The old priest felt that familiar noise before he heard it. Glancing at the clock it was just after 1:30 in the morning, and he pulled himself upright, groaning. He couldn't just jump out of bed and hit the ground running like he used to. Pulling on whatever clothes he could find, he said a little prayer to St. Anthony that he found two matching socks and grabbed his stole from a table by the door. He slipped into the church by a side door and into a confessional not fifteen minutes later. When he was younger, he could do it in five minutes.
"Bless me, Father, for I have sinned..."
The old priest sighed. "Doctor, you're not Catholic, and I can't give you absolution. You don't believe in our God. Hell, you're not even sure you believe in your own. You know the sacraments are for Catholics, and it's not like Canon Law has a section on extraterrestrials, anyway. But since you've gotten an old priest out of bed, the least you can do is buy coffee."
They walked in silence, or at least as silent as Brooklyn ever is. Fr. Michael had been at St. Timothy's for at least twenty years, and another parish in New York for a good ten years before that. He met the Doctor by accident when a statue assassin had taken up residency in his first parish when he was a new priest, just back from a stint as an Army chaplain in Vietnam. He had seen so much brokenness over there, and coming home to even more hurt and pain was making him lose his faith in humanity when he met the alien. For the Doctor, where there was life there was hope.
They sat for a few minutes under the fluorescent lights of the all-night diner a few blocks away from the church. Fr. Michael sipped his coffee, leaned back in the seat and said, "So are you going to tell me why you dragged me out of bed at 1:30 in the morning, or did you just want to have some of the delicious sludge they call 'coffee' here?" The sole waitress gave him a look that would peel paint, priest or no.
The Doctor handed Fr. Michael a little gold object. It was a kind of metal locket that held relics. In the inside was a tiny label that said "S. Mychal Judge, martyr."
"You might want to hold onto that for a few years yet before showing it to other people," the Doctor said as he sipped his coffee. "Oh, you know, I just like your scintillating conversation." The Doctor grinned broadly.
Fr. Michael pocketed the relic gently. "As much as I appreciate the gift, your last statement is what we in the business call 'bullshitting,' and we're not going to get anywhere, me certainly not back to bed, if you don't give me the whole truth, and not the half-assed Time Lord version of truth, either."
Fr. Michael had seen the Doctor's exuberance and joy in living. He'd seen the Doctor's rage, but the emotion that scared Fr. Michael the most was his sorrow. In a voice cracking with grief, the Doctor said, "I couldn't save him..."
"You're talking the incident with Saxon?" Fr. Michael answered softly.
The Doctor recounted all that had happened between their experience on Malcassairo and its resolution. Fr. Michael listened to it all, amazed that one person could withstand so much.
"And all through it all," the Doctor continued, "I was so horrible to Jack and Martha. Martha has saved my life more times than I can count, and I've ignored her. I abandoned Jack in the year 200,100, and when he caught up to me, I treated him like a thing. Seeing the Master kill him over and over again..." The Doctor broke off, blinking.
"What the hell do you say to someone who's easily 900 years your senior, has god-like power, and has lived through more than you could possibly dream--or have a nightmare about?" Fr. Michael thought, while swallowing the last of his now-cold coffee, trying to take it all in. Saying a quick prayer for guidance, he leaned back.
"You know, we believe that nobody is beyond redemption. If you possibly could, would you have helped the Master?" Fr. Michael thought he knew the answer already, but he had to hear it. The Doctor nodded, quietly blinking back tears. "You did everything you possibly could. If he was here right here, right now, you'd do everything you could to help the guy. You know this. Everyone who matters in your life knows this. There's nothing more you can do beyond hope for mercy in whatever afterlife is out there, know what I mean?"
"And fortunately for you--I'm extrapolating that free will applies to any sentient being because we didn't exactly talk about ministering to ET and his buddies in seminary--that means the same hope for mercy for the sadistic shitheads is there for the good guys," Fr. Michael continued. "Yeah, you screwed up good with Martha and Jack, and I'm sure you're going to have to deal with fallout from that. But if there's one thing I know is that they both love you. And when you truly love someone, you're willing to suffer the crap that comes from living intimately with another person, good and bad. You bump into each other. You piss each other off. And you know what? You both grow from it."
Fr. Michael paid the bill, as he always did since the Doctor only carried a few strange coins of some alien world he'd been to previously. They walked back to the rectory in silence. Stopping in front of the TARDIS, they leaned against her peeling exterior and looked at the stars. The light was just beginning to get rosy in the east. They were delivering papers across the street, and somewhere a bird chirped.
Fr. Michael turned to the Doctor. He didn't need to hear a trite formula. He knew if the Doctor said it, he meant it. Uncharacteristically gently, he turned to the Doctor and said, "I'm going to get shit from my bishop about this if he finds out, but whatever. For your penance, you need to do something genuinely nice for Martha and Jack, something unexpected." He thought he saw a weight lift from the Doctor's shoulders briefly when he began the words of absolution, but it was the Doctor's characteristic goofy grin that convinced him that all would be well with the world again.
The Doctor bounded off inside the TARDIS, but ducked his head out, asking: "You want a trip anywhere? I wouldn't mind the company..."
"Hey thanks, Doc, but I got daily Mass in a few hours," He responded, turning the key in the rectory door.
"Of course with 'Time and Relative Dimensions in Space,' the operative word is time...you could get a good night's sleep, since I've kept you up all night, you could have a little vacation, and we'd still get you back before the sacristan shows up."
"Lemme get my bag," and the priest bounded up the stairs to his room and threw a change of clothing, his battered breviary, a toothbrush, and an extra pair of socks into a bag. He left a note for the housekeeper that he'd be back in a bit, and locked the door behind him. The door to the TARDIS stood open, and he stepped through. A few seconds later, there was a rush of wind, and they were gone.
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