AUTHOR: Laura H
FANDOM: Doctor Who
CATEGORY: Angst, Romance, Ten/Rose
SPOILERS: Season 1, TCI, CiN special and kinda sorta Doomsday
DISCLAIMER: So I'm cleaning out the cupboard under the stairs and I, like, find this box that says 'PROPERTY OF LAURA' and it had all these Doctor Who characters in it so...um, yeah... I guess they're mine...
Sheila Lafferty stifled a yawn and said goodbye as her customer, a young, harassed mum with two noisy kids who looked to be under five, picked up her purchases and attempted to shepherd her children over to the lift. They had almost made it before the woman had to make a grab for the little boy’s arm as he attempted to climb onto the back of the Guide Dogs for the Blind plastic Labrador. Sheila silently thanked fate that the only things she and her husband, Frank, had to look after were a potted aspidistra and a 3 year old Springer spaniel called Neville. Of course for them the chance to have kids was long in the past and Sheila refused to concern herself with the what-might-have-beens.
The lift doors slid closed removing the dishevelled family from her vision and her thoughts. Sheila yawned again.
It had been a slow day in Henrik‘s. She and Rose had had five customers all morning and only two of them had even bothered to buy anything. Time had slowed to an excruciating crawl so when Rose’s fiancé had arrived early to pick her up for lunch, Sheila had let her go away half an hour early on the condition that neither of them mention anything to their boss, Mr. Dexter.
“Aw thanks, Sheila. You’re a gem,” Rose had said as she grabbed her bag from under the till. “I’ll bring you back a slice of pizza.”
“Far be it from me to stand in the way of young love,” replied Sheila, rolling her eyes with mock drama. “Oh and never mind the pizza slice. I’m on a diet so there’s a banana and a Muller light with my name on it in the canteen fridge.”
Rose had grinned at her supervisor and said, “Yeah, and the ten Hob Nobs you had with your cuppa this morning!”
“Oi! Anymore of your cheek and you can forget your extra half hour and restock the gents socks instead.”
“I’m only teasing, Sheila. You’re as skinny as Lady Cassandra.”
“And who’s she when she’s at home?”
“Lady Cassandra. One of these ‘It’ girls I s’pose, one of those so called celebs from that magazine you’re always reading?”
Rose had looked puzzled at that and frowned as if trying to remember something. “Um, yeah. Yeah, I suppose she must be.”
Then Mickey had roused her from her thoughts. “C’mon Rose!” he exclaimed from where he stood by the lift, holding the door open. “Don’t waste your extra half hour standing around chatting!”
So Rose had turned and smiled, her momentary confusion apparently forgotten and rushed off to enjoy her lunch.
Sheila leaned on the counter and smiled warmly as she thought of how lovely they looked together, on the verge of starting a new stage of their lives with who-knows-what ahead of them, but both of them ready to face it side by side.
She chuckled and shook her head at her sentimentality. Glancing up at the clock she groaned when she saw the minute hand had barely inched forward since the last time she’d looked.
“God, please give me another customer so I’ve at least got something to do,” she prayed silently.
As if in response to her plea, the elevator pinged and Sheila Lafferty straightened up, adopting her Department Supervisor (4th floor: Shoes, Hats and Gents Accessories) Trademark Expression. This involved a smile and slight raising of the eyebrows that was at once open and welcoming, while being aloof and detached.
The doors slid open and a man emerged.
The Expression faltered slightly for two reasons. Number one, the man was handsome. Not handsome in a chiselled Gillette commercial sort of way. He was attractive in a way that took her back to 1973 and her lower circle seat in the Hammersmith Odeon. David Bowie was Ziggy Stardust and 16 year old Sheila Preston was in love. And now this tall, lean man in the long overcoat was bringing back that same rush of adolescent hormones that even her poor, gentle Frank had failed to inspire.
The second reason for her wavering smile was harder to pinpoint. Most customers when they got off at this floor would pause, glancing around to gather their bearings before heading off to browse the shelves. This man though had strode out from the lift and then just stopped dead. There he stood with his hands in his pockets, gazing around him, looking slightly bewildered, as if he wasn’t even sure where he was never mind why he was here. He just seemed… strange.
Sheila coughed. No response.
“Is there something I can help you with, sir?”
The man turned towards her and in Sheila’s ears rang the ghost of first guitar chords of ‘Space Oddity’.
Striding forward, resolutely, he reached the counter and, fixing her with an intense gaze, said, “Yes, Sheila. Yes, you can help me.”
…Ground control to Major Tom…
Sheila struggled not to clutch her hands to her bosom. “How did you…? I mean, how did you know my…?” She cut herself off, remembering the name tag she had pinned on her blouse everyday for the past twelve years.
…commencing countdown, engines on…
She mentally chastised herself for her total lack of professionalism before saying out loud, “I’m sorry, sir. What exactly is it you’re looking for?”
“Now that I don’t know,” he said, looking around him, “but I do know that I’ll know it when I see it.”
Sheila frowned. One of those customers then.
“Ok, is it a gift for someone perhaps?”
“Oh! Oh, it might be!” A wide grin appeared on his face. “But I don’t think so.” The grin vanished again.
“Well then something for yourself. A scarf maybe? We have some beautiful angora…”
“Nah. I’ve got loads of those,” said the man, distractedly and frowned, turning to look at the rows of shelves. He walked over and began running his finger tips over the racks of shoes. Then he did something that elevated him from just strange to Very Strange. He picked up a shoe and he licked it.
Now Sheila had heard about these perverts with their fetishes that made them hang around in lady’s shoe shops watching women try on high heels, but something told her that this man didn't fit the mould. He was too smartly dressed for one thing. Perverts didn’t wear vintage Saville Row suits, she was sure. And there was an air about him, a charisma that certainly didn’t scream sexual deviant. These things told her that this man was looking for something that most likely couldn’t be found in Henrik’s. Also she thought a shoe fetishist would be more likely to lick a bright red, patent stiletto, rather than a gents brogue, size twelve.
“Are you sure we have what you’re looking for?” she enquired, genuinely regretting not being able to help.
The man turned, abruptly and walked back to the counter. He grasped a startled Sheila by the shoulders and gazed at her earnestly.
“Sheila, I’m close. I know I am. I’m so very, very close.”
…and I’m floating in a most peculiar way…
“You are?” she breathed.
“Yes! I just have to look a little harder." He grinned and said earnestly, "But I know I'll find it soon."
He let go and Sheila felt a tiny pang of sadness as he headed back towards the lift. The man raised his hand to press the call button when suddenly he turned back.
"Thank you, Sheila. You're doing wonderful work here you know."
"Yes Sheila, you are." The lift arrived and he stepped inside. "London needs shoes after all."
His wide smile was the last thing she saw before he disappeared from view and Sheila wondered, in a way that normally would have had her scoffing at the melodrama of it all, who he was and whether she would ever see him again. She didn't know that in a less than two days she would be unaware that this strange man in the brown coat had ever existed in the first place.
...now it's time to leave the capsule if you dare...
The Administrator was pacing now, struggling to retain composure. He turned to his colleague who was bent over the keyboard, fingers a blur as they typed. His brow was furrowed and his tie askew. The first Administrator didn’t approve of this latter effect. His colleague, he thought, had become too preoccupied with his appearance. It was inappropriate; unseemly. It reeked of humanity.
“Do you have it under control?”
“It’s a virus. It will take time. I have to find where it came from.”
“It must be controlled.”
“I am aware of that.”
“Then you will be aware of the consequences of failure”
The second Administrator said nothing, merely frowned and continued his work as events unfolded in pixellated blue light on the gargantuan screens before him.
It was unravelling and he wasn't at all convinced that he knew how to fix it.