So, after 6 (and a bit) years and nearly a 3 year hiatus I have finally finished this story. If there is anyone still hanging on at this point thank you all for sticking with me, and I really hope you enjoy this final chapter. Despite the break this story has been a real labour of love for me. I hold Nicholas Courtney in the highest regard, and the Brigadier is my favourite Doctor Who character. It has been a joy to write this story, and whilst it feels somewhat surreal to now be able to mark it as complete I am happy that I was finally able to finish it (as much for myself as for all of you). So, here it is, and I hope you enjoy the final chapter!
The weeks since the Brigadier had regained consciousness had passed relatively uneventfully in comparison to the weeks before. It had now been more than two months since he's first got sick, and the rest of the world – at least those who'd survived the deadly epidemic – had long since started to move on. The antidote had been rolled out all over the world – first throughout the United Kingdom, then its neighbouring nations, and finally further afield – to prevent smaller pockets of the disease from breaking out, and this seemed to have helped reassure the frightened public. The fear had always been that the Brigadier might still succumb to another infection or secondary organ failure. The internal bleeding had compromised multiple organs and he was still anaemic, but regular kidney and liver function tests had shown a marked improvement over the last couple of weeks, and he was finally out of danger.
The Doctor and Liz were now relatively confident that he would eventually make a full recovery, although how long it would take for him to return to full health neither of them knew. They'd done everything they could for him, medically speaking, and it was now just a case of giving his body time to recover from the ravishes of the disease. He'd need time to regain the weight he'd lost, and they all knew he'd be required to pass a physical fitness test before the army would allow him to return to active duty. His current lack of stamina meant that even a secondment to desk duties was currently out of the question, so he'd been granted a further three months medical leave to recuperate.
This was certainly not what the Brigadier had wanted to hear. With the exception of the blanket of fatigue which seemed to have wrapped itself around him, filling his head with a mind numbing fog as well as infiltrating his bones, he was feeling and fairing much better – but he was clearly becoming increasingly frustrated by the fact that his recovery was not progressing as swiftly as he'd have hoped, and he still tired easily. He'd wanted so badly to prove the Doctor and Liz wrong – to step out of his bed, return to his office, and take his rightful seat back behind his desk, as soon as they'd given him the all clear – but the first time he'd tried to get out of bed unaided his legs had given way beneath him and he'd crumpled forwards, hitting the ground with a sickening thump. The pain in his body had been beyond compare to anything he'd ever experienced in his life before, and once he and Liz had managed to help the Brigadier back in bed the Doctor had explained to him that as well as the internal injuries he'd sustained the infected skin lesions had caused some damage to his cutaneous nerves. He'd paid bitterly in the hours following his fall – every bone in his body had throbbed, his stomach had burned with an internal and gnawing ache, and he'd been left feeling weak and drained, and generally quite unwell. He'd been forced to conceded then that whilst the mind may have been willing the body was still too weak, and had resigned himself to accept another few days bed rest before he could commence physiotherapy.
Liz had hoped – after everything they'd been through – that they'd be able to keep their friend with them for the full duration of his recovery. The UNIT infirmary really was one of the best that the armed forces had to offer, and no expense was spared when it came to the care of its troops. Every apparatus and service the Brigadier required to facilitate his recovery was made available to them, but what the man also needed was fresh air and freedom. He'd been cooped up in his tiny hospital room for too long – the four white walls closing in on him and the thought of the empty week which stretched out endlessly ahead only served to drive him into an uncharacteristic state of passive melancholy. He'd do anything to get back to active duty as soon as possible – do as was asked of him, obey orders like the good soldier he was, rest when he was told to, accept every drug that was offered to him, and obediently follow his programme of daily physiotherapy – but both the Doctor and Liz had realised that this wasn't their Brigadier. The lack of stimulation was slowly suffocating him.
In the end the Time Lord had decided that the only course of action left open to them had been to discharge the man into the care of his family – and the privilege of his rank meant that a nurse had been assigned to oversee his care at home. The news of his imminent discharge seemed to have both raised the Brigadier's spirits somewhat, and filled his heart with dread – for as much as he relished the idea of the change of scenery and looked forward to the freedom from the stifling atmosphere of the hospital which he knew his discharge would afford, he feared that he would not be coming back – despite the Doctor and Liz's reassurances. The Doctor also understood that there was a part of the man which needed to be close to headquarters – even if he wasn't presently an active part of UNIT's operations. He'd devoted his life to the military – sacrificed so much in the defence of his county – but the Time Lord realised that he couldn't rest whilst he remained surrounded by the constant reminders of work. Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton had made a point of taking it in turns to visit him and keep him company – and every evening the Brigadier had asked them to fill him in on the day's events. The temptation to ask about military operations and manoeuvres had been just too great, and whilst they'd both been briefed by the Doctor and Liz not to indulge his curiosity, in practice they were loath to deny a request from their commanding officer. In the end they'd all agreed that sending him away to recuperate at home really was in his best interests.
"Does your head hurt?" Liz frowned as she watched the Brigadier grimace and his hand reach up instinctively to massage the side of his head on the morning of his departure. She was waiting for the Doctor to return from retrieving a couple of items from the Brigadier's office, which he'd wanted to take with him, and sitting on the edge of his bed. There was a small military issue suitcase sitting open on the chair beside her, and in truth she was supposed to have been making a start on his packing – his wife would be arriving soon to take him home – but she wanted to make the most of the moment. She'd known it was going to be hard, but she hadn't quite realised until now just how much she was going to miss him – even if it wasn't going to be forever the thought of UNIT without Brigadier Alistair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart seemed positively impossible.
The catheter had now been removed from the back of his hand – leaving behind a small amount of bruising – and a fresh dressing applied to safeguard the small puncture wound against infection. He was still slightly pale, but the faint pink hew to his cheeks was now no longer born of fever, but rather representative of his return to a more healthy complexion, and he'd put on a little weight so the effect of his pale skin stretched tight over his cheekbones was no longer quite so skeletal.
"Just a slight one." He confessed.
"You can rest it on my shoulder if you like." She offered, but the Brigadier regarded her with a suitably incensed expression at the suggestion.
"I hardly think that would be appropriate, do you Miss Shaw?" He asked her.
"Brigadier, you really do infuriate me sometimes, you know that?" She exclaimed, the glint in her eyes as steely as his own – but in her healthy state the effect was rather more successful. "Quite apart from the fact that neither of us are currently on duty, may I remind you that you are currently on convalescent leave." She pointed out. "I happen to think of you as a friend as well as a colleague, and we nearly lost you." She added poignantly – the way her eyes seemed to shiver and her voice break as she spoke not escaping his notice. "Just for once do me a favour and call me Liz will you?" She asked of him. "I do have a life outside of UNIT. We're more than our military rank dictates."
He held the young woman's gaze for a moment, seemingly taken aback by her uncharacteristic outburst – the fires of which had been fanned by unresolved emotions, and the most potent of which being the huge amount of fear which she'd fought to supress for the past few weeks. The feelings were still very raw and the Brigadier knew that the Silurian's plague had taken it's toll on her too. Indeed she and the Doctor had also been granted some leave – although he doubted that the Time Lord would venture very far from the complex. He could only hope that he wouldn't try anything reckless whilst he wasn't around to keep an eye on him – although he'd always suspected that if the Doctor really wanted to escape planet earth as seriously as he claimed, he'd have found some way to get the TARDIS working by now. He was an exceptional scientist, and engineer, and a fairly competent mechanic – even brilliant by human standards. The Brigadier suspected that despite the inconvenience of the conditions of his exile he didn't really find them as terrible as his constant complaints would have him believe. That matter was not up for debate now however as whatever the truth may be he was far too tired to worry about the Doctor now. He was after all an adult, by all standards, and responsible for his own actions.
The Brigadier looked across at the young woman kindly. "Thank you then… Liz." He said – with eyebrows raised good humouredly – a playful smile curling the corners of his moustache. He still resisted the breach of professional boundaries, and would not allow himself to rest his aching head on her shoulder, but this provoked a smile from the woman none the less. The unspoken truth was that he considered her a friend too, although it wouldn't do for him to give voice to the fact.
The two were interrupted however as at that moment the door opened and a little girl came running into the room, closely followed by the Doctor. Her blonde hair was pulled back into a loose ponytail, and her cheeks slapped pink from the cold wind outside. She was wearing a blue and white dress with embroidered floral embellishments, and hand stitched pockets in gingham. Her pretty canary yellow cardigan with pearlescent grey buttons had been delicately hand knitted and the Brigadier immediately recognised his mother-in-law's handiwork in the neat craftsmanship of the stitches. Upon seeing her father the excited child made an immediate beeline for the Brigadier's bed, throwing herself at him with all the enthusiasm of a child who hadn't seen her father in weeks, and was relieved to see him looking so much better than he had done the last time she'd seen him. Upon seeing her the Brigadier's face lit up and he reached out his hands instinctively to catch his daughter as she came flying towards him – nearly landing on his lap in her eagerness but missing him by inches and instead accidently kicking Liz in the side. The child didn't even seem to notice, but the pained look on the Brigadier's face didn't escape the Doctor's scrutiny as he too made his way over.
"You're daddy's still very poorly Katie." He told her gently as the man in the bed settled her onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her tiny frame. She looked down at the bandage wrapped around his hand with wide eyed concern. "You need to be gentle with him."
"Do you have a tummy ache daddy?" She asked him, with all the innocence of her limited years, and of one whose only experiences of illness had been the usual range of common childhood maladies. She was still too young to understand just how unwell her father had been, and to have told her now of just how close they'd come to losing him would have been cruel – but she was an intelligent young lady, she'd seen her father when he'd been battling the absolute throes of the infection, and looking at the expression in her young face now the Doctor suspected that she'd grasped at least some of the seriousness of the situation.
She looked at her father, taking in his paler and how much weight he'd lost. His breathing was still slightly laboured, and would remain so until his weakened lungs had fully recovered, but if his appearance alarmed her at all she did not show it.
The Brigadier regarded her affectionately and nodded, and the Doctor recalled what the man had told him in the early days of his recovery – he'd risked so much in the defence of his country, but on this occasion his sacrifice had been made for her.
"A little." He confessed.
"What can I do to make you feel better?" She asked him.
"You don't need to do anything tiger." He smiled at her. "But you can give me a cuddle if you like."
"I don't want to hurt you." She told him.
"I think it'll be OK if you're gentle." The Doctor smiled, and watched as with surprising restraint for one so young she reached out her small arms towards her father, and with the weight of a feather wrapped them carefully around his waist as he pulled her closer towards him. She snuggled into him as he did so, her head resting on his shoulder, and whilst the Brigadier still had a pained look on his face and noticeably flinched every time she moved the Doctor recognised that this wasn't for her lack of trying to be as gentle as she could. He looked over at Liz who was no longer sitting on the edge of the Brigadier's bed but had got up when the little girl had kicked her, and was now standing by the door. She was trying not to let her inner turmoil show, but there were unshed tears in her eyes, and the Time Lord regarded her sympathetically as he made his way slowly over – stopping short of wrapping an arm around her shoulders, but as he neared her side he let his own emotional defences slide for just a moment in a show of solidarity with her. She could see the sadness in his eyes, and knew that he felt the same way too, even if he wasn't showing it.
"Try not to cry Liz." He told her in a hushed tone, and out of ear shot of the Brigadier and his daughter. "A few weeks ago we didn't know whether or not Alistair was going to survive." He said – his use of the man's given name rather than his rank showing that he was now speaking personally rather than professionally, and from the heart. "But look at him now." He added, regarding how happy his friend looked despite still being very unwell, as he held his daughter in his arms. The little girl no longer had her arms wrapped around her father's waist and the Time Lord suspected that the pain of having her pressed up against him had probably become too much for him, but it was nice to see a different side to the man as he told his daughter all about the Silurians – leaving out the darker details of the story. As he caught occasional snippets of the man's fantastical tale the Doctor realised that it was more of fiction than it was of truth, but little Katie was hanging off her father's every word – her eyes wide with a childlike wonder, and he suspected that she'd probably heard all about the likes of yeti, and cybermen and autons in the same way – although he realised that at her age they were simply exciting stories to stir her childish imagination. This was a softer, more tender side to the Brigadier – the military man – which they didn't get to see.
"Look at him with Katie." He told her. "He's still here, and he will be coming back to us."
They were all going to miss the Brigadier – it was difficult for them all to wrap their heads around the thought of UNIT without him.
"I know." Liz nodded. "But she doesn't love him Doctor." She added sadly – and the Time Lord didn't have to ask her who she was talking about to know that she was referring to the man's wife – the reason for her current anguish becoming apparent – and it was clear that it was this which had been eating away at her. "You saw how she was towards him when she brought Katie to visit him whilst he was still in the coma." She remarked, still fighting the tears which threatened to spill over onto her pale cheeks – but she was determined not to cry in front of the Brigadier. Her voice shook with an equal measure of sorrow and anger. "She doesn't care!" She spat in a hushed tone which came out as more of a growl as she let her anger get the better of her. "Her own husband was dying and she didn't even pretend to give a damn! What kind of woman does that make her?" She asked him. "She won't take care of him like we will here!"
"I know it certainly seems that way Liz." The Doctor sighed – remembering how the Brigadier had told him himself of how he suspected that his wife probably didn't love him – at least not in the way that two people who were married should. "But we mustn't be too quick to judge her harshly." He reasoned. "You have to understand that when she visited him in the hospital he was very ill – iller than she'd ever seen him before. It's bound to have come as quite a shock to her, and grief effects us all in different ways." He said. "Perhaps she just couldn't cope with the thought that her husband was dying. The last time she saw him he was fit and well." He did his best to persuade her, but his words fell short of convincing as he himself suspected that there probably was some truth in what she said.
"Alistair told me that she wanted him to give up the army when Katie was born, but he just couldn't." He explained – hoping that this might help her to understand a little. He wrestled with his conscience – debating whether it was too great a breach of the man's confidence to have let her in on the conversation he'd shared with the Brigadier only weeks before. Their friend was essentially a very private man – he compartmentalised his life, keeping his work and personal life separate, and the Time Lord suspected that this was what enabled him to do his job, and to do it so well.
"I'm sure she'll take good care of him Liz." He sighed. "It'll do him good to get away from here for a while and spend some time with his family. He works too hard, you know he does.
Apparently they're taking him to spend a few weeks at the seaside." He added more optimistically. "The fresh air will do him more good than anything we can do for him, and help his lungs heal a lot quicker than they would here."
"I just don't understand how she could have been so indifferent." Liz shook her head. "Whatever her personal feelings may be, she was so cold towards him. Alistair's a good man – he deserves so much better."
"Liz, whether the Brigadier's wife loves him or not still remains to be seen." The Doctor said. "But there is at least one person who we can be in no doubt does." He smiled – indicating the little girl perched on the bed beside her father. There were signs that the Brigadier was beginning to tire again, and she looked a little worried. She wasn't used to this new version of her father – so sick and weak when he was usually so strong. His eyes were growing heavy, and he was having to fight to keep them open, but as he looked at her and smiled – wearily placing a hand on the top of her head and ruffling her hair playfully – she giggled. "She clearly dotes on him." The Doctor sighed.
Liz looked in the direction of the Brigadier, and for the first time took notice of the expression on the child's face – the love in her eyes as pure and unconditional as any small child who idolised a parent – and she couldn't help the smile which curled the corners of her lips upwards as she watched the two of them together – although it didn't escape the Doctor's notice that the sadness in her eyes still remained. Liz herself had always thought that she might want children of her own one day, and there was something about the little girl – clearly so concerned about her father and evidently happy just to be spending time with him – which stirred the maternal instinct within her. She suspected that time was not something little Katie got to spend much of with her father, and as if to prove this she heard the little girl say something which immediately broke her heart.
"Mummy says that you're going to be at home with us for quite a while whilst you get better." She smiled. "I'm glad. I'm not going to miss you having to go to work every day."
At that moment there was a knock on the door behind them, pulling Liz from her contemplations, and she and the Doctor turned to see a pretty young nurse pushing a wheelchair, with Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton standing behind her.
"Thank you my dear." The Doctor smiled as he took the proffered chair from the young woman. She returned the gesture with a soft smile of her own before quickly withdrawing, and the Time Lord then turned to look at the two young men left standing in the doorway.
"We just came to see the Brigadier off." Sergeant Benton explained and Liz found herself having to swallow hard past the lump in her throat which had once again returned. Captain Yates looked at her and seemed to notice the young woman's distress.
"Are you alright Liz?" He asked her kindly, quietly taking notice of the unusual shimmery glaze to her usually brilliantly blue eyes, caused by the excess moisture she was fighting to keep at bay. She bit her lip and cleared her throat in an only somewhat successful attempt to keep her voice from shaking.
"Yes, thank you Mike." She responded, forcing a watery half smile as she spoke which also helped to disguise the slight break in her voice. "It's just been a very difficult past few weeks." She did her best to come up with a plausible explanation for her emotional state. "It's only now that it's finally over that I'm beginning to realise how tired I am."
Mike looked at her and smiled, although he didn't appear entirely convinced by her front and reached over to squeeze her arm gently, in an attempted gesture of comfort.
"It's OK. I understand." He told her quietly, out of ear shot of Sergeant Benton and the Doctor. "We're all going to miss him too."
She chuckled lightly, and as a stray tear escaped from her eyelid and trickled down her cheek she swiped it away quickly before anyone would have the chance to notice.
"Thanks Mike." She whispered. "I know I'm just being silly."
"Listen, why don't you two take care of Katie for a while whilst me and Liz help the Brigadier into the wheelchair?" The Doctor suggested, looking from one to the other of the two men. He aimed a sympathetic smile in Liz's direction, but if he had seen her quickly wipe away her tears he made no mention.
"Come along Katie." He called to the little girl, who had already slid herself off the bed, with a little help from the Time Lord. When she observed the two men standing in the doorway to her father's room her face lit up. "Let's go and play a game shall we?" He asked her, as the child immediately made a run towards them, and took Sergeant Benton by the hand – judging by her willingness to go with them it appeared she'd met the two men before, and Liz once again recalled the last time she'd visited her father in the infirmary.
The Doctor closed the door behind them, but they could still hear the little girl giggle as she skipped up and down the corridor outside whilst Liz approached the Brigadier's bedside. Despite his limited strength their friend still insisted that he wanted to wear his uniform, and refused the shirt and suit trousers his wife had brought for him from home, at the request of the Doctor. They'd wanted to make the journey home as comfortable as they could for him – the military issue khaki was coarse and heavy, and many of the Brigadier's skin lesions had not yet completely healed. The open and still seeping wounds remined swathed in thick bandages, but the Brigadier placed his need to adhere to what he saw as the proper way of things over his own comfort, and after everything he'd been thorough the Doctor and Liz were loathe to refuse him this request.
Neither of them had seen the man in uniform for many weeks, and whilst Liz found it somewhat comforting to see him donned in olive green again it emphasized just how much weight the Brigadier had lost. His dress shirt sagged at the front, and whilst his jacket concealed the full extent of his weight loss it still hung heavy at his shoulders, and he had to tighten his belt to make his trousers fit. Just the simple act of dressing himself seemed to take a lot out of him, but the fact that he was able to do it predominately unaided was a testament to just how far in his recovery he'd come. In a rare gesture he allowed Liz to brush his hair for him, as much because he sensed the young woman's need to feel useful as his own difficulty holding his arms above his head for any prolonged length of time, before finally putting on his cap. It seemed to be the only part of his uniform which still fitted him perfectly. He then let the Doctor and Liz help him out of bed and assist him into the wheelchair without too much protest.
"Thank you." He said to them both once he was comfortably seated and Liz had placed a blanket over his knees. She could tell by the look on his face that he wasn't entirely happy about that part, but she'd informed him that there'd been a bitter bite in the air over the past couple of days and so he tolerated it. The Brigadier hadn't seen the outside of his four walls for several weeks now, and he couldn't deny that he was looking forward to breathing fresh air again and feeling the sensation of the breeze upon his face, despite the anticipated cold.
"Right then Brigadier," The Doctor smiled cheerily as Liz retrieved the small suitcase from where she had placed it out of the way of Katie – concerned that the small child might have kicked it off the bed in her excitement at seeing her father again – and she placed it gently down on his lap. "Let's break you out of here shall we?" The Time Lord asked – aware of just how difficult the Brigadier had found the conditions of his confinement, especially during the past week since he'd been told that he would be being discharged from the UNIT hospital.
"Before we go out there I just wanted to say thank you to you both." The Brigadier said, clearing his throat stoically, and trying rather unsuccessfully to hide the emotion in his tone. He took a deep breath, but clearly overwhelmed he eventually gave up the front, and smiled up at his two friends – waiting until he'd recovered enough emotionally to speak again. At that moment Liz felt no longer able to hold back the tidal wave of emotions which she'd been battling against all day, and a stuttered gasp escaped her. A tiny sob lodged itself in her throat, causing her vocal cords to constrict, and with it a few stray tears trickled down her cheeks. She was emotionally exhausted, and more tired than she'd ever felt in her life before, but she'd at least hoped to wait until their friend had left before finally breaking down.
The Brigadier, himself now having pretty much recovered, reached out and took her gently by the hand, giving it a kindly squeeze – and Liz was able to glean enough strength from this small gesture to compose herself. He then turned to address the Time Lord.
"And you, don't go running off on me whilst I'm away now Doctor," He said, in the most authoritative voice he could muster under the circumstances. Liz didn't know where he managed to get his strength from, but even she had to admit that he didn't do too bad of a job considering he was still too weak to stand for more than a few minutes unaided, and whilst it lacked lustre his was certainly a tone which she would have to think twice before disobeying. "Make sure you're still here when I get back." He told him.
"Don't worry Alistair." The Doctor smiled. "Even if I could I wouldn't leave now."
Clearly not completely satisfied by the Time Lord's response however the Brigadier then turned to Liz.
"Miss Shaw, keep an eye on him for me." He asked of her with a small smile curling the ends of his moustache as he tipped his head in the direction of the Doctor. "Make sure he stays out of trouble."
"I will." She nodded with a small sniff to hold back any further tears which threatened, and he winked at her reassuringly. It was hard to feel so melancholy when he appeared to be in such good spirits.
"Right, I'd better get going then." He said, taking one last look around the small room which had been his home for the past few weeks. "The sooner I make a start on getting these tired old bones back into shape the sooner I'll be back." He smiled. "Although…" He added, as if in an afterthought. "I won't miss this place, despite how grateful I may be for it."
Liz smiled as she took the handles of the wheelchair, whilst the Doctor made a move in the direction of the door. When he opened it Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates were waiting outside. The Brigadier's wife had now also joined the small group and was helping little Katie on with her coat, signifying that she didn't intend to hang around for long. Judging by what the Brigadier had told him the Doctor theorised that the army was probably not an institution she held in very high regard, despite her own previous military history, and she certainly looked as though she had no desire to spend any longer than she absolutely had to at UNIT headquarters – although she did at least smile this time at Liz and the Doctor. The Time Lord appeared characteristically unaffected by the woman's olive branch gesture, although Liz returned it politely, despite the fact that she still didn't like the woman. There was no need for any open displays on animosity between them.
Sergeant Benton and Captain Yates saluted the Brigadier as his wife took Liz's place behind her husband's wheelchair, and he in turn tapped the bridge of his cap in acknowledgment. He handed his suitcase to his wife, who took it from him, and little Katie climbed carefully up onto his lap. She was still small and light enough that Liz suspected she wasn't in much danger of falling off, but her mother made her get down none the less and she settled instead for holding her father's hand.
"Take care of yourself Alistair." The Doctor said as he reached out to shake the Brigadier's free hand – his other now gently clasped around his daughter's.
"We'll see you in a few months sir." Sergeant Benton added as his wife started wheeling him away.
It was only once the Brigadier had gone that Liz finally broke down and cried freely.
"Come along my dear." The Doctor said kindly, wrapping a comforting arm around her as he started to lead her away. He could completely sympathise with the young woman's weariness, because he felt it too. "Our job is done now." He told her. "Alistair is safe, and as well as can be expected. He is exactly where he needs to be right now, with his family. It's now our turn to get some rest."
The Brigadier would be back before they all knew it, and it wouldn't be long before they would find themselves organising the party Liz had jokingly suggested, to celebrate his return. He would receive a phone call from the General mid-way though the celebrations letting him know about the events surrounding 'Mars Probe 6', and like the loyal and dedicated Officer he was he would drop everything and go where he was sent – where UNIT considered him to be most needed. But in the meantime they would both take their leave and rest – for it was time for them to acknowledge that the past few weeks had been physically and mentally tough on them too – and seek solace in the fact that their friend was alive and safe, and continuing to grow in strength every day. Between them they'd achieved that which had once felt improbable to them – the Brigadier had pulled through – and the Silurians and their plague were now finally behind them.