be a member of UNIT. I was keeping my eye on you." He smiled and tipped her a fond wink.
Ace too found herself smiling despite herself – she felt as though she should perhaps feel angry that the Brigadier had felt the need to keep an eye on her when the Doctor had entrusted the sword of Excalibur into her protection, but she found that she didn't. Instead she found that the more she got to know him the more she found herself warming to this old friend of the Doctor's. In his company she'd been made to feel strangely safe and protected, and a small part of her welcomed this new and frankly foreign sense of being watched over. There hadn't been many people in Ace's life up until now who'd made her feel that way. She'd spent most of her young life looking over her shoulder.
"You know Ace," The Brigadier sighed as he continued, "I've known the Doctor now for more years than I haven't. We've been through a lot together over those years, and in that time I have come to regard him as the most splendid fellow… all of him." He added, almost as an afterthought.
Ace looked up at him, failing to disguise the confused frown which crept across her face and creased her soft features as the Brigadier said this, wondering what in the world his words could possibly mean.
"I dare say you'll understand someday my dear." He smiled. "I for one would lay down my life for him."
The young woman nodded, she was quite prepared to believe that he would.
"I'm entrusting him to you Ace." The Brigadier sighed sadly as he cleared his throat, and this sudden display of repressed emotion took the young woman somewhat by surprise. She suspected that a lifetime of military service had perhaps made it difficult for the Brigadier to express the full extent of his feelings, and that age had probably only added to his conundrum, but it was all still there – his emotions bubbling away like a volcano just below the surface.
"I meant what I said Ace." He explained. "As much as I hate to admit it I'm getting too old for this sort of thing. The mind might still be willing, but my bodies not up to what it once was. Look after him for me."
"He'll be alright with me Brigadier." She nodded, her slight frown still hardening her features. "But I promise, I'll do my best."
"I believe you will." The Brigadier smiled. "You know Ace, the Doctor only takes the best. Never forget that. No matter what happens from here on, you were one of the best."
Ace smiled, and as she watched The Brigadier slowly walk away from her and re-join the Doctor it was her turn to lag a little way behind. As she watched him go the young woman realised that she was now in the company of a man who'd seen a great deal more in his lifetime than he would ever be prepared to let on. Huge respect for him swelled in her heart as she realised that here was a man who no matter how many battle scars he bore would never allow himself to be broken by the harsh realities of life.
She felt ashamed by how harshly she realised she had judged him without even bothering to get to know him first, and thought that she had probably learnt a very valuable lesson that day. 'Yes' she thought to herself as she considered the Brigadier had probably been right, the Doctor really did only accept the best.