Not even the nightly bombing raids could stop people flocking to the Astoria Ballroom to dance and drink away their troubles. Jack had plenty of cares he wanted to dance away, such as the way the Doctor had abandoned him, seeing him as a temporal anomaly that could destroy the TARDIS. This night in particular he needed a distraction, aware he had been waiting to find the Doctor for so long but could not interfere with his younger version's first meeting.
On this very night he had danced in front of the clock face of Big Ben with Rose Tyler as the German bombers dropped bombs on the city below. It seemed like a lifetime ago, and in human years it was a lifetime since he'd become stranded on Earth.
Part of him considered finding his younger self and forewarning him, perhaps avoiding the future that left him immortal, but time was already fragile enough without him causing more anomalies. So he consoled himself with a drink at the bar, downing a scotch as he surveyed the heaving dance floor, contemplating how dances changed from generation to generation. A few Americans were trying to Jitterbug, swinging girls high before letting them drop back onto their feet. Jack smiled at their delighted screams.
That was when he saw Estelle for the first time. A fresh-faced girl of seventeen with a beaming smile and a big laugh that could be heard clear across the room... or so it seemed to Jack. She was lovely and vibrant, and when her eyes caught his Jack knew they would end up on the dance floor together before the end of the next song. He was right.
"You're first time here?" she asked as the energetic music gave way to a slow dance that quieted the room a fraction; Jack shook his head.
He offered her his hand and they made their way to the dance floor, slipping into a gap between the other slow-dancing couples. She barely came up to his shoulders, so small and slight, and yet Jack felt the strength of her personality, of her enthusiasm, and lust for living. She was curious too, asking him all manner of question before finally asking him his name.
"Captain Jack Harkness," he stated, still using the identity he had 'stolen' from a fallen officer so long ago, before he ended up stranded on Earth in 1869.
"Estelle. Estelle Cole."
"Estelle," he murmured and smiled as she buried her head against his shoulder; the music played on.
The months passed and Jack could honestly say he had not been so happy in a long time. Estelle was a breath of fresh air, full of life, and so inquisitive, always asking questions about the unseen world around them that even the nightly bombing raids could not deter. She believed in ghosts and spirits, in alien beings and time travel. She would have made a brilliant addition to Torchwood, or a great companion for the Doctor, but he didn't want her to be a part of that life, placed in constant danger.
By the end of that first summer he couldn't see a future without her.
"Say we'll be together until the day we die," she implored one night as they lay passion spent in each other's arms.
Jack caressed her soft skin, leaning in to place a gentle but firm kiss upon her upturned face. There was a saying that beauty was only skin deep and Jack agreed wholeheartedly. Estelle wasn't a classic beauty, and unjustly, some might have called her plain, but she was radiant to him.
Despite the insurmountable odds stacked against them Jack made a vow to her, believing he could keep his promise to be with her until the day she died, knowing he would likely go on alone without her. He believed she would be the one he could tell of his immortality, allowing him to stay with her even as she grew old. He almost told her the truth right then but pulled back at the last moment, distracting her with ardent kisses, his hands cupping one firm breast, caressing the nipple until it tightened and she moaned softly, deeply. He covered her, pushing inside her with a low moan of his own as he felt the sweet tightness of her body enveloping him. He knew he could prolong their pleasure indefinitely, until she was screaming for release but instead he moved quicker, thrusting deeper, gasping as her orgasm brought him over the edge too.
Ever the gentleman he ensured she was clean and comfortable, kissing her hair and holding her tight as she drifted off to sleep in his arms.
It was perfect, and good, perhaps too good; he thought they would have more time. Years, but everything changed the day she came back from visiting an exhibition at a local gallery.
"I saw copies of the Cottingley photographs. They are incredible," Estelle exclaimed. "To think that Fairies are real. They looked so beautiful, dancing, and joyous."
"Most people believe they're not real, and the photographs are fake."
Estelle narrowed her eyes, "But not you. You believe Fairies exist," she stated with absolute conviction even though he had never mentioned them to her.
Jack smiled tightly.
"I believe in a lot of things," he replied, unable to lie to her and say they were unreal when he had seen the evidence of them with his own eyes on a train in Lahore back in 1909.
Yet he could hardly tell her the truth because that had happened over three decades earlier and he still looked like a man in his mid-twenties. He still had nightmares occasionally, recalling how the train was plunged into darkness as it passed through a tunnel and how an eerie silence had descended. When the train came back out into sunlight every single man was dead except for him, every single one had suffocated with blood-red rose petals packed into their throats and spilling from their slack mouths. At the time Jack had no idea why he had been spared the same fate as his men for not all of them had been present when the little girl was killed, and yet all except him had been punished.
Jack had spent the next few decades researching Faerie folklore from numerous countries, even checking through the Torchwood archives to see if there was any greater insight into the creatures that had massacred his men. What he learned had sent shivers through him. Creatures as old as the Earth itself, able to move backwards and forwards through time at will. All had been human children once - chosen ones - sparking the stories of changelings and lost babes in the woods. The Faeries were incredibly dangerous as they had control of the elements of Fire, Earth, Air, and Water and were capable of wiping out all life on earth. Yet Torchwood had dismissed them as a threat because the Faeries tended to keep to themselves unless they or their Chosen One was harmed or threatened.
The little girl had been a chosen one.
"I want to learn more about them. I'm convinced creatures so beautiful cannot be vicious by nature. They are good and friendly, and to see them you must really love Nature. Spend time on the land and in the woods, and be pure of heart."
"You are so wrong, Estelle. These creatures are capricious and vengeful. Folklore rarely paints them in a good light for good reason. Don't go looking for them."
"But don't you see I have to. This is what I was meant to do with my life. I need to find them, Jack." She grew silent. "I've volunteered to join the Land Girls, to leave London and work in the countryside. Come with me," she begged.
"I... I can't." He had never lied to her except through omission, skirting the truth, or changing the subject if she asked a question he was not prepared to answer. He couldn't join her on this quest and he wished he could dissuade her but Jack could see the passion firing through her. It was one of the many reasons why he loved her so dearly. He felt a knife twist in his heart as a lie spilled from his lips. "I've been called back to service. I leave in a few days for France."
Her bright eyes grew fearful and she held onto him more tightly that night, as if sensing the end.
He kissed her goodbye two days later as she boarded a train heading out of London, and walked away with a heavy heart, knowing he might never see her again.
Jack had never forgotten Estelle and yet he was still surprised when he saw a small hand-printed poster advertising an evening discussing the Cottingley Fairies, hosted by Estelle Cole. Curiosity brought him to the small church hall and he slipped into the back, captivated once more by her beauty and her energy as if it had been only six days rather than six decades. Her chestnut locks had turned a beautiful silver-gray, and he shook his head as she stated once more how she believed the Fairies were gentle and friendly.
"Still so wrong about them, Estelle," he murmured.
He meant to leave before she spotted him but age had not diminished her sight, her eyes widening when she saw him.
"You look so much like someone I once knew," she stated, smiling wistfully. "The love of my life who slipped through my fingers."
He wanted to tell her he was the person she once knew; wanted to say he still loved her with all his heart, but it seemed too callous after all these decades apart so he told her a second lie.
"My father knew an Estelle Cole back in London during the Blitz. He talked of her often."
She smiled warmly. "You look so much like him. Is your father still with us?"
Perhaps lying to a loved one got easier because he had no regrets for saying, "No, he passed on a few years back."
She nodded gently as if expecting that response, then smiled wryly and looked at him askance. "Do you believe in Fairies?"
"I do... and you are wrong about them. They are not what they seem from those photographs."
"Your father said the same thing but I chose to differ."
He took her up on her offer of tea at a local cafe and the years seemed to fade away as he listened to her stories of the Fae, noticing she focused only on the good as if refusing to accept all the bad publicity garnered over thousands of years, of the Fae luring people to their deaths, playing tricks on them, and otherwise causing mayhem. She didn't mention any of the myths and legends of the Fae bringing death to those that crossed them. She could see only the good in them, in the angelic, childlike, smiling faces as they danced above their rings of stone.
Over the next two years Jack made a habit of visiting her home whenever he was not working on a case for Torchwood, feeling no regret at the subterfuge, not even when he leaned in one day and kissed her. She pulled back in shock.
"Jack! I'm old enough to be your mother... or your grandmother!"
"Age is just a moment in time. You're still a girl full of awe and wonder. Full of life and energy. That's what I see," he added, voice low and earnest, and when he leaned in again this time Estelle let him kiss her.
She was lighter than he remembered as he carried her to her bed, and her laughter lines were deeper, but her skin was still as soft as he caressed her silvered hair and kiss her once more. Half-forgotten memories resurfaced, drawing him back to those happy days in London during the Blitz.
Years later he tried to convince her not to move from her small country cottage into the town but she had learned of the stories surrounding the remnants of an old forest close to Cardiff. From ancient times it had been considered bad luck to walk through those woods, and even the Romans had steered clear of it. Even today only a few brave souls ever ventured too deep into Roundstone Woods. Most tiptoed carefully around the edges and were spared any ill will, but a few were tempted to collect firewood. Through the centuries all those he went too far reported strange sightings and weird weather patterns before succumbing to the strangest of afflictions or bad luck, often resulting in death.
The local people believed Roundstone Woods was haunted and forbade their children to play there even though none of the old myths had ever mentioned children being hurt in the woods.
Yet, despite what he knew of the Faeries, Jack never believed someone as gentle and kind of heart as Estelle would ever be considered a threat to their existence.
He was wrong.
For someone so bright and beautiful Jack was saddened when so few attended Estelle's funeral. He made certain she was laid to rest in a country churchyard under an ancient oak, back on the land where she belonged, far from the overcrowded towns and cities. Surprisingly Gwen and Ianto accompanied him even though Gwen was still angry with him. Once the service was over and Estelle's casket lowered into its quiet and lonely grave, Jack insisted on returning to the Fairy ring in Roundstone Woods, ordering the others to stay in the car. He didn't want them to be a part of what happened next.
Only a week had passed since Jasmine Pierce skipped off to join her 'friends' for all time - past, present, and future.
Gwen believed he could have done more to save the little girl but Jack knew he really had no choice. Perhaps if the child had even the slightest of doubts then he could have persuaded the Faeries to find another Chosen One but Jasmine already had one foot in their realm, seeing the old forest from thousands of years ago that used to stretch for hundreds of miles before being chipped away by 'civilization'. She had already started to transform into one of them... and she asked him to let her go.
He hadn't returned to Roundstone Woods for Jasmine as she had made her choice willingly.
Jack stood in the center of the stone ring and looked up towards the trees where he was certain they would be watching him.
"She never meant you any harm. She was gentle and pure of heart, and all she did was take a few pictures, which you could have chosen not to appear in. You didn't have to kill her," he whispered hoarsely, recalling her frightened voice in that final phone call as she realized the truth, that Jack had been right about their natures all along.
He thought he caught a glimpse of movement from the corner of his eye but otherwise nothing stirred. Even the breeze had died down completely leaving the air still and silent, with no sounds of birds or insects. Jack knew why they had left him alive on that train in Lahore. He was a fixed point in time. A temporal anomaly that must have momentarily confounded and confused them. Like them he was immortal but unlike them he could die, over and over, and they were capricious enough to torture him forever, and yet he owed it to Estelle and, yes, to himself to let them know how he felt about Estelle's untimely death.
"You didn't have to kill her," he repeated.
No answer came except in the absolute silence surrounding him, and with a heavy sigh he turned and walked away.
A few days later:
"Jack? Take a closer look at this," Gwen demanded.
Jack felt a pang of loss as Gwen focused on one of the Cottingley fairy photos taken by two young girls in the woods in 1917. Estelle had loved those photos, convinced they were real even though the girls had recanted their story and the authenticity of the photos a few years earlier. Gwen zoomed in on one of the fairy's frozen in mid-dance, and Jack startled for a moment as he recognized the sweet, smiling face . It was Jasmine Pierce, and though he still ached at having to let her go, at least he knew she was where she wanted to be.
He simply wished Estelle could have been here to see it too.