Jack slid the old vinyl LP out of its cardboard case, taking care to only touch the edge and the centre label. Setting it carefully on the turntable, he pressed the start button and watched as the record started to spin, thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute.
The tone arm raised itself up, swinging across to drop gently onto the edge of the spinning black disc, and soft music filled his office; Glenn Miller, Moonlight Serenade, one of his favourites. It brought back so many memories of the war years, friends and acquaintances, the people he’d served with, most now dead, even those who came through World War Two more or less in one piece.
Vinyl had long gone out of fashion, replaced by CDs, smaller and generally more durable; compact discs by name and nature, taking up much less space than the old seventy-eights, twelve inch albums and seven inch singles ever had. But in some respects, despite being born in the far future, Jack was still old-fashioned at heart. He loved the crackle and hiss of a record. On CD, the sounds of the Forties and Fifties, his favourite earth era, somehow sounded hollow and soulless, like the heart of the music had been cut out, whereas on vinyl they sounded… lived in.
Settling into the chair behind his desk, he leant back, legs stretched out in front of him and crossed at the ankles; elbows on the chair arms, fingers laced together on his chest, he closed his eyes. The music filtered through his ears and into his mind, carrying him back through the decades to a time when men in uniform danced with girls in pretty dresses, before being sent back into combat, never knowing if they’d live to come home again.
Life was precious back then because of the uncertainty. People often met, fell in love, and married quickly, unwilling to waste time they might not have. A lot of young girls became widows before they even had a chance to really be wives. Some found themselves raising a child alone, and times could be hard what with rationing, and yet overall people had seemed content with their lot. So much had changed since then, and not all of it for the better.
Jack had met Estelle at one of those dances, captivated by her laughter and her sparkling eyes as he spun her across the dance floor. They’d packed so much into the short time they’d had together before his plane had been shot down over France. He’d been killed along with his crew, but had revived and been smuggled back to England by Torchwood.
Knowing he couldn’t contact his beautiful Estelle had almost broken his heart, but he’d known it was for the best. What kind of a life could he have offered her anyway? He’d known he couldn’t tell her the truth, and had convinced himself it would be less painful for her to believe he’d been killed in combat than if he came back into her life and then broke up with her. Perhaps in reality he’d been thinking more of himself, knowing that Estelle would remember him as a heroic RAF pilot rather than as the heartless cad who broke her heart.
The last track on side one faded out, the tone arm lifting automatically and returning to its rest as the spinning record slowed to a stop, but Jack didn’t move, his mind still miles away and decades in the past. He sat there in silence until the soft scuff of shoe leather on concrete brought him out of his reverie, and he looked up to see Ianto in the office doorway.
“Hey, I thought you’d gone home.”
“Not quite yet, I had a few things to finish up first. Owen must’ve been bored today; he finished all his reports for the last month, so I had those to check and file, and the firing range to clean up from your practice session earlier. Thought I’d see if there was anything you needed before I left.”
Jack had been frustrated after a phone conversation with UNIT earlier in the day and had taken his bad mood out on the paper targets before being pulled away by a Rift alert. “Ah, sorry about that. I meant to go back down and clear up, but I sort of forgot.”
“No problem. I know you’ve got a lot on your mind today.” Ianto crossed the office to perch on the edge of Jack’s desk, gesturing to the box of photos open on his blotter, a picture of a vibrant, dark-haired girl on the top. “A year ago today. Are you okay?”
Jack smiled, nodding. “I think so. I took flowers to her grave this morning, early, and spent some time there. I can accept that she’s gone, but she should’ve died peacefully in her bed, not alone and cold in the dark, drowned by a freak storm. I wish I’d been there to help her.”
“It wasn’t your fault.”
“I know. The Faerie are fickle and capricious, they most likely would have killed Estelle no matter what I did, but knowing that doesn’t stop me wishing things could’ve turned out differently.”
Ianto nodded. “I know that feeling.”
“Yeah, I guess you do.”
Abruptly, Jack uncrossed his legs, got to his feet, and walked to the record player, which Ianto had bought for him to replace the one damaged beyond repair when they’d opened the Rift a few months back. Only the fact that Jack’s records were kept in sturdy storage cases had protected them from suffering a similar destruction. Turning the LP over, he pressed the button, setting it spinning again, and as the first notes of side two filled the air, he returned to Ianto, holding out his hand.
“Dance with me?”
Ianto hesitated a moment, then shrugged. “Why not?” Taking Jack’s offered hand, he let the other man pull him to his feet and into his arms. “I feel I should warn you that I’ve never done this with a man before; I’m used to leading, so if I trample all over your feet, you only have yourself to blame.”
“I’ll risk it,” Jack replied, leaning in for a brief kiss before pulling Ianto closer, swaying them gently to the music. It wasn’t like it had been with Estelle all those years ago, she’d been so tiny whereas Ianto was perhaps a fraction taller than Jack, but as they shuffled slowly around the floor together, with Ianto gradually adjusting to being led, Jack smiled contentedly to himself, breathing in the warm aroma of coffee and a faint hint of Ianto’s shampoo.
Spinning his partner, Jack dipped him, almost dumping both of them on the floor but just managing to remain upright, Ianto clinging to him for dear life. “Twpsyn!” Ianto grumbled good-naturedly as they righted themselves. “A bit of warning would have been nice. You’ll put your back out if you’re not careful. Or mine,” he added as an afterthought.
“Okay, next time I’ll warn you first,” Jack grinned
Yes, it was different, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t be just as good. Maybe in some ways it was even better, because unlike Estelle, with Ianto he could be completely honest.