It was well after 11 p.m. when Alistair finished the report. His desk lamp provided the only light in his spartan office, casting a small golden circle over the papers he was now shuffling into a semblance of order. Beyond his office door, UNIT’s halls were dark. The base slept; his men had all been sent back to barracks, an unfortunate few in the hands of the base’s medical staff.
From top to bottom, the team was exhausted in body and spirit. They had every reason to be, he knew. This latest extraterrestrial incursion had been terrible, beginning with a blood-drenched ambush of a science laboratory in Leeds, of all places, and ending 150 miles south, in a battle conducted through long forgotten sewers under Barking. Barking , for heaven’s sake.
The Doctor and Miss Shaw had ensured the mission’s success, and had done so in a way that kept casualties to a minimum.
Alistair had to admit he was impressed with how well Miss Shaw had held up under extremely uncomfortable physical conditions. Her being there still bothered him, though. Bad enough that his men had to endure the noisome battleground and the danger; to see a lady put her life on the line, no matter how willingly she risked herself on behalf of her UNIT colleagues, made him simultaneously proud of her and ashamed that he hadn’t been able to convince her to stay behind.
Honestly, he thought, checking his report for missed commas and misspellings, he didn’t know what to make of the woman. Most of the time their conversations started as arguments, and ended with him ceding territory to her, and smiling as he did so. He grunted to himself in amusement as he thought about that.
The Doctor, meanwhile, had responded to Alistair’s request for a post-incident precis with an irritable “It’s going to have to wait until the morning. I am declaring myself off duty, Brigadier. What’s more, I suggest you and Liz do the same thing.” He’d stalked off to his own personal lab and, presumably, to his TARDIS.
Alistair had said his goodbyes to Miss Shaw, who he presumed had made her way to the carpark and thence to wherever her home was. Funny that, he thought; he knew her very well within the environs of UNIT, could anticipate her moods and work as closely with her as he would with a fellow officer, but he had no knowledge of her life outside their remarkable days together.
After the Doctor and Miss Shaw had taken their various leaves he’d made his way back to his office. He’d sat down with a cup of tea, now completely cold, and begun drafting the report.
He could have left it until the morning, he supposed, but he wanted this particular mission done and dusted. Completing the report, or at least its first version, was all he could have focused on this evening, of that he was certain. He could have gone home and tried to sleep, but it would have been impossible, and he would have had to keep silent in the face of Fiona’s worry, and little Kate’s desire to hear about her father’s latest “adventure.” No, this was the best way to spend the hours after a battle, Alistair thought.
Still, perhaps he could rest now that the dratted thing was more or less complete. He thought longingly of the cot in the next room, one he’d had placed there for just this sort of evening. He rubbed his face, then grimaced as he looked at the dirt that came away on his hands. What a mess … but he was alive, he reminded himself, and every man in the platoon was, and almost all the civilians who’d come into contact with the invaders. That counted as a victory.
The soft knock on his door made him jump in a distressingly unmilitary fashion. “Come!”
To his complete and utter surprise, Miss Shaw entered, followed by the Doctor. What dropped his jaw even further was the very large bottle of extremely good brandy she carried, and the three snifters the Doctor brought in with him.
“Thought we’d find you here,” Miss Shaw said, with weary satisfaction. “I told the Doctor that you wouldn’t leave until you’d at least finished a draft report.”
“She also told me how much you appreciate Armagnac,” the Doctor said. “And she suggested that the best way to drink Armagnac was in the company of friends.” He smiled and said, “I hope we can consider ourselves friends, eh?”
“I … my dear fellow, Miss Shaw — I ….” Alistair couldn’t say anything further. He ruthlessly swallowed the lump in his throat, and tried again. “Thank you both. I could use a bit of company right about now.”
“You also look like you could use a hot bath and about 12 hours solid sleep,” Miss Shaw said, with the brutal honesty Alistair had come to expect of her. “But let’s start with the Armagnac, shall we?” Her smile was as warm and wide as the Doctor’s, and Alistair was absurdly grateful that they had chosen to stay around this late on his behalf.
“One condition,” he said, holding up an index finger for emphasis. “We do not talk about the last four days. Not tonight, at least.”
The Doctor raised one eyebrow and looked at Miss Shaw. “What should we talk about, then,” he asked. She in turn looked to Alistair.
“Well, did I ever tell you that I want to visit Peru?” Alistair said, relishing the looks of confusion on his companions’ faces. “Miss Shaw, why don’t you let the Doctor pour some of that undoubtedly excellent Armagnac, and I shall be glad to tell you all about it.”
“I will be glad to listen,” she told him, handing the bottle to the Doctor, and dragging a chair closer to the desk. A moment later, the Doctor handed them their snifters, found a third chair and joined them.
They talked through the night, their faces illuminated by one small desk lamp, and by friendship.