I wrote this story around 1985-1986 at a time I was deeply into the whole Doctor Who media scene. It was a lot of fun, and my roommate Jeanne and I met some very interesting characters. This story appeared in The Sonic Screwdriver, no. 2 a really good fanzine edited and published by Joy Harrison that dealt with British Science Fiction series.

Merry Christmas, Brigadier

by Kathie Hughes

With a sigh, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart dropped another report into his "Out" basket. Read, digested, and initialed, it was merely the latest in the nearly overwhelming stack of paperwork that lay on his desk. He swivelled around in his chair to glance out the window at the gently falling snow. Peaceful, he thought, mesmerizing. He shook his head. And tough driving. One more reason to stay and finish up the job. A sharp rap on the office door brought him around to his desk again.

"Come in," he called.

"Sir." Warrant Officer John Benton deposited another few sheets onto the "In" pile and remained standing. "Sir?" he asked hesitantly.

"Yes, Benton, what is it?" The Brigadier barely looked at him.

"About my leave, sir. Have you given it any more thought?"

"Mr. Benton," he began, rubbing his forehead wearily, "look around you. We are inundated with reports, budget requests, security clearances, all of which must be completed by the end of the year. Surely you cannot seriously expect me to allow you to run off to the country on holiday when so much needs to be done here?"

"But, sir, tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and I haven't seen my family in months."

"Yes, Benton, I am quite aware of the date, but it is totally out of the question, and you are wasting time standing there discussing it."

"Sir!" Benton snapped to attention, turned smartly, and marched out of the office.

"Should have him up for insubordination," the Brigadier muttered. "Imagine, expecting to take off and leave me with all this work. Be tripping off to Bermuda next." He harrumphed, and attacked another report.

In the outer office, Benton steamed. "Bloody hell!" he stormed under his breath. "Can't even quit when you're in the damned Army." How many Christmases had he spent away from home? More than he'd like to remember. He slammed a drawer shut, jarring a stack of papers that fluttered to the floor.

"Damn!"

This Christmas was to have been special. His sister and her husband were home from Canada with a new nephew he hadn't met yet. Named John, too, after his uncle. Benton smiled, remembering Jennie as a little girl. What a pest she had been! He tried to imagine her with a baby, and realized how much he missed her. He missed them all, in fact -- Jennie, Mom, Dad. Christmas just seemed to bring into focus all the thoughts he kept at bay the rest of the year.

Cursing again, he forced himself back to work. It was damned unfair...

In the dim office, the Brigadier's head jerked up with a start. A pool of light from the desk lamp showed him it had gotten dark outside. Had he fallen asleep? Nonsense, he thought. Just resting my eyes. The clock at the edge of the desk read 21:08.

"After twenty-one hundred, and Benton probably long gone. No surprised. No dedication in young people these days. I'll just get a bite to eat, and get back to work..."

A sudden movement in a corner sent him reaching for the service revolver that wasn't there, a reflex of long years on active duty, but as the figure approached, the Brigadier relaxed. The glow from his desk lamp caught the grin, the tangled curls, and the looped scarf as the figure leaned over his desk.

"Hullo, Brigadier, nice to see you again."

"Doctor! How long have you been sitting there?"

"Oh, long enough to catch your little catnap," he replied. "and on duty too, Tsk tsk. Do you realize that you snore?"

With an irritated wave of one hand, the Brigadier motioned his visitor to a chair. "What do you want, Doctor? I have a great deal of work to finish up."

"So I see. Don't you think this could wait? It is Christmas, you know."

"I don't have the time for Christmas this year. Now, if you'll please go away and let me get back to work... The Minister's been breathing down my neck about this budget for weeks."

"Now, Brigadier," the Doctor chided, "that's no way to enjoy this festive season. And you British do it so well too. I'd say a pint down at the pub, and then a nice goose..."

"You obviously haven't been listening. I don't have time. All this blather about Christmas. You sound just like Benton!"

"Ah, yes, Mr. Benton. There's another subject. Trifle hard on him, weren't you?"

"This is UNIT, Doctor, a military organization, not the Girl Guides. Benton cannot expect to be running off home whenever it suits him. I cannot spare him now."

"Not even for Christmas?"

"No."

"And what about you, Lethbridge-Stewart? Are you going to spend the holiday here with your budget reports?" The Time Lord lifted a sheaf of papers and held it dangerously close to the wastebasket. The Brigadier retrieved it angrily.

"I can think of no better way to spend my time just now, Doctor, than in doing the job I was assigned to do. I realize this is something you wouldn't understand, flying willy-nilly through the universe, but some of us have our feet firmly on the ground and accept the responsibilities we are given. Now, if you would excuse me," he finished coldly, "I must get back to it."

"Very well." The Doctor's voice was menacingly low. "But I suggest you give some thought to what I've said. There are many types of duty in this world. Merry Christmas, Brigadier." Then quietly, the Time Lord melted back into the shadows.

At his desk, lost in a sea of weapons evaluations, the Brigadier ignored his departure.

The wind whistled around the sill of the office window, sending a shiver down the Brigadier's back. The wind must be picking up, he thought, to make that awful noise. It was 22:15.

"Good heavens," he moaned. "Not asleep again? I'm not going to make any progress this way!"

Suddenly, the office door opened, the brilliantly-lit room beyond backlighting the small figure that marched up to his desk. A pretty, young woman with thick, brown hair laughed down at him in his chair.

"Merry Christmas, Brigadier!"

"Miss Smith? How did you get in here? Did Benton forget to lock the door?"

"Oh, the Doctor always takes care of little details like that. He sent me for you."

"Nonsense! I told him I've work to do."

"Umm, so he said, but I have something to show you, something you'll find very interesting."

The Brigadier sighed. How could he fight all these interruptions? Might as well take a break. "Very well, what is it?"

"Come along, I'll show you. Oh, don't forget your coat. It's snowing outside."

Lethbridge-Stewart pulled his heavy overcoat on over his uniform, muttering all the while.

"This way." Sarah Jane Smith smiled, and led him through the fluorescent brightness of the outer office. Once in the street, the darkness closed in around them in gusts of whirling snow.

The Brigadier turned uneasily. "This isn't right. Where are we?"

"Don't you know? Don't you recognize it?"

For a moment, the Brigadier studied the facade before him, and the lane beyond. Then he nodded. "Of course! I was at school here. This is the library. Not that I understand how we got here. Some of the Doctor's tricks, no doubt."

Sarah shrugged. "Shall we go in?" she asked brightly, pulling open the huge door.

"Certainly. Wouldn't want to spoil the game, would I?"

Standing in the shadows of the entryway, the pair observed a young boy sitting alone at a table in the deserted building, books and papers strewn around him but hardly touched. He was a handsome, dark-haired lad with the beginnings of a military bearing, dressed in the school uniform. At the moment, however, there was very little of the military about him. Head sunk onto his hands, the boy stared listlessly out of the window at the snow. Then, with a sigh, he picked up a pen and began to write.

Sarah turned to the Brigadier, who had started forward, and gently held him back. "No, Brigadier."

"But, it's me!"

"Yes, alone again, and at Christmas, too."

He paused a moment, memories flooding over him, then turned for the door and stepped out into the snow. Sarah followed.

"I spent most Christmases alone. My mother died when I was very young, and my father was off serving in India. I had an aunt, but she seemed never to know what to do with boys, and I finally just stayed at school."

"And later?"

"Later was the Army, of course."

"Yes, of course, the soldier's life."

"There are worse lives, Miss Smith."

They had been walking slowly along the dark lane. Sarah, her hands in her pockets, listened patiently. Finally she laid a hand on his arm, stopping him, and they turned in at a doorway from which laughter could be heard. The door opened to a cloud of cigarette smoke, as two young corporals pushed past them. Fascinated, the Brigadier peered into the common room. Across from the bar stood a fresh-faced lieutenant, brash and cocky, and more than a little drunk. As he stood swaying, one of his mates pushed a mug into his hand.

"Let's have a toast, Lethbridge-Stewart!"

"All right then." He staggered a little, and raised the mug.

"'To the ladies who charm us from hearth and from home,
To the sergeants who curse us then leave us alone,
To the brave fighting lads who've all answered the call,
A fine merry Christmas to one and to all!'"

Cheers and applause filled the taproom, and the lieutenant's health was drunk again and again.

Shaking his head, the Brigadier stepped back into the cold street, a pained expression on his face.

"I know what you're trying to tell me, Miss Smith, but it won't work. I still have my duty to perform. Luxuries are for civilians."

Sarah was silent as she moved ahead of him and pulled open another door. Together, they reentered the brightly-lighted outer office of the UNIT headquarters, and stopped before Benton's desk.

"That's better," Lethbridge-Stewart said, turning to address the young woman beside him. "You may tell the Doctor, Miss Smith, that my past is my own business, and would he kindly stay out of it."

Sarah nodded. "Whatever you say, Brigadier, but don't say he hasn't warned you."

"Good night." He marched into his office.

"Merry Christmas!" she called after him.

Alone in the office, Lethbridge-Stewart drew a hand over his face. "Must be tired. Hallucinating! Who could believe such nonsense?" Quickly, he leaned across his desk and restacked the papers.

Suddenly, from the outer office, came a loud pop. With a snort, the Brigadier stalked toward the door. "He won't get away with it this time!" Ripping open the office door, he prepared a few harsh words for the Doctor. "Doctor, I..."

"Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, how are you?" Harry Sullivan, impeccably dressed as ever, bounced out of a chair to greet him. He held a glass of champagne in one hand.

"Oh no, don't tell me I'm imagining you too?"

"Don't be silly, old boy. The Doctor asked me to look you up and give you a run around town. Champagne?"

"No. Lieutenant, I'm a busy man. I've told the Doctor and Miss Smith, and now I'm telling you. Please go away."

"Sarah Jane? Was she here? Fancy that." As the Brigadier started back for his office, Harry caught his arm. "Wouldn't do for you to go just yet, Brigadier. This will only take a moment."

Lethbridge-Stewart sighed, holding his temper, which was about to explode. When will they go away and leave me alone? "Oh, very well. Let's get one with it. I won't have any peace until you're done."

"Right. This way."

Harry opened the door, which led, not to the clamor of the pub, but to a quiet country lane. The snow continued to fall; here it lay heavily on the steep hills that surrounded them.

"Where are we now, or dare I ask?"

"Wales," answered Harry as he pushed aside a gate to let them enter. A plaque on the fence read, "Jones."

"Wales? What are we doing in Wales?"

Harry strolled up to a window, then wiped off the frosty pane with a handkerchief. The scene inside was lit by a blazing fire on the grate. A huge Christmas tree filled one corner of the room. On the floor, back to the window, sat a petite, blonde woman who was busily wrapping a package in colorful paper. She laughed and turned as a little girl toddled into the room, carrying a box nearly as large as she was. Jumping up from her project, the woman scooped the child into her arms, and deposited her in the lap of a man seated in the corner. As she turned, the Brigadier saw her face for the first time.

"It's Jo Grant!"

The man leaned forward to release the child, who squirmed out of his grasp.

"And her husband, Professor Jones!" The Brigadier stepped closer.

"Yes, they've been back from the Amazon for some time now. I hear he's writing a book."

"Imagine. Jo Grant with a family. Hardly seems possible. I was always quite fond of Jo. Couldn't we just go in and say hello?"

"No," Harry said, restraining him with a hand on his shoulder. "That wouldn't do at all." he gazed into the window. "They do look happy, don't they?"

"Yes, they do."

"Family is important at Christmas-time, wouldn't you say, Brigadier?"

"That's enough, Sullivan. I get the point. Now I suppose I must endure another of the Doctor's little dramas?"

"Just one. Is it such a hardship, then?"

"I'm a busy man!"

"Yes, so you've told me. Not too busy to want to stop and chat with Jo Grant, though."

"That's different. I haven't seen jo in years. I'm sure we could have taken the time."

"Time is what it's all about, isn't it? But you're in the Army, remember? No time for luxuries such as families. This isn't the Girl Guides, you know."

Lethbridge-Stewart gave him a withering look and stepped back from the window. Reluctantly turning from the cozy, little house, he met Harry at the gate. Without another word, he strode off into the lane.

"God rest you merry, gentlemen..." Harry sang softly as they rounded a corner. "Let nothing you dismay..."

"Do you mind?"

"Not at all. Would you like me to sing louder?"

"No."

"Here we are."

From somewhere out of the country darkness, they had emerged back into the city. The Brigadier knew this street, only a short walk from UNIT headquarters. Harry stopped before a small, brick bungalow, divided into flats. Stealthily, he moved around to the back of the building and peered over the window sill.

The room was sparsely but comfortably furnished with a sofa, easy chair, and a kitchenette. On a table sat a small, black and white television set, which flickered in the semi-dark room. A few Christmas decorations were scattered about the walls, with a handful of cards stuck to the back of a door. A man bent to pull something from the oven in the kitchenette, burnt his fingers, and found a towel to complete the job. As he straightened, the Brigadier saw it was Benton. Suddenly, he was ashamed of spying, but he made no move to back away from the window.

Benton dropped the frozen dinner onto a tray and stretched out in the chair before the television set. As they watched, he took a few forkfuls of food, then shoved the rest away, uneaten.

The Brigadier closed his eyes. How many similar meals had he eaten? He thought of Jo and her little girl. Duty was duty, but where did his duty lie? The snow fell cold on the back of his neck, and it made him shiver. "Damned bloody stupid to be out in the cold like this, improperly dressed, looking in people's windows like a thief! Sullivan?" he called crunching toward the street. "Where are you?" But the man was gone.

Rubbing his hands, the Brigadier looked up and down the deserted street. A figure slouched against the wall, hat pulled over his eyes, incredibly long scarf dragging in the snow.

"Jelly-baby, Brigadier?"

"Doctor, this is ridiculous! I'm going back to headquarters."

"I wouldn't go that way. You never know where it might take you." The Doctor's voice held the same low, menacing tone it had earlier, in the office.

Ignoring him, the Brigadier set off across the snow. The familiar streets had vanished, but the snow was lessening. Behind him, he could hear the Doctor's footsteps in the snow.

Suddenly, the road ended in a little park. The sound of Christmas carols and bells filled the air as Lethbridge-Stewart spun around to get his bearings. There was no one there to hear except a bent, old man who sat alone on a bench in the snow. Lethbridge-Stewart stopped before him to get directions. But when the man looked up, the Brigadier found himself looking into his own face -- older, yes, and infinitely more severe, but his face nevertheless. Helplessly, he backed away from the man, nearly colliding with the Doctor, who stood at the edge of the road.

"No one should be alone for Christmas, Brigadier," the Time Lord murmured.

The Brigadier squeezed his eyes shut. Maybe if he didn't look, it would go away. But the Doctor's words rang in his head, and the darkness followed.

The wind again. Why did the wind keep waking him up? The Brigadier sat up, surprised to find himself still at headquarters, and not in his own bed.

"Must have fallen asleep again," he muttered, surveying the mess on his desk. The clock read 07:43.

He looked out the window to see the fresh snow glistening in the dim morning light. This won't do at all. I'll have to go home and change my clothes... Wearily, he stared at the mountain of papers. His mouth felt like a coal mine.

Coal mine. Wales. Jo Grant? Straightening up, he groaned. What a dream! Now, the infernal Doctor was invading his dreams too. He shook his head to clear it, but the events of the dream lingered. It had been so clear, so real...

Stiffly, the Brigadier crossed the room. His overcoat hung, as usual, on a peg of the hat-stand. Gingerly, he felt it.

"Dry," he said. "Of course. Didn't expect it to be wet, did you?" Damn, he thought, now I'm asking myself questions. But it had seemed so real...

"No one should be alone at Christmas, Brigadier."

The voice echoed in his mind. The thought of Jo and her family, and of the lonely holidays of his youth. Duty. It was his duty to attend to his work and see it through. But, damn, he had other duties as well. Thoughtfully, he laid his hand on the pile of papers.

"Good morning, sir," Benton leaned in at the door. He looked unhappy, but resigned.

"You're early, Benton," the Brigadier growled.

"Yes, sir. I thought a little extra time might help."

"Well, it won't help, Mr. Benton. Only a miracle will get these reports done by New Year's, and that would have to be accomplished without our help."

"Sir?" Benton stared quizzically at him.

The Brigadier hurriedly wrote out a pass and handed it to his assistant.

"Thank you, sir!" The young man grinned.

"If you hurry, you'll make the next train." Lethbridge-Stewart smiled. "Uh, Brigadier..." Benton hesitated. "My mom always makes plenty. Are you sure you won't want to come with me?"

"Do you suppose it would be all right?"

"It would be an honor, sir!"

"I'll just go home and pack a few things." The Brigadier held out his hand. "Merry Christmas, John."

"Merry Christmas, sir."

Benton hurried out, and the Brigadier could almost swear he heard a whoop of joy. It made him feel good. Shuffling his papers from the desk, he glanced once more out the window. It was snowing again. With a sigh, he flipped back the curtain for a better view. There on the sill he noticed a small, wrapped package. Curious, he picked it up and looked at the tag it bore.

"To Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart."

With a shrug, he unwrapped it, revealing a slender volume, the cover of which read A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens." Grinning, he opened the book to its fly sheet, then laughed out loud. In bold script, it said:

"Merry Christmas, Brigadier.
The Doctor."
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