Jack kicked the blackened earth, soot covering the toes of his brown boots. The spot he'd been looking for hadn't been hard to find. He'd known the approximate location and after ten years there was still a large circular barren patch where even the hardiest of field grasses refused to grow.
He kicked again, dislodging another small dust eddy that quickly settled back onto the dry ground as if there hadn't been a disturbance, and thought back.
The last time he'd made the journey here, it had been against the wishes of a grieving Time Lord. But Jack couldn't resist the chance to learn a little bit more about the legends he'd listened to and dreamed of as a child. He'd hidden back in the darkness of the forest, guilt playing as much on his emotions, as he watched someone he cared about shed tears for their loss.
A loss he didn't lament, in fact disappointment had been his only regret. Disappointment in that he hadn't been the cause of the Master's death, although he would never wished to be the reason for grief that ran so deep. He'd shed tears too that night, listening to the sobs and the mysterious song that had echoed through the forest. That strange melody continued to haunt his dreams whenever he had nightmares of the year that never was.
Jack turned his face up towards the sun, the warm rays negating the colder breeze playing through the boughs. The Time Lord had chosen well he thought, his eyes scanning the surrounding landscape. Jack had been thorough in his reconnaissance, covering all angles and insuring he'd not been followed, and also assuring himself that this area was all but invisible unless you happened to know just where to look. It wasn't a likely spot that some random passerby would happen upon as the area was wild and untamed and held no interest for conservationists or hikers.
Remote. That was an apt description of the burial ground he surveyed. The Doctor had chosen well, and now he'd learned if he really knew as much about the Time Lord as he thought he might.
He checked his watch, thrust his hands deep into his pockets and stood bracing himself for the arrival.
He grinned as the loose dirt began to swirl around him and the unmistakable sound of the TARDIS emerging grew loud in his ears. His grin soon turned to a grimace as he pulled his coat up over his head to protect himself from the dust devils clawing at his face.
The blue Police box came to a shuddering stop and Jack could imagine the Time Lord pushing himself off the floor and chastising his ship for the harsh landing. In the meantime Jack was busy brushing specks of dirt and finite dust out of his hair, and trying to look presentable again.
The Doctor burst through the door of the TARDIS like a man on a very important mission. If Jack hadn't been standing as far away as he was, the Time Lord certainly would have bowled him over in his enthusiastic exit.
Jack stood in mid-swipe, unsure of how to read the expression on the other's face. He kept his own facial features neutral as he sized up the volatile figure before him. When there was no other sound forthcoming, or any other display of movement apart from those brown eyes studying him, Jack dropped his arms and came to stiff attention, almost as if waiting for instructions.
The Doctor sighed and seemed to shift inside the brown overcoat wrapped around his frame. Had he lost weight, Jack wondered, the man was already as thin as the proverbial bean pole. Still he stood rigid, his own gaze riveted to a spot just beyond the familiar mop of brown hair that pointed in every direction at once and clenched his jaw to keep from busting out in a wide smile.
"You can relax, Captain," the Doctor's voice sounded tired.
Jack let his shoulders drop slowly and really took a good long look at the figure before him. There were a few more lines around the eyes, and it didn't appear that he'd shaved recently. This puzzled Jack as the Doctor was always diligent in his personal grooming, and now, even his clothing gave the impression it had been slept in as wrinkled as it was. This particular oversight was the most disconcerting as Jack knew the Time Lord rarely slept.
For once, Jack was speechless.
The Doctor stretched his neck forward peering closer at Jack, his brow furrowing and his mouth curling downward at the ends into a frown. Jack swallowed hard at the close scrutiny and his mouth went dry.
"How did you know about this place?" Jack shivered at the accusatory chill in those low spoken words. Suddenly the years of training for torturous interrogations seemed to pale in comparison to the rage that flittered about the edges of darkened pupils.
Jack took a deep steadying breath, all the while watching the Time Lord's face. "I had nowhere to go," he began quietly.
The Doctor cut him off abruptly. "Yep." Jack was unsure if it was malice he heard in that single word, or a sympathetic and all too well known voice of experience.
The Doctor's hardened features gave him the appearance of a harsh judge presiding over the sentencing of a condemned man for execution. The scenarios Jack had played over and over in his mind before this meeting had never entailed this awkward of a reunion, and he was at a loss on how to proceed.
"It's been a long time, Jack."
Just how long, Jack wondered. He peered more intently at the Time Lord who seemed to be leaning even farther forward, almost as if he was about to—
The words had no sooner formed in Jack's mind when the Doctor's eyes glazed over and he toppled, for want of a better description. His body remained stiff and rigid as a pole until Jack caught him. It was only Jack's instincts and swift reflexes that prevented the Time Lord from meeting the ground abruptly.
Jack was shocked to discover how little the Doctor weighed. What had happened to reduce him to such a state? Cradling the unconscious man in his arms, Jack lifted him easily and walked towards the TARDIS. The door swung open of its own accord and Jack understood he wasn't the only one concerned for the Doctor.
He nudged the door closed with his shoulder just as a voice called out, chilling him to the bone.
"Surely you're not leaving without me."
Jack knew that voice as well, if not better than his own. He'd heard that voice in his mind. That same voice echoed in his dreams, like a needle caught in the groove of a scratched record, running over and over, and over the same spot, until he'd wake in a cold sweat, positive the man who belonged to that voice was standing over him calling. Calling out, calling him, calling his name, and instead he'd find himself alone.
That voice almost paralyzed him, and the Doctor's body, as light as it was, began to slip from his arms.
Jack cried out. His cry, a half sob and choked word escaping simultaneously, sounded similar to the wail of a wounded animal. He pulled the limp body closer to him as if clinging to a life preserver, hugging the other man to his chest and collapsed back against the door. It closed with an ominously heavy click.
The two figures slid to the floor and Jack buryied his head into the Doctor's neck squeezed his eyes closed and whispered, "Go away, you're not real."
For a moment, there was only the quiet hum of the Time Rotor sitting in the center of the room accompanied by Jack's ragged breaths.
Then the knocking began. At first it was only a soft tapping. Tap, tap, tap. Followed by a pause of silence.
Jack held his breath.
The second time the knock became a little more insistent. No longer just one knuckle tapping lightly against the blue wooden panels, but now other knuckles had joined in, and the sound turned to a deeper, knocking. Knock, knock.
Jack lifted his head and slowly opened his eyes, a small sigh escaping in a hissing noise past his parted lips when he discovered they were indeed alone inside.
The third time the knock became more pronounced. Possibly a fist or toe of a boot beat loud punctuated thumps against the side of the ship that thundered inside and Jack felt each blow throughout his body.
This was definitely more solid than any dream. As Jack maneuvered to raise himself to his feet, still cradling the unconscious Time Lord in his arms, the ship began to shake.
"Don't think that you can keep me out, Jack." Came the all too familiar voice, and Jack suddenly understood this voice was real, and not another one of his dreams.