Never out of shame
Jack felt the warmth of the transport beam fade away as tears spilled down his cheeks. He breathed heavily, holding his head in his hands in frustration, venting his anger and inner turmoil with a exhale of rage. His teeth gritted together tightly as the wrath clenched his jaw almost into deadlock.
All he could see within his closed eyelids was Gwen's heart broken face crying at him. His insides turned as he breathed, nothing could be worse than this feeling and what was more, Jack would never be able to escape it. He'd live on, forever. Never forgetting, never escaping and always running. Gwen was wrong. He could run for the rest of his life and never look back but the memories would follow him to the end of the universe and back, Jack was aware of this as he suddenly had a thought.
He had become the Doctor.
Eternally running from what had been done, distracting himself with adventure and kidding himself that it was worth the sacrifice. Nothing was worth losing them; nothing in the entity of space and time would merit the loss of their lives.
A hand fell on his shoulder causing Jack to straighten up, wipe his burred vision and clear his throat. He turned on the spot and felt his heart stop. In bewilderment Jack flickered his gaze around the room and saw coral walls and a cerulean blue column hum quietly in the centre of the familiar space. His blue eyes met the ebony and brown gaze of a god. A whirlwind of confused and disorientating emotion ripped at his soul.
"Doctor?" Jack questioned.
"Captain" the Doctor responded with a nod, removing his arm and standing upright. His heavy gaze was more than he could bear, he felt under scrutiny and trapped. He was looking for an escape not a return to his old life.
"WHERE THE HELL WERE YOU?!" the blue eyed man yelled in ire, voice rasping from the ever cascading tears.
The Doctor remained silent and bowed his head down. Jack tried to decipher whether it was in shame or in expectancy as his own voice rang through the Tardis bridge, echoing back with a diluted indignation. His body was shaking as he struggled to stand and fight against the inner temptation to blame the Doctor for it all.
"The world was going to end and you weren't there. You left us all to die. Die at the hands of those alien drug-laundering bastards and you didn't even care, did you? DID YOU?!" Jack reeled. Again, silence.
"If you wanted to you could have saved us all and sent those m-" he began to be interrupted.
"Could I have Jack?" the Doctor returned softly, bringing his head from the ground.
Jack stared back the newfound hatred in his eyes dwindling with each passing second. The cornflower blue curled around the navy, subduing the tempest that was brewing.
"What could I have done?" the Time Lord added.
"Something, anything. Anything Doctor" Jack countered, eyes prickling and his voice quivering like a leaf in an autumn breeze "You saw what Gwen said. And don't lie to me I know you did" the Doctor remained impassive. He simply remained at the console's side, not blinking, not reacting; numb "Was that the real reason you didn't come?" Jack questioned.
"No. Never" the Doctor stated adamantly.
"Doctor you protect us so much and yet sometimes you just don't appear, why? Gwen was going to ask me that and so help me if she did I wouldn't be able to answer, I have no answer for that" his friend proceeded, still rooted to the spot.
"Its not just Earth, Jack. Ever thought about that?" the Doctor started, raising his eyebrows "I have to look after every species in every moment of every planet, solar system, galaxy, nebulae within this universe. I have a duty to every living thing. Evil, good, vengeful, scared, alone, lost, found, new and old, gaseous, human, alien...all of them need to be watched. They all need help whether it is showing mercy or being saved from the merciless. As a Time Lord I have to make decisions. Pompeii or the Earth, the universe or Rose" he paused, his voice cracking under the intense pressure he had with the chosen uttered words "I sacrifice myself and hope that in some way I can let the people I have saved save themselves. Yes, I leave Earth to its own resources once in a while, because I have to. Whether it be a fixed event in time or because I am saving another civilisation, but you can be sure of this - it is never out of shame - not matter how easy it can be to be ashamed of humanity"
Jack felt the words hit him with excruciating force, pounding into his flesh with every breath taken. The Doctor had burned into his mind, de-fabricating his thoughts of a Doctor that turned his back willingly and reconstructing a Doctor that mirrored himself. A sacrificial Doctor who can save the world to watch it destroy itself once more.
"Jack I know what you did, and I thank you for it" the Doctor continued as he observed his eyes falling to the metal floor.
"I don't want a thank you" Jack gulped, his troubled expression plaguing his face.
"You understand me more than you realise, you know" the Time Lord informed, walking toward his friend slowly.
"Wish I didn't" was the response "I lost them Doctor. All of them, I had to watch my grandson die whilst my daughter" his voice trailed off as a sob racked his chest "They said they needed someone who didn't care all those years ago" Jack elaborated, disdain choking the sentence.
With that the Doctor wrapped his arms around Jack and held him tight. The immortal man fell into the embrace, crumbling as the regrets of his life swallowed him, causing him to deteriorate and lose control. The Doctor stared outwards as the grown man cried. His face stony and unmoving as the sobs escaped into every crevasse of the Tardis, rebounding of the metallic surfaces with melancholy.
"Why did you come for me Doctor?" Jack said, moving from the Time Lord, blinking widely.
"When you run, you don't have to be alone" the Doctor assured, dropping his arms to his sides. Jack gave a half smile as did the Doctor, the pair giving a short and through nod in accord.
It would have been day six but Alice Carter stood in a lonely spot, no other person was there except for a man in white vestments, holding a small leather book over a hole in the damp grass. Dew lingered on the green blades that framed the area, shining the sunlight.
Her face was wet like the grass, several dew drops having made their way to her cheeks and holding onto her pale face with no purpose but to be an emotional remnant. She stared downwards and the four-foot box, the beech light against the dark earth with its golden plaque reflecting the summer rays. Heart thudding torpidly Alice parted her dry lips and brought her gaze to the fir trees that shrouded the weather-beaten stones that rose from the ground only thirty meters away.
"Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The Lord bless him and keep him, the Lord make his face to shine upon him and be gracious unto him and give him peace. Amen."
Alice had forgotten that where she was for a moment, and shook her head pointedly to remind herself what was happening. It was a blur and painful, she didn't want to remember where she was but she had to. Her son was lying in a box that should not exist because of her father. Her father that she never wanted to see again as he was responsible for taking the most precious thing in her life and ripping it from her grasp without remorse.
The old man who had been speaking placed a hand on her shoulder and whispered a few insignificant words before walking away before a gentle wind curled around her empty body. It anchored Alice to her place at the graveside. She wouldn't let herself fall and cry for hours whilst grasping the dew drop jeweled grass. Alice would not break down screaming with turmoil and announcing to this haunt for the dead that she had let the unforgivable happen. A few fragile blossom petals adorned her son's coffin mockingly like confetti as though congratulating her loss. The childless mother stood she whipped her head up again, staring into the aged pine trees, her eyes took in the sight as two men returned her stare, hands behind their backs and long overcoats flapped in their wake. She recognized the one as the murderer who brought her life and the other was unknown yet familiar, a figment of her imagination. Alice felt as though she wanted to look at that man but in the same instant divert her eyes. He had the same aura as her father - the trusting deception in his eyes that flickered as a front, shrouding a death decorated past.
Alice exhaled through her nose, giving a nod to acknowledge their presence. The pair mirrored the gesture. The empty space between them was soon countered as one man approached; unfortunately for Alice it was her father. He had no tears in his eyes, just as she expected.
"How can you stand there and then have the nerve to come over to me" she stated.
"I haven't, I am here because I have to be here" Jack enlightened "Just like I'll be here when you die" he voiced without emotion.
"What, out of shame?" Alice asked with a hint of sarcasm, her green stare bore into his blue eyes coldly.
"No. Never out of shame" Jack answered calmly.
"Then why are you here, and who is that?" his daughter persisted, dipping her head to the figure who was set a bit away, the shadows of the foliage adding a darkness and suspicious eminence to the stranger.
"You know who he is" Jack replied with a knowing look "And I am here to say I am sorry"
"Because that will make it all better" she spat, ignoring the first comment "Steven is dead because of you" she trembled. Hard expression faltering.
"Steven is dead because he is a fixed point in time and space, just like me" her father stated "He had to die"
"Nobody has to die dad" Alice cried.
"That's what I thought, but what about me? I should die but I don't. I have to live" the immortal explained, leaving Alice silent "This is the last time you'll see me sweetheart, I just hope you can forgive me in time" Jack continued.
"What do you mean the last time" she returned quickly. Jack remained unmoving and just looked back "and how can I? You killed my son, your grandson...as much as I want to forgive you Dad, I just can't" Alice explained, shaking her head with tear glazed eyes.
Jack lowered his eyes weightily, absorbing her response as water streamed from one of his blue pools and followed the contour of his face "There's something I want to give you" he started, turning back. His friend in turn diverted his gaze behind himself.
"You think that solves-" his daughter sighed, shaking her head. However Alice's voice trailed off as a familiar blonde boy ran from behind the stranger straight toward her. She couldn't breathe as she saw him. Her eyes met her father's.
"That's not fair Dad" she struggled, shoulders rising with an inhaling sob.
"It's him Alice, I wiped his mind from what happened, its as though the 456 never existed" Jack instructed.
"It can't be" she refused, looking passed him at the joyous face.
"But you believe me" her father noted quietly. Alice stared at him and he stared back, she dropped her head gradually and then drew it back up "You remember the man I told you about when you were little? The impossible man who saved the world?"
"That was a story Dad, a child's story" Alice said determinedly.
"How come no other kids knew it then?" Jack questioned as the little boy approached with outstretched arms.
"Mum!" Steven smiled, wrapping his arms around her middle "Mum I went with uncle Jack to the moon! And I met the Doctor!" he garbled cheerfully, blue eyes wide and looking up to his 'uncle'. He tugged at his shocked mother, who just glared at Jack.
Jack shrugged his shoulders with a small smile before turning to his grand child "But we're keeping it a secret aren't we kiddo?" he grinned, raising his eyebrows. With that Steven brought a finger to his lips.
"Thank you" Alice smiled softly, eyes welling up as she wound her hands around her son protectively.
"Don't thank me" Jack responded sombrely.
"It doesn't change anything though" she added "Doesn't change what happened" she elaborated.
The smile on Jack's face faded further as he looked into his daughter's eyes. After a delayed moment Jack hauled a smile back onto his face "I love you" he reminded. Not breaking the shared glance. Alice simply removed her arms from her son and placed one onto his shoulder "Say bye to uncle Jack, Steven"
He obeyed, hanging his arms around his 'relative's' neck so that Jack could hold him tightly "Love you too" he whispered into his ear "and be good for your mum, alright?"
Steven nodded with a wide grin at his uncle, who rose from the crouched position and straightened his shoulders. He looked at his daughter and grandchild one last time before turning on his heel and walking away. Jack felt an anaesthetized sensation spread throughout his body as he encroached the Doctor but tears gave away his emotional state, the rest of his body refusing to react.
The Tardis waited behind the trees, the Doctor leading the way as Jack trudged behind. He couldn't resist looking back again and so allowed himself to turn his head. Alice was on her knees and holding Steven tightly to her kissing his forehead and cheeks shakily.
"You coming Jack?" the Doctor asked, having stopped in the doorway of his ship, observing his companion with a sympathetic gaze.
"Yeah, it's time to run" he replied, his family departing the empty graveside hand in hand. Releasing a sigh and advancing toward the ship Jack concluded quietly "there's nothing left now" as he shifted passed a soundless Time Lord, allowing him to close the door on another of Jack's lives.