“Alright, John?” Mike calls cheerily as he comes through the doors, waving welcomingly. Smith smiles wearily, just glad to see a friend. He’s still bleary-eyed, kept up last night by that terrible recurring dream.
Except it wasn’t a dream.
He was the Doctor again, running through time and space, leaving havoc everywhere. Adventures every way he turned, and fun to be had anywhere you went. But then he lost everything. In one big, blundering accident, he risked it all, and the other side came out trumps.
Everyone was gone.
There wasn’t anything else he could do. He couldn’t fix what he’d done this time around — he’d just have to live with the pain, to blend in and forget any of it ever happened. And that’s exactly what he’s been doing for the past ten years.
Wiping the sleep out of his eyes, he yawns widely and starts to brush the aisles. It’s amazing, the stuff that gets left here by some people — things they’ve just bought, handbags, keys. Clothes, even. He grimaces as he plucks a thong from the magazine corner, depositing it into his black bin bag.
Wheeling his washing equipment around in a small trolley, he once again feels a tiring sense of déjà vu. He hasn’t been promoted once, in all the time he’s been working here. Just a janitor in a chain store, cleaning up after everyone else.
He hasn’t changed at all. At least this time around he’s doing it right.
Mike joins him, chatting quietly as they stroll around the shop — picking up litter, cleaning the displays up. They’ve been as thick as thieves ever since he started working here, and tell each other everything. Except for one thing, which will forever be part of his life. Mike will never know.
He’s finished faster than usual, and so retreats to the tiny staff room in the back of the shop. A couple of customers have strolled in, so Mike returns to the till to attend to them. It’s only a small corner shop — Smith doesn’t really know why it even has a staff room. Only a few people work there.
It’s better than drinking your coffee in a janitor’s closet, though.
There’s a small door out through the staff room which leads to the back of the shop. It’s a perfect spot for smoking, which is something he’s been doing for about three years now. He and Mike retreat to the smokers’ area at lunchtime, leaving Bertha to work the tills. She doesn’t smoke — she’s fifty-three.
It doesn’t give him any pleasure — he just does it to blend in. Besides, it doesn’t affect him.
As he sits in the cramped space, slowly drinking his coffee, he hears a commotion from out in the shop. It’s probably Mike and Bertha — they’re related in some way, Smith thinks he recalls Bertha saying she’s his aunt. They really don’t get on well. He goes out to check in on them anyway.
A man in a black hoodie is standing near the till, and Bertha is trying to get him to lower his hood. They have a policy about this at the shop — it’s unsafe if there’s no CCTV footage of their face. “Can I ask you for the last time, please take down your hood, sir!” she cries indignantly, coming out from behind the till. She’s a rather large lady, and it takes quite a lot of effort for Smith to stop himself chuckling behind the alcohol stand as he looks on. Finally, she squeezes past the counter, and approaches the man, a stern look falling across her face.
John frowns. This won’t end well. He should intervene.
“I’m sorry, sir, but I’m going to have to ask you to leave,” she huffs, trying to usher him towards the door. He can just about make out a dark smirk on the man’s face beneath his hood. His hearts start to beat quickly, and his mouth goes dry. Where is Mike?
The world shifts into slow motion as Smith sees the man pull a shot gun from out of nowhere, raising his hand to point it at Bertha. Suddenly and without realising it, he’s jumped out from behind the alcohol stand and is running towards the hoodie, his heart sinking as he realises that he’s too late again. The man’s going to kill Bertha, all because he didn’t get there in time.
It’s all going to happen all over again.
The man turns, and Smith sees the shock in his face as he stampedes towards him. The arm holding the gun swivels around, and he only realises what’s happening when he hears the trigger being pulled. A bang echoes through the air, and everything freezes. Bertha screams as he collapses, clutching at his chest. The man just stares at him. John glares right back, clenching his fists.
“I hope you got what you wanted,” he whispers, hatred running through him. Showing no remorse, the man turns and runs, leaving Bertha screeching for Mike to come quickly. Mike strolls into the shop, rolling his eyes.
“What, I just went for a fa...” He freezes as he sees John, lying on the floor with blood running through his clothes and onto the floor. Bertha’s frantically dialling 999, sobbing hysterically. “John, mate, what happened!” he yells, falling to his knees beside him. Smith closes his eyes tight, trying desperately to ignore the pain.
And then he realises. He may have given up his career as a time traveller, but he’s still a time lord. And he’s been shot.
“Mike, get back,” he murmurs in an attempt at a shout. Mike just looks at him like he’s an idiot. Which, of course, he is. “Mike, I mean it, you need to get out. Now.” He can feel the process starting, but Mike won’t budge. He just stays by his side, always the loyal friend.
“No, mate. Look, I know you probably want to die in peace and all, but I ain’t leaving you. We’re mates, yeah?” Smith grimaces as he feels his skin heating up, and tries to wave Mike away.
“Please,” he urges weakly as he begins to shiver, his skin starting to display tinges of yellow, orange and gold. “Get out.” Mike’s eyes open wide as John’s skin begins to glow, and he jumps to his feet, terrified.
“What the fuck’s going on, John?” he cries, backing away as the fiery colours of the regeneration process reach out towards him. Smith’s face is hard. He stands slowly, and Bertha’s eyes roll up into her head as she collapses. Mike doesn’t look far from fainting, either. He just stands there, quivering with fear, back against the wall. John just looks right back at him, and his face softens a little.
He smiles, and it’s sadder than anything Mike’s ever seen before. There just aren’t any words to describe it, and all at once he knows that Smith’s not who he appears to be. He’s seen more than Mike ever will, and been to the ends of the earth and back. The smile lingers a little longer as his skin is completely enveloped by the glow, and then he speaks. “Hello, Mike.” He chuckles to himself, just for a fleeting moment. Mike swallows, his eyes filled with tears. “It’s okay, everything’s going to be fine.”
“But how do I know that you’re not just lying to me?” Mike chokes, his voice cracking. Smith takes a steps away from him, spreading out his arms and raising his head to the the skies. He grins, and for a moment there’s something triumphant in his expression. He glances back at Mike, smiling widely.
“Because I’m the Doctor.”
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