A Change Is Gonna Come
Torchwood ; Jack, Jack/various ; PG-13 ; 2400 words ; spoilers for -- US politics?
When Jack first arrived in 1941, he read up on the social mores of the period, then chose to completely ignore them. It's not like he was planning on staying.
There's a crash in Jack's office, accompanied by a lot of very colourful swearing that may or may not be in a language currently developed.
Gwen and Ianto stare at each other.
"Did something just break and he --" Gwen asks.
"My guess is that he got angry, then broke something," says Ianto.
Sighing, they get to their feet and go up the stairs.
"What is it, Jack?" Gwen calls as they reach his office.
Jack's looking appropriately chastened, holding two parts of a plate in his hands. "Sorry," he says. "Didn't mean to yell.
Ianto glances at the computer terminal behind his desk, a web browser open with the BBC's post-election US coverage showing up.
"I -- thought that was good news," he says, gesturing at the screen.
Gwen eyes grow wide. "Don't tell me Obama's an alien."
Jack looks startled and then laughs. "No, no. And believe me, we did check."
"So, what did that poor plate do?" Ianto asks.
"I just --" Jack growls. "This anti-marriage constitutional rewrite bullshit they've got going over there. Seriously, what in the hell is wrong with your century?"
"Oh no, that went through in California?" Looking dismayed, Gwen moves over to read the article.
But Ianto's watching Jack, who seems very far away.
When Jack first arrived in 1941, he read up on the social mores of the period. Then he chose to completely ignore them, naturally - after all, the women with their war spirit and those hot forties clothes were certainly a temptation, but they couldn't compete with the possibilities inherent in hitting on the soldiers. The moment when Jack's flirting became too blatant to be ignored, the stuttering, wide-eyed " -- oh, but I've never --" changing to "oh, God, yes --" And it gets Jack a hat trick of contacts, allies, and great sex, so if he manages to conduct a few sexual awakenings along the way then so much the better.
Besides, it's not like he's planning on staying.
Rose asks him questions a few times, and his answers tend to provoke shocked giggles and responses along the lines of, "No, shut up, you've having me on."
Rose is a quick study, picks up ideas fast, but Jack has to remind himself that she was born a twentieth century girl, the revolution still to come in her personal history.
(As it turns out, she really is a quick study, learning the ropes of what three people can do together more quickly than Jack could have imagined. She kisses like a revelation, and when Jack meets the Doctor's eye, he's smiling with the same knowledge Jack found in London, the joy of taking human souls apart and out of time, showing them what they will go on to be.)
But all of that was a long, long time ago.
"The end of the millennium was a period of great social progress," Jack remembers his history teacher intoning. "Rights for women and different human ethnicities came first, and then at the dawning of the twenty-first century and with it the space age came new understandings of gender, sexuality, and eventually species."
As Jack lives through it, sometimes it all feels light years away.
He has to learn a lot of things very quickly, especially after he's picked up by Torchwood and expected to at least pretend to be a member of society upon occasion. Gender is an unquestioned binary, and men are Men and women are Women, which apparently means things like men doing all the politics and women doing all the housework.
The women of Torchwood don't quite see things that way. They're mostly too busy fighting aliens to actively campaign for the suffrage movement, but Jack gets back from war just in time to see Harriet Derbyshire cast her first electoral vote and it's pretty fantastic, watching history unfold.
For decades afterwards, women often seem surprised when they're hired to shoot guns and make executive decisions rather than the tea, which one or two of them said they'd expected. Jack would have thought that the aliens in the heart of Cardiff would have been more of a shock, but apparently not.
Race comes up frequently too, and it takes Jack a while to grasp the vagaries of it, the idea that it's to do with things like skin colour and accent and where your parents were from rather than your species and what galaxy you grew up in - after all, when humanity's spread across a dozen planets and fighting in three separate alien wars, the former subdivisions seem pretty irrelevant.
Jack, apparently, is an American, and after listening to radio broadcasts he can see why. This seems to mean a lot of different things as the decades roll on, and if he were a more diligent anthropologist it would be fascinating. As he's not, he just goes with it. There's not really a whole lot else to do - being from a different continent is a much simpler explanation than being from a different planet.
And then there's sexuality. First no one talks about it, and then it feels like all they do is talk about it rather than get to the good bits. Everyone seems desperate to assign him sort of label, and Jack flat-out refuses to play along because it's ridiculous. Sure, he knows people from back home who fall into all sorts of patterns about who they date, but they've never felt the need to claim that preference as some sort of identity. Or, more accurately, society never forced them to.
All of this really comes into focus as eras come and go, and the people they bring with them.
Gemma Sutton works for Torchwood '61 - '64, a self-styled feminist who'll talk to anyone that will listen and plenty that won't about birth control and activism and Betty Friedan and reclaiming female sexuality. It's all incredibly attractive. She'll never sleep with him in a million years, and Jack finds that hotter still.
"You sexualise women too much," she tells him once when she catches him checking her out after a mission. (A mission that happened to involve the entire team and an awful lot of diving in and out of the bay. Jack loves his job sometimes.)
He gives her a look, and she laughs. "All right, I suppose you're fairly indiscriminate about it, but all the same. You should know your bounds better, Harkness."
On the rare occasions Jack does find himself with a sense of propriety, he likes to think it's because of Gemma.
(She died to stop an explosion that would have ripped the planet apart, stood right in the centre of the gaping Rift with the most enormous smile on her face, and somehow it was beautiful.)
Jack dates Felix Montenegro in the summer of 1973. He's a computer genius and a sarcastic bastard and makes Jack feel about fourteen years old with his first crush. Not that he'd admit to it, ever, mind you.
One night they're walking back from wherever the hell it was Felix reckoned was hip when they start getting yelled at by some guys coming back from who the fuck knows.
It's incoherent nonsense, mostly, and it's not like Jack can be bothered to decipher it any case, but Felix groans and leans into him a little. "Can we not be spared, just once?" he asks a little despairingly. "Oh no, no no no," he then adds with renewed urgency as the group starts advancing on them. "This isn't good."
"Promise me you'll run at the first sign of trouble," Jack says.
Felix has no time for reply before the leader of this little troupe is swaggering up to them.
Probably, Jack should wait for the preamble and the insults to fly back and forth, but it's not like they don't all know where this is going so he just punches him in the face instead. And that definitely gets a response, all seven guys advancing on them now, and Jack can't say he's sorry, he's been angling for a fight for a good while now, and if it's over this particular brand of stupid, so much the better.
"I'm not kidding," he tells Felix, "get the hell out if this gets really nasty. And don't you dare," he adds as he notices Felix's hand twitching near to his concealed gun. "I've got this."
Then Jack's got four drunk and vicious men on him at once and doesn't have a great deal of time for conversation for a few minutes. When he gets a second to himself, crouching down to wipe blood from his mouth while they regroup, he realises in horror that Felix is still there. "Go!" he orders, and Felix flinches.
"I can't --" he starts.
"I'm not screwing around," Jack snaps. "It's not like you're trained for any kind of fieldwork anyway, so get the hell out."
Then a blow catches Jack's shoulder and sends him reeling, and he hasn't really got time to think again. It's another few minutes of holding his own before some bright spark turns out to have a knife stashed in his jacket and it ends up in Jack's spleen.
Jack comes to, later. The street is silent apart from Felix hovering over him, muttering a mixed litany of curses and prayer. Jack realises he's just been murdered and is phenomenally hacked off about it.
"Jack!" Felix sounds shaky with relief, and Jack suddenly remembers that Felix has never actually seen him die before.
"I'm all right, I'm okay. Have they gone?" he asks.
"Oh yeah, scarpered after all the blood and everything. Heh, reckon we can charge anyone for murder even without actually having a corpse?"
Jack lets his head fall back against the pavement, wiped of all energy and somehow desperately sad. "Reckon we can try," he says.
(Felix just got shot. It happens. And there was no grand purpose, however much he undoubtedly died fighting for his planet. He left behind a broken-hearted sister and a prototype video game Jack plans to keep in remembrance for the whole of time.)
Jack falls head over heels for Katy Madison in '88. She's tactician enough that she would have been a general in another age, and the look in her eyes when she encounters the wonders of the universe make Jack's stomach do unashamed backflips. It takes them months of dancing around each other, because Jack really has been intending not to get so involved with people, not in this time and certainly not within Torchwood where they watch him die until it's time for him to carry another body to the morgue.
But it's two in the morning and she's exhausted and he could really use the company, so when she kisses him he can do nothing but reciprocate, pulling her into his arms and so grateful for the human contact after what has been a truly hell-like day. He's debating with himself about how best to move things a stage further when she slowly draws away.
"What --" Jack can't stop the protest escaping.
"Jack." She rests a hand on his chest. "Something I should tell you."
"Oh?" He backs away, eyeing her.
"No, no, it's -- well. The thing is, I haven't told anyone on the team yet, but I'm --" She pauses. "I'm saving up money for a sex change operation."
"Oh!" Jack laughs slightly, relieved. "And there was me thinking you had bad news."
He gets a punch in the arm for that. "I'm serious."
"So am I. Right, so pronoun switcheroo and everything, yeah?"
"Sure." Jack shrugs amicably, takes a second to register. "You got a cool new name yet? Xavier, Aloysius, something like that?"
"Uh, right - you know, I was thinking more along the lines of taking 'David' out for a spin, call me crazy."
"That's no fun." Jack grins. "Okay then, David it is."
"And you're really --" He laughs, ducking his head. "Right. Course you are. Fuck knows how I'm going to tell anyone else."
"You know, if you need me to do any shooting for you, I'd more than happy."
"Shut up, you know I'm a better shot than you."
"Yeah, and we've only put that to the test the once, hardly a reliable experiment."
David's staring at him now, and it's that same starlit wonder Jack fell in love with the first day he came into the Institute, so there's really nothing he can do but kiss him again.
(David's still alive, as far as Jack knows. They Retconned him after three years of service, no choice after an alien lodged itself deep in his brain, no way for him to survive with his memory intact. Jack did it himself, mixed the dose extra strong so David would forget every last bit of what they had, and it tore them to pieces.)
December 2005 and the UK quietly enacts civil partnerships - the distinction between these and marriages still eludes Jack somewhat but it's something, and a hell of a lot more than nothing. He makes a note to acquire one of those unions sometime, because he's always been a fan of making full use of his rights, and the chance to be historic is appealing. It's spread all over Europe, and this Jack remembers from school. What he evidently never learned was just how the growing pains of the process worked, once it had begun, the jump backwards America's just made all-too-evident proof of that.
Gwen's looking at him anxiously. Jack blinks. "Yeah, right. Back in the room now."
"Remember," says Ianto, "outside the government? We don't have to worry about Parliament here, and the States is certainly none of our concern."
Jack sighs. "You make a point. Sure we can't just tweak some strings somewhere?"
"Don't think that's in the mandate of arming the human race against the future, no."
"Well, it should be."
Ianto rolls his eyes. "When you actually have a plan to run the world from the basement, do let me know. I'm making coffee, I assume you're both in need."
Ianto Jones strolled into Jack's life two years ago, no qualms and apparently no need to have labels for just about anything - it's more refreshing than Jack can really express.
It's the twenty-first century. Slowly, so slowly, everything's going to change.