Alastair Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart, formerly a Brigadier in UNIT, was working in his garden when the earthquake hit. Earthquakes being rare in Britain, it took him a while to realise what it was, but there were not many natural phenomena that could cause the ground to shake and tiles to fall from the roofs of the houses nearby. It was enough of a shake to send him sprawling onto the ground, his spade falling in the opposite direction, and after it was over, when he looked up, none of his neighbours' houses had whole roofs any more. In fact none of the neighbours' houses had whole houses any more, whereas his looked as if nothing had happened to it.
His first thought was for Doris, who was inside the house. His second, having established his wife was unhurt, was to switch on the radio, but it was too soon to be reported yet and it wasn't a big enough story to interrupt The Archers for. Briefly, he wondered if it had even been a natural phenomenon, but it had been some time since he last saw the Doctor and in his experience very few strange things were unnatural when the Doctor wasn't around. It wasn't as if Britain never had earthquakes and there was bound to be a perfectly natural reason why his house had come through it with no ill effects. No doubt it was all to do with the way it was built, or something.
This was, however, all rather hard to explain to the BBC reporter who took considerably less time to get to his house than he expected. The Brigadier wasn't used to being the person who gave explanations; it was usually the opposite way round.
However, he was prepared to do his best until the small explosion in the middle of his garden drove all thoughts from his mind of answering the reporter's question. "Just look at the state of my garden!" He stared disconsolately at the hole that had appeared in it, making like the lawn look like it had been ripped across. He couldn't think of how to fix it and that was to say nothing of the black colour of most of the grass.
"At least it doesn't have parts of your house in it," the reporter pointed out. She surely had a name, but the Brigadier hadn't been paying much attention when she'd told him and now he was too British to ask.
"Ah, yes." The Brigadier, suitably chastened for his moment of selfishness, straightened up and looked around. "We really should organise some sort of shelter for these people. They can't sleep out on the street, not in this weather." This weather was spring and therefore cold at night.
"I'll put the kettle on." Doris, who had so far been a mostly-calming presence, slipped from his side to head back to the house.
"Thank you, dear," he said warmly and smiled as he watched her go. She was taking this all rather well, he thought.
He had barely turned back to the reporter after this, who still had her dictaphone out, when he was distracted by a yelp from the bushes behind her. "Hey, you there," the Brigadier called, and with two long strides he was at the bushes and pulling the man hiding there out into the open. The man didn't look like he lived here or worked at the BBC since they all dressed much more smartly.
The man stood up and ceased rubbing his ankle before grinning in a manner that didn't sit right with the Brigadier. "Having a bit of trouble with your garden, Brigadier?"
He frowned. "I wouldn't say that." Although that was mainly because he wouldn't say that sort of thing to a stranger who clearly knew something about him. The only question was how much and where he'd got it from.
Fortunately for the unknown man, he was saved from the Brigadier's questions by the reporter, who shrieked, "What is that?" and pointed to something running away from the bushes into the middle of the garden.
It was a garden gnome with a fishing rod. The gnome itself was not unusual; that it was running, was. All thoughts of this being natural and simple fled from the Brigadier's mind and he sighed. "Well, that's never happened before," he said, in a master of understatement. He turned back to face the pair. "Do you think one of you could stir yourself to catch it?" It wasn't that the Brigadier wasn't willing, but the flesh was weaker than the mind and he had two much younger people in front of him who would be far better at the job. Yet until he said something, neither of them looked like it had crossed their minds to do anything about it.
The reporter took a step back, which the Brigadier took to mean she had no intention of helping. Fortunately, the man took off after the gnome. Although the gnome took smaller steps it was faster, and leapt across the gash in the lawn with surprisingly nimbleness for something the Brigadier had previously thought inanimate. The whole thing put him in mind of a long-ago event at UNIT and all of a sudden he knew what was going on. Now he knew this event wasn't natural, he also knew why the man with the Northern accent recognised him.
"Try and herd it this way, Doctor," the Brigadier called, taking off his own jacket. By this point the gnome was literally running rings around the Doctor and he imagined the Doctor might fall over dizzily if he didn't do something to help.
Fortunately, for once, the Doctor didn't question the order and managed to get the gnome running straight for the Brigadier by running in zigzags to herd it in the right direction. Once it was close enough the Brigadier threw his jacket onto it, with himself not far behind. "I really am getting too old for this," he said, as the Doctor approached, panting.
The Doctor lifted the Brigadier's jacket just enough to see the gnome squirming in his grip, before he put it back carefully. "I'd stay where you are, if I were you, Brigadier."
"What is it?" the Brigadier asked, looking around, but the reporter had gone. Presumably to get the camera crew she'd previously been asking for onto the scene, which wouldn't help in the least.
The Doctor had also been looking round, what for the Brigadier couldn't say, but at his question he focused on the more urgent problem. "It's a garden gnome."
The Brigadier rolled his eyes. "Yes, I can see that. But they don't usually come to life and run around my garden."
"Where did you get it?" The Doctor bent to look at it again, which made the bundle under the Brigadier twitch, as if it could see through the jacket covering it.
"It was already in the garden when we bought the house. Somehow, every time we got rid of it it came back. In the end we gave up." It wasn't as if it was doing any harm. Or it hadn't been anyway. "Can I get up now? This position is rather uncomfortable."
"Oh." The Doctor stood up straight. "We should get it out of sight before the reporter comes back. Is there somewhere we can take it where it can't escape?"
The Brigadier nodded. "In the house." He started to get up, which the gnome tried to take advantage of, until the Doctor darted in and picked it up.
The gnome was wriggling now, though it was still wrapped up in the Brigadier's jacket. "After you, Brigadier."
By the time they made it to the house, and the Brigadier looked back as he held the door open for the Doctor, the reporter was just coming into view. She had a camera, but not, fortunately, a camera crew. Since he had no intention of letting her see what was going on, he hurried inside and shut the door firmly behind them. Even if she did come inside the house, Doris was around somewhere and would be able to chase her back out. Or, more likely, inveigle her into helping distribute cups of tea.
At the back of the house was the small laundry room, that was usually Doris's domain. The Brigadier opened the door to show it to the Doctor, who pronounced it "Perfect", before shaking the gnome out and slamming the door shut just before something hit it low down.
Then he handed the Brigadier back his jacket, which was now muddy, covered in grass stains and looking rather worse for wear. He raised his eyebrows at it and declined to put it back on, instead holding it in one hand, but not bothering to complain: he knew it would do no good. "Now what, Doctor?"
He rubbed his hands eagerly. "Now we talk to it."
"Of course you do," he said, under his breath. Then in a more normal voice, if with a tone that suggested the Doctor was a madman, he added, "You want to go back in there?"
"Don't you want to know what it's been doing in your garden? And why your house is fine after a major earthquake even though the rest of the area isn't?"
He shrugged. "Well, if you put it that way..."
"Now, if you'll just calm down," the Doctor shouted through the door, "then we can come in and talk about this like civilised beings." There was another thump and the door bulged a little at the bottom. The Brigadier privately wondered just how long it would hold. "We promise we won't hurt you."
There was silence after that and the Doctor opened the door cautiously. The gnome had somehow got on top of the washing machine, the Brigadier didn't even want to know how. It stood with its arms folded and managed to look distinctly threatening for something that was only a foot tall. He briefly wondered where its fishing rod had gone, before deciding that was a spectacularly unimportant question and he shook his head at the thought.
The Doctor grinned at it and went inside; the Brigadier followed more cautiously, but shut the door behind them in case it escaped again. When doing so he missed exactly what gesture the Doctor had made and the next thing he knew the Doctor had jumped backwards, away from the washing machine to jam himself up against the wall, shaking one hand. "It bit me again!"
The Brigadier rolled his eyes. Since the Doctor was clearly not going to be of any help, he would have to try. He couldn't see any blood, so he wasn't going to worry about whatever injuries the Doctor may or may not have just at the moment. "Now then," he began, bending down a little so he was level with what used to be his garden gnome, "what precisely are you doing in my garden?"
"Your garden?" The gnome had a high voice, yet still managed to sound menacing as it stepped forwards. "That's my home."
"Your home?" The Brigadier said, equally incredulously, and resisted the urge to take a step backwards.
The Doctor stepped forward and raised his hands. "Now, now, Brigadier. No arguments."
He sighed and straightened up. This wasn't getting them anywhere, but still, he was the one who paid the mortgage, not the gnome and he wasn't the one who had blown up bits of the garden either.
The Doctor gave him a quick grin before turning to the gnome. "So you saved this house and garden from the earthquake?
The gnome shook its head. "That wasn't no earthquake. That was the worm."
"There was a worm?" the Brigadier asked.
The gnome scowled at him but answered the question. "The Lambton Worm come south from County Durham."
The Doctor frowned. "I thought that was dead."
"You've heard of this thing?" It didn't surprise him, but just once it would be nice to understand what was going on from the start, the Brigadier reflected.
The Doctor nodded. "It was only a tiny, little thing when I saw it. Wouldn't hurt a fly. Not that John Lambton would listen to me." He sighed and shook his head. "But that was several lifetimes ago. Where is it now?"
"Under t'earth, where do you think it is?" The gnome's tone was not improving appreciably.
"Let's go and see it." Eagerly, the Doctor opened the door and ran out.
Out of a desire not to spend any time alone with the gnome, the Brigadier followed him. "You're not just going to let it go free are you?"
The Doctor briefly looked behind him as he ran, to answer, "It saved your house. Do you really want to lock it up for that?"
"I suppose not," the Brigadier conceded, although he would have thought the Doctor wouldn't have been so understanding so quickly given it had bitten him at least once. He scowled at the gnome as it ran past, then gave in and followed behind. When he made it out into the garden he found the Doctor standing beside the tear in his lawn, poking it with a spade. As the Brigadier peered into the hole, he could see... well, if it was a worm then it was a giant one. "Ah." It seemed inadequate, but then there wasn't really a good way of expressing surprise upon seeing something brown and wriggling that was twice as wide as he was. He couldn't see either end of it, but then the hole wasn't that much longer than it was wide any more.
"I don't think I want that in my garden, Doctor." None of the birds would be eating it, that much was certain.
The Doctor looked up at his question. "Of course you don't: it's poisonous."
Of course it was. Nothing was ever simple when the Doctor was around. "That explains why my plants have been dying. So how do we get rid of it?" he asked, waving a hand in the worm's general direction. Which could be the whole garden for all he knew. It was a worrying thought.
"The gnomes had the right idea. It just wasn't a big enough explosion."
The Brigadier looked horrified at the idea of anyone blowing up his garden. What was the use of the gnome saving it if it wasn't going to stay saved? "Pity you don't still have that girl Ace with you."
The Doctor gave a small, sad smile and quietly said, "Yes." Then he shook himself. "What we need is something more targeted. A fire, say. Have you got any matches, Brigadier?"
"Well, yes, of course, but I'm not sure I want you setting fire to my garden." It wasn't sounding any better than exploding it.
"It's not your garden I want to set fire to, it's the worm. You don't want it to poison the whole of London, do you?"
"Well, no," he conceded reluctantly.
Considering that sorted, the Doctor returned to digging up the lawn. The Brigadier sighed and went inside the house to collect the matches. In the kitchen he came across Doris, making tea for the whole street, it looked like.
"What's going on Alastair?" she asked, as he looked for the matches.
"Just de-worming the garden, dear. Don't worry about it." He'd explain later, assuming he understood enough to explain.
When he made it outside again the Doctor had dug up even more of the lawn. The Brigadier considered stopping him, but the damage was probably already done and it wasn't as if the Doctor was a stoppable force once he got going. "You haven't seen the reporter about, have you?" he asked, handing the Doctor the matches.
"Having a panic attack in the BBC van. Has a worm phobia or something." He struck a match, then held the sonic screwdriver up to it until the flame turned blue.
The Brigadier could sympathise. Seeing something like that could unhinge the most reasonable person Goodness knows he'd seen enough of it in UNIT troops. He wasn't sure he wanted to know what blue flame meant, but felt compelled to ask anyway.
"You don't want me to start the Great Fire of London, do you Brigadier?" He casually tossed the match into the hole and lit another. "Again."
The Brigadier decided to give up on asking questions for now; it only led to more.
"Right grateful to you, I am," the gnome said, before jumping into the hole behind the second match with blue flame.
"Is that safe?" There was already smoke coming out of the hole.
"Oh, the gnome can run along the worm's back, make sure all of it is cremated. We wouldn't want any pieces to escape."
No, of course not. But it would be nice if the Doctor wouldn't assume everyone else could follow his thoughts without him first expressing them. "We wouldn't?"
"This worm," he pointed at it, "was cut into pieces and everyone thought it was dead. But it just moved south and grew."
He sighed. "Just what we need."
"Quite." The Doctor looked entirely too self-satisfied, the Brigadier thought.
The ground shook beneath them and the Brigadier's eyes widened. "Perhaps we should move to somewhere safer."
"The worm shook the whole street so much that it damaged all the houses on it. This is the safest place to be with the gnome to protect us." The Brigadier wasn't at all convinced about that, but the Doctor grinned at him. "Everyone else will just assume it's aftershocks anyway."
He gave in. "How about a cup of tea Doctor? Doris is making a round." Given the size of it, two more wouldn't make much difference. His answer was a bigger grin and he took that to be a yes.
They made it inside just in time to snag two mugs before Doris took another tray full outside.
"So, you've regenerated again," the Brigadier said as he got out an open packet of biscuits from one of the cupboards. "Getting to be a bit of a habit, I see."
The Doctor frowned into his tea, which wasn't the response the Brigadier had been expecting.
He put the biscuits on the table and sat down opposite the Doctor. "What happened this time?" he asked softly.
"A war. Against the Daleks." He selected one of the biscuits and broke it in half. "We won. Technically."
"Hmph." He had a fair idea what winning technically meant. Although at least, if it was against the Daleks, it was a win and that had to be a good thing. "And now you have to go back to normal life again."
The Doctor didn't respond to that, just started on another biscuit.
As he dunked his own biscuit in his tea, the Brigadier wondered if the Doctor was going to eat any of the halves currently in a small pile on the table. "Like today." When there was still silence from his old friend, he continued, "Thank you. If it weren't for you I don't know what might have happened."
The Doctor looked up and grinned. "Oh, the gnome would have solved it in the end." He finally sipped at his tea and the Brigadier relaxed enough to drink his too.
"Not when I didn't know they were friendly. I wouldn't have let them. And speaking of which, shouldn't we go back there and put the fire out?" Not that he could see any signs of a fire from here, except for a little smoke that appeared to be making its way further down the garden, away from the house, but he still knew there was a fire.
The Doctor shook his head. "Look out the window."
Sceptically, he stood up and went over, and discovered a chain gang of gnomes feeding his garden hose into the hole. He wondered if he would be able to convince them to help him rebuild his garden, or whether they would just bite him, as the one they'd spoken to had done to the Doctor when they first talked to it. Where the other gnomes had come from he didn't like to ask - were all garden gnomes alive?
When he returned to the table the Doctor was smiling at him, "Oh, Brigadier, whatever am I going to do with you?"
"You weren't particularly friendly to it either, I noticed," he pointed out, picking his mug up.
"Well, we were just sizing each other up. Working out what side we were on."
"Hmm." He remained unconvinced as to the friendliness of the gnomes, but then even with the Doctor it wasn't always that easy to tell.
The Doctor finished his tea and stood up. "I should go."
The Brigadier did likewise. "You do?" The Doctor had hardly been here any time at all and he was sure they had lots to catch up on. "You should stay for a while. I still have Bessie in the garage."
He gave a small smile at the mention of Bessie. "I can't. I just... I can't." He shrugged.
"The war is over, isn't it?" He went around the table, closer to the Doctor.
"Oh, yes. I just need to get back to, you know. World saving." He grinned again, but it was fast and false and even though the Brigadier hadn't known this face very long, he could still tell.
"Come with me," the Doctor said suddenly.
The Brigadier frowned at the change of subject. "To your TARDIS?"
He shook his head. "In the TARDIS."
"I can't." He was tempted, but... "I really am too old for this sort of thing. I'd just be in the way."
The two friends stood and looked at each other for a while, the Doctor not accepting the Brigadier's answer; the Brigadier not intending to change his.
"Well, then," the Doctor said in the end, surrendering.
"Be careful." Given the Doctor's expression the Brigadier regretted his decision a little, but he really didn't think he would be a good substitute for the young women the Doctor usually chose to be his assistants. "And come back and visit soon, once we've rebuilt the street."
The Doctor nodded, then stuck out his hand, which the Brigadier shook. "You were fantastic."
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