Yates watches as the other members of their party join the twirling villagers around the maypole, leaving him and the Brigadier standing at the sidelines by themselves. Now that the crisis is over, it’s a lovely day; blue skies, warm sunshine, lively music in the air... Yates in his casual clothes, and the Brigadier with nothing to do for the rest of the afternoon. For Yates, who has had a crush on the Brigadier for as long as he’s known it’s going nowhere, it’s far too perfect an opportunity to pass up.
Tongue-in-cheek, he turns and asks, "Fancy a dance, Brigadier?" and doesn't bother to hide his smile as he awaits the response.
With an expression that says he knows Yates better than to take that seriously, the Brigadier replies, "That's kind of you, Captain Yates." He gives the dancers an unimpressed look, and adds, "Think I'd rather have a pint."
The companionable hour that follows is more than Yates expects, a rare opportunity to hold a conversation with the Brigadier over a wonky table rather than a polished desk, and enjoy his wry humour and intelligence outside of the office. It can’t last forever but they manage to get a good way through their second pints before everyone else turns up; Benton with Olive on his arm and lipstick on his cheek, the Doctor and Jo with their arms around each other and their usual affectionate smiles on their faces.
Jo and the Doctor proceed to squeeze themselves into the seat next to the Brigadier, who hastily removes his drink from the Doctor’s reach and looks resigned to the breach of peace. Well aware that they’re beaten, Yates downs the remains of his pint and stands to shove Benton into his now empty chair. Shortly afterwards, Olive shuffles as close to a pink, smiling Benton as she can, while across the table the Brigadier’s eyes widen and he sends an “Oh, good Lord” look to Yates. Entirely unrepentantly, Yates ignores both the silent plea for help and the scowl which follows, and abandons the Brigadier in favour of ordering another round.
From the bar, he watches the chattering group crowded around the table, and smiles to himself. It’s an intrusion, but not one that Yates resents. The Doctor is inevitably at the centre of attention but the Brigadier is more than holding is own, making Jo giggle, glaring at the Doctor, carrying on a polite discussion with Olive while very carefully ignoring what’s going on with her and Benton. Engaged in the lively conversation, the Brigadier is obviously enjoying himself. That Yates is no longer the recipient of his undivided attention is hardly relevant, really.
-- -- -- -- --
The speed with which the Brigadier looks up from his paperwork when Yates sticks his head around the door is rather gratifying, even though Yates knows that he himself is not the cause. The Brigadier has been stuck in the office all day sorting out an internal mess, and at this point would doubtless be pleased to see another Yeti if it meant he could have a break.
“What is it, Yates?” the Brigadier says, pen hovering over the sheet he’s currently working on. “Is something up?”
“Only the end of the day, sir, ” Yates says apologetically and attempts to smother a smile as the Brigadier’s face falls. “I just came by to see if you need anything before I leave.”
“Not unless you can magic away this damn paperwork for me,” is the disgruntled response.
“I’m afraid we didn’t cover the use of ‘magic’ at UNIT training,” Yates says, which brings about a brief upwards twitch of the Brigadier’s lips. “Are you sure you can’t take a break, sir? Benton and some of us are headed to the cinema; I’m sure they wouldn’t mind if you joined us.”
Looking as if there’s nothing he would like more, the Brigadier sighs. “I’d better not. The higher ups don’t generally accept that sort of thing as a valid reason for not having paperwork done.”
Yates chuckles, and nods. “Fair enough. Have a good night, sir.”
“Do my best, Yates.”
Benton is waiting at the end of the corridor when he emerges, and gives him a sympathetic look when he sees that Yates is without the Brigadier. He’d caught on pretty sharpish when it came to Yates’ interests, and had proved to be far more of a friend than Yates had expected - or indeed, was used to - by sticking around to offer many a listening ear after that.
“I take it he turned you down again?” he asks as they head outside, collars turned up against the wind.
“He always turns me down,” Yates replies, surprised.
Obviously confused, Benton asks, “Well then, why do you carry on asking him?”
“Because it will never occur to him that I’m not joking.” Benton still looks as if it doesn’t make sense. “It’s the closest I’ll get to being serious. Or rather, I am being serious, but I’ll never have to worry that he’ll realise it.”
Realisation dawns, and Benton looks a little sad on Yates’ behalf. With no desire to dwell on the melancholy side of his coping mechanism, Yates shrugs it off and changes the conversation - grateful when Benton lets him do so - and has them both laughing by the time they reach the cinema.
-- -- -- -- --
“The Doctor had better hurry up and get back here,” the Brigadier remarks irritatedly, scanning the horizon that has been empty for the past half hour. “All this waiting is rather tedious, and I do have better things to do with my Friday afternoon than sit around in a field.”
Next to him, leaning against the jeep, Yates inquires, “Exciting plans for the weekend, I presume?”
“Actually, nothing in particular,” the Brigadier admits. “A spot of gardening, perhaps. And yes,” he adds, glaring at Yates before he can comment, “As boring as that may sound to you, it’s infinitely preferable to waiting around for the Doctor to grace us with his presence.”
Raising his hands in mock surrender, Yates assures him, “Doesn’t sound boring at all, sir.”
“I’m very glad to hear it,” the Brigadier replies, mollified. There’s a moment of silence and a couple of amused glances before the Brigadier asks, “What about you, Yates? Do I want to know what you’re planning to get up to this weekend?”
“Oh, I thought I’d take the bike up to that new pub the other side of Farnham. The rumour is they've got a pretty decent steak and onion pie, and a nice local brew on tap.” With his usual forthrightness — whether a consequence of his upbringing, or simply Yates' own self-confidence, the Brigadier has yet to establish - he offers, “You’re more than welcome to join me if you get fed up with your gardening.”
Giving the required polite refusal, the Brigadier replies, “The invitation is appreciated, Captain Yates. I’m sure I can manage to find something to occupy my time by myself though.”
“As you like, sir,” Yates replies, good-natured as ever, and they get back to the business of waiting for Jo and the Doctor - or possibly aliens - to appear.
The following day, when his vegetable garden has been put to rights, the Brigadier sits back on his heels and ponders what to do next. It’s a perfectly lovely day, one on which he’d usually be perfectly content to spend sitting outside in the sunshine, but today things feel a little too quiet for his liking, and the stretch of grass too large for just him. Just for a moment he considers taking Yates up on his offer; good food and drink, and more importantly company, are just what he wants at the moment. Then he shakes his head, reminds himself that Yates hadn’t been serious about the invitation, and goes inside to get a book instead.
-- -- -- -- --
Yates follows the Brigadier down the dark tunnel that stretches in front of them, moisture condensing on the rocks above and dripping down onto their helmets, while their headlamps do a pretty poor job of lighting the way ahead. Somewhere in the cave system is a large, hungry creature that has apparently developed a taste for UNIT troops, which is why he and the Brigadier are the only ones creeping around inside. The aim is to launch a sneak attack and take it by surprise, which sounds rather dangerous to Yates, and should earn them bragging rights for a good long while if they pull it off.
Something rustles in front of them and they freeze, Yates peering around the Brigadier to see what’s there. A moment later, a bat flies overhead and they both breathe out a sigh of relief. Naturally, it’s followed a moment later by a loud roar, distant but unmistakeably emanating from some point in front of them. The Brigadier takes a hasty step back and nearly bumps into Yates, who steadies him with a hand on his elbow that he’s careful not to let linger too long.
“You can always hold my hand if you’re frightened, sir,” he murmurs as the Brigadier gets his footing again.
The Brigadier snorts. “As comforting as I’m sure that would be, Yates, I think I’ll hold onto my gun instead.”
“Don’t say I didn’t offer. I’ve been told that my hand-holding skills are above par.”
“Should I faint from fright, Yates, I assure you I won’t hold you responsible,” the Brigadier tells him dryly. “Now do come on, we have a monster to find.”
If, in the scuffle that follows, they have to throw themselves rather unceremoniously into a small alcove to avoid some very large teeth; if the Brigadier grips Yates' arm to tug him the rest of the way in and then holds him there until the danger is past; if they're both breathless and exhilarated from the struggle; if the Brigadier’s eyes are glinting in the gloom as he looks at Yates with a very determined expression, well... Yates can hardly be blamed for making the most of it, can he?
-- -- -- -- --
Cold air gusts through the tent when the Brigadier ducks into it, making Yates shiver even half-tucked inside his sleeping bag. "Cold out there?" he asks, looking up from his book as the Brigadier zips the entrance shut again.
"Distinctly," the Brigadier replies, striding over to the heater to hold his hands over it. Ruefully, he remarks, "Don't let on, but I'm rather regretting planning a training exercise for the coldest weekend of the year. I shall be glad to be headed back tomorrow."
Personally, Yates is rather enjoying it, but that's possibly because he's ended up being the Brigadier's second in command for the duration, which includes drinking hot chocolate with him while they put everyone through their paces, and sharing a tent with him at the end of the day.
"You've only got yourself to blame," Yates tells him. "Sir," he adds when the Brigadier raises an eyebrow at him. "Besides, the lads had good fun with the snow after dinner."
"Yes, they did rather seem to enjoy the opportunity to launch snowballs in my direction. I’ve still got snow down the back of my neck, I’m sure." The Brigadier shudders. "Do we have any extra blankets in here, Yates?"
"Plenty," Yates replies, nodding to where they're stacked in the corner. "You can always share my sleeping bag if you're cold though," he adds with a wink.
With an amused look, the Brigadier heads for the blankets. "You keep on making offers like that, one of these days I might actually take you up on them.”
It's obvious from his casual tone that he has no intention of doing any such thing, and although Yates doesn’t need the confirmation, he can’t help his smile slipping a little anyway.
Of course, as it does, the Brigadier turns around and catches the wistful look on his face. For once, slightly tired and lulled into carelessness by the easy few days they've spent together, Yates has no cleverly phrased comments to deflect the Brigadier from what's really going on. By the time he's pulled himself together enough to try, it's too late.
A shocked comprehension dawns on the Brigadier, who stares at Yates and faintly says, "Oh".
Whatever else he might be about to add, Yates can guess at and really doesn't want to hear.
"I've always known I've got no chance, sir," he says, as quickly and firmly as he can. There's probably no salvaging the situation, but he can at least make that one thing clear. "If you don't mind, I'm rather tired. I think I'm going to turn in for the night." He doesn't wait for permission, just turns away and pulls his sleeping bag around himself and over his head, staring at the wall of the tent while he waits and hopes that the Brigadier just lets it go.
Eventually he hears the rustle of the Brigadier getting ready for bed, and a few minutes later the lamp is extinguished. Eyes closed against the darkness, Yates breathes through the disappointment that's far more crushing than he was prepared for, and clenches his hands in the fabric of the sleeping bag to still his shaking fingers. At least there’s a silver lining, he reflects. This is the last night he has to share a tent with the Brigadier.
-- -- -- -- --
The following week is a glum one for both of them.
Benton notices that something's up as soon as Yates comes into work on Monday morning. Three cups of tea and a packet of chocolate digestives later, he’s got the whole sorry story out of Yates. Yates doesn't feel a whole lot better, but Benton's awkward pat on the back cheers him up a little, and at least he's got it off his chest. He's careful to stress that none of it was the Brigadier’s fault, and almost smiles at Benton's relief when he hears that he's not going to have to take sides. The last thing he wants to do is get poor Benton into an awkward situation.
Meanwhile, the Brigadier's initial shock has faded, and he's thoroughly remonstrating with himself for having failed so completely to notice that Yates hadn't in fact been joking all those times he’d asked... well, asked him out, he supposes. He's also aware that he'd handled the revelation rather badly, which makes the first order of business an apology. They can clear everything else up from there, surely?
Unfortunately, Yates has come to the realisation that he's been fooling himself rather more thoroughly than he'd been aware of, and as a result is making a concerted effort to stay out of the Brigadier's way. Gratefully, he accepts Benton's offer to keep the Brigadier off his back, and takes a few days to mope in relative solitude. Then he decides that enough is enough. He'll give himself until the end of the week and then things have got to go back to normal. No point crying over such a hopeless situation, after all.
Subjected to Benton's disappointed looks every time he comes into the office, the Brigadier has also decided that things have gone quite far enough. Despite his best efforts he's barely seen Yates all week, but when he has it's been quite clear that he's not happy, and that just won't do. Particularly when there’s no reason for it, now that the Brigadier has sorted himself out and is perfectly prepared to admit to himself that he's rather fond of Yates. More to the point, he's prepared to admit it to Yates.
Preferably before Benton gets fed up and locks them in the store cupboard together, or something equally as undignified. The Brigadier wouldn't put it past him.
-- -- -- -- --
Friday comes not a moment too soon for Yates, and brings an unexpected relief in the form of the Brigadier leaving early, meaning Yates can relax just a little for the remainder of the afternoon. He’s more strung-out than the uneventful week can account for, and is more than ready to go home when five pm finally rolls around. Collapsing onto his sofa and doing nothing all evening has never sounded more appealing.
Hat and coat hung up in the hallway, he pulls his tie loose so he can undo his top button as he walks into the living room. There he comes to a stop, and stares in utter bemusement, because things in there are definitely not as they should be. Quite apart from everything else that Yates will get to in a moment, the Brigadier is standing in the middle of the room in casual trousers and a jumper, looking less out of place than he should and rather determined about something.
"Brigadier?" Yates asks, doing his best not to place too much significance on the Brigadier’s distinctly ‘off-duty’ look, or the fact that he’s in Yates’ house at all. "What on Earth are you doing here? And how did you get in?"
"Let myself in with the spare key above the back door," the Brigadier says, and has the grace to look a little guilty about that at least. "As for why I'm here... I rather think I owe you an apology for the less than gentlemanly way I reacted that night in the tent."
Hopes sinking, Yates chastises himself for letting his hopes rise so easily.
He's just about to accept the apology as graciously as he can, when the Brigadier adds, "And to assure you that your interest is reciprocated." He waits for Yates' obvious shock to diminish a little before he continues. "My only excuse for my behaviour is that I’ve never been more surprised in my life. I honestly had no idea you felt that way. You're very good at concealing things when you want to be, you know," he finishes with a half-careful, half-fond smile.
"It usually serves me well," Yates murmurs. He takes a cautious step further into the room. "You're really not having me on?"
At once, the Brigadier replies, “Never,” with a hint of offence in his tone and expression that makes Yates smile. "Have I convinced you?" he asks a moment later.
"I didn't need much convincing," Yates confesses.
The Brigadier's expression softens. "In which case..." He draws himself upright and extends his hand. "Fancy a dance, Captain Yates?"
Yates steps closer and shakes his head even as he smiles. "Not while I'm 'Captain', or 'Yates'. Sir.”
The Brigadier meets his eyes and nods. “Fair enough. Fancy a dance, Mike?"
Yates places his hand in the Brigadier's. "I'd be delighted."
"And please," the Brigadier murmurs, pulling him closer, "call me Alistair."
It turns out that while both of them can dance as well as their private-school educations befit, neither of them are too fond of the formality that usually accompanies the occasion. Instead they sway slowly around the room as the record player spins on, warm light from the setting sun shining through the window, quiet snippets of conversation and laughter occasionally rising above the soft music. The Brigadier is warm beneath the jumper that’s soft against Yates' palm, and his hand on Yates' shoulder is firm and sure, holding Yates to him as if he thinks that otherwise he might try to leave.
Nothing could be further from Yates' mind. He feels as if he's been living on scraps of affection for months, fooling them both with a reckless game of self-preservation. He hadn't realised nearly how good it would feel to do away with the charade, to have the real thing, to be the sole subject of the Brigadier's gentle teasing, to see up close the crinkles at the corner of his eyes when he laughs, and feel the huff of warm breath that accompanies it. It's soppy and romantic and wonderful, and Yates knows he’s got a silly smile on his face, but then so does the Brigadier so he doesn’t much care.
It's twilight outside when the record finishes. They come to a slow stop, and neither lets go. Yates' eyes flicker to the Brigadier's, then down to his lips, and then back up again to find the Brigadier watching his every move. In the least subtle verbal nudge that Yates has ever heard him voice, delivered in a distinctly suggestive tone, the Brigadier murmurs, "Are you going to kiss me before I leave?"
Yates doesn’t even have to think about it. "Definitely.”
They move together at the same time, a brief press of mouths, the barest brush of a moustache, Yates' hand tightening on the Brigadier's when they part a moment later.
"Surely we can do better than that," the Brigadier says, his hand leaving Yates' shoulder to smooth along the back of his neck and curl around the back of his head. Yates hasn't even finished agreeing when the Brigadier leans in and seals their mouths together again, entirely sure of himself and rightly so. All things considered, Yates really doesn't mind being cut off, and joins in enthusiastically before the Brigadier thinks he's the only one who can give a chap a good kissing.
-- -- -- -- --
Yates buys Benton a box of chocolates for his patience, and drops it off to him after work on Monday, compliments of both himself and the Brigadier. Benton looks chuffed to bits, although it's unclear whether that's more because of the chocolates or because his two friends have got together at least. "I'm glad you two finally sorted it out," is all he says.
"So are we," Yates smiles.
And then, because he knows Benton won't be offended, he leaves with his cup of tea only half drunk and heads for home, where he knows the Brigadier will be waiting for him.