Summary: In the years between the Game Station and the end of the universe, Jack Harkness has a lot more time to think than he really wants.
Character: Jack Harkness
Word Count: 1,084
Original Story: Unspeakable Lists by glinda_penguin
Notes: Title is taken from “Question” by The Moody Blues. Thanks to alixtii for the beta.
In the years between the Game Station and the end of the universe, Jack Harkness has a lot more time to think than he really wants. The first things he learns not to dwell on are all the questions he wants to ask the Doctor. There are a lot of them at first, but as time goes by he distills them down into just a few.
How do you keep from forgetting things?
A century is a long time. After a few decades of immortality Jack finds himself forgetting things—small things at first, faces and names of passing acquaintances, the combinations for the locks in Torchwood’s least-used archive rooms, the words to that stupid song his partner kept playing during that endless five-year loop. Then one day he realizes he can’t remember exactly what Rose looked like, or what she was wearing when he met her, or how to get to his bedroom on the TARDIS. He writes down everything he can remember about travelling with the Doctor and Rose (though encoded in a language no one else on Earth will know for another three centuries).
A year later Torchwood develops Retcon, a precursor to the Time Agency’s memory-suppressing drug of choice. That’s when he starts getting obsessive about record-keeping. He combs the archives and his quarters for photographs, letters, notes, anything written that he can use to jog his memory of the really important things. He doesn’t start to keep a journal, but he does start to keep personal copies of mission reports that are personally significant. Everything he can’t bear to forget. He knows he’ll never forget the Doctor, but he might forget why the Doctor’s important, what he needs from him, the questions he wants to ask him. So he writes it all down. Then he locks all of it away in stacks of paper in boxes in hidden places that he doesn’t have to look at unless he wants to. The questions go at the bottom of a box where he’ll never see them by accident.
How can you stand to remember?
The feel of Gray’s hand slipping away from his was the first thing in his life he’d give anything to be able to forget. But he couldn’t, because then he wouldn’t remember how important it was to look for him, why he’d joined the Time Agency in the first place. So he just … didn’t think about it much as he did whatever he needed to survive in the Agency and use its resources on the sly to look for Gray so he could rescue him before anything bad happened to him.
After a few years with Torchwood, he has a lot of other things he’d like to forget. He wants to remember the good times, the sunny days and laughter, lovemaking that was more than just sex, times when everybody lives. Instead, every time he closes his eyes he sees friends and coworkers dying, or twisted by Torchwood until there’s nothing recognizable. He knows the Doctor has lost many things, many people, over the centuries, though he never talked about it; surely, he must have some way to forget the horrors. Now that Jack may live to be as old as him—now that Jack may live to be older, if the Doctor can’t fix him—he needs to know how to do that, too.
He’s finally given up the last shred of hope of ever seeing Gray again. Now that he can finally allow himself to let go, that last memory of him haunts his dreams.
Did you ever love me?
The Doctor loves Rose, Jack knows, and he doesn’t begrudge either of them that. The Doctor has a big heart, he loves everyone he meets (except Daleks), wants to save them from whatever it is that they need saving from: enemies, friends, the world, themselves. If there’s one thing Jack learned in his time with the Doctor, it’s that everyone needs saving, and you can’t truly save them unless you love them, even just a little bit. And the Doctor loves everyone he meets, or at least tries to on some level.
The Doctor saved Jack, but that doesn’t mean he loves him, specifically, as more than just any old human. Rose liked Jack, loved him (though not as much as she loved the Doctor), and it’s quite possible that saving Jack was an act of love for Rose, not Jack himself. At the time, Jack thought that was okay, thought he’d have time to win him over, seduce the Doctor into loving him. But he was only with the Doctor and Rose for a few weeks before they abandoned him on a station filled with the dead. He tells himself it wasn’t intentional, that they thought the Daleks had killed him like they’d killed everyone else, that they hadn’t known about … whatever it was that brought him back. It doesn’t silence the voice in the back of his head that says, if they really loved him, they’d have stayed to make sure.
Can you forgive me?
He knows what the Doctor would say if he knew some of the things Jack has done, some of the things Torchwood has done that Jack has stood by and allowed to happen. ‘I had no choice’ is not an excuse to the Doctor. Now for the first time in his life Jack understands what it’s like to want to do the right thing and not be able to, and the only way he can stand it is to stop thinking about anything but the job that needs to be done. He can feel himself getting harder, knows the Doctor would be horrified by what he’s turning into. He can’t stop it without leaving Torchwood, and leaving them without what little guidance and ethics he can provide would be the worst thing he can do. Besides, then he wouldn’t be around to find the Doctor when he arrives, and Jack has given up everything for the Doctor. If he gave up waiting for him, there would truly be nothing left of him.
He’s just not sure that he’ll be able to look the Doctor in the eye when they finally meet again.
Jack spends a lot of time thinking about his questions, and a lot more time not thinking about them.
But when he finally sees the Doctor again, the question he didn’t write down is the only one he can bear to ask.
Read the companion fic Hard to Swallow (the Percolation Remix)