Ian and Barbara ran hand in hand back to the ship, both out of breath, both shooting glances behind them to see if any of the aliens were still on their trail. The Doctor and Susan were already safe in the ship, but Barbara and Ian had stayed behind to serve as a distraction so they could escape, and it had gone haywire. The aliens had grabbed them and trained these odd laser guns on them, and no matter what Ian tried he couldn’t talk his way out of it - these creatures didn’t seem to listen to reason. He’d thought that would be it, and then Barbara had grabbed the gun off the alien holding her and shot the alien holding him. He’d frozen up, not knowing what to say, and she’d grabbed his hand and taken off.
There was an immense sense of pride in Ian’s chest. That was his friend, his Barbara, who’d done that, and saved the day. He had no idea she was that good a shot. It had come out of the blue, and thinking about it made him blush. It also made him realize he hadn’t saved them, that he wasn’t able to save them, and that didn’t sit well with him.
They finally reached the TARDIS and leaned back against it, trying to catch their breath.
“Oh, I’m out of shape,” Barbara muttered. “I need to pick up running again, I can’t keep doing this.”
“Where in the world did you learn to shoot like that?” asked Ian, grinning over at her. “Are you some kind of secret agent? Where did that come from?”
Barbara laughed, wiping some of the sweat off her brow. The planet they had landed on had two suns, both of them beating down. “I’m a spy,” she breathed. “I’m a Russian spy, and I have been all along-”
Ian’s laughter drowned her out.
“No, my father taught me.” She was still smiling. “When I was a little girl he used to take me out into the country to hunt pheasant.”
“I didn’t mark you as a hunter,” Ian admitted.
“I’m definitely not,” Barbara confirmed. “I think you’ve marked me right. It was just really the only time I spent with him. Aliens, though, that’s a different matter.”
“You don’t mind hunting aliens?” teased Ian. “You’re brilliant at it. Barbara Wright, alien hunter. It does have a ring to it.”
Barbara chuckled, swatting at his shoulder and knocking on the TARDIS door. She sighed. “I don’t like guns pointed at your head, Ian.”
“Neither do I, Babs, but-”
“No, I really don’t,” she insisted, and she looked solemn. “So I won’t let it happen, not if I can help it.”
“It’s not funny,” Barbara insisted. “I’m serious, I’m truly serious.”
“No, it’s just… that I’ve been silly,” Ian murmured, looking down and wiping his face with a hand.
“You’re always silly.” Barbara knocked on the door to the TARDIS again.
Ian shook his head, and was quiet for a moment before saying, “I’m always so busy looking out for you that I… I forgot you could look out for me too.”
“Well, we look out for each other.” Barbara smiled.
“But you saved my life today! Really!” Ian said. “They’d have shot us both dead, if not one of us, and you saved us both. I feel like I… like I owe you something.”
“You don’t owe me anything, Ian, I was just getting us out,” Barbara replied quietly. She was watching Ian’s face carefully, not taking her eyes off him. “You’d have done the same for me.”
Ian nodded. “Of course.”
“And I don’t owe you anything, do I?” She was talking slowly, like she was explaining a passage in a history text to one of her students.
“Naturally, no,” he answered, not sure where she was going with it.
“Why?” she asked simply. She crossed her arms and leaned her back against the TARDIS. “Why would you owe me something for saving you even though I never owe you anything for saving me?”
“Well, I- because you- I’m-” Ian stopped. “I don’t know.”
Barbara leaned in close to him, and she was smiling again. “It’s alright to let people help you sometimes, Ian. You don’t need to do it all yourself.”
“But it’s my job to make sure you’re safe,” he said firmly.
“And who’s going to make sure you’re safe?” Barbara asked pointedly.
Ian looked down. “You, I suppose. Right. You.” The more time they spent together on these impossible worlds full of aliens and danger and strange challenges, and in the distant future or in times long past, the more he was realizing that many questions that came up in his life could be answered with her. She was the answer, seemingly, to everything. And he’d always known that, in a way, it was just a lot to think about.
“Exactly.” Barbara put a hand on his shoulder. “Just like I said, we’ll look after each other. Alright?”
Ian looked back up at her, met her eyes. All this running and all this heat and he still only really melted when she looked at him like that. “Alright,” he said quietly. Then, because it was too soft and admitting he needed help with anything was a lot, he added, “What’s taking them so damn long with the door?”
“Not sure.” Barbara knocked a third time, and called, “Susan? Doctor?” She turned back to Ian. “Oh, please tell me they made it back. Ian, what if they didn’t make it back?”
“We were distracting the guard. They had no one to stop them, no reason they shouldn’t be here,” Ian said.
“Susan,” Barbara called again. “Please, open up the door. Please say you’re in there.”
And, perfectly on cue, the doors swung open.
Ian and Barbara rushed in, and Ian closed the doors behind them.
Susan was leaning back against the console, a little smile on her face. “I’m glad to see you two made it back alright. No problems with the guard, then?”
“No, none at all,” Ian said, and at the same time, Barbara said, “Door trouble?”
“Not really,” Susan replied, and her smile grew. “And the scanner was working perfectly as well.” She gestured to the little screen with a nod of her head. It displayed the place outside the TARDIS where Ian and Barbara had just been standing.
It dawned on Ian what she’d done, and he pointed at her. “Why, you-”
Susan burst out laughing. “You two really needed a talk!” she exclaimed.
“Go to your room,” Ian ordered. “Go to your room right now. I- I can’t believe-”
Still laughing, Susan ran out of the console room and disappeared down one of the ship’s many corridors.
Ian looked back at Barbara, and found her laughing as well. He was going to say something, but he could only go so long when Barbara was laughing without starting to laugh himself. So he did, and they laughed together until they were gasping for breath and red in the face, and he realized that it was alright to let his guard down sometimes, because he knew she’d always have his back.