The TARDIS, hidden in an alcove as skilfully as a big blue police call box can be hidden in an office building, disappeared from view as the Doctor strode purposefully along the magnolia and sepia corridors. Donna found herself struggling to keep up.
“What’s the big hurry?” she complained. “You’ve got a time machine!”
The Doctor looked a little uncomfortable.
“I shouldn’t be here, strictly speaking.” He stopped suddenly, as though trying to recall where he was. He turned around ninety degrees and charged off down another corridor.
“We can’t be seen; I think I’m in Derbyshire right now investigating some spores, but best be safe than sorry. I just need to pick up my…”
Donna stopped in the middle of the corridor.
“Doctor, where are we?” she demanded. The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck nervously.
“UNIT headquarters,” he replied. Donna looked sceptical.
“We were at UNIT headquarters last week and it looked nothing like this,” she protested. “At least, I think it was last week.”
“Ah, well,” the Doctor admitted, in that tone of voice Donna had learned he used specifically when whatever he was about to impart would not please her. “This is UNIT headquarters in the nineteen seventies; nineteen seventy one, to be exact.” He paused. “I think… Look, can we just go and get this…”
“Nineteen Seventy One,” Donna said, mostly to herself. “I was three. Three!” She sighed. “I remember the Seventies; they were awful. Rubbish piling the streets, three days of electricity a week and paisley pinafore dresses.”
The Doctor turned down yet another corridor. Donna followed him grumpily.
“I hope you’re taking me somewhere better after this.”
Suddenly, the Doctor stopped. Donna soon saw why; two UNIT soldiers were pointing rifles at him. Or rather, at them.
“Ah. Hello!” the Doctor said before offering the soldiers a manic grin. Donna cringed internally.
“Where’s your pass, sir?” one of the men requested. Donna caught a glimpse of his insignia and wondered what rank he was.
“Sergeant Benton, it’s me! The Doctor!” the Doctor insisted, answering Donna’s unvoiced question. He smiled again as though trying to tempt the solider with his story. Sergeant Benton merely frowned at him.
“I happen to know the Doctor, sir; you’re not him,” he replied. “Now, if you’ll kindly come this way.”
Donna tried not to laugh at the courteous manner the sergeant used while he was pointing a lethal weapon at them. The Doctor raised his hands and began to follow the sergeant and the other officer, motioning for Donna to do the same.
“Why don’t you just, you know, use your bit of psychic paper, or whatever?” Donna hissed as the Doctor. He grimaced.
“Well, it might work on Sergeant Benton, but I wouldn’t trust it to the Brigadier.”
Donna was intrigued.
“What, is he some kind of alien?”
“No!” The Doctor looked at her as though she were mad. “Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, an alien? Nah, he’s just stubborn. Closed minded.” He pushed his hand through his hair and it stuck up in all directions. “Stubborn and closed minded; now there’s a combination for you. Oh, and sceptical. He’d probably take one look at it, and he’d see a forgery, because that’s just what he’d expect to see.”
“And you two worked together… Sounds like a marriage made in heaven,” Donna remarked as she felt the barrel of a gun nudge her in the back. “Oi, watch what you’re doing with that thing!” she yelled crossly to the soldier behind her.
The hub of UNIT was a lot less sophisticated than the control room Donna had been thrust into last week. In fact, Donna had worked in more sophisticated offices during her temping days. Anglican Windows South East division at least had more than one computer, and it didn’t look like a glorified tape recorder. Nor did it take up half of the room. Anglican Windows South East division also had a paper map with pins jammed in it and a whiteboard displaying hand-written figures, but those were for the salespersons current targets, not incidences of nationwide peril.
Although UNIT control at least weren’t so strangled by Health and Safety laws that they couldn’t have a kettle.
The Doctor and Donna were ushered towards a man in officer uniform who was currently hunched over some sort of relief map, prodding at it with a set of dividers and some string.
“What’s he doing?” Donna whispered to the Doctor, as the officer scribbled some numbers down on a piece of paper.
“Calculating a set of coordinates,” the Doctor whispered back.
“He doesn’t have a calculator,” she replied. The Doctor shrugged.
“He doesn’t need one.” He leant into Donna more closely. “When he went to school, you didn’t use calculators.”
Donna stifled a giggle.
“He must be the same age as Gramps now,” she commented.
Sergeant Benton snapped a salute.
“Sir, we found these two out in the corridors,” he explained. “This gentleman claims to be the Doctor, sir…”
The officer interrupted him without looking up.
“Nonsense, Sergeant. The Doctor is in Matlock with Miss Grant, looking at these blasted spores…”
“Yes, sir. I know that, sir. What do you want me to do with them, sir?”
“Leave them with me, Benton. Dismissed.”
The sergeant snapped a salute and left with the other soldier. The officer stood up to face them and Donna saw the Doctor raise his palms in surrender.
“Brigadier, I know you won’t believe me but it’s true. I am the Doctor. Just not the Doctor you know… Wait, just wait!” he begged as the Brigadier pulled out his pistol. He held it steady but did not fire.
“You’ve got ten seconds,” he conceded coldly.
“You’re Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, you were promoted to Brigadier when you helped form UNIT. Before that, you were a Colonel with the Scots Guards. I first met you when London was under siege by robotic Yeti…”
“Doctor,” Donna muttered, “shut up. Robotic Yeti? Even I wouldn’t fall for that.”
The Doctor continued, ignoring her. “Where was I? Yeti, that was it.
Erm... Ah!” He snapped his fingers excitedly. “Cybermen! There was a Cyberman invasion, and I helped you fight them…”
“Anyone who managed to break into the confidential UNIT files would have ascertained this information,” the Brigadier replied. “You’re not helping yourself.”
The Doctor tugged at his hair momentarily.
“Just wait. Wait. Cor, I’d forgotten you were like this… Liz!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “Doctor Elizabeth Shaw, she worked with you. She drove you mad, but you wore the carpet down in the left hand corner of the office at the British Space Centre when she was kidnapped. You wear a watch, a gold watch that was given to you in a Brighton hotel by… Hang on, I don’t know about that yet…. Oh, think, think! Ah ha!” The Doctor nearly leapt up into the air at this particular flourish. “Isobel. The photographer. She got cross with you because you wouldn’t let her go down into the sewers to photograph the Cybermen. She still went ahead and did it, of course…”
By this point, Donna decided she had taken enough for one day.
“Oi!” she bellowed. “I’ve had enough of this! We’ve been here ten minutes and I’ve already had two guns pointed at me! I don’t live in Brixton; I’m not used to this! If we were trying to break in, why would we just walk into your headquarters- which, by the way, aren’t exactly Cape Canaveral, are they? And just let ourselves get caught? That would be stupid! And another thing…”
Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart turned around and Donna got her first proper look at the man. She suddenly lost the urge to carry on shouting and instead gawped at him in a most unflattering manner.
“Yeah, well, there you are. I have rights, you know!” she finished, with slightly less conviction than when she started out. The Brigadier looked at her, eyebrow raised querulously. His mouth twitched momentarily and Donna soon realised he was trying not to laugh.
“I’m rather afraid you relinquished around seventeen of them by entering this building,” he said pleasantly. “We’re under Geneva law here.”
“Oh, so Geneva law allows you to wave your little penis extensions at unarmed civilians, then?” she retorted. The Brigadier’s expression didn’t so much as flicker.
“When they’re threatening international security, yes.” He paused. “And personally, I find the concept of weaponry as a phallic substitution an inaccurate analogy.”
Donna was about to retort until she felt the Doctor’s foot press firmly on her own in warning. She instead fumed silently.
“I accept your story,” the Brigadier replied, looking at the Doctor. “Only the Doctor could know those things and besides, only the Doctor would be here with such a…” He smiled. “Spirited companion.” He held out his hand. “Miss…?”
“Nobel. Donna Nobel,” Donna replied, allowing him to shake her hand.
“Pleasure to meet you, Miss Nobel. I’m Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart.”
“Well, your manners are better than the other guy’s,” she said with a smile. “What are you busy with? Anything we can, you know, help out with?”
The Brigadier looked a little surprised. The Doctor looked horrified.
“Ah, Donna. This is really just a flying stop. No offence, Brigadier, but I just need to fix a bit of my TARDIS and I know I left just the part…”
“Well then, you’ll be busy with that, won’t you?” Donna said, flicking her hair over her shoulder and looking at the Brigadier. She leant against his desk. “Boys and their toys,” she said, with a giggle. “I’m pretty good with clerical work, if you need anything sorting out…”
“Donna,” the Doctor said warningly. Donna ignored him.
“I’ve temped in offices for years. I’m good on the phones, I can file…” She ran her finger along the edge of the Brigadier’s map. “I’m very good around an office, in fact.” She paused and smiled slyly. “I can do all sorts.”
“Brigadier,” the Doctor pleaded.
The Brigadier stared at her.
“Well, as it happens,” he said, not taking his eyes off her, “I could do with a hand. The filing’s a mess in the archive room… but you don’t have the clearance. You’d need supervising, and I can’t spare the men.” He looked down suddenly and straightened up, picking up his swagger stick. “Thank you for the offer, though. Most appreciated.”
Donna stood up to match him.
“Well, what are you doing at the moment? The Doctor reckoned you were working out co-ordinates, or something.”
“That’s right. It’ll take me a while…”
“Why don’t you do me- your calculations!” Donna felt herself flush scarlet. “In the archive rooms? Then you can keep an eye on me…”
The Doctor coughed so loudly both the Brigadier and Donna turned around.
“Donna, can I have a word?” he asked, grabbing Donna by the arm and dragging her out of the office.
“What are you playing at?” he hissed. Donna glared at him and slapped his arm.
“You never told me!” she retorted crossly. The Doctor looked nonplussed.
“Told you what?”
“About ‘your friend’.” Donna made air quotes in the air with her index and middle fingers. “The Brigadier!”
“What? I mentioned him the other week!”
The Doctor dragged his hand over his face.
“Then what’s the problem?”
“You never told me he was fit!”
The Doctor stared at her, uncomprehendingly.
Donna rolled her eyes.
“You never mentioned,” she continued, emphasising each word carefully, “that he was gorgeous!” She managed to shout the last word out in an incongruously furious manner.
“I never noticed... Wait, what?”
Donna shrugged in despair. “And I just mouthed off at him about guns and stuff…”
The Doctor looked bewildered, and folded his arms.
“You didn’t worry about that with Colonel Mace,” he countered. Donna slapped the side of her head with the palm of her hand.
“Well, duh! He didn’t look as good from the front!” She peered through the window of the UNIT control room just as the Brigadier bent further forward to mark off something on his map.
“Or from the back, come to think of it,” Donna mused. The Doctor looked at her reproachfully.
“Does he always carry that stick around? ‘Cause that’s a bit kinky…”
“Donna, stop it!”
Donna stormed off. The Doctor ran after her.
“Donna? Donna! Where are you going?” he shouted frantically as he rushed around the twisting corridors.
“The TARDIS!” Donna threw over her shoulder.
“The TAR… What, why? It’s not going to go anywhere until I’ve fixed the…”
Donna stopped, just outside the TARDIS.
“I am going,” she informed him, “to get changed.”
“Because, I am going to give that filing a good going over. And hopefully, your friend too!”
And with those words, she entered the TARDIS and shut the door behind her. A few moments later, and she emerged again. The Doctor leant against the TARDIS.
“Donna, why do you need to get… Bloody hell!”
“What?” Donna asked warily, as she twirled to display her skirt suit. The Doctor rubbed his left eye with one hand and gestured towards Donna’s décolletage with the other.
“Don’t you think…?”
Donna looked down at herself.
“What? I thought it was rather smart… Oh, right.”
She corrected the issue by undoing another button.
“You’re right, that’s much better,” she replied, smoothing down her blouse. The Doctor shook his head.
“You’re worse than Captain Jack, you are.”
“Haven’t you met him? No, you’d remember if you had,” the Doctor said, mostly to himself.
“Did he like to wear fitted skirts and heels like this, then?” Donna asked, her tone sardonic. The Doctor looked at her.
“No… Well, there was that one time…”
Donna walked, or rather, tottered back along the corridor, wobbling on heels that were slightly too ambitious for her balancing skills.
“Wish me luck,” she said over her shoulder.
“Donna, wait! History is a delicate thing; one wrong move and you could change everything!”
Donna stopped in her tracks and turned around to face the Doctor, her expression incredulous.
“What are you saying, I get lucky with your officer mate and we’ll all be communists?”
“Well, no. Not exactly... But the time lines…”
“Time lines, schmime lines; it’s been a year!”
And with that, she tottered down the corridor, leaving the Doctor to fix the TARDIS.
Donna surveyed the crash site that was UNIT’s archive room with abject horror.
“Who was the last person that did your filing, Dali?” she enquired. The Brigadier sighed.
“Miss Grant, so close enough. She does have a… unique filing system.”
Donna lifted a file up as though it were a laboratory specimen. “I’ll say.” On receiving no reply she announced, “Right. I’ll just get started then?”
“That’d be nice, thank you.”
She briskly stared flicking through the mess of files and arranging them into something that resembled an order, all the while trying not to twist her ankles on her high heels. In hindsight, Donna decided they probably weren’t the most sensible idea.
“So,” she enquired loudly, as the Brigadier was busy prodding his map. “What brings a guy like you here?”
“To UNIT?” he asked.
The Brigadier exhaled loudly as he scribbled some more numbers onto his notepad.
“Right time and place, really. I’d been in the Army since I was twenty two. It was just the next stepping stone.”
“My grandpa always said the next stepping stone was the SAS,” Donna replied. “He heard a few things when he did his National Service…” She trailed off and gawped at the Brigadier. “Oh. My. God,” she said eventually, “You were in the SAS?”
The Brigadier sighed. “Can you keep a secret, Miss Nobel?”
“So can I,” he replied. Donna pulled a face at him.
“I saw that. Most unbecoming.” He was smirking.
“Yeah? So is sarcasm,” Donna retorted.
“Well, now I’m hurt,” the Brigadier replied sarcastically. Donna threw her head back and laughed, only to notice the Brigadier looking at her. She felt a little self-conscious.
“What is it now?” she demanded. He simply smiled and looked away.
“Oh, nothing important. I just like your laugh,” he commented. “It’s gutsy.”
“Gutsy? I’m not sure how to take that,” Donna replied.
“Take it however you want,” was the Brigadier’s response, as he scribbled some more numbers down. Donna stopped staring at him and went back to sorting through the UNIT files.
“Wow,” she said out loud, suddenly.
“I’d have never thought it of him…”
“Miss Nobel, please don’t read the confidential files.”
“But I’m trying to file them…”
“All the information you need is on the front.”
“I’ll make sure the Official Secrets Act is amended to include that in the list of criteria.”
Suddenly, the phone rang. Donna reached over to pick up the receiver; she noticed the phone didn’t even have a touch pad. The Brigadier hastily took the phone off the receiver before Donna could answer it.
“Lethbridge-Stewart…. Yes? Right…. Of course… No, not a problem… Thank you, General.”
“What was that all about?” Dona asked once the Brigadier has replaced the receiver.
“Oh, nothing particularly important; checking up on a few shipments.”
Donna’s eyes narrowed.
“I could have taken it, you know.”
“Oh, I know.” He paused. “I just happened to be closer…”
“No you weren’t!” Donna argued. “So there has to be a reason.”
She folded her arms and stared at him, hard.
“Come on; out with it.”
The Brigadier sighed.
“You just don’t have the right telephone voice, that’s all…”
“What?” Donna demanded. “Is their something wrong with my voice?”
“No, not at all,” the Brigadier insisted. “It’s a very nice voice. It just isn’t…”
“Oh, I see,” Donna laughed humourlessly. “It’s because I’m not posh. Heaven forbid someone hears a regional accent on the end of one of your telephones!”
“Well, yes; you’ve hit the nail on the head there, I’m afraid.”
Donna was deeply affronted.
“Who died and made you Rex Harrison!” she demanded, jabbing the Brigadier in the chest with her finger. He didn’t seem to pay it much heed.
“All telephone operators must have received pronunciation. It’s a standard across organisations such as UNIT. All the international traffic; everyone has to sound as neutral as possible to help the translators. It’s really nothing personal…”
“Oh, just because you were born with a plum stuffed down your gob, you think you’re better than me?”
The Brigadier seemed slightly offended by this.
“Now you’re putting words into my mouth. As it so happens, it took seven years of elocution lessons as a child to make Received Pronunciation come naturally. Or the ‘plum stuffed down my gob’ effect, as you so eloquently put it.”
Donna raised her eyebrows at the Brigadier.
“It’s true,” he insisted. “Right up until I was fourteen I had a broad Scottish brogue.”
Donna laughed at this.
“You don’t have to believe me, Miss Nobel, but I assure you, I’m not a liar,” the Brigadier retorted, a little huffily. Donna looked at him and bit her lip as she smiled.
“And I thought you were so unflappable,” she commented. “You really don’t like people questioning your integrity, do you?”
“For a woman who appears so self-assured, you don’t take criticism very lightly.” he replied smoothly. Donna was taken aback by this.
“I’d better get on,” she said, and concentrated fully on the filing once again.
“It’s fine,” she replied quickly and too brightly. “Just fine. You do your arithmetic. I’ll tidy up,” she spat, ignoring his concerned glance.
The Doctor returned to the UNIT control room, scratching his head.
“Here, Mike,” he enquired, “where’s my laboratory gone?”
Captain Yates answered without looking up.
“Same place as you left it, Doctor.”
“Yeah, but that was ages ago…”
“Have you tried down the second corridor to the right?”
“Your right or my right?”
“Ah. Don’t think so,” the Doctor replied.
A phone suddenly rang and Benton picked up the receiver.
“Hello? Oh, hello, Doctor. How’s…? Right, I see… Why do you need a helicopter for that, Doctor?”
Captain Yates rolled his eyes. The Doctor frowned at him, his pinstriped suit creasing as he folded his arms.
“Right, hang on, Doctor.” Benton pressed a button and rested the receiver next to the small red light that was now flashing on his operator unit.
“Sir?” Benton said towards Captain Yates.
“What does he want now?” he enquired.
“Ah, sir. He wants a helicopter,” Benton replied. “To do some surveying.”
Captain Yates raised his eyebrows and sighed.
“What does he really want it for, Sergeant?”
“To show Miss Grant the aerial view of Black Rocks,” Benton replied without missing a beat.
“Tell him he’s not getting a helicopter and one of our men sent down so he can play about with Jo while an alien fungus threatens to infect the whole of Derbyshire!” Yates barked, and the Doctor was sure he had never heard Yates’ speak in such a way.
“I’m sure Jo will still go to the pictures with you,” Benton commented in a comforting tone. Captain Yates raised an eyebrow at him.
“Right, sir.” Benton picked the receiver up again and pressed the same button, extinguishing the flashing red light.
“Hello, Doctor. I’m sorry, but we’re stretched and can’t spare the resour… You want to speak to the Brigadier?” At this, both Yates and Benton smothered laughter.
“He’s, erm… busy at the moment…”
“Tell him he’s got his hands full,” Yates whispered, at which Benton nearly toppled off his chair in hysterics.
“Captain Yates says the Brigadier’s… got his hands full at the moment,” Benton managed to spit out into the phone before having to move the receiver away from his mouth as he burst out laughing. Yates took the receiver from Benton.
“Hello Doctor? It’s Captain Yates here… Yes, I’m rather afraid the Brigadier is getting… he’s busy with an, ah, negotiation of territory… Oh, nothing to worry about, Doctor. I don’t think it’s an issue of what he might get his hands on, but when…” Yates and Benton both began laughing silently again.
“Right, yes. I’ll pass the message on, Doctor.” Yates put down the receiver and they both threw off any pretence of decorum and howled with laughter.
The Doctor glared at them.
“What? She’s helping with the filing? Stop…” He gestured for the words. “Insinuating!” he eventually decided upon.
Benton and Yates stared at him incredulously.
“Doctor,” Yates said helpfully, “I saw how your friend was with the Brigadier. I’ll put money on her not getting an ounce of filing done.” He smiled knowingly. “I’ll also put money on her getting something else done, whether the Brigadier likes it or not.”
Benton shook his head and smiled.
“Lucky bugger,” he said. Yates chuckled.
“She’s old enough to have taught you at secondary school,” he commented. Benton smiled wistfully.
“Exactly. Cheese, wine and women; three things that improve magnificently with age,” he replied sagely. Yates raised his eyebrow at Benton.
“Never had you down as a toy boy; some defining moment with the History teacher you’d like to share?” he teased. Benton shrugged.
“English,” he clarified. “She let me down gently when I declared my intentions. I was thirteen.”
They both laughed at this.
The Doctor shook his head and stepped out of the door towards the corridor.
“Honestly, I’m getting too old for this,” he muttered to himself as he left.
Donna felt someone gently tap her on the shoulder. She turned around and was surprised to find the Brigadier standing next to her offering her a mug.
“Tea? In my culture, it’s a peace offering.”
Donna laughed gently.
“Thanks,” she replied, taking the mug from his hand. He picked up a mug he had made for himself and took a sip from it.
“We’ve probably got some biscuits somewhere, if you’d like…”
“I was engaged,” Donna blurted out suddenly.
“Right,” the Brigadier replied, his expression nonplussed.
“A year ago,” Donna continued. “I was engaged to this guy. I’m only saying because, well, it was kind of traumatic. I guess it’s left me a little… touchy.”
“Yeah, so, you know, sorry about that.”
“Alright,” the Brigadier said, setting down his mug and giving her his full attention. Donna eyed him suspiciously.
“What, you’re inviting me to talk about it?” he asked incredulously. The Brigadier smiled gently at her.
“I’ve spent the past nineteen years in charge of young men who have never left home before they sign up, much less experienced the sorts of things that can change a man. I’ve become surprisingly good at listening,” he said.
“What’s wrong with weaponry as a phallic substitution?” Donna asked, desperate to change the subject. The Brigadier looked startled.
“Whatever do you mean?” he asked. Donna didn’t look at him.
“You said it earlier, ‘I find the concept of weaponry as a phallic substitution an inaccurate analogy.’ Why?”
“Well.” The Brigadier appeared a little uncomfortable. “A gun essentially consists of a shaft from which something that kills is expelled. Unless my biology lessons have escaped me, I was led to believe, um.” He stared at his tea with an intensity Donna reserved for doing the Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper. “The phallus of any animal expels rather the opposite.”
Donna pulled a face at this.
“That’s disgusting. But true,” she conceded.
“I’m sorry,” the Brigadier replied, looking deeply embarrassed. “That was rather crude. I didn’t mean to offend.”
“Donna found herself startled by this.
“Offended? I hear worse from the kids down the road; I hear worse on the news!”
The Brigadier looked wary.
“Where are you from?”
“London. Two thousand and eight,” she explained. The Brigadier shook his head.
“Remarkable,” he said. “I suppose times change, don’t they?”
“Trust me; you don’t want to know how much a pint costs,” she replied, moving the file she was about to put away and leaning back against the sturdy cabinet.
“Anyway,” the Brigadier said, “this errant fiancé of yours.”
Donna sighed. “Not much to tell, really. I was engaged to this man, Lance, his name was. We’d been going out for about six months beforehand.” She laughed a little. “Turned out he had been poisoning me for all that time. Wanted to use me as some sort of power charge to allow a giant spider queen to retrieve her spaceship. It would have killed me, if the Doctor hadn’t found me. Or I hadn’t found him. Whichever.”
The Brigadier stared at her, clearly uncertain of what to say. Donna smiled.
“Whatever you were expecting me to say, that wasn’t it, right?”
“You could say that,” he admitted.
Donna paused suddenly.
“Oh, the giant spider queen; totally an isolated incident,” she insisted. “We aren’t overrun with them in the twenty-first century. It’s all pretty normal, really.”
“That’s a relief… What an appalling man!”
“Yeah,” Donna conceded, “but it doesn’t make it any easier. He said some horrible things to me, about me. Some of it stuck, I guess.” She took a sip of tea. “He called me stupid, loud-mouthed, brash. Said I wittered on too much about nothing… the usual stuff.”
“What happened to him?”
“The giant spider queen ate him.”
“Ah.” The Brigadier appeared to mull over this momentarily. “So, a somewhat karmic end, then?”
“I suppose, if you want to call it that,” she replied. “Pretty horrible way to go, in my opinion. Nobody deserves that. Not even him.”
They stared at their tea for a short while.
“You’re very magnanimous,” the Brigadier said suddenly. “And you’re not stupid.”
“You’ve known me for a couple of hours! You don’t know how wobbly my geography is. Or how I don’t understand equations. Or how I thought toluene was the name of a band…”
“You’re a temp?”
“Yeah, for years now.”
“So you’re sent to unfamiliar surroundings and expected to learn the job of someone who has worked there for years, in a matter of hours. You can’t be stupid to make a living out of that.”
Donna smiled but continued to stare at her tea.
“I noticed you didn’t dispute the other points,” she joked, looking up at the Brigadier as he matched her posture and swirled his mug in his hand.
“Loud-mouthed and brash,” he commented, “often means the person is outspoken and honest. Plenty of people don’t like that, mostly people with something to hide.”
“I take it you’ve experienced enough of them?”
“Been arrested by them.”
“Some people just don’t take kindly to you doing your job,” he said by way of an explanation.
“You are a dark horse,” Donna commented, with a wink. The Brigadier seemed a little unnerved by this.
“And I know people who would give their right arm to be able to witter on about nothing, because it means you’re never short of conversation at gatherings,” he finished, apparently brushing Donna’s suggestive reaction under the carpet. Donna finished her tea and set the mug on the surface of the filing cabinet.
“You’re very sweet; I’d never have expected it,” she announced softly.
There was another pause as the Brigadier also finished his tea.
“My mum would love you,” she added. The Brigadier laughed at this.
“I’ve been told that a lot since being based back in Blighty,” he replied.
Without really thinking, Donna leant over and went to place a kiss on his cheek, at about the same time he turned to speak to her. The two bumped lips. Donna was about to begin mumbling embarrassed apologies, but the Brigadier silenced her with a proper kiss on the lips. After a few moments, she pulled away.
“I’m sorry,” the Brigadier replied hastily. “It was an accident… Well, the first time was an accident. I concede the second time was completely on purpose.”
Donna grabbed his arm.
“Oh, no; I wasn’t complaining!” she protested. “It’s just… I ought to know your Christian name.” She turned to face the Brigadier properly, standing inches apart from him. He smiled and rested his hands on her arms.
“Alastair,” he replied. Donna smiled slyly and pressed her hands to his chest.
“Well, Alastair,” she said, trying out the name. “You’re really quite good at this.”
They kissed again, only for Donna to pull away once more.
“Hang on,” she said. “Is this alright? Aren’t you busy saving the country from fungi?”
“I sent the Doctor his co-ordinates, I listened to his insistence that he required no ‘bumbling military idiots’ to assist him, I sent him the small tactical unit he’ll inevitably need.” He looked at her. “I’m allowed a break, you know.”
Donna nestled more closely to him.
“Well, that’s alright then,” she replied, and leant forward to kiss him. She broke off mid-kiss a short while later.
“Have you got a stationery cupboard down here?”
“No… There’s a store cupboard, why do you ask?”
“I’ve never copped off with anyone in a stationery cupboard before; have you?”
“Copped off?” The Brigadier’s expression was uncomprehending.
“What we were just doing,” Donna replied.
“Right; no, I haven’t,” he replied. Donna took his hands in hers.
“Fancy it?” she suggested. “A store cupboard’s close enough. It’ll be like revisiting your youth.”
The Brigadier inclined his head.
“If you insist…”
“Oh, I do,” she replied, dragging him away.
The Doctor, after pocketing his shiny replacement component for his TARDIS without contemplating the ludicrous concept of stealing from yourself, jogged down stairs and opened the door to the archive room.
“Donna?” he called. “Donna, where are you! We’ve got to go!”
Donna emerged somewhat sheepishly from the store cupboard nearly, followed by an equally guilty looking Brigadier who was hastily tucking his shirt into his trousers.
“Right, sure,” Donna replied, ignoring the Doctor’s slack-jawed expression as she put the Brigadier’s tie straight. She smoothed down her hair, fiddled with a few buttons on her shirt, and turned around to catch the Doctor’s warning glare.
“What?” Donna retorted belligerently. She turned back around to face the Brigadier and smiled charmingly.
“Well, it’s been nice knowing you,” she whispered. The Brigadier nodded.
“Likewise,” he replied in hushed tones. He put his hands gently on her shoulders.
“I take it you’ll be gallivanting off in that spacecraft of his?” he enquired. Donna smiled.
The Brigadier nodded, before lifting one hand to cup her face.
“You be careful,” he replied, his tone serious.
“Oh, I’ll be fine,” Donna replied airily. “He may look like a streak of nothing, but he’ll protect me.”
“I’m not saying he won’t,” the Brigadier replied carefully. “But what if a time comes when he can’t?”
Donna looked down at her feet momentarily, before looking back up and offering him a smile.
“I’ll be fine,” she insisted, before leaning forward and kissing him again. She slipped her arms around his neck and was oblivious to the Doctor’s increasingly insistent coughing.
“Donna!” the Doctor called sharply, tapping his watch. Donna rolled her eyes.
“I’m coming!” she shouted back, and kissed the Brigadier one last time.
“Goodbye,” she said, and let his fingers catch in hers before she had walked too far away for them to touch.
“Yeah; good luck with the fungi, Brigadier,” the Doctor called as he dragged Donna away.
“Surely you know whether it’s luck or not,” the Brigadier replied smoothly.
“Ah, well; that would spoil the surprise,” the Doctor retorted, with a wide grin.
The Brigadier shook his head in mild disbelief and watched the two of them walk away. He surveyed the now tidy archive space and picked up the file Donna had left on the filing cabinet. It was Dr Shaw’s personnel file. He walked around the room a few times, just holding it, before sadly filing it under ‘Ex-Employees’.
The Doctor fitted his new piece of equipment into the TARDIS console as Donna sank dreamily into a nearby chair.
“Pleased with yourself, then?” the Doctor enquired, semi-crossly.
“Completely,” Donna replied. “He’s lovely, your mate. We should pop in on him more often.”
“Funny you should say that…”
Donna arched her eyebrows.
“Wait? We’re going to meet Alastair again?” She sat up straighter.
“Don’t call him Alastair! It makes him sound like a real person,” the Doctor insisted, with a discernable shudder. “I prefer ‘the Brigadier’. It’s comforting, somehow. ‘Alastair’ may snog my travelling companions without so much as a by-you-leave, but ‘the Brigadier’ never would…”
Donna ignored him.
“Just so long as it isn’t my time, you know?” She walked over to the console. “Because meeting him when he’s drawing his pension, after our… After we did nothing whatsoever together apart from filing; because that would just be weird.”
The Doctor stared at her, and grinned uneasily.
“What do you mean, ‘Ah’?” she asked warily. The Doctor rubbed the back of his neck.
“Well, the thing is, we’re going to a party. His Twenty-Fifth Wedding Anniversary party in two thousand and ten, to be precise…”
“Oh, you’ll like Doris- that’s his wife. She’s very nice. Not sure she’s all that fond of me, but she hides it quite well…”
“You had better be having me on, Doctor!” Donna demanded hotly as the TARDIS began its next journey.