For a man profoundly against public displays of emotion, the Brigadier had certainly had a lot of weddings. Not as many as the Doctor himself, of course, but those had mostly been accidents. Meanwhile, Alistair and his affianced seemed to be in deadly earnest. Again. In deadly earnest (in the Brigadier's case) for the third time.
"What is he, now? Eighty?" the Doctor said, staring at the wedding invitation in his hand. It was a thick gilded card, addressed in its centre to Sarah Jane Smith in calligraphy. Underneath that was a smaller note that appeared to have been printed on every invitation: If anyone runs into the Doctor, would you please let him know. The Doctor finished squinting at it, took off his glasses and gave the invitation back to its primary recipient. "Don't you think he's a bit old for this sort of thing?"
"No, I don't," Sarah said, "but even if I did it wouldn't matter, because it's not my wedding, and I don't stop other people's weddings."
"Nor do I," the Doctor said.
"Except yours, but the universe was-"
"How old are you, Doctor?"
"Nine hundred and six," the Doctor began.
"And didn't you just finish telling me about how you'd accidentally married Elizabeth the First?"
"Yes," the Doctor said, "but," he stressed, "that was mostly an accident."
"Mostly," Sarah said.
The Doctor grinned. "Mostly." He ignored Sarah Jane's dubious expression, and pressed on. "Anyway, I'm not married to her anymore, probably, and I don't have a companion at the moment, so, if you wanted to, we could…"
"Sorry, Doctor, but I've already agreed to go with Turlough."
"What?" the Doctor said. "You - my Turlough? You're going with-"
"Yes. Vislor Turlough," Sarah said. She wrapped her arms around herself, and leant back against the doorframe. "I meet a lot of aliens in my line of work, Doctor. Most of them know you. Some are more charming than others."
"… Are you sure it's the right Turlough?" the Doctor said, trying to peer around Sarah into her living room. This (the Turlough thing, not the living room) explained why he hadn't been allowed inside , and was still loitering on the doorstep like a travelling salesman with a large blue box of unsold goods. "I could check. Is he in the house right now?"
"I'm sure you'll see him at the wedding," Sarah said firmly.
"Right, the wedding. Blimey." The Doctor rubbed his face. "I suppose I could ask Jo-"
"I think she'll be going with her husband."
"Her husband. Right, yes, of course," the Doctor said. He had not forgotten why Jo had abandoned him, but he had hoped she might have thought better of it by now.
"Harry called the other day," Sarah began.
The Doctor groaned. "Oh, I'm not going with Harry. Who next? Benton? Yates? Bob the janitor?"
Sarah raised her eyebrows, but all she said was, "His name was Bill."
"He let me call him Bob," the Doctor said. "Not that we were that close, actually, now I come to think of it, so perhaps, on second thoughts, I'll just go alone, shall I?" It had been a rhetorical question, but the resounding silence was that followed was still a bit disappointing. "OK." The Doctor pulled his keys from the left hand pocket of his jacket and pointed them at the TARDIS. The top light flashed and the TARDIS dutifully emitted the sound of a car unlocking itself. The Doctor looked back at Sarah Jane, in case she thought this was amusing, and was rewarded with a slightly despairing laugh.
"See you at the wedding," Sarah said, opening her arms for a hug.
In the past, the Doctor had been the sort of man who avoided physical contact like the Brigadier usually avoided the appearance of emotions, but he was (for now, at least) not that sort of man anymore. He hugged his ex-companion, let her go, and returned to his unpopulated TARDIS.
With a time machine (mostly) at his command, there was no sense in not going straight to the wedding. If he did otherwise, he would only forget, then it would be three regenerations later and Alistair would have another seven kids.
For a man unable to tolerate his orders being disobeyed, the Brigadier had certainly had a lot of children, the Doctor reflected as he set the controls and set the TARDIS into flight.
Unfortunately, this thought brought with it a variety of painful memories of the Doctor's own and adopted children. To shake them off, he went to see if there was anything in the TARDIS that might be a suitable gift for someone who would undoubtedly raise his eyebrow and say 'oh – er, thank you, Doctor', whatever it was.
Ten minutes later he returned to the console room with a large, beautiful plant in a pot. The Brigadier had that big house now, he had remembered, and that time he and Ace had stayed there it had seemed in want of some indoor greenery. Besides, he suspected Alistair's new wife might well appreciate some of the plant's more alien qualities – she had always seemed a woman with good taste and a healthy interest in strange things.
As he thought this, the Doctor felt one of the plant's tendrils creeping over his shoulder, and gently batted it away.
"Behave," he chided it, and picked up the pot (which was itself a nice gift, having been constructed and decorated in the renowned workshops of Alpha Centauri). He snapped the fingers of his other hand, and the TARDIS doors swung open.
Outside, the Doctor found he had parked in a small churchyard. As there always seemed to be on this sort of occasion, there were cherry blossoms drifting through the warm spring air, which was otherwise silent. Presumably everyone was still inside.
Although he had hoped to avoid the embarrassing ceremony bit, the Doctor and the plant proceeded to the church itself, and sat down in the back pew next to a row of young mothers.
It didn't take him long to dismiss the idea of a '60s themed wedding, and conclude that what he was witnessing was actually a wedding in the 1960s. He didn't recognise the bride, but the groom was demonstrably a younger Alistair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. He gave the TARDIS points for that. She did try, but obviously his mind had wandered while setting the co-ordinates. Some thoughts about Susan or Barbara had become tangled up in his original wedding-related instructions, and now here he was at the wedding of a man who didn't know him, with a large, alien plant that probably would have been a better gift for Peri, now he thought about it. Not that he had been invited to that wedding...
The ceremony concluded without incident (the Doctor managed to stop his wedding present eating the child next to him before anyone noticed) and the guests drifted out into the yard. The Doctor, closest to the door, found himself leading the congregation into the 'congratulations' gauntlet.
"You must be very proud," he told every successive stranger, wringing their hands cheerfully, until he reached the end of the line.
Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart was clad in a suit and clean-shaven for the wedding, but otherwise he looked almost exactly the same as the first time the Doctor had seen him.
"Brigadier," the Doctor said, shaking his hand as well. "Hello. Wonderful to see you again. Lovely ceremony."
"I'm afraid you may have me confused with someone else," Alistair said, eyeing the plant warily.
"No," the Doctor said, letting go. "I'm just early. You aren't even a colonel yet, are you?"
The woman behind the Doctor in the queue said crossly, "Could you move along, please?"
"Yes, all right," the Doctor said without moving, "in a minute." He turned away from her and found the plant reaching towards the future Brigadier. "Oi. I said behave."
"Did I…? Did that plant just move?" Alistair said, by which he meant: 'Agh, what the hell is that thing?'
"It was a present," the Doctor explained, "which I've now decided," he dug in his right hand pocket, "against. For - well, you can see why. Stop it," he said to the plant, then to Alistair, "You're not rich yet, are you? No. That was Doris's money-"
"What is this man talking about?" the woman behind the Doctor said to bride, who had clearly had the same or a similar thought, because she said,
"Alistair, do you know a Doris?"
"I've never met this man before in my life," Alistair said, neatly sidestepping his new wife's question. "How should I know what he's on about? Oh-."
The Doctor had managed to locate a reasonable amount of current currency in his pockets and had tucked it into Alistair's instead. "Happy wedding. No, wait a minute, that's not right. Merry – no. Ah – Congratulations."
"Er, thank you. You know, this is quite a lot of money…"
But, to the gratification of the rest of the guests, the Doctor had given one final wave and was already walking back to the TARDIS through the cherry blossoms. Once inside, he put the plant back in the third greenhouse, making a mental note to pass it onto Peri at some point. If anyone could scold it into submission, she could.
He returned to the console, hands in pockets, feeling in a wandering, putting-things-off sort of mood. The sort of mood, in fact, that had stopped him going straight to the Oodsphere and instead on a whirlwind tour of the universe.
"Might as well get the full set," he observed casually to the TARDIS, and set a course for the mid-1990s.
The Brigadier's second wedding was a rather grander affair than his first. The Doctor had actually been invited to this one, but he had been rather busy at the time he'd received the invitation in his sixth incarnation, and had forgotten about it.
Now he stepped out of the TARDIS (armed with a large vase the Emperor Taizu had given him in return for defeating an army of Yetis, which seemed appropriate given the way he and Alistair had first met) into a large garden, attached to a stately home even larger than the Brigadier's own. There was a large, gaily decorated marquee set to one side, and long buffet tables along the other. As he left his vase with the already large pile of other wedding presents, the Doctor spotted Mike Yates peering at a selection of canapés, and, a little further on, Harry Sullivan conversing with John Major.
The Brigadier and his new wife seemed to be in the process of circulating amongst the guests. They would almost certainly reach him soon, so the Doctor turned his attention to the buffet tables. In quick succession he picked up and ate a chocolate coated strawberry, a roll of smoked salmon, a dollop of some sort of game pâté, a handful of raspberries, a roasted mushroom, and was half way through a slice of quiche when someone said,
"Thank you for coming. I wasn't sure you'd got our invitation."
The Doctor beamed and turned to face Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, who was looking very strange in a pale grey morning coat.
"Brigadier," he said warmly. "You recognised me."
"Not exactly. In fact, you were the only person in the garden I didn't recognise. Put that together with the expensive vase Doris is sure has the wrong patina, is that right?, for its age and here you are. I'm only surprised alien horrors aren't swooping down on us as we speak. How are you?"
"Oh, you know," the Doctor said airily.
"Ah." The Brigadier frowned. "That bad, eh?"
The Doctor considered lying. He was at a wedding after all, miles away from the Oodsphere and his all too imminent death; years away from Adelaide shooting herself. But the Brigadier would know if he lied, so instead he said,
"Is there… anything I can do?"
"Of course there is," the Doctor said at a loud volume that surprised both of them. "It's your wedding day," he said at a more reasonable volume. "Be happy. And," he added, scooping a bowl of something green from the buffet table, "tell me what this is. I've been all the way through this planet's history – twice– and I've never seen anything like it."
"I think it's guacamole."
"Not guacamole," the Doctor said, licking a fingerful of the green goo off his finger. "It tastes nothing like guacamole. Besides, it's too green. No, it tastes like," he took another meditative lick, and his face fell. "Brigadier," he said urgently, "your caterers- there isn't any chance they were actually assassins from the planet Raxacoricofallapatorius?"
The Brigadier gave him a very hard look until the Doctor started laughing, which in turn prompted an amused lip twitch from the Brigadier. He took the bowl of dip from the Doctor and gave it a no-nonsense sniff.
"Guacamole," he declared.
"Yer," the Doctor admitted. "Ugh." He began trying to scrape it from his tongue with his teeth. "It tastes– horrible. No offence to your caterers, who probably aren't aliens, after all."
The Brigadier chuckled and (having put the definitely-guacamole back on the table) squeezed the Doctor's shoulder. "Thank you for coming," he said again.
The Doctor gave him a real smile that nevertheless only managed to lift one corner of his mouth. "You're welcome."
"Are you planning to stay? I think Miss Grant- or rather, Mrs Jones, as she is now, would like to see you. There's some sort of dancing going on later." He said this last in a rather dubious tone, and the Doctor was hit with the unavoidable image of the Brigadier engaged in an awkward tango with Jo.
"Oh, definitely," he said, which they both knew meant "no."
The Brigadier nodded, clapped him on the shoulder again, and returned to his bride. The Doctor returned to his TARDIS, and set it into flight.
This was the other mood he'd become all too prone to in the last couple of years. Sometimes he was up and living his life more fully than he ever had before, but, other times, he found himself thinking – why not just get it over with? He'd go on, become someone just as brilliant. He'd never been afraid of death, not even when that watcher was following him around Logopolis – but he'd never felt this fallible before.
Just as he was settling in for a big mope on this theme, Sarah Jane's face appeared on the monitor of his scanner. She was standing in her attic, presumably in front of the giant supercomputer she had installed in there.
"Just checking you haven't forgotten," she said brightly.
"Forgotten what?" the Doctor asked, waving to K-9, who was slightly behind Sarah and whose tail wagged (as much as it could) at the recognition.
"Oh. Right. That." He pretended to consider this information. "I might skip this one, actually, Sarah. I've been twice already." At Sarah's look, he added, "Different ones, but still…"
Sarah smiled. "Liz asked after you especially."
"Did she?" He knew this was a cheap bit of manipulation, but the Doctor felt cheered by it anyway. He felt his eyebrows rise out of their frown. Had he had even a metal tail, it might have wagged.
"She did," Sarah said.
"And not in a 'make sure he stays away, particularly if he thinks I'm going to pass him any test tubes' sort of a voice?"
"No. She really wants you to come."
"Well," the Doctor said, having already changed his mind, "I suppose-"
The door at the back of the attic banged open and Vislor Turlough walked through it. He wasn't wearing a school uniform any more, but he might as well have been – there was the familiar tie, white shirt, dark jacket and narrow trousers.
"Hello Doctor," he said, approaching the screen. "Am I the right Turlough?"
"You should be on Trion."
Turlough shrugged. "It got boring. And I don't suppose you remember, but I didn't want to go back there in the first place. Are you coming to the bachelor party?"
"The Brigadier's having a bachelor party?" the Doctor asked incredulously.
Sarah laughed. "Against his will," she said.
"I'm organising it," Turlough added, somewhat unnecessarily as none of Alistair's other acquaintances sprang to mind as possible stag-party organisers. "Come on, Doctor. It'll be great. You, me, and a bunch of humans with embarrassingly weak metabolisms."
"Er," the Doctor said, rubbing his hair as though it would speed up his brain, "how about I meet you there?"
"The Doctor gets drunk on ginger beer," Sarah whispered.
"That's not true, and I'll prove it," the Doctor said, stabbing his finger in the direction of the scanner screen, "at the wedding." He switched off the picture, and pushed the TARDIS into flight before they could call him back.
The Brigadier's third (and, hopefully, final) wedding was being held in his garden. A long time ago, he and the Doctor had sat drinking Scotch and talking in this same garden, while Ace tore around the countryside in the newly returned Bessie.
"Sarah Jane's looking for you," Clyde Langer said, the moment the Doctor stepped out of the TARDIS. He had said this with a straight face, but now he beamed widely. "That thing where you appear from nowhere is still so cool. I thought I'd get used to it, but it's absolutely amazing every time."
The Doctor smiled modestly. "Thanks." He closed the TARDIS door, which he suspected Clyde had been inching towards since his first conversational gambit, and locked it. "Did she send you out to watch for me?"
Clyde scoffed. "As head of security," he said, "I appointed myself. Wait here, I'll go and get her." He ruined his pose of dignity by sprinting back to the house, yelling, "Sarah Jane, he's here!"
Somewhat different from the last wedding, the Doctor reflected, as he walked slowly after Clyde. There had been an actual security team then, rather than what he suspected was a team of three (admittedly, very competent) fifteen-year-olds and a robot dog. There were, however, buffet tables set out, much like the last time (though these were empty), and several rows of matching chairs with a conspicuous isle down their centre. Some men who looked too old, really, to be doing this sort of work were constructing a podium from various bits of scaffolding. They called out to the Doctor in the unmistakable voices of Mike Yates and John Benton.
About to join them, the Doctor was distracted by the arrival of the Brigadier in black tie from the house. Having waved to the Doctor, he sped up slightly to meet him. He, too, was older than the Doctor had ever seen him before (and significantly rounder), but the beard suited him, as did the expression of contentment.
"Brigadier," the Doctor said, beaming. "How are you?"
"All the better for seeing you, Doctor," Alistair told him, as they entered the house together. "Sarah Jane assured me you were coming, but you can never tell with you. I suppose we could have found someone else-"
"No, I'd love to."
"Sorry, Doctor?" The Brigadier paused at the bottom of the stairs, next to a suit of armour wearing a garland of flowers. "You'd love to what?"
"Ah. You're not asking me to be your best man," the Doctor said, trying to look interested, rather than crushed.
The Brigadier chuckled. "No. Though, in many ways, you should be, I suppose. But I think even you'd find that difficult. Besides, I don't think Bertie would ever forgive me after suffering through Turlough's bachelor party last night. Untied me from a lamppost at four in the morning, you know."
"Then he's a better man than me," the Doctor declared. He had been somewhat mollified by the Brigadier's acknowledgement that he'd made the wrong choice. "I couldn't face it, I'm afraid."
"A very good decision, in my opinion. Turlough was bad enough when he was just a pupil-"
This observation was interrupted by an exclamation from someone at the top of the stairs. "Doctor!" Jo Jones née Grant raced down the stairs, her arms full of flowers and attempted to hug him without squashing any of them. "You came!"
"Not only that," the Doctor told her, "I'm early."
Jo beamed. "I know. Are you going to do it, then?"
The Doctor looked from one to the other. "What am I doing?" He turned to the Brigadier. "I thought you said-"
"He hasn't been asked yet," the Brigadier explained.
"Well, what am I doing taking up your time, then?" Jo asked, her face creasing with miniature crossness at herself. "You should be talking to Liz."
"As Jo says, my future wife would like to speak to you," the Brigadier confirmed.
The Doctor raised his eyebrows, and took a couple of steps up the beautifully carved staircase, before turning back. "Where-"
"Second door on the left," Jo said, grinning again.
With some apprehension, the Doctor proceeded up the stairs and stopped outside the second door. He knocked and Liz's voice said, "Yes? You can come in."
She turned in her chair as he entered. She wore a white dress and silver ornaments in her hair. "Hello stranger," she said, smiling in the sardonic way she used to smile.
"Hello Liz," the Doctor said. He sat down in a spindly chair the twin of Liz's, next to her at the dressing table. "Sorry, I didn't come and see you sooner."
"You managed to fix the TARDIS," Liz said, turning back to the mirror and beginning to apply black stuff to her eyelashes. Her eyes darted to the side and she smiled at him. "All of time and space for you to explore. I never expected you to come back to Earth after that, although Alistair tells me he's met all of your regenerations, at some time or another."
"You didn't even say goodbye," the Doctor reminded her. He leant back in his chair, crossing his arms. "It was about six days until I noticed."
Liz laughed. "Stop it, you'll make me smudge my mascara."
"Oh, I don't doubt it. What were you looking for? The neutrino sorter?"
Ignoring that, the Doctor said reflectively, "I remember, I went up to the Brigadier and demanded to know what'd happened to you. He said something like, 'Oh, she's gone to Cambridge,' at which point I said, 'Well, she's picked a damned awkward time to do it, when's she coming back?' and he said you weren't."
Liz put down her mascara. "I did write to you," she said gently. The Doctor shrugged. "And I rang constantly. John Benton and I had some very good conversations while you were refusing to come to the phone."
"I was busy," the Doctor protested. "Saving the world."
Liz quirked a single, greying eyebrow at him, and returned to the mirror, lipstick in hand. "I didn't leave because of you. Or anything you'd said or done, though you did infuriate me sometimes. In the end, I thought I might stay if you asked me to, and I didn't want to stay. There was an opportunity at Cambridge, and I'd been looking for a reason to leave before my relationship with Alistair reached a crisis point."
"I know," the Doctor said. "I did read the letters. Well, most of the letters."
And, of course, he'd had eyes and an enquiring mind. The Brigadier had been married (to his first wife), and was of a relatively staid disposition that did not lend itself well to flirtation. But still there had been signs, even on that first day, that he was more interested in Liz that he was in, say, Sergeant Benton. The Doctor had been less sure about Liz's feelings, which sometimes seemed to veer dangerously into distain, until one day she had advised him to write up their day's work and file it properly. It had been a subtle change in allegiance, but, he reflected, given the wedding dress his former assistant was currently wearing, an important one.
"I'm sorry I didn't write back," he said, and meant it.
Liz smiled and rose to her feet. "I never thought you would. But you did come to my wedding when I asked."
"Wouldn't have missed it," the Doctor told her truthfully, having now entirely forgotten his earlier conversation with Sarah Jane. It felt like the right moment for a hug, so he wrapped brilliant, beautiful, soon-to-be-married Liz in his arms and lifted her from the floor when she hugged him back.
"Now I'm afraid I have another favour to ask," she said, once he'd put her down again.
"Oh, right," the Doctor said. He was fairly sure he knew where this was going, but having already been rejected for the role of best man he felt he should probably wait until she'd actually asked him to give her away before he accepted.
"My father passed away ten years ago. I'm nearing seventy myself, so-"
"I'd love to," the Doctor interrupted. "Give you away," he explained, just in case Liz had been about to ask him to go back in time and bring her father from the past.
"That's only if there aren't any test tubes you need me to pass you," she told him.
It wasn't a real offer, but for a moment the Doctor allowed himself to consider asking her to run away with him on the day of her wedding. It would be nice to have someone (else) scientifically minded around the TARDIS. In fact, it would be nice to have anyone else at all around the TARDIS. And he had never managed to show Liz the wonders of the universe, despite the many hours of work she'd put into fixing the TARDIS.
However, in the unlikely event she said yes, he would have to hope that a second even more unlikely event – the Brigadier ever forgiving him – would follow on after it. Fortunately or unfortunately, she had chosen to marry someone he really liked. It wasn't like Jo, who'd run off with someone Welsh she hardly knew. He'd considered rescuing her from the altar for at least a week.
Feeling a lot like Jane Austen's Mr Wodehouse, he said, "I think I can manage," and offered his arm to Liz. "Are we ready?"
The embarrassing ceremony bit itself was about as hitch-free as could be expected. The Doctor handed Liz over as graciously as possible, and, although he gave Bertie the best man a quick, unfriendly look during the vows, it didn't seem like the old boy had noticed.
With military efficiency, more tables were brought out and chairs rearranged almost as soon as the kiss was over. The Doctor wandered around, trying to be helpful until Jo found him and directed him to a seat between Sarah Jane and Jack Harkness. Unfortunately, Turlough was only two places away, on the other side of Sarah Jane, but, having had a lot of practise at it already, the Doctor did a good job of ignoring him and the glasses of alcohol he was waving around. Despite his best efforts, however, after an hour of eating and ignoring Turlough, he found a large tequila dumped in front of him anyway. Treacherous Jack, who the Doctor was fairly sure never drank himself, pounded the table in time to a childish chant (Drink! Drink! Drink!) and cheered as he downed it, wincing.
Whatever Sarah Jane said to the contrary, though, the Doctor actually had a fairly good metabolism for alcohol. He was only a little drunk as he got to his feet (champagne glass in hand) to rapturous applause from those who knew who he was and a loud whistle from Ace.
"As," he took in the crowd, which seemed to be almost entirely composed of his former companions, "a surprisingly large number of you may know, I have a bit of a problem letting go of people sometimes."
There were some heckles to the effect that this was true/false/true but he had more trouble piloting the TARDIS, and the Doctor waved his hands for silence.
"I'm here today as Liz's stand-in father. Which is– rubbish." He met Liz's eyes across the garden, and beamed at her, "Liz was already so grown-up when I met her. So grown-up. So assured and clever and brilliant. I used to do stupid things to make her laugh. Waggling my eyebrows, pretending it was an alien language… She was mine, though, even if she wasn't my child, and I wouldn't have let her go easily. If she'd given me the chance. Well," he said ruefully, "she did, but only after I'd had five hundred years to get used to the idea." There was some gentle chuckling at that. "As I said, my Liz is clever.
"It was especially clever of her," he continued, having raised his glass to her, "to marry my best friend." He swung his gaze from a slightly wet-eyed Liz to her husband. "The bravest, kindest and most constant man alive. And one of the few men in the history of the universe who could ever deserve her."
"Who are the others?" Jack asked from beside him, prompting more laughter. "What?" he said, when the Doctor gave him a look that implied he was not of that number, "I just want to meet them."
"That they should find each other again," the Doctor said firmly over the top of Jack telling his neighbour, They sound like great guys, "after all this time is," he floundered and landed on "a very good thing." There were more things he could say, but it seemed more important to sit down soon. He smiled, "I'm very happy for you both," and raised his glass. "To Alistair and Liz."
"Alistair and Liz," the crowd echoed, and the Doctor sat down.
Then he stood up again. "Oh, and since, I've been to all of Alistair's weddings in quite a short space of time, I can tell you this is definitely the best, so I hope you're all enjoying it."
"I knew it," the Brigadier called over the heads of the rest of his chattering guests. "That was you with the plant and the money. I thought so."
"That was a very nice speech," Sarah said, as the Doctor resumed his seat and drained his champagne glass.
"Thanks," he said, "I meant it," and he had. Perhaps, he reflected (as Jo came over to berate him for making her feel so guilty, and Turlough pressed him to have more alcohol, and Ace showed him the large scar she had down one arm) he should stop telling people he was rubbish at weddings. This regeneration, at least, he was brilliant at weddings. Particularly his own.
"Which is exactly what Elizabeth the First said," he told Sarah Jane, who hit him (but only lightly).