[personal profile] locker_monster
Title: Strands (1/1)
Rating: G
Word Count: 1,554
Characters: Osgood, Kate Stewart
Timeline: Pre-"The Day of the Doctor".
Summary: Osgood wonders if she'll ever get to meet the Doctor.
Disclaimer: It all belongs to the Beeb.
A/N: Entry for [livejournal.com profile] who_contest's "Peculiar" challenge.

"If all of the old reports have been digitized, why bother to keep the hard copies?"

Kate led Osgood into the massive warehouse where UNIT stored all of their files from the past few decades. Rows upon rows of squat shelving units stacked with banker boxes stretched the entire length of the room. Though brightly lit, it didn't look very organized. With her OCD, Osgood was very particular about how things were arranged.

"Posterity, for the most part. One day, all of this will be declassified and people will want to see the original reports. Until then, there's a clause in the Official Secrets Act that prohibits the removal and destruction of any UNIT property. You should see the warehouse that's full of old furniture."

"But luckily for us, that also means any evidence from an incident hasn't been destroyed either."

"Yes, thank goodness for tedious bureaucracy."

"So where are the files from the Kettlewell robot episode?"

"Somewhere down here." Kate gestured vaguely to the left side of the warehouse. "The filing system here is atrocious."

"Well, it must be filed by year," offered Osgood as they made their way across the width of the room.

Kate laughed and the sound echoed within the vast space. It was a bitter laugh, not one full of mirth. "Don't get me started on the dating protocols."

They wandered past the aisles until they finally found one with a faded sign that read "1974/1975?". The number 1980 was also written underneath, though it had been crossed out with a thick black marker. Osgood was tempted to ask Kate what the 1980 was all about, but now didn't seem like the time. They needed to get back to UNIT HQ as quickly as possible.

The numbering system on the side of the banker boxes was a bit more straightforward and they headed down the aisle until they came upon a set of boxes with "Kettlewell Robot Incident" written on them. Kate, being the taller one, pulled the first box down from the shelf and placed it on the floor.

The smell of musty cardboard overwhelmed Osgood when they opened the box and she coughed heartily into the sleeve of coat. Once the fit passed, she tried to draw in a deep breath, but her lungs refused to expand fully and she only managed a small gulp of air.

"Inhaler," Kate reminded her.

Osgood dug out her trusty inhaler from her pocket and quickly sucked down a puff of the vapourized steroid. She held her breath for a handful of seconds before breathing out again. Already her lungs felt more relaxed, but she inhaled another puff for good measure.

"Sorry about that," said Osgood once she could breathe again.

"Never apologize for something that's out of your control." Kate had started to go through the contents of the box and was putting aside less helpful items on the floor to her left. "Here, keep going with this one. I'll grab the next one." Osgood took up Kate's spot while the woman pulled down the next box in the set.

There didn't seem to be any sort of consistency to the contents. Kate had already put aside a handful of pens, an old mug with a chip in the rim, and a folder full of bills. Again, Osgood suppressed a shudder at the blatant disorganization. She grabbed the next folder in the pile and opened it to find a stack of photos.

Most looked like crime scene photos - plain shots of spaces or close-ups of certain items - but there were also some candid photos of UNIT personnel, probably taken while they worked the incident. Osgood idly flipped through them, creating a blur of olive army fatigues.

No, wait. There was suddenly a splash of colour.

A photo near the back of the stack featured a man in a burgundy jacket and a multi-coloured scarf that reached to his feet. His dark brown hair was a mass of curls that were barely contained beneath the fedora that he wore. He had a triumphant smile, which was in strong contrast to the restrained expressions of the soldiers around him.

Quirky dresser, exuberant personality, clearly not a soldier. Osgood had heard the stories. Was this him?

"Here it is." Kate's voice snapped Osgood from her woolgathering and she looked up to see the woman brandishing a weathered notebook. "Kettlewell's lab notes. Hopefully we can recreate his formula for living metal."

Osgood took the notebook from Kate, only half aware that she also tucked the photo within the pages. Everything else went back into their boxes and then the boxes went back on the shelf. It was time to head back to UNIT HQ to deal with the latest crisis to plague London.

It was only later, after the crisis was over, that Osgood found the photo she had accidentally smuggled out of storage. It was late and she was the only person in the lab. McGillop had gone home, complaining of a sore back from being hunched over a lab bench all day.

She had been preoccupied the first time she looked at the photo, but now she took in all of the details she had missed before. There was an old yellow roadster in the background. One of the men in the group was dressed in a regular suit, but he had the bearing of someone in the military. The general in the photo, a brigadier going off the markings on his sleeve, regarded the man in the scarf with an expression that was a mix of relief and mild exasperation.

Osgood's eye was drawn back to the odd man out. He was so out of place, but he didn't seem to care at all. How wonderful it would be to have that sort of confidence.

Oh, and that scarf. There was no order to it - the colours didn't repeat in a pattern nor did the length of the various sections - but the haphazard nature of it suited the man. The knitter in her just had to admire the simple workmanship. Even Osgood's OCD didn't care about the lack of symmetry.

"The Official Secrets Act would consider this stealing and grounds for dismissal."

Osgood shot up straight from her seat. She turned and found Kate standing behind her. "Ma'am, I didn't hear you come in. I, um..." It was too late to try to hide the photo and suddenly Osgood didn't know what to do with her hands. She sort of waved them vaguely, like she was trying to swat away a fly.

Kate just smiled. "It's all right, Osgood. I'm not going to fire you. You can put the photo back when we return Kettlewell's notebook."

"Yes, good. It won't happen again." She was feeling short of breath again.

"Inhaler," said Kate, no doubt sensing how stressed she was.

Osgood thrust the photo into Kate's hand and then pulled out her inhaler from her lab coat pocket. A quick puff eased the tension in her chest, but her heart still fluttered.

"I see you've found the Doctor." Kate's gaze was on the photo, but her attention seemed to be just left of the man in the scarf.

"So it is him." Osgood inhaled another puff.

"One of him, at least."

"Malcolm said he met him once. Everyone seems to have a story. It's funny how they're all different, but they're all the same, too. The Doctor appears, saves the day, and then disappears again. A hero and an enigma. A genius and a myth."

Kate handed the photo back to Osgood and she made sure not to crease or bend any of the corners. "I'm sure you'll have one, too, soon enough. But if you want to read up..." Kate walked over to Osgood's computer and started scrolling through the network. "We have an archive all of the incidents in which the Doctor was involved."

"Does it have a better filing system than the one in the warehouse?"

"Sadly, no." Kate stepped back from the computer, allowing Osgood to see the screen. Several dozen digital folders waited to be opened and read. No dust or allergens here to aggravate her asthma.

"Thank you, ma'am." It was a struggle to hold back the grin that wanted to burst forth. As Kate turned to leave, Osgood couldn't help but ask one more question. "Have you met him?"

"Once, I think," said Kate as she left the lab. "It was past my bedtime."

Osgood listened to Kate's footsteps as they receded into the distance and soon the lab was silent again, apart from the hum of her computer. She was tempted to start reading the files about the Doctor, but she took one more look at the photo and she quickly decided to slide it back between the pages of Kettlewell's notebook. Tomorrow, when she was better rested.

She logged off from her computer, grabbed her coat, and then shut off the lights in the lab. As she headed to the lift, she mused that the corridors beneath the Tower of London were notoriously draughty, especially in the winter.

Kate was right. One day Osgood would have her own tale to tell about the Doctor. Until then, she was going to knit a lovely multi-coloured scarf to keep herself warm.
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