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Unforgotten

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"Enjoy!"

The Doctor ignored the barkeep's bright smile and took his hot drink with a wordless grunt. He walked over the gravelly ground, past benches and people illuminated by colourful lanterns. He picked himself a seat at the far end of the fenced outdoor space, sat down with his back to everyone else, and looked out over the hillside and the moons-lit coast below.

The seaside town looked peaceful, and so did the sea below, calm and glittering under the triple moons. Much like it had looked at first, the last time he'd been here.

The sea had withdrawn, the town had been rebuilt, and it had a flood-dome now, force fields strong enough to withstand several times the force of the tsunami that had levelled it. That had been centuries ago now, but memory-images of the devastation still flickered across the Doctor's vision.

He hadn't drowned in the tsunami, of course. He had a respiratory bypass. And he'd been lucky not to be slammed into anything hard enough to kill him.

Lucky.

Unlike the friend he'd dragged here, just because he'd been telling her about the Church of the Inexorable Gnat and she hadn't believed him. Unbidden, memories of her face sparked through his thoughts, and after a moment's stubborn resistance, he let them come, facing them open-eyed.

From behind him, steps approached, crunching over the gravel. The Doctor's spine stiffened in sharp, unexpected recognition, but he didn't turn.

A pause, just long enough to be uncomfortable; then the steps came around, and Jack sat down next to him, flashing him a grin and nudging him with a shoulder. The Doctor jerked away and glared.

"What's a good-looking guy like you doing," Jack asked, undeterred, voice low and eyes bright, "sitting back here all on his own?"

Stop it, the Doctor nearly said, from long habit - a pattern maintained across regenerations. Then again, one day Jack might actually listen. Today might even be that day.

Yeah, right.

He huffed, pro forma, because that was the script, and gave Jack his best indignant tone. "Are you flirting with me?"

Jack laughed, low and genuine. "Aren't I always?"

The Doctor ran a hand through his hair and grimaced. "So you still know who I am," he said. He honestly hadn't been sure. Only when Jack's eyes suddenly focused on him, playfulness replaced with something sharp and intent, did he realise the still had slipped into the acknowledgment.

Jack's presence next to him, when he allowed himself to feel it, burned in his time sense, too scorching to look at for long. It should have seared the thought straight from the Doctor's mind, should have distracted him. But his subconscious, the Doctor thought with irritation, wasn't letting him off that easily.

"Sorry," Jack quipped, rolling his eyes somehow without losing that penetrating sharpness, "not getting rid of me that easily," uncannily echoing the Doctor's own thoughts.

The Doctor felt his lips draw up and his eyebrows lower, his face pulling tight without his conscious decision. Letting out another huff, he gave in. "No, seriously," he said, curt and accusing, "why haven't you forgotten me yet?"

Jack's face suddenly went very still. He took a sip from his steaming cup to cover his reaction, and the Doctor remembered the drink in his own hand. He lifted it to his mouth, but it had grown cold, and with a grimace and a revolted shake of the head he put it on the table, pushing it far away from him.

Stillness had never lasted long on Jack’s face. It melted quickly, and he grinned as he watched, the skin around his eyes and his lips crinkling in long-engraved patterns.

"Well?" the Doctor demanded.

Jack leaned in, and the Doctor could feel his breath on his cheek as he said, "You're just that unforgettable." All fake innocence and deflection.

The Doctor pulled back, scowling. "How old are you now?"

Jack gave a seemingly careless shrug. "About five thousand years, give or take," he said, throwing out the answer in the same tone he might have commented on the weather, "not counting the times I spent mostly dead or in stasis. Why?"

The Doctor gave him a sharp smile, one that showed teeth. "And we’ve spent time together all of a handful of times," he said, with sharp and bitter triumph as Jack made his point for him. "Granted, I'm pretty impressive, but still." He poked at Jack's shoulder, then at the side of his head. Jack fended him off, smirking. "You're human - how's your memory not overspilling?"

Now it was Jack's turn to grimace, the smirk falling away as if it had never been. The Doctor almost felt guilty for that. Almost.

Jack looked away. "I thought you knew."

The Doctor bit his lips. "Didn't want to know," he snapped.

But Jack was a fixed point in space and time, and that meant more than simply not being able to die. The Doctor had known this much, after the year they'd spent on the Valiant, ages ago - Jack's mind could be no more truly broken than his body, both always repairing themselves. He'd hoped - oh, he'd hoped the memories would fade.

Because if not - if Jack's memory was as eternal as his body, then Jack couldn't forget, not any of it, even if he'd have liked to. The darkest and most painful moments of his life couldn't dull with distance, from physical torture to grief and loss – the best and happiest days that were dead and lost, never to return - all of it always as fresh and present as the first day, whenever he allowed his thoughts to wander in that direction.

They sat quietly together, looking out at the silent sea beyond, shoulders almost touching. Neither of them said anything more; both of them tried not to remember too much.

"What brought that on?" Jack asked after a moment, and he turned to find blue eyes focused on him, no trace of flirtation in them now.

Wondering what it would be like to be able to forget, the Doctor didn't say.

"I don't like being forgettable," he said instead, pulling up the corners of his mouth, flashing a flippant grin, then settling back into a comfortable scowl. "Just making sure."

Jack blinked, eyelashes reflecting the lantern light, and when he looked at the Doctor again, he was clearly laughing on the inside. That was Jack for you: nothing could keep his humour down for long.

"I promise you're not," Jack said, leaning forward, curling a hand around the Doctor's neck, bringing their foreheads together. "Like I said - entirely unforgettable, I swear."

Then soft lips pressed against the Doctor's, warm in the cool air, until the Doctor's spine loosened and he wrapped an arm around Jack, holding him close, kiss against scowl and memory against memory.