It’s just a name now, with Ricky dead. Too high of a fence and too fast of a Cyberman and then, it’s just a name.
It should be.
“Names,” the woman at the counter asks in a bored sort of tone.
“Jacob Simmonds and Richard Smith,” Jake interrupts, pushing him to the side a little as he hands over their documents. “I’m Jake, he’s Ricky.”
“So I can see,” the woman replies, seeming not to care as she squints at the pictures on the forms. Her glasses are on her head, he wants to point out. When she stamps the papers and says “There you are, Mr. Smith” as she hands them back, he tells her.
Her expression is sour, but she puts the glasses on with a vague nod in his direction.
“Do you have to do that?” he asks later as he and Jake are leaving the building for the garage. “Starting to get on my nerves, if you catch my drift.”
“Not my fault you never remember whose name is on the paper,” Jake shoots back.
They climb into the rental van and go liberate Paris.
There are hundreds of parking tickets. Hundreds. Two hundred thirty-eight, to be exact, but that’s still hundreds.
He stares at them, the shoeboxes filled with parking tickets. Ricky Smith, all of them are addressed to, every single one.
In the end, Rose’s Not-Dad bails him out. The Pete who isn’t Pete, not the one he knew as a kid. This is Peter Albert Tyler, a man he doesn’t know well enough to tell apart from the original one he can barely remember.
Not the original, he reminds himself. The other one, that’s all.
Neither version is more important, can’t be.
“Hullo, Gran,” he greets as he comes into range, giving her that warning before he gives her a quick peck on the cheek.
She swats at him as expected, but it’s in a fond sort of way, as he’d hoped. “You could come back here a little more often,” she tells him, stern. In her current mood, it’s almost a good thing she can’t see — his expression would drive her up the wall.
Not his fault he keeps alternating back and forth, going from grins to tears and back again. There’s nothing he can say, though, is there? “Sorry, Gran, but you lost me. But I lost you too, so we’re even. That means this will work out, doesn’t it? Gran?”
He makes tea and they chat, another man’s grandmother asking about another man’s life and another man’s boyfriend. And then he tells her about how he’s been working with the Pete Tyler and they finally talk about his life, the one he’s living every single day.
She doesn’t like the idea, reaches for his hand with that uncanny accuracy she’s always had. “You be careful,” she orders him, tells him like he’s still a little kid. “You come back to me safe and sound.”
“’Course I will,” he promises, knows there’s no way she can’t hear how choked up he is. “Love you too much for that, Gran.”
She comes close to smiling, pats his hand with all the affection he remembers. “I love you, too, Ricky.”
He’s sitting at a bus station in what should be Spain but isn’t. He’s been sitting there for longer than he wants to have been and the line is definitely not moving. Spain, the Empire of Portugal; he couldn’t care less at the moment about where he is, only about where he wants to get to before dying of boredom. Who would have thought he’d ever take Cybermen over a bus ride?
He sighs, thunks his head back against the wall behind him.
Inattentive, he shifts, pulls out his mobile, clicks through it vaguely.
“Rick?” someone asks again. “Jesus the Christ, it really is you!”
A kid sits down next to him, some bloke with short brown hair and light eyes. His smile is huge and disbelieving. “Rick Smith, fancy seeing you here. You stalking me?” The bloke knocks shoulders with him, grinning away.
He freezes the way he always does when this sort of thing happens, the way he tells himself that he won’t. “Uh,” he says, can’t quite believe this is happening here of all places. He’d taken this post so far from London to avoid these run-ins with Ricky’s old friends.
The bloke laughs. “David Camper, remember? Or is the haircut throwing you off?”
He grabs the information, runs with it, plastering a grin across his features. “That and the tan,” he agrees. “Lookit you! How long’s it been?”
David grins back at him, an expression which is actually meant. “Dunno, really. Let’s see... Two years? Two years and a half?”
“February?” he asks, pulling together his eyebrows like he’s thinking hard about it.
“March!” David exclaims. “Early March, wasn’t it?”
“Right, yeah,” he agrees. “So how’re things?”
David prattles along about his university, about his internship, about his everything. The bloke sounds so young, so passionate, so stupid. He wonders how close Ricky was with him, if Ricky minded him or put up with him or knew him from childhood.
Finally, finally, David’s bus arrives. Ricky’s friend scribbles down something on a scrap of paper. Before he can comprehend what’s happening, David’s slipped the mobile number into his hand, slipped a warm tongue into his mouth.
“Bye, Rick,” David says, grinning impishly at the havoc he’s just wrecked upon the other man’s brain.
There are days when he wonders if the Doctor knew.
Maybe not consciously, no, maybe not. He’d not accuse the alien git of being that secretive, not about something like this. About lots of other things, sure. The alien could be cruel and loud and sarcastic and hell-bent on stealing his girl and hauling her across all of time and space, but he didn’t think the man would’ve forgotten to mention this.
Ricky, old Big Ears had called him. Insult after insult, though, and that’s where the theory goes wrong. Ricky Smith is a hero, will be remembered as one. That’s the plan, anyway, but Ricky is someone worthy of respect, not an endless torrent of insults.
No, the Doctor didn’t see all of it coming.
But maybe a little, just a little.
Was it all just to bother him? He wonders that some nights. Was it to drive him up the wall, to drive him out of his calm and into his stupidity? Or was it meant to do something else?
To prepare him?
Time passes as time does.
He adjusts, adapts.
Richard M. Smith, he reads on his documentation, reads until he has it memorized, reads until he can pretend his middle initial begins another name. (“Ricky Smith! Ricky Smith!” he yelps as the policeman slams him against the wall, demanding to know who’s breaking the curfew.)
“Richard Smith,” he tells the pretty girl at the bar, “but you can call me-” (“Ricky!” a drunk Jake yells, interrupting, hauling him away from said pretty girl. “You cheatin’ bastard!”)
“Hi, it’s Ricky,” he says into the phone. (The answering machine picks up the call from David that he’s steadfastly ignoring: “Smith residence. We’re not home right now, but you really have to, you can contact Ricky on his mobile at the following number...”)
Really, what else can he do but adapt?
Jake yells for Ricky, cries out his name in the nights they can pretend to be too pissed to know better.
Jake’s eyes watch his face, catch his gaze, cling to the sight of a dead man still alive. He moves and Jake moves and damn, this shouldn’t be hot, this shouldn’t be good at all, this is so messed up, he doesn’t even like blokes, no really he doesn’t, it creeps him out and fuuuuuuck-
He rolls over, rolls off. Wonders when he’ll stop shaking, afterwards.
“Ricky...” Jake sighs sleepily, half a breathless sigh, half an exhausted pant. “God, I miss him sometimes.”
It’s a very strange thing, he’ll realize months later, loving someone for not loving you. For knowing who you are and pretending — only pretending, never believing — that you’re someone else.
He gets bored in another bus station, this one in some country that’s not exactly Belgium. There’s a surprising amount of waiting in this, in going around the world and saving it from itself. At least Pete is paying for travel expenses — parking tickets not included. There’s a pen in his hand and marks in the wood already, giving him no reason not to carve a bit while he waits.
He carves his initials in a minute, but he spends five more trying to change the “R” into an “M”.
“You’re not him,” Jake tells him every time they start again, every time they swear they’ll stop. “You’re not and you’re never going to be him either.”
“Yeah,” he says, “but would you want me to be?”
He never gets an answer to that.
He doesn’t think he wants one, though, so he doesn’t much mind.
“What’s this?” he asks when Pete hands him the folder. “More world-saving paperwork?”
Pete shakes his head, looks him in the eye. “Thought you might want to join up. Y’know, officially.”
He signs his name.