For: My doctorwho_100 prompt 'grieve'. But this story is also for trobadora who, a while ago, prompted me to write something to explain why Jack is no longer angry with the Doctor for leaving him on the Gamestation. This has been trying to write itself ever since it was asked for.
Summary: Jack and the Doctor meet in a graveyard. Set shortly after Small Worlds
Audio version: read by jadesfire can be found here.
banner by _medley_
Jack never cries at burials. Deaths are an entirely different matter. Death is always violent; However peacefully it comes from the outside, internally it involves the catastrophic failure of every system, the collapse of a billion complex chemical reactions, and the jolting, grinding agony of something once full of energy coming to a sudden halt.
He can, has, and will shed tears for dead friends, but standing in the cold, grey churchyard, amongst cold, grey mourners, listening to cold, grey words, Jack can’t think of anything he’d like to do less. This isn’t tragic. There is no pain here, no forced persistence, and no transitions.
Jack thinks of bodies lowered into the welcoming earth in the same way others think about going home.
There’s a hand on his arm, cool and firm. He doesn’t look around. Wonders how long it has been there.
“You knew her well.” It isn’t a question, but a statement, musing and slightly cautious.
Jack nods. Then he frowns.
“I knew her briefly,” he says.
The man moves closer to him, and Jack risks a glance sideways. Fair hair and soft features. He’s met this one before.
“The two,” says the Doctor, “are perfectly compatible.”
There’s an old lady staring at them with pure revolt in her eyes, although whether it’s because they are talking, or if it is more to do with the Doctor’s body so close against him, one hand on his arm, Jack has no idea. He looks away from her, stares down at the cold, grey grass.
“I’ve died before,” he says. “Loads of times. Doesn’t get any less painful. Do you know what it feels like? Every. Single. Cell. Shutting down.”
“No. I’ve got a failsafe.”
“Lucky you. You don’t have to feel it. You and your time machine and your technology. While I’m stuck here, in the middle of it all, nowhere to run to. I have to shoulder the consequences, every time I die, every time I live. I face death when it comes, but you run.”
“Yes,” says the Doctor. “That does sound rather like me.”
They stand silently for a while. The priest speaks textbook words, and the mourners cry textbook tears. It is easy to think of them as tiny, ignorant, unimportant, but Jack knows so much better than that.
“I forgive you,” he says, in barely more than a whisper.
The Doctor flinches, his grip on Jack’s arm tightening. He doesn’t ask ‘for what?’ because he knows he will find out, eventually.
“I’ll remember that,” he says. “But why now?”
Jack’s eyes are fixed on the newly carved headstone.
“I loved her,” he says, “and I left her behind.”
The Doctor says nothing else. He stands with Jack long after the churchyard is deserted, arm around his waist, pretending not to notice the moisture on Jack’s face or the fresh stains on his shirt. Jack’s eyes close against the salt sting, and the Doctor’s gaze lingers on the cold, grey sky.