Sitting in his car at the end of the Brigadier’s road, Yates takes a few deep breaths and tries to work up the courage to actually get out and walk down to the house. Since the encounter with the spiders, the part of him that had been vaguely hoping to see the Brigadier hasn’t shut up. Now that he’s here though, he’s reminded that there’s no guarantee that his reception will be anything close to civil - no reason for it to be, really - and while Yates is prepared for that, he’s not sure how he’d cope with it.
Still, he’s not going to find out by just sitting here, he tells himself, and hops over the car door before he can talk himself out of it.
-- -- -- -- --
In his back garden, the Brigadier is whistling to himself while pruning the buddleia when he hears the crunch of gravel behind him. Turning around, he couldn’t be more surprised to see Yates standing on the driveway a few feet away, and for a moment he just stares.
Yates has lost both muscle and weight since the Brigadier last saw him, and there wasn’t much of the latter on him to start with. Long-haired and casually dressed, but far from casual in the way he’s holding himself, he looks far more awkward than the Brigadier remembers ever seeing him.
“Yates,” he says, and then stops. Only one question comes to mind. “What are you doing here?”
Yates shrugs one shoulder beneath his jacket. “I was in the area. I, uh...” He trails off. Apparently he’s as unprepared for this meeting as the Brigadier is, which is surprising seeing as he’s the one to initiate it. “I was an idiot,” he says suddenly, drawing himself up. It doesn’t look defensive, more like recognition of the blame, borne out when he repeats with a stronger voice, “I was an idiot, and I’m sorry. I don’t think I ever said that, but I am.”
‘Idiotic’ isn’t exactly how the Brigadier would describe Yates’ actions, but the alternatives aren’t likely to be much kinder either, so he says nothing.
“I never said thank you, either,” Yates adds. “For giving me the chance to resign rather than be court-martialled, I mean. I do appreciate it.”
“You didn’t really get a chance to say much of anything afterwards,” the Brigadier points out, because that part at least isn’t his fault.
Yates nods in acknowledgement, and then there’s silence, both of them looking at each other with flickering eye contact across the width of the lawn. “I should go,” Yates says after a moment, and turns to walk away. He’s obviously not expecting the Brigadier to have anything else to say, and the Brigadier knows that if he lets Yates leave like this, he’s unlikely to come back.
Despite the fact that at the moment the Brigadier can’t pinpoint how he feels about Yates and what he did, the one thing he does know is that if he doesn’t seen him again, he’s going to regret it.
“Yates,” he calls out before Yates disappears from sight around the side of the house. Yates stops but doesn’t turn around. “I’m here most weekends,” the Brigadier says. That does make Yates turn his head, surprised, before he leaves. Watching the empty space where Yates was, the Brigadier stands with the secateurs in one hand, and ponders the last few, very unexpected, minutes.
-- -- -- -- --
Back in his car, Yates rests his head against the steering wheel in relief. The Brigadier hadn’t exactly been welcoming, but the icy politeness that had characterised their last meeting hadn’t been present either. If nothing else comes of this, at least Yates has apologised, for all the good it will do six months after the fact.
-- -- -- -- --
Next weekend, there’s no sign of Yates. The Brigadier wonders if that was it, if now that the obligatory apology has been offered, he won’t see Yates again.
He refuses to feel guilty for the thought. The truth is that he doesn’t know Yates well enough to predict how he will behave any more.
The Saturday afterwards though, Yates shows up again and this time he’s brought the Brigadier a plant. Hovering at the edge of the grass, he holds the small pot out and says, “It didn’t seem right to turn up uninvited without bringing something.”
Recognising it for the peace offering that it is, the Brigadier replies, “You’ve got a good eye for colour,” and comes over to take the deep red tulip from Yates. “It’ll go perfectly with the petunias. Thank you.”
Yates looks as if he doesn’t know what to say to that, so the Brigadier tells him he might as well help plant the thing while he’s there, wondering what he’s doing as he leads the way to the end of the garden. He doesn’t know how to interact with Yates outside of UNIT, let alone if he even wants to after all that’s happened. It’s good to see him again though, even if this Yates wears a fancy scarf and isn’t quite the same person he once thought he knew.
It transpires that Yates doesn’t have the faintest clue how to plant something, so the Brigadier digs the hole and then shows him how to turn the pot upside down to get the whole thing out roots and all, and transfer it into the earth afterwards. Yates waters it and then the Brigadier pats the soil into place, and by the time that’s done they’ve spent a relatively easy twenty minutes together.
When Yates looks as if he’s about to leave, the Brigadier decides there are things on his mind that need to be voiced before Yates goes.
“It wasn’t all your fault, you know.” Yates meets his eyes, surprised and slightly hopeful, although he covers it up. “I’m not absolving you of all blame,” the Brigadier cautions. This isn’t forgiveness, not yet. “But we work a hard job and see some pretty awful things sometimes. You being convinced to go along with some ill-advised scheme supposedly in the name of good, well, it’s not completely beyond me to see how that could happen. I’m just sorry that I didn’t realise what was going on.”
Yates looks as if he’s hearing the words but can’t quite work out what they mean. That’s alright; the Brigadier isn’t entirely sure himself.
Changing the subject, he asks, “Have you been to see Benton yet?”
Yates sticks his hands in his jacket pockets and shakes his head. With a wry smile, he says, “I’m afraid he might try to strangle me again. It’s not as if I don’t deserve it, after all.”
His voice is light but there’s a sadness in his expression that belies the levity, and the Brigadier remembers that Yates hadn’t been around to see Benton’s concern for him.
“Go and see him when you get the chance,” the Brigadier suggests. “You might be surprised.”
Cautiously, Yates nods. They exchange slightly awkward goodbyes, a cut-off “Brigadier” and a “Yates - Mike” stumbling off their tongues before they shake hands and part ways once more.
-- -- -- -- --
Yates debates waiting a while before his next visit, so as not to bother the Brigadier too much, but in the end he can’t make himself stay away. Over the past months, the lingering image he’s had of the Brigadier is of anger and disappointment; now that there’s a possibility to replace it with something at least polite, he can’t let it go.
The Brigadier is weeding the flower-bed at the end of the garden when Yates arrives, looking up when Yates clears his throat and waving him over with one garden-gloved hand.
Standing above the Brigadier, Yates can see the back of his neck just starting to tan above the loose shirt collar of the old shirt he’s wearing, and a glimpse of wrist between the tops of his gloves and the sleeves they’ve pushed up. It’s not something Yates has ever been in a position to notice before, and he’s got a strange urge to avert his eyes, as if it’s something he shouldn’t be privy to.
“Lovely day,” he offers, to distract himself.
“Isn’t it?” the Brigadier agrees.
When it becomes clear that the Brigadier isn’t going to stand up, Yates crouches next to him, and is greeted with something that’s approaching a smile. It’s a small gesture, but down on the Brigadier’s level, Yates feels a little more welcome.
“Did you get a chance to see Benton yet?” the Brigadier asks.
Yates nods. “I went yesterday.”
“I presume he didn’t try to strangle you?”
“Not with harmful intent, anyway,” Yates replies. The Brigadier raises an inquiring eyebrow and Yates explains, “He invited me in for a cup of tea and we had a lovely chat, and then when I left, he gave me the biggest possible hug.” After a moment Yates adds, “It’s as if nothing I did matters to him. Once I said I was sorry, he forgave me just like that.” He feels guilty for even mentioning it when he should just be grateful that Benton hadn’t knocked him arse over elbow, but it bothers him.
“To Benton, doing the wrong thing with the right intention is far less reprehensible than doing the right thing with the wrong intention,” the Brigadier reminds him.
Looking down, Yates remarks, “He wouldn’t be thinking that if we’d succeeded though, would he?”
The blunt reply brings Yates’ head back up, but while the Brigadier looks slightly impatient, he’s still not angry.
“You’ve got to stop beating yourself up about it, Mike.” The Brigadier sets his trowel down and looks directly at him. “They’d got Grover and General Finch in on it, for heaven’s sake. If you hadn’t been helping them, someone else would have, and they likely wouldn’t have been so concerned about our wellbeing in the process. It was a mistake, Yates. A pretty damned big one, certainly, but a mistake nonetheless. The important thing is that you’ve learned from it.”
Yates gets the feeling that the Brigadier is vocalising something that he’s been thinking on for some time, reassuring the both of them with words that thankfully don’t sound like meaningless platitudes.
“I know that,” Yates sighs. He does know; it’s something he’s come to realise during his months of self-contemplation, but realising and coming to terms with are different things. “It’s just... it wasn’t somebody else, was it? It was me.”
He doesn’t expect a response. They both know that he’s got to deal with that particular burden himself.
“Come on,” the Brigadier says, pushing himself to his feet. “It’s a little too brisk out here for my liking. Let’s go inside, I’ll make us a cup of tea.”
“I don’t want to intrude,” Yates starts, standing as well.
“Nonsense,” the Brigadier says. “It’s the least I can do after sending you to see Benton. He’s far too used to coffee; you can’t get a decent cuppa out of him no matter how hard you try.”
Yates can’t help but chuckle at the humour and slightly put-out look on the Brigadier’s face, and sets aside his concerns for the moment as he follows the Brigadier inside.
-- -- -- -- --
The visits continue, only ever after lunch, which the Brigadier recognises as Yates making sure he never outstays his welcome. Slowly they ease back into something that’s not dissimilar to what they had before, albeit a little more reserved on both sides, fostered by the common ground provided by the wildlife and nature of the Brigadier’s garden.
It takes a good few weeks before Yates gets around to asking what's going on at UNIT now. “I know I'm not privy to the details any more,” he says. “I'd just like to know how everyone is doing, that's all.”
There's a yearning in his voice and he's avoiding the Brigadier's eyes, and the Brigadier realises that Yates misses it. So he tells Yates as much as he can, which seems to satisfy him; the regret hasn't gone, but he at least looks a little happier to be back in the loop somewhat.
After that, the Brigadier waits a while before he raises the question of what Yates is doing with himself these days. Surprisingly, Yates doesn't seem to mind the question, and actually gets quite enthusiastic about it when he realises that the Brigadier is genuinely interested. Apparently he's working for one of the larger environmental projects in the area, helping out behind the scenes of their fund drives and education work.
“One of the reputable groups, not one of the crazy ones; I've had quite my fill of those,” he assures the Brigadier with a half-smile. The Brigadier chuckles in response, and reflects that if they can’t put it all behind them, this might at least be the beginning of pushing it to the side.
Leaning back against the bench, Yates sighs and rests one long leg over the other, looking out over the garden that's almost in full bloom now. “It doesn't pay a whole lot but I like it, you know. Doing something to look after this planet rather than trying to make a new one.”
“I'm glad,” the Brigadier tells him, and means it. With his hair curling over his ears and eyes wandering over the various blossoms and leaves, Yates looks more content than the Brigadier has seen him in a long time.
“Are you still living up at that monastery?” the Brigadier asks after a moment.
“Oh, yes,” Yates says. “It's great. They take hard work and contribution to the community in place of rent, you see, which my bank balance rather likes. And now that the spider-summoning sect are gone, it's back to being nice and quiet up there.” One hand comes up to fiddle with the fraying sleeve of his jumper, and slightly more quietly, he adds, “I'm not saying I don't miss being in the army, but it's nice to be somewhere that isn't quite as restrictive sometimes.”
There's a wealth there that he isn't saying, and doesn't need to be for the Brigadier to understand it.
“It sounds nice,” he replies, and means that, too.
Yates looks over at him in surprise, and his shoulders relax when he sees that the Brigadier isn't winding him up. He looks as if there's more he'd like to say, but decides against it, and the Brigadier doesn’t push. There’ll be time enough for that discussion later; for now they’ve got other things to work through.
-- -- -- -- -- --
Late spring becomes early summer, and Yates starts bringing a sketchbook with him, capturing within its pages the beauty and detail of all that’s in the garden, changing with the season but preserved by Yates’ neat hand.
“That's quite a talent you've got there,” the Brigadier comments one day, as Yates works on a careful, colourful picture of the rosebush that the Brigadier has trained to grow up the trellis against the house.
“You really think so?” Yates asks, looking pleased.
“I'm not in the habit of saying things I don't mean,” the Brigadier reminds him. “You ought to sign it; that's what artists do, isn't it?”
“I don't know that I've ever thought of myself as an artist,” Yates muses, but he scribbles his name across the bottom corner anyway.
-- -- -- -- --
Despite his obviously growing reluctance to leave at the end of the day, Yates never turns up before lunch or stays for dinner, an expert in leaving before the Brigadier gets the chance to ask. So instead, the Brigadier plans a late lunch one day, and simply invites Yates to join him for it when he arrives.
“It's just a few sandwiches, Mike, it's no trouble,” he says, waving off Yates' protests that he’s already eaten and can come back later. “An extra meal won’t do you any harm.”
“Alright, if you insist,” Yates says, and moves into the kitchen from where he's been lurking just outside the back door. “Just one for me though.”
The Brigadier gives him two anyway, and gets the chocolate digestives from the cupboard, because he can’t help noticing that Yates still hasn’t regained all the weight he’d lost. They sit at the wooden table beneath the rafters of the old ceiling, sharing food and conversation, and Yates doesn't feel as out of place as he'd expected to.
The week after that, the Brigadier does the same thing, and Yates shakes his head with a grin as he helps lay the table. “Alright, I get the message,” he says, and turns up before noon the next time so that they can eat at a decent hour.
Afterwards the Brigadier leaves the back door open despite the bugs, and naps in his chair with his cap over his face. When he awakens, he ignores the smirk on Yates’ face and the way he flips over the page so the Brigadier can’t see what he’s drawing. Yawning, the Brigadier sends Yates inside to make the tea, because while he’ll take all sorts of liberties with a sleeping Brigadier, it’s obvious he’s not going to go inside without an invitation.
Yates takes that hint, too, and starts getting to know where the important things like cups, plates and biscuits are stored in the Brigadier's house.
-- -- -- -- --
A weekend passes without a visit. The Brigadier doesn't worry, but is relieved nonetheless when Yates' car pulls up outside after work during the week, although unfortunately he arrives when the Brigadier is all dressed up and on his way out.
“Off to a formal do, I'm afraid,” he says, meeting Yates outside the front door.
“Oh, I'm sorry,” Yates replies. “I'll come back on Saturday. Have a good evening, won’t you?”
He's got his sketchbook tucked under his arm and a tin of drawing pencils in his hand, and the Brigadier makes a decision. Having asked Yates if he's learned from his mistakes, he might as well show that he believes the answer he was given. “Why don't you stay? There's no reason you need me here, is there?”
“Well, no,” Yates says, working around to doing the polite thing and refusing.
“Good, that's settled then,” the Brigadier says, brusque but not dismissive. “There's a spare key above the back door; let yourself in if it starts to rain. I'll see you when I get back, or at the weekend, depending on how long this thing goes on for.”
Then he leaves, and feels far less trepidation about doing so than he'd expected. Yates has been so careful with every small measure of trust that the Brigadier has offered him, it's practically a foregone conclusion that nothing will come to harm.
Yates doesn't let himself in but he does stay, sketching flowers and trees, and then focussing on the birds that hop around on top of the fence while they sing the evening in. He misses talking to the Brigadier while he does so, but at the same time he's cognizant of the trust that's placed in him by allowing him into this space by himself. He thinks perhaps that's more important than anything words can say.
The Brigadier comes home to find his garden empty and his house undisturbed, and a drawing of bluefinches and chaffinches slid under the back door. It's signed “With thanks, Mike Yates”. He pins it by the corners to his noticeboard, where Yates will see it the next time he comes round, and goes to bed with the thought at the back of his mind that he’s finally feels as if he’s getting to know Yates again.
-- -- -- -- --
The days continue to lengthen, and Yates continues to turn up mid-week in addition to the weekends. The Brigadier finds himself looking forward to the days when he comes home to find Yates waiting outside in his car or, more frequently, wandering around outside as he draws.
Yates always gives him a smile and goes inside to make tea for them both while the Brigadier changes out of his uniform, coming back downstairs to Yates back outside again and a steaming tea-pot on the table with a mug next to it. Yates only ever puts one out, and the Brigadier always adds another. Then he takes them both out and they stand side-by-side in front of the peonies, sun warming their backs as they talk quietly and linger over the gently steaming mugs.
At the weekends, the Brigadier shows Yates how to plant and prune, water and feed, turn over the soil, remove dead flowers so new ones can grow, pick the strawberries that are constantly replenished and sprinkle them with sugar to eat when they take a break. Bright and attentive, Yates rolls up his sleeves and pitches in with careful adherence to the Brigadier's instructions. Whether he's up to his elbows in dirt or tending to delicate flowers with gentle fingers, he looks equally as pleased to be there, obviously enjoying everything he’s never had a chance to do before.
The only thing he's reluctant to do is weed, looking a little abashed but firm when the Brigadier asks him about it.
“I know it sounds a bit ridiculous, but I don't like taking things out,” he says. “It feels like destroying something. At least when we cut the bushes back, it's for the good of the plant and it grows back afterwards. Weeds are just plants we don't want, so we get rid of them. I understand that they’re no good for the other plants, I do, but...” He trails off. “I don't mind you doing it; it's your garden, but if there's something else I can help with I'd rather do that instead.”
“Standing up for your beliefs isn't ridiculous, Mike,” the Brigadier tells him.
Until that moment, Yates hadn’t realise how much he’d wanted to hear those words from the Brigadier. It feels like a weight off his shoulders, another little thing that’s understood, and he’s relieved when the Brigadier doesn’t add to his statement to include the exception they both know he could.
Then the Brigadier suggests that he tackle the task of winding the bramble around the guides it's supposed to be following, so Yates sticks his tongue out before heading off to find the heavy-duty gloves.
The Brigadier does some reading that evening, and then he does some rearranging outside, marking off a corner of the garden with low posts and string before Yates' next visit.
“What's that?” Yates asks, looking curiously at the grass and rocks and few small trees that are now separated from the rest of the garden.
“A wild corner,” the Brigadier replies, slipping his hands into his pockets as he explains, and trying not to be too obvious in watching to see what the reaction is going to be. “Or at least it will be once it's established. It's an area that you leave natural, let grow there whatever wants to grow.”
Blinking, Yates opens his mouth, but the words stick in his throat and he doesn’t know what they’d be even if they came out. It's no coincidence that the Brigadier has done this right after their last conversation, he knows, and he has no idea what it means or how to respond.
“Apparently it encourages all sorts of wildlife; I'm hoping for a frog or two,” the Brigadier adds, hoping that the slightly stunned look on Yates’ face is a positive thing. “It should be moist and shady enough for them down there one the grass gets a bit of height on it.”
“Maybe even a grass snake,” Yates says, which isn’t what he should be saying but is about all he can manage at the moment.
The Brigadier shudders. “No, thank you very much. If we get any of those, you are responsible for keeping them where they belong.”
Smiling, Yates agrees, and lets that be his thanks and appreciation.
Together they watch the long grass spring up after the first thunderstorm of the summer, bright wildflowers flourishing among them, bees hopping from red to blue to purple while caterpillars cling to stems and field-finches flit amongst the foliage of the trees. Every so often the Brigadier catches Yates gazing at it with curiosity and wonder, or standing quietly at the edge until the wildlife comes back so that he can draw them, expression soft and happy as he takes it all in.
In putting the area aside, the Brigadier may well have given away how much he cares, but he can't bring himself to mind when it makes Yates look like that.
-- -- -- -- --
Through the kitchen window, the Brigadier watches as Yates sketches from the bench, bent over his sketchbook, arms bare below his t-shirt sleeves and slowly browning from the last few weeks of glorious sunshine. His hand moves over the paper with quick movements as if he's trying to draw something before it disappears, although the loose hunch of his shoulders indicates concentration rather than distress.
Taking the tea out quietly so as not to disturb him, the Brigadier looks over Yates’ shoulder to see the familiar scene of the garden on the page. Rather than Yates’ usual precision though, it’s rendered in soft lines and fuzzy shading, the focus on the willow at the end of the garden and the hazy suggestion of two figures leaning against other beneath it. There's no detail to identify them, but the Brigadier thinks he knows who they're supposed to be nonetheless.
“Tea's up,” he says, and sits down closer to Yates than he usually would. Half-way through flipping the book shut, Yates stops, and instead places it open on the ground with the pencil tin to hold it down.
“Thank you,” he says, automatically taking his mug from the Brigadier, heart skipping a little as their fingers brush and the Brigadier looks at him with a hint of a smile. Then the Brigadier's gaze goes to the sketchbook in front of them, and he doesn't say anything but settles back against the bench, crossing one knee over the other and leaning towards Yates just a little so that their arms press together. Breathing out, Yates curls slightly unsteady hands around his mug, and is grateful for the comfortable quiet as they just sit together for a while.
A few days later, the Brigadier comes home to find the finished and firmed-up sketch left on his kitchen table, the figures close together beneath the tree now quite clearly half-profiles of himself and Yates. This one is signed “For Alistair, a gift, from Mike”, and the Brigadier stores it carefully in his box of keepsakes, because this one is for him to keep rather than to put on display.
-- -- -- -- -- --
August arrives sooner than the Brigadier expects, bringing with it a few last scorching days and the threat of thunderstorms to follow. He looks at the garden and realises that while the flowers and bushes and trees are doing wonderfully, thriving under the attention of two conscientious owners, he’s rather neglected the other things like replacing the loose sections of fence and weather-proofing the garage.
“I can give you a hand if you’d like,” Yates says easily when the Brigadier mentions it.
“I was hoping you’d say that,” the Brigadier replies with a smile.
Yates turns up early on Saturday morning, clad in scruffy clothes with his toolbox in hand, and they spent the morning covering the outside of the garage with waterproof paint. By the time they’re done, it’s all over their hands and clothes as well, but and the smear on Yates’ face gives the Brigadier the opportunity to lean in as he wipes it off with a rag and white spirit.
After elevenses - which happen at half past ten owing to hunger - the Brigadier commences weeding on a large scale while Yates sets to work on the fence. He strips off his shirt before he starts, pale underneath but more filled out than he was months ago, and winks at the Brigadier when he catches him looking. Then he gets to work, nails held in his mouth while he wrests the panels back into place. Putting sharp objects in his mouth isn’t exactly clever, and he’s probably going to burn beneath the strong sun, but he’s obviously having far too much fun for the Brigadier to do anything other than roll his eyes and leave him to it.
At lunch the Brigadier makes them both sit in the shade and drink plenty of water, rolling up his sleeves up as far as they’ll go and unbuttoning another button in deference to the heat. Yates’ eyes linger on the open collar, unrepentant when he catches the Brigadier’s eye afterwards, and they’re both smiling as they get back to work.
By mid-afternoon all that remains is to mow the lawn, which the Brigadier does - careful to keep away from the now thriving wild area - while Yates tidies the rest of the tools back into the shed. With the mower stowed and the garden looking tidy and ordered, the Brigadier heads inside to fetch orange juice and biscuits, the fancy ones with chocolate because they both deserve a reward after their hard work and because Yates has expressed a fondness for them.
When he comes back out, he sets the plates and glasses down next to the bench, and smiles at the sight of Yates lying in the middle of the grass. Arms thrown out to the side, eyes shut against the sunshine, he doesn’t even stir when the Brigadier walks over. His arms are tanned below his t-shirt line, the pink above spreading across his chest, and the newly cut grass must surely be scratching against his back but he doesn’t look as if he cares.
Standing to his side, the Brigadier says fondly, “You’ll get insects all over you if you stay down there, you know.”
Cracking his eyes open, Yates shields them against the sun with his hand and looks up at the Brigadier, whose gaze is soft and amused above him. “Worse things have happened,” he says with a shrug, which makes grass tickle against his shoulder blades and sends a shiver down his spine. The Brigadier extends a hand to him and Yates accepts it, because as warm as the sun is, the way the Brigadier is looking at him has the potential to be warmer.
As Yates gets smoothly to his feet, he shakes his head and runs his hand through his hair, sending blades of grass falling to the ground. Reaching out to get rid of a stray blade, the Brigadier blows it away before he looks back at Yates, sun-tanned and loose-limbed and expectant as he watches. There’s a calmness in him that’s coming out more and more of late, and he looks peaceful, maybe even content.
In the sunshine, the Brigadier leans in to kiss Yates, warm and quiet and gentle. One hand comes to rest low on Yates back, rough fingers brushing against the sunburn but not sore enough for Yates to want him to move away. Moving in to the kiss, Yates curls his hands around the Brigadier’s bare forearms, and closes his eyes with a sigh. Maybe things aren’t perfect, but they rarely ever are; this is as close as he thinks he’ll get, and it’s pretty damn good.