“More to the left,” the Doctor opined. “Your left, Jack, that’s the one on this side, in case you’d missed it.”
“No one likes a backseat driver,” Jack snapped, through gritted teeth. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m trying to concentrate here.”
Jack’s knuckles were white as he gripped the steering wheel. Trees and rock walls whipped past them too fast to see. Just keeping control of the hovercraft was almost as much as he could handle at this speed. Trying to avoid the obstacles that kept cropping up in their path- boulders, small trees, the odd bear- was even worse. “Any chance you could do something about the engines, Doctor? I mean, I can keep this up all day, but unless we get the engines shut down, we’re going to be in trouble sooner or later.”
The Doctor was already hanging off the side of the hovercraft, his leg looped through the side railing. The sonic screwdriver did him no good, and it almost flew out of his hand as Jack swerved to avoid a mulberry bush. The branches scraped his arm as they flew by. “The engine casing is deadlock sealed!” the Doctor shouted, over the wind noise. He twisted, and pulled himself back onto the top platform. “No way in! You’ll have to ditch it!”
“What?” Jack shouted back, incredulously. “You want me to crash this thing on purpose?”
“You said it yourself- if we can’t get the engines shut down, we’ll crash eventually. Better to do it on our schedule, and not the cliff face’s!”
Jack was silent for a moment, as he swerved around three stone pillars in quick succession. “Well, far be it from me to argue with myself!” he said. “Alright, Doctor, I think I see a decent spot. Hold on!” Jack aimed the hovercraft and locked the controls. In one swift move he turned and barreled into the Doctor. They both flew off the side of the hovercraft, Jack’s arms locked around the Time Lord.
They smashed straight into a tree. Jack had positioned himself so that his body would shield the Doctor from impact. As they crashed into the tree, Jack’s spine made a sickening crunch noise. Then they were tumbling through branches, crashing and snapping off twigs before slamming into the ground. For some time, both men lay still in a heap of coat and twisted limbs on the ground. In the distance, there was an explosion as the hovercraft smashed into the side of the gorge.
Finally, groaning, the Doctor moved. Jack, his neck at an odd angle, did not. The Doctor rolled him gently onto his back, and sighed. “Oh, Jack,” he whispered, sadly. He reached over and realigned the dead man’s neck.
He did not wait long. Jack’s neck snapped into place, and his whole body arched up in concert with the gasp that always marked his resurrections. “Aaaand, we’re back!” Jack said, sitting up. “You okay, Doctor?”
“That wasn’t necessary, Jack,” the Doctor snapped, his face dark. “I didn’t mean you to do that.”
“Do what?” Jack asked, disingenuously. He stood up, pulling bark and leaves out of his hair.
“Jaaack,” the Doctor drawled in warning tones. “You know what I meant.”
“You never let me have any fun,” Jack said, grinning. He held out a hand. “Besides, when did you get all squeamish about watching me die? Last I knew, you were the one saying, ‘Oh, Jack, you should go into the room with the disintegrating radiation, that stuff probably won’t kill you.’”
“That was a completely different situation. You can’t even compare the two. And besides-” The Doctor broke off. He got to his feet, and began checking himself for broken bones and errant twigs. He was sore, and had his share of cuts and bruises, but nothing serious.
“Besides, what?” Jack asked, pulling a few leaves off the Doctor’s back. “You can’t start sentences like that and just leave them.”
“I can if I like,” the Doctor answered. He did a last inspection of his coat, and turned round to face Jack, a strange half-smile on his face. He paused for a moment, and then spoke. “If I knew more about what happened to you, Jack, I’d know more about what might kill you in the end. But there’s only ever been one you.” He shrugged, helplessly. “There’s so much death, in my life. A pile of bodies as high as the stars.” He broke off, looking away from Jack. “I never wanted it to be that way.”
“Handy thing about me, though,” Jack said, lightly. “I’m never going to be on that pile, no matter how many trees I throw myself into.”
The Doctor winced. It was small, but obvious to Jack. “Wait,” Jack said. “It’s not me dying that bothers you, is it? You weren’t upset when I died in the Vortex, following you and Martha to Utopia. You didn’t mind when I died of electric shock in Yana’s lab. You weren’t even bothered about me dying when... well, the Valiant.” Jack shook his head. “But now, you’re lecturing me. So that means... it’s my intent that bothers you.”
“I asked you once if you wanted to die. You, as I recall, avoided the question.” The Doctor leaned back against a tree, his arms crossed.
Jack sighed. “So, me intentionally putting myself in a position where I might die makes you wonder- has he changed his mind?” Jack paused. “Would it really matter if I had, Doctor? I’ve survived everything I can think of that might kill me. I’ve died often enough to be pretty sure that whatever this is keeping me alive, it’s not just going to run out someday.”
“Of course it matters, Jack!” The Doctor looked testy. “It’s not about whether you might die or not. It’s about life.”
“Do you know that I’m technically older than you, Doctor? I mean, granted, I wasn’t conscious for most of the thousand years that I was buried underground, but still.”
“You’re evading again,” the Doctor said, frowning.
“I’m not,” Jack said, walking closer to the Doctor. “It’s just that, eventually, the question seems kinda pointless. My life is- what was it you said? A fact. A straight line, going forward and forward and forward forever. My opinions aren’t going to change that.”
“It might not.” The Doctor’s eyes, dark and bottomless, met Jack’s for only a moment. “But it would change you.”
“Why mess with perfection?” Jack asked, grinning. He paused, looking away. “I understand about life, Doctor. After all this time, these centuries, I understand about life, and death, and the way that people, real people, are here and then gone forever. I know the way only an outsider can how precious and impermanent it all is.” He reached out and touched the Doctor’s shoulder. The Doctor flinched, but did not draw away. “Malcassairo was... a long time ago for me. Maybe death will find me some day. I don’t know. But I’m not running towards it.”
The Doctor regarded him for a long moment, his face unreadable. “We’d best get moving,” he said, finally. “It’s a long hike back to the camp, and the Cardinal may have sent someone to make sure that we’re really dead.”
“Race you back,” Jack said, and took off running.