Fandom: Department S and Doctor Who
Characters: Annabelle Hurst, Liz Shaw, Stewart Sullivan, Jason King, Sir Curtis Seretse, the Brigadier
Gen, c.5800 words

[community profile] fandom_stocking fic for [personal profile] thisbluespirit




One Cold Knight



"Now this," said the Brigadier, as he sipped appreciatively at a glass of cognac almost as old as he was, "is the sort of thing that I could get used to. It was good of you to invite me here, Sir Curtis."

"My dear Brigadier, we both know that the only thing keeping you from a full membership here is your aversion to taking time off work." Sir Curtis Seretse raised his own glass, in a salute of sorts. "That and your allergy to stuffed shirts."

"Some stuffed shirts," corrected the Brigadier. Seretse smiled.

"I don't know whether to feel complimented by being made an exception, or insulted by the implication that I'm a stuffed shirt. But perhaps I shouldn't analyse things so deeply."

"It was a compliment," confirmed the Brigadier, looking slightly abashed. He recovered his poise almost immediately however, Seretse's warm smile, to say nothing of the excellent cognac, going a long way to help him to relax. "But you didn't invite me here for compliments. Nor for a drink."

"You're always very welcome to the latter, Brigadier. But no. No, my reasons for inviting you here are quite different." Seretse's eyes surreptitiously scanned the room, in obvious search of potential eavesdroppers. "Can I take it that you have heard of Sir Daniel Soames?"

"Yes, of course. He's quite big in the Home Office. I don't have much to do with his department, but I've certainly heard the name." The Brigadier's voice slid lower, to be sure of secrecy, even as his eyebrows lifted higher. "Do I take it that there's a problem?"

"There may very well be, yes. Lately there has been some unusual activity at his country house, and some quite suspicious behaviour from the man himself. We can't prove it of course – not yet – but he appears to have been obtaining certain chemicals that... well, let's just say that they're the sort of thing that his office would usually be trying to prevent anybody from buying."

"And I take it that he doesn't have permission from the necessary authorities?"

"More than that, Brigadier. He's done everything in his power to hide what he's doing. The purchases were made through a chain of aliases, stand-ins, and dummy companies. It's only the sheer determination of several of my agents that has unmasked him. Now I need to know what he's up to."

"Your agents are probably better placed than I am to find that out." The Brigadier took another sip of cognac. "I do have a few men with some plainclothes experience, and you'd be very welcome to them of course, but I fail to see--"

"It's not your plainclothes men that I need, Brigadier. My people are very good at what they do, but what I really need is a scientist. I have a few of course, but they lack wide-ranging experience. As I recall, UNIT has a number of scientific advisors and operatives who have seen real action." Seretse's dry smile lifted his lips once again. "Not that I know the details, of course. Those are hidden behind more layers of security than state secrets."

"I'm afraid our work is... complicated," said the Brigadier, who was still quite new in his position, and not entirely comfortable with the necessity of keeping secrets from friends. Seretse laughed.

"It's quite alright, Brigadier. I assure you that I keep many secrets from many people. It's never without good reason. Anyway, I think you can understand now why I called you here today. I need a field agent with a good scientific background, who can confirm or deny my agents' suspicions. Somebody utterly trustworthy. This situation could be quite delicate, and I can be sure that your people know how to keep secrets. Also, they're not answerable to the government. Some things require a more international perspective."

"I understand," said the Brigadier, truthfully enough, although being beyond the jurisdiction of the British government was still a new idea for him. "Yes, very well. I think I know just the person."

"Perfect." Seretse slid a piece of paper across the low table between them. "Contact details for my agents. Tell your operative to get in touch as soon as possible. I want this dealt with, Brigadier. Quickly and smoothly."

"It will be." The Brigadier picked up the piece of paper, and finished his cognac with a satisfied swallow. "Rest assured, Sir Curtis. You can always count on UNIT."

**********

The tiny sliver of moon, and many thousands of blue-white stars, made the sky a beautiful sight to behold, but Stewart Sullivan would gladly have had them invisible. The cloudlessness of the sky on this cold, January night, was contributing to the plunging temperature, and his feet were extremely cold. He rubbed his hands together, and tried not to shuffle about. Quite apart from the possibility of attracting attention, it didn't look professional.

"Cold are we, Stewart?" asked an arch voice inside his left ear. Sullivan winced. The hidden earpieces were supposed to be set to a minimal volume, but somehow Jason always managed to sound like he was actually sitting in Sullivan's ear – and shouting down it to boot.

"Just a little." He knew all too well that Jason King, probably in a full length fur coat, was comfortably ensconced in a surveillance vehicle, most likely with a thermos of hot coffee, and a good tot of rum for extra warmth. It was not beyond the realms of possibility that he had at least one young woman with him too, just to be absolutely sure that the cold night was kept at bay. "Anything interesting happening at your end?"

"Oh, you know. This and that." The clear amusement in Jason's voice was proof positive that Sullivan had been right about the luxury – and probably the young woman as well. Whilst Jason King was more than capable of all the professionalism that their work required, he was frustratingly inclined to keep it hidden.

"Any word from HQ?"

"No. Nothing since the last update."

"Right. Okay, I'm going to take look around. Switching to radio silence. Oh, and Jason?"

"Mmm?" His wayward colleague already sounded distracted.

"Don't do anything that I wouldn't do." With that he put away the radio, imagining the sharpness of the glare that King would have sent his way. They were the least likely of pairings, but perhaps that was why they worked together so well, and why their strike rate was so high. And that, no doubt, was the reason why they had been entrusted with this operation. Stewart blew on his hands, which were at least twice as cold as his ice-block feet. Sometimes, prowess could be a curse. Had he been less capable, he could have been warm and comfortable right now, rather than lurking in a capacious garden, anxious to avoid discovery, and even more anxious for the third member of his little team. Tantalisingly close, and yet effectively unreachable, Annabelle Hurst was deep inside the huge stately home that was currently throwing weird, jagged shadows toward Sullivan, courtesy of that tiny, frozen moon. Its black, blank windows offered no clues, and the silence that hung over the grounds, whilst potentially encouraging, did little to ease Sullivan's mind. Silence did not necessarily mean that Annabelle had not been discovered. It might just mean that she had been summarily dispatched, and that the game was already lost.

"Don't be so damned pessimistic, Sullivan." He barely breathed the words, but they still sounded loud in the garden. The silence of it - the absence of wildlife of any kind - was overpowering; unnatural. It had been one of the first things that UNIT's science officer had noticed, and she had smoothly assumed control of the situation in that moment, deciding there and then that she had to go inside, and get a better look at the operation. Sullivan had expected to accompany her, but she had vetoed that, correctly pointing out that his nationality, which he had never been able to hide, was too likely to ring alarm bells if they were discovered. Consequently she had elected instead to take Annabelle. There was a logic to it. Annabelle was well-read, well-educated, and probably far better placed than Stewart to follow any scientific lines of thought, both to aid in the mission and to give some sort of cover if they were found. Nonetheless, it was hard to let her go into that place, where a traitor might lurk, and a man with dark secrets certainly did. It was even harder to wait outside, knowing nothing, with no real way to help if anything went wrong. Stewart blew on his hands again, and glared up at the huge, distant house. What he wouldn't give now for a good view inside. If he could just be sure that Annabelle was alright, he would cheerfully put up with all of the iciness that this lonely winter night could command.

**********

"Hmm." It was not the most enlightening of sounds, but Annabelle had learnt that her new companion was not one to waste words. Certain that elucidation would follow shortly, she waited patiently, one eye on the door, one hand on the compact revolver that was hidden beneath her jacket. A moment later the sound came again, and this time Doctor Liz Shaw, scientist and UNIT operative, turned around to face her. "I don't like the look of this little lot. Not at all."

"It is trouble then?" asked Annabelle. It had seemed unlikely from the start that this had been a false alarm, but to have things properly confirmed drew a neat line beneath all their suspicions. Sir Daniel was either a traitor, or something potentially far worse. She could see no other likely explanations. Liz nodded.

I'd prefer to get a second opinion to be absolutely sure of the details, but there's no doubt that your Sir Daniel has possession of a nasty little chemical named GK4. It's been banned by most of the world, and certainly by the United Nations and NATO. By the look of the apparatus in here, and from what his computer system has been able to tell me, his intentions are to build explosive devices of some kind. Obviously I can't tell you what he plans to do with them, but since they would be unleashing a particularly virulent form of chemical weaponry into the atmosphere, I don't find myself too interested in his motivations."

"No. Quite." Annabelle nodded slowly, taking a moment to let this sink in. It was official then, and a senior member of the Home Office was now a public enemy. She should report in, of course, but she felt that her responsibilities stretched further than that. There was all of this equipment. These placid, superficially benign computers, running through their lethal programming; and somewhere, presumably within this very building, was a stockpile of a highly controlled substance that could mean disaster if it was unleashed. She should do something about all of that, just in case there was any possibility of Soames triggering something when the authorities came for him. They would be as quiet as it was possible for an extraction team to be, but Annabelle had seen them at work before. She knew how easy it was for a single noise, or a brief flash of light, to ruin the most careful and subtle of operations. Liz seemed of a similar mind, for she cast a glance towards the door, and then checked her watch.

"How long will it take your people to get here?" she asked. Annabelle frowned in a moment's thought.

"Stewart can be here in moments of course, although there's not a lot that he'd be able to do on his own. Jason might take a little longer, but not much. The problem is that the four of us might easily not be enough. We don't really know how many people we're up against, or where they all are."

"I think we can assume that they're all armed," said Liz. "And that brings its own complications. I don't know about you, but I'm disturbingly un-bulletproof. No, I don't recommend the four of us trying anything too decisive. Neither do I like the idea of an army of law enforcement types dashing down here with all of this stuff lying about."

"I rather agree," said Annabelle. "Is there much that we can do to make it safe?"

"I can throw some metaphorical hammers in the works, certainly. Nothing that might jeopardise a criminal investigation of course, but enough to keep Soames from going ahead with his plans before the noose tightens." Liz frowned at the workbench before her. "I'm not so sure that that's enough though."

"Meaning the GK4?"

"Meaning the GK4. Right now I consider it to be my number one responsibility. And if I'm perfectly honest, I don't know who I trust to dispose of it."

"You're worried that if it's confiscated, it will get lost in the system?" Annabelle felt the hairs on the back of her neck rise. Liz raised an eyebrow.

"Lost, yes, if you want to phrase it in so polite a fashion. Accidentally or on purpose."

"I'm afraid I have to agree." Annabelle thought of Sir Curtis, who would most certainly not allow any such contraband to disappear - but Sir Curtis was not omnipotent. As they had found in the past, there were any number of egos and ambitions that needed to be taken into consideration, especially when the government was involved. Which, inevitably, it would be. Once word got out about Daniel Soames, it would travel fast, to all manner of ears. "It could be anywhere though. There's even a chance that it's not here. This is his home after all."

"True. But I imagine he's confident that he's got it safely stored. He'd want it close by, where he can be sure that it stays safe, and where he doesn't have to trust mere underlings to protect it." Liz frowned, her expression cold, and almost without emotion. "No, it's here somewhere. I'm sure of it."

"I could look," volunteered Annabelle. "Leave you to do a bit of sabotage here, in case I can't find it, and go for a scout about."

"You could," agreed Liz. "Or we could stay together."

"One person is less likely to be seen or heard."

"Yes, I know. Nonetheless, I'd rather we stick together. We both have field experience, Annabelle. I don't mean to denigrate your professionalism or capabilities. I just think that it's best to have two pairs of eyes available. You can watch my back while I work, and then I can return the favour. Make your call, and set the wheels in motion. Then we'll have, what? Twenty or thirty minutes?"

"Closer to twenty, probably. Sir Curtis will have people waiting, but at a good distance. And it always takes time to set things in motion. I'll call Stewart, and give him a status report. You get started."

"Gladly." Liz set to work immediately, making enough minor alterations to the computers to confuse their programming, and also snipping one or two carefully chosen wires that appeared to be part of a collection of timing mechanisms. Annabelle watched her for a moment, enjoying the gleam of almost impish humour in the otherwise serious scientist's face as she went about her sabotage. Then, taking out her radio, she flicked the button that would alert Stewart.

"Annabelle!" She was not wearing an earpiece, the better to cover herself in case of discovery, so Stewart's voice came from the radio instead. She had the volume turned low, and he spoke quietly, but even so, his relief was obvious. "Is everything okay?"

"So far. Liz thinks she's seen enough. We were right about Soames. Send the call, Stewart. The sooner he's behind bars, the better."

"It's done. Are you on your way out?"

"No. Not yet. We have some things to take care of first."

"Annabelle..."

"We can't leave this little lot as it is, Stewart! There's too much at stake. Liz and I are very much in agreement about that."

"You are, huh." He didn't sound surprised. She was quite touched by that. "You want some help?"

"You are helping. Be our eyes and ears out there. Make sure we don't get any more surprises than we can handle."

"You got it. Just be careful. Those aren't boy scouts in there."

"Don't worry. Just stay alert."

"Yes, ma'am." She could see his taut little smile in her mind's eye, and she smiled herself in response. Liz raised an eyebrow.

"A good colleague?" she asked, her slightly severe expression softening. Annabelle might have blushed in another time, another place, with less to occupy her mind.

"Very good," she said, and went over to the door, her gun drawn now that the stakes had been raised; her manner altered accordingly. "Are you done?"

"I'd be happier taking a pickaxe to the lot of it. But yes, I'm done. Shall we move out?"

"No time like the present." Annabelle checked the corridor outside, and gave her companion a curt nod. The coast was clear. If only they knew where to go.

"Where would you keep the ingredients for a particularly nasty chemical weapon?" asked Liz, as they hurried together along the corridor. She spoke very quietly, but the note of grim amusement in her voice was clear nonetheless. Annabelle slowed at a junction, and waited until she was sure that the way ahead was still clear before she answered.

"In the heart of an industrial furnace?" she suggested. Liz smiled faintly.

"That would be the sensible answer," she said. "Our man isn't sensible. I don't know yet what he is - greedy, perhaps, or possibly some sort of zealot. But either way, not sensible."

"In a safe, then? Would a safe be big enough?"

"Oh, yes. We're not talking vast amounts here. A small bottle or two would be more than enough."

"He seems to have been stockpiling it for some time. Several months at least."

"Even so, it's expensive and hard to come by. I doubt he could obtain much at a time; and as I said, he wouldn't need much. You could turn Britain into a barren wasteland with less than a teacupful."

"Would he want it so close to hand though? The cellar might be safer."

"It's already in his house. Two yards away or two hundred - it's just as lethal. If something were to happen to trigger that little lot, it could see off most of the county before sunrise. Weather permitting."

"Lovely."

"Precisely. No, I think he'd have it close by, which makes it even more important that we find it. If he's prepared to martyr himself to his cause, he might just choose to let it loose rather than be arrested. I wouldn't rule that out, since we don't yet know what his cause is."

"I take your point." Restless butterflies stirring in her stomach, Annabelle led the way onward. The rest of the house seemed to be asleep. She knew from her preliminary investigations that, besides Soames himself, there was a permanent staff of five, including two men who had the look of bodyguards. Stewart believed them to be mercenaries, and had had their photographs wired to several of his more discreet international contacts. Between them, Annabelle, Stewart and Jason had spotted others coming and going, some clearly scientists, and still others who might have been anything. It was enough to make Annabelle more than usually wary as she crept down the corridor. Soames was clearly dangerous enough, and his associates at least as much so. She wished she knew exactly where their intentions lay – whether the plan was extortion, or terrorism, or whether these were just mad fanatics, whose only ambition was to kill. She supposed it made no real difference to the danger that she was in, but it felt like something that it would be better to know.

"Where are we going?" asked Liz, her voice little more than a gust of warm air across Annabelle's ear.

"The master bedroom," Annabelle whispered back. "As far as we know, that's where he keeps his safe."

"Your preparatory work is excellent," Liz told her. Annabelle smiled, welcoming a compliment from somebody so obviously skilled and efficient.

"We like to be well prepared."

"Well enough to be able to open a safe?" asked Liz. Annabelle winced. Technically she was trained, although practising on the office safe, or on Jason's, was very different to working on one in an enemy stronghold – particularly if the enemy himself proved to be sleeping just a few feet away. Liz laid a hand on her arm.

"We can do it," she said, her confidence as unshakeable as ever. "One technological problem is very like another. A cool head and steady hands will solve most things." Annabelle almost laughed at that. She nodded her agreement, although her stomach was not entirely in concord with her head, and continued to lead the way along the corridor. Her gun was an unfamiliar weight in her hand, but her fingers gripped it readily enough, hours of training enough to make up for some of the holes in her experience. Her body was ready for this, she reminded herself. Her muscles knew what to do. She just had to have enough faith in them to let them do their work.

The door to the master bedroom was just the same as every other door – tall, arched and double, fashioned from plain ebony, and with a handle of wrought iron. Nothing set it apart, but Annabelle had studied the plan of the house well enough to be sure of where she was. She pressed her ear to the wood, but the silence that greeted her was inconclusive. The door was thick enough to stifle the sounds of any normal conversation. There was no crack of light beneath, but that meant little either. The thickness of the carpet meant that there was no real gap between floor and door, further improving the soundproofing. Squaring her shoulders, drawing a deep breath, she turned the handle as carefully as she could, and inched the door open. Nobody shouted. Nobody shot at them either, which was certainly a relief. Anxious to let in as little of the corridor's muted light as possible, she made the gap only as wide as need be, then slipped through. Liz followed, and closed the door behind them.

Within was silence. No snoring, or sounds of deep breathing to indicate a sleeper. No flutters of movement, no creaks of furniture or floor. Annabelle let her eyes adjust to the darkness, wishing for a bigger moon. There was the bed – empty, and still neatly made – there the desk – and there the safe, unhidden, standing stark in its naked, metal armour between two antique bookcases. Liz raised an eyebrow.

"It looks like a tank," she said, speaking a little louder now that they were in the relative security of an empty room. Annabelle shot her a sardonic look.

"One technological problem is very like another," she quoted, with some amusement. Liz shrugged.

"And it is. That doesn't make any of them easy." She approached the safe almost as though it were a skittish horse, and frowned at its smooth, near featureless aspect. "Stethoscope?" she asked.

"I hope not. I didn't bring one." Annabelle knelt down before it, and passed her gun back to Liz. "The tumblers in something this size ought to be big enough for me to hear without special equipment. Keep a look out."

"Gladly." Liz turned away, the scientist of earlier vanishing as the UNIT agent took over. Annabelle watched her for a moment, reassured by her cool confidence, and wondered if she too was doing her best to hide nervousness and self doubt. Maybe everybody did, including Stewart and Jason. She had to smile then. No, not Jason. Definitely not Jason.

The safe was smooth and cool beneath her fingertips, the combination mechanism solid and heavy. She closed her eyes, pressing her ear to the door, and listening carefully to the muffled sound of the tumblers. They were faint, but audible. It was not easy to tell one dull click from another, but she had learned over long, painstaking lessons to distinguish the sounds that she wanted from those that she didn't. Nonetheless, it took her several tries to get everything lined up, and the tips of her fingers were damp with a layer of sweat before finally, with the faintest creak, the heavy door opened, and she found herself looking at a large, black box.

"Do you think this is it?" she asked. Liz ceased her prowling to take a look, her blonde-framed face falling into focus from out of the gloom.

"Looks insulated. Solid too. It's the sort of box you'd want, if you were inclined to keep deadly chemicals in your bedroom."

"There's no obvious lock. I think it's a puzzle box."

"Of course it is." Liz rolled her eyes heavenward. "Does it look safe to move it?"

"I can't see any wires. But then they'd probably be hidden."

"Probably." They looked at each other for a moment, unspoken words passing between them, before breaking into identical smiles. Gingerly, Annabelle lifted up the box – and very clearly heard the sharp click of a mechanism being released.

"Ah," she said. Liz greeted this comment with her by now customary raised eyebrow.

"Quite," she replied, before reaching out a hand for the box. Annabelle passed it over, receiving the gun back in return, then headed immediately for the door. There was no lock, but she dragged a heavy chair in front of it, and a table. She added a lamp as well, although its weight was negligible. Meanwhile, Liz was getting to grips with the puzzle box, looking very much as though she were daring it to refuse to yield.

"I don't suppose there's any chance of those reinforcements arriving in the next couple of minutes?" she asked, as she slid aside a panel on the box. Annabelle checked her watch. She didn't expect anybody for at least five minutes. Stewart and Jason were closer of course, but as a series of resounding thumps shook the bedroom door, she couldn't help but doubt even their ability to arrive on time. As though in answer to her thoughts, there was a crackle from her radio, and Stewart's voice drifted faintly out of her pocket.

"Annabelle? There's a lot of lights on all of a sudden, and I see people moving about, too. Is there something I should know?"

"Got it!" announced Liz. A ferocious thump made the door bend, and Stewart's voice came again, more insistently this time.

"Annabelle?"

"We've... hit a slight problem, yes. They know that we're here. I can't talk now, Stewart. I'm sorry." She looked over at Liz, who was extracting several small vials of a dark coloured liquid from the puzzle box. "Is that it?"

"Without performing a spectrographic analysis, I can't say for certain, but it certainly looks like it. From the way that it was stored and alarmed, I think we can be pretty sure." The UNIT scientist pulled a padded case from inside her jacket, and slid the vials into it. "Just hope that I don't get shot while I'm carrying this."

"I certainly promise not to shoot you." Hurrying over to the nearest window, Annabelle looked down into the dark garden. This was no time to wait for an associate or two to dash to the rescue. Quite clearly the door would not last much longer. "How about jumping out of the window?"

"I've never tried it." Liz put the case back inside her jacket. "I like the odds better than any other on offer just now though." She joined Annabelle, peering out into the darkness. "I don't suppose there's a swimming pool down there?"

"Sadly not. Just grass. We're not that high up though. Lower yourself from the windowsill first. Then hope for the best."

"A perfect plan." They struggled to open the window, and behind them the lamp that was part of Annabelle's hastily erected barricade fell to the floor with a crash. The table it had been standing on followed suit a moment later, and Annabelle turned to face the door.

"You first," she said. "I'll cover you."

"But—"

"You have those vials. Get them out of here." Her expression perfectly composed, her voice perfectly level, Annabelle raised her gun to point towards the bending, bucking door. It would burst open soon now. There was no time for further discussion. With a brisk nod, Liz clambered out of the window, hanging onto the sill, and lowering herself down. She had just let go when she heard the door give way, and gunfire answered that harsh crack with a good many more of its own.

"Doctor Shaw?" She whirled, her blood up, but of course it was merely Stewart Sullivan, his eyes already moving past her, up towards the window. "Annabelle?"

"In need of assistance." Liz would very much have liked to lead the charge, but she thought of the pouch inside her jacket, and knew that it had to be her first priority. The knowledge that Annabelle would agree was scant comfort.

"Annabelle...?" Running across the lawn, silken cravat flapping like a flag, his ankle-length coat whirling around him, Jason arrived as Stewart headed for the front door. Ordinarily Stewart might have teased him over such sartorial inelegance, for concern and the less-than-Jasonly dash cross-country had taken a toll upon his usually pristine appearance. As it was, neither man was in the mood for jokes, or for stylistic facades.

"This way," was all that he said, and when the front door failed to yield to a heavy hand, he shot off the lock, kicked the door wide, and prepared to go in shooting – only to immediately yank his gun up to point toward the sky when he found, instead of any threat whatsoever, Annabelle standing in the hallway, tucking her gun neatly away into her coat.

"Why Stewart, Jason." She smiled at them both, seemingly amused at their widened eyes and widening mouths. "How very kind of you to open the door."

**********

The night was drawing to a frosty close when they gathered together over curiously gritty coffee, in a café that the department had commandeered in a nearby village. Journalists were gathering, and Jason had elected to go incognito as a result, sitting wrapped in a plain brown overcoat as he huddled over his coffee, and a single boiled egg. He had also appropriated a garish bobble hat from somewhere, and it was pulled down low over his forehead, doing absolutely nothing to make him inconspicuous. Liz and Annabelle had been taking it in turns to make their report, and Sir Curtis nodded at irregular intervals. Only one part of the narrative spurred him to comment, and that with a somewhat dry tone.

"So the GK4 was destroyed by Soames, when he realised that he had been discovered?"

Liz nodded briskly. "I was able to test some trace elements, so there won't be any trouble when it comes to evidence," she answered. He steepled his fingers, looking from one to the other of them with wry amusement.

"Oh, quite. Quite. Although given that he's dead, any investigation will likely be purely for show. I can see the government playing down his involvement. There will be concerns about that GK4, however."

"I'm quite sure that UNIT will be open to any and all questions," Liz told him, and he smiled faintly.

"Indeed. Tell Lethbridge Stewart to remember that he doesn't have to answer to this government. Not anymore. And just be sure that those 'trace elements' are properly disposed of. I'm told that four hundred and fifty degrees Centigrade is considered appropriate."

"We have excellent facilities," said Liz, and he nodded.

"I know. Thank you, Doctor Shaw. For assisting my agents, and for drawing a very neat line under this whole affair. It's appreciated."

"It was my pleasure, Sir Curtis. I hope that we can work together again sometime."

"So do I," said Annabelle, and the pair shared a smile. It had been a gruelling night, but not without its enjoyable moments. Liz smiled.

"Visit some time soon," she said. "I'll give you a tour. There's a lot at UNIT that would interest you. I can't promise you full access, but there's plenty to see nonetheless."

"I'll look forward to it," said Annabelle. She had been a little quiet since the conclusion of the affair at the house, but the warm atmosphere in the café, and even the questionable coffee, had gone some way to restoring her usual poise. "And you must visit us as well. I certainly can't promise many exciting secrets, but I can promise better coffee."

"Good enough!" said Liz. Stewart took that as his cue to refill her mug from the pot in the centre of the table. She eyed it dourly.

"Regretfully, I think it's time that I made my exit," she said, and rose to her feet. The rest of the table rose too, but she waved them down again. "No. Stay. Finish your coffee." Jason grunted something, and Stewart, the only one close enough to hear, smiled. "I'm sure we'll see each other again soon. There will be some sort of official investigation. Written reports, debriefings. For now though, it's been a pleasure."

"Likewise," said Sir Curtis. The scientist nodded in acknowledgement of the team as a whole, then turned and left. Jason tapped disconsolately at the top of his long ignored egg.

"Maybe I shall consider defecting to UNIT," he said. "There might be a whole new book series in that. Mark Caine goes sci-fi."

"You'd be shot," Sir Curtis told him, eyes sparkling, but tone as dry as leather. Jason raised an eyebrow, clearly trying to decide just how serious a threat this might be.

"Or I might stay here," he added after a moment. Annabelle picked up the coffee pot, and refilled his mug.

"Never mind, Jason. At least you've got plenty of coffee."

"And a lovely hat," put in Stewart. Their colleague heaved a sigh, and gingerly took a mouthful of severely over-boiled egg.

"Be still my beating heart," he said grumpily, but there was a softness in his eyes, and he looked up from his egg long enough to offer Annabelle a dazzling smile. "Well done for not being dead, by the way," he told her, and saluted her with his coffee. She smiled back.

"Thank you. I've had better nights, but I think this one turned out okay. I'm not sure that my pulse rate is back to normal yet though."

"Neither's mine," said Stewart meaningfully. She met his gaze, and held it.

"Now you know I how feel," she told him. Jason looked up from his manful struggle with the rubber egg.

"Does anybody's heart beat faster when I'm the one in mortal peril?" he asked, and was greeted with an amused silence. It was Sir Curtis who took pity on him, and leaned over to clap him on the shoulder.

"Never mind, King. At least Mark Caine will always love you." The only reply was a supremely eloquent glare.


The End


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