Most of them have gone to bed. Ancelyn and Bambera, exhausted from a fight they alone survived, together. Ace and Shou Yuing, who haven't told anyone what happened in the hotel and who can have their secrets, for now. Doris, who knows when not to push her luck, has left her husband and his oldest friend in relative peace.
"For the record," says the Brigadier, "you may possibly be the worst cook I have ever known."
"I apologise for my inventiveness." The Doctor studies the bottom of his glass intently. "I may perhaps have been a trifle overambitious, given the available facilities."
The Brigadier ignores the implied criticism of his kitchen. "I'll say. What was that yellow stuff again?"
"Tritonian seaweed. Quite a delicacy in the twenty-fifth century. I keep some in the TARDIS as a matter of course - although it can't be truly enjoyed without the proper seasoning. And a mallet."
"I did wonder why my saucepans had all changed shape."
"Yes. Sorry about that. I'll do something about that before we go."
There is a period of companionable silence, during which four more fingers of the Brigadier's preferred Scotch disappear. The Doctor seems intent on the gas fire - the dancing flames are only an illusion of warmer comforts, but they move like the real thing.
"I know you're probably not allowed to tell me, but - "
"If I know that you die in bed, why was I worried that you might die facing the Destroyer?"
"Actually, I was wondering how you always know what you're about to be asked."
"Probability, Brigadier. The predictability of events based on initial circumstances and measurable forces - but, as you've just witnessed, I'm not infallible. Some circumstances are undetectable, unknowable - some forces defy measurement. Sometimes I just guess. I didn't know we were about to meet again any more than I knew I would be Merlin at some point in the future. But I know you. I know your capabilities and the things you, well - "
"Can't quite wrap my head around?"
"Exactly. The reconciliation of asynchronous chronologies has never been your strongpoint. But you know people. You knew Morgaine for an essentially honourable sort within minutes of meeting her. You're rather more observant than you - or I - give you credit for."
"Well, I never thought I'd hear you say that. A moment of drunken sincerity, Doctor?"
"Tommyrot. I mean it. Anyway, knowing you and the kind of things you notice, or don't notice, and the kind of questions you ask, I just - guess. And hope for the best."
"What about the other question? Was that a guess?"
The Doctor's face darkens. "No. And yes. To the best of my knowledge you die in bed, in the year - "
"Doctor." The Brigadier glowers, and for once the Doctor takes an order.
"But I wasn't sure. I haven't been for quite some time. What I know about your life and death depends on your retiring, staying out of harm's way, but here you are staring down the Eater of Worlds. Exactly where you weren't supposed to be. You've a knack for it."
"So have you."
The Doctor chuckles. "Touché, Brigadier, touché. But I'm glad you were here. There. Here. It's the random factors that keep the game interesting."
"Yes. Increasingly so, now. I'm playing poker, not chess. The hand's half blind and the stakes are rising."
"Mmm. Worried about the future. This vague presentiment of doom. Worried about Ace, most of all."
"Your wild card?"
"Or the dealer's." The Doctor pauses, with his hand on the bottle. "I can't see his face, Alistair, but I know he's smiling."
"You know what you could do?"
"Change the rules. More notes from the future and educated guesses. In the old days you always seemed to make it up as you went along. Now - well, now I'm not so sure."
The Doctor contemplates, his face still, his eyes fixed on the flames. In that second's gaze, the Brigadier sense waveforms expand and collapse, probabilities fold and unfold like playing cards. Memories surface, are assessed and dismissed or altered. In a second second, the rules change. The board is set. The pieces move in strange new ways, seemingly without guidance, without measurement, without strategy, move or counter - but the form is set, the board confined and contained. Predictability is rendered possible. All this in a heartbeat, the Brigadier senses - knows, as if the Doctor's mind is briefly opened to him, or guesses, because in a way it always is - and then the Doctor smiles in the dark, and the moment's gone.
"Thank you, Brigadier. At times like these I'm glad to know you."
"Likewise, Doctor. Glad to be of help."
They clink and drain their glasses. The Brigadier rises, unsteadily, and takes the Doctor's outstretched hand.
"I," he says, with measured consideration, "am off to bed."
"You shan't see us in the morning, I don't think. We need to be off. Things to do."
"Moves to make?"
The Doctor nods. "I shan't say goodbye, Brigadier. I don't dare. It may yet be... no. Let's stick to au revoir."
"Goodnight, Doctor. And good luck."
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