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Signifying Nothing

By Paul Scoones

‘You're brooding again.’

‘How I can avoid thinking about it, now of all times?’

‘Because he's here.’ Her response was not a question.

He faced the window, a glass of claret forgotten in his hand. The tall blue box stood untouched by the snow on the lawn.

‘Talk to him,’ Doris urged. ‘Tell him what it means to you. All this time not knowing.’

‘Wouldn't tell me,’ came the former soldier's gruff reply. ‘There's some sort of code of conduct about these things.’ Alistair paused, feeling at once disgusted at himself for making excuses.

‘You keep telling me how he was always ignoring regulations,’ Doris countered. ‘You can't keep having these sleepless nights, Alistair,’

He didn't respond for a time, lost in his own private torment. When he turned to answer, he found that his wife had left him alone in his study. Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart opened the door and heard the jingle of voices, the tinkle of glasses, and the beat of some contemporary music he didn't recognise in the background.

A tall slim woman with short dark hair met him in the hall.

‘Hi,’ she said, transferring her beer mug before extending her right hand. ‘Bernice Summerfield, but everyone calls me Benny.’

He shook her hand, and introduced himself.

‘Ah-ha! So you're the famous Brigadier! I've heard a lot about you.’

‘Not all bad, I trust, Miss Summerfield,’ the Brigadier replied with a smile that belied the weariness in his eyes.

Benny grinned and moved down the hallway in the direction of the kitchen where an Australian voice could be heard reciting a bawdy antipodean joke. She hesitated, and called back. ‘Hey, this is a great reunion party. I didn't realise so many people knew the Doctor. I think he's hiding from them all.’

‘Any idea where?’

Benny considered. ‘At a guess, I'd say he'll be in your library.’

The Brigadier thanked her, then set off for the library. At the threshold he hesitated.

The door opened from within. ‘Brigadier!’ the Doctor exclaimed delightedly, as though he'd been expected. ‘Do come in!’

‘Hello Doctor,’ the Brigadier said lamely. Glancing round the room he realised with some surprise that the Doctor was alone.

‘It seems we're both somewhat lacking in the party spirit, eh, Brigadier?’ the Doctor said searchingly, eyes fixed on the old soldier's face.

Deep breath. ‘Actually, Doctor, there's something I've meaning to ask you.’ The Brigadier moved across the room and found himself once again staring out at the cold night. ‘About the last time we met...’

‘The Carbury incident?’

‘Yes, that's the one. There was something you said...’

The Brigadier recalled the feel of the hard soil under his sore back; the stench of blasted stone and burning wood in his nostrils.

He had lain there half-concussed after the blast that had eliminated the Destroyer, but the Doctor's words had come through loud and clear, words which had haunted him ever since, prevented him from sleeping without prescription drugs.

‘Words said in the heat of the moment, Brigadier, nothing more,’ said the Doctor firmly.

The Brigadier focused on the darkened windowpane.

The Time Lord's reflection on the glass was staring straight at him. I must have been thinking aloud, the old soldier decided.

‘Are... are you sure?’ he gasped, turning to face the Doctor. He felt mildly ashamed because he couldn't help trembling. He hoped that it wasn't too obvious. ‘Knowing how you get about so much. I'd feared that... well, you know.’

The Doctor tapped lightly on the spine of Doris's leather-bound copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare. ‘What was it Will wrote? “... full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing...&rdsquo;’

The Brigadier's moustache twitched as he began to smile. ‘"Told by an idiot", Doctor?’

The little man avoided his gaze. ‘Something like that, Brigadier,’ he muttered.

Benny roused herself from the Lethbridge-Stewarts' sofa and made her way carefully to the back entrance and out into the night. The guests had either left or retired to bed. The cold was wonderfully sobering. By the light of the moon, she made her way over to the TARDIS and began feeling in her pockets for the key.

‘Another old friend deceived; yet more papering over temporal fissures,’ the Doctor muttered.

Benny jumped. She hadn't noticed the Time Lord leaning against a nearby tree. ‘What?’

‘"You were supposed to die in bed",’ the Doctor recalled his own words that day, near Vortigern's lake. ‘I slipped up in a moment of panic.’

Benny mentally tried to kick-start her alcohol-befuddled brain. ‘Did we go to different parties or am I missing something?’

‘Never mind. It isn't important - not yet.’ The Time Lord came over and opened the door with his own key. He ushered Benny inside, but paused on the threshold to gaze back at the house. ‘Forgive me,’ he said, softly.

The Brigadier wouldn't have heard anyway. He was sleeping easily in his bed.

This item appeared in TSV 38 (March 1994).

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