Work Header

The Tin Box (A Story With Pictures)

Work Text:

I. Ellis Island, c. 1895

Every time I have guests visiting me in New York I take them to the Ellis Island exhibit. It's an interesting place to go, but secretly it's just my excuse to look at the photo that has been my favorite for so long I've come to think of it as mine.


I'm not sure why I love it, but I think I find it romantic. The man on the right is supposed to be a guard: it's titled "Ellis Island Guard Jim Harding supervises immigrants disembarking". But look at how he's looking at that woman, the one who's laughing. He looks like he's already in love with her. She looks like he just made the best joke ever, and she's so happy to be in America laughing with a handsome policeman.

I tried to look him up once, but there aren't many records from that time. I like to pretend he fell in love with the woman and helped her get through immigration, you know, maybe greased a few palms, and married her in New York and they raised a bunch of kids. I know it's not very likely, but I like the idea.

I hope someone's got this photograph in their attic or a family bible or something, and the caption on that copy reads "Grandma and Granddad, first meeting".

He's so handsome, isn't he?


II. New York, C. 1911

"Who was she?" Gwen asked, accepting the photo Jack passed to her from within the little tin box on his desk.

"What do they teach you in school?" Jack replied, looking mildly annoyed. "That's Emma Goldman."

"Who's that then?"

Jack blinked. "Mother of Anarchy? Intellectual and essayist? She was a major political activist in America."

"Oh," Gwen said, studying it. "She looks angry."

"She had a lot to be angry about," Jack replied.


"How did you meet?"

"I was in New York for a while, after Haymarket."


Jack waved a hand. "Labour rally in Chicago that went south. A lot of people were killed. I was there -- I was killed, actually -- and afterwards I went to New York to speak about it. We met while I was lecturing there."

Gwen grinned. "Jack! You're a labour sympathiser, aren't you."

"I am," Jack said. "I saw what they did to the workers."

Gwen studied the photo again. "You look like you love her."

"I did. Do. Did," Jack said, then frowned, a little confused. "I did. She was beautiful."

"She doesn't look it here."

"She was. Beautiful, stubborn mind; gorgeous woman. Freethinker. Just my type," Jack said, holding out a hand for the photograph.

"Why are you showing it to me?"

"I'm going to Chicago next week. It's the anniversary of Haymarket. I have work to do there. You're in charge while I'm gone."

"And...?" Gwen lifted an eyebrow.


"And I wanted you to know why I'm going," Jack said with a shrug.


III. Petrograd, 1916

"Listen, you can't just go around healing incurable diseases," Jack said.

"Ivan, I am doing good work for the boy," Grigori said. "Your job is not to pass judgment on me. Your job is to guard me."

"And I am," Jack said. "But I don't think -- "

"You are not employed to think. What did your Torchwood say? They said, keep me safe. My ship is coming for me. Just another year, and they will be here."

"There's a limit to what I can do," Jack exploded. "If someone tries to kill you and I'm not there, you're going to get killed, Grigori."

"But the boy suffers," Gregori said.

"Yeah, and his mother -- "

"Hst!" Grigori held up a hand. Alien hearing; they waited for almost twenty seconds before a man passed outside the door to his chambers. Jack tried to remember that he was just a guard, just a Torchwood lackey, and he didn't have the right to backtalk a stranded member of the Krnalla Royal Family, waiting for a belated ride from a passing Krnalla ship.

"I can help the child. What's the harm?" Grigori said, when the coast was clear.

"To him? Nothing. To you? People are starting to talk, Grigori. There are dangerous words in the wind," Jack said, flicking his fingers through the air. "Just promise me if I come to you and tell you to run, please, run. I can get you to Cardiff; we'll keep you safe there."

Grigori leaned back and laughed. "The king and queen love me, Ivan. I am safe here."

IV. England, c. 1940

On the fiftieth anniversary of Elizabeth II's ascention to the throne, a young woman arrived at Buckingham Palace. The young woman showed a certain badge, said a single word, and was ushered into the Queen's presence. She bowed, offered Her Majesty a small envelope, and withdrew.

Inside was a thick sheet of cream paper, folded in half over a photograph. The writing on the paper was familiar, though time had faded the memory somewhat. It read:


To Her Majesty Elizabeth the Second, by the Grace of God, of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas Queen, Defender of the Faith,

Deepest congratulations on fifty years of sovereignty. May you rule another fifty. I hope you have memories of yr. obt. srvnt. that are as fond as his are of you. I always have, and always will, adore my queen; I beg her to remember a certain RAF Captain who had the pleasure of serving and guarding her in a time of great difficulty for the nation.

You will always be Lilibet to me.

With regards,

Captain Jack Harkness


V. Livadia Palace, Yalta, 1945

Once in a while, Jack considers shuffling through his little tin box and putting all the photographs in order. Sometimes he wonders if he should do it before he forgets what order they should follow. Yalta -- that was '45, wasn't it? Bodyguard for Churchill, the Immortal Man the perfect person to take a bullet for the PM, just in case there was one at Yalta with his name on it.


He remembers running into Roosevelt one night, sitting outside after the talking and the politicking and the negotiating and the dinners (they were great dinners). There he was, the president of the United States, sitting on a bench with his cane nearby, contemplating a cigarette.

"Light that for you, sir?" Jack asked, producing matches.

"You're a godsend," the Great Man answered, and Jack touched the lit match to the end of it. "You're Churchill's man, aren't you? Bodyguard, right?"

"Yes, Mr. President."

"You sound American."

Jack grinned. "I've been a lot of kinds of people in my time."

"Haven't we all. What're you doing working for the British, huh? America needs strapping men like you."

"The uniforms are nicer," Jack said. Roosevelt laughed, coughed, laughed some more. "Are you all right?"

Roosevelt gave him a narrow, studious look. "Churchill ask you to ask me that?"

"Human decency tells me to ask you that."

"Huh. Human decency. Didn't know such a thing existed anymore."

"Yeah," Jack said. "I used to think that too, but now I think it does."

"How do you know?" Roosevelt looked intrigued. Jack put his hands in his pockets, bowed his head, thought about it.

"I have faith," he said finally. "And I've seen the best and worst people can be. Sometimes you have to do some rotten things, Mr. President, but sometimes you get to do great things, too."

Roosevelt smoked in silence for a while.

"What the hell is a philosopher like you doing packing a gun for a politician?" he asked finally.

Jack shrugged and laughed. "I go where I'm needed, Mr. President."


VI. London, 1952

Torchwood was only briefed on the Sontaran incident after it happened. After the briefing, Owen found Jack sitting in his office, drinking a neat scotch and staring at a photograph from the box he kept locked in his desk drawer.

"It's not the first time it happened," Jack said randomly, as Owen leaned in the doorway.

"What, the Sontarans invading?" Owen asked.


"Killer smog. Sounds funny. It wasn't," Jack said. "Sometimes I still feel my throat burn."


VII. Love, c. The Afternoon

"Top five film stars you'd shag," Owen said. "And...go."

"Liam Neeson," Gwen said.

"Tom Cruise, before he was crazy," Tosh said. "And Ingrid Bergman."

"Ingrid Bergman?" Owen asked.

"What? She was gorgeous," Tosh replied. "I'm allowed."

"I wouldn't for Ingrid Bergman. I would for Drew Barrymore," Gwen said thoughtfully. "Oh! Or Eva Mendes."

"Having a moment," Jack announced.

"Who'd you shag, Jack?" Gwen asked.

"Who I would, or who I did?" Jack asked.

"You've shagged film stars?" Owen asked.

"Ianto, no sitting out," Jack said, as Ianto brought the coffee to the sofa where they were sitting. "Top five film stars."

"Halle Berry, Billie Piper, Matt Damon, Humphrey Bogart, Audrey Hepburn," Ianto said promptly.

"Is that by date or preference?" Owen asked, snorting.

"Humphrey Bogart?" Tosh asked.

"Watch Sabrina and tell me you wouldn't," Ianto replied.

"Audrey Hepburn," Jack said dreamily. All four of them looked at him.


"You didn't," Gwen said.

"He did," Tosh crowed.

"It was like having sex with the definition of sophisticated," Jack told them. He glanced up at Ianto and saw him blushing, just slightly. Ianto was, quite clearly, having a moment of his own. "She's in a different kind of top five, for me."

"I can't believe you shagged Audrey Hepburn," Owen said, envy in his voice.

"Put her on the list, she's worth it," Jack told him smugly.


VIII. Carnaby Street, c. 1962


"Oh my god," Ianto said, covering his mouth.

"Look, I trusted you with -- "

"Oh my god!" Ianto repeated, and burst out laughing. "Are you wearing a pimp coat?"

"They weren't called pimp coats then," Jack said, snatching the photo out of Ianto's hand. "They were the fashion. You're a slave to fashion, if you'd been a Carnaby Street dandy in the sixties you would have killed for that coat."

"Yeah, I'd have killed a yeti," Ianto said, still laughing. He fell back on his elbows, almost upsetting the box resting on the bed. Jack, who had often snickered at his own vanity in that photo, smiled and admired the line of Ianto's throat, the way his chin tilted back towards the ceiling. Naked and laughing, eyes bright, pleased with the world.

"I have met famous men and women of letters and politicians and film stars and you pick the one picture where I'm wearing a stupid coat," Jack said, but he rummaged in the box and then crawled forward until he was lying next to Ianto, holding up a different photo. "What do you think of this one?"

Ianto's eyes glazed over a little. "I didn't know you were that flexible," he said hoarsely.

"Want to see if I still am?"


IX. Berlin, 1963

"Captain Harkness!" the president said, lifting one hand to catch Jack's attention. He had a glass of wine in his other hand, as per at these state gatherings. Jack was charmed by the pretty ginger politician, and not at all unhappy to abandon the boring woman he was talking to in order to stand next to John F. Kennedy.

"Captain Harkness, I wanted your opinion," the president said, greeting him with a firm handshake and that trademark dazzling grin. "We were just discussing how the speech is likely to go down in America. As an American living overseas, what did you think of it?"

Jack rubbed the back of his head. "Well, I liked it," he said, giving his best Dumb Soldier impression. "I think you made a lot of progress, Mr. President."

"I sense some hesitation," Kennedy said. "Go on, Harkness, tell me what you thought. Both barrels."


"It's not much," Jack said. "It's just, you know. Outside of Berlin, you know what ein Berlineris?"

From the expressions on the faces of the Germans nearby, they did. Kennedy's grin didn't falter.

"What's that, Captain?"

"It means a doughnut, sir," Jack said.

Kennedy went through a range of emotions in the blink of an eye; disbelief, dismay, annoyance, and then he laughed, loud and so very American, and even his laugh sounded like it had a Boston accent.

"Well, you can't deny I'm sweet," he said with a wide grin.

"No sir," Jack agreed. "Can't deny that, Mr. President."


X. New York, 1965

"I didn't even know Illya had friends," Solo said. "Then this Harkness character turns up, with even less in his dossier than Illya, and they pal around like they grew up together."

"Maybe they did," April suggested.

"Not likely," Solo replied. "I think Illya killed anyone who could tell us anything about his past."

"Maybe they're lovers," April said. Solo blinked at her. "What? It happens. Have you seen Harkness in action? I think he'd chase anything, skirts or trousers. And Illya's very pretty."


"What's he got that I haven't got?" Solo demanded.

"Why, interested in Harkness yourself?"

"Like what you're picturing?" Solo grinned. "I'm not interested in men, though, so if it's in your head that's where it's staying."

"Anyway, Illya has an aura of mystery," April said. "Obviously Harkness knows how appealing that is. Leave them alone, Solo; Harkness is here on a job, he'll be gone soon enough."

"He'd better," Solo muttered.


XI. Washington DC, 1969

"Jack, I have to ask," Tosh said, pointing to the computer screen. Jack leaned forward, squinted, and then chuckled.

"Yeah, that's me," he said. "I have a copy of that in my desk, somewhere."

"That's Richard Nixon," Tosh said.


"You look like you're taking him seriously."


"We all did, at the time. I wasn't there for him, though," Jack said, tapping the left side of the photo. "You know who that is?"

Tosh gave him a sardonic look. "Yes, Jack. Henry Kissinger."

"Gold star for you, Toshiko. He's an alien."


"Nice guy, not a drop of human blood in him. I had to come over to the States to make sure he wasn't causing any trouble, usual Torchwood business. Nixon asked if he could meet me. Wanted to pick my brain."

"You have had a really weird life, Jack," Tosh said.

"Pot calling the kettle, Tosh," Jack replied, and ran off to see if Owen was done with his latest autopsy yet.


XII. Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll, c. 1973

Oh let the sun beat down upon my face, stars to fill my dream
I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been.

Oh pilot of the storm who leaves no trace, like thoughts inside a dream
Heed the path that led me to that place, yellow desert stream
My Shangri-La beneath the summer moon, I will return again
Sure as the dust that floats high in June, when movin' through Kashmir.
Oh, father of the four winds, fill my sails, across the sea of years
With no provision but an open face, along the straits of fear.

XIII. Washington DC, 1976

"You can't use that photo," my editor told me.

"Why?" I asked. "It's a great shot."

"See that guy? The one on the right?"

"Yeah, it's what makes the picture!"

My editor shook his head. "You can't use it. That's Harkness. He's the man who doesn't exist. I know you're new, but someone in the press corps should've clued you in."


"What do you mean, the man who doesn't exist?" I asked. "There he is. Laughing his ass off."

"And that's reason number two you can't use it."

"Come on, boss, it's a little funny," I protested. "He's the one person there who's reacting the way everyone else in America secretly reacts when they see President Ford fall down again."

"Look, let me give you a word of advice," my editor said. "Harkness comes and goes. Nobody knows why, and nobody asks, because those that do tend to have accidents. Not lethal, just...accidents. So you can't run a photo of him in the paper. And you can't run a photo of someone laughing at the president."

He was right, of course. I mean I don't even have the photo anymore. That night, Harkness showed up on my doorstep. He took both copies, and the negatives.

It was a great photograph, though.


XIV. London, 1984

"Jack," Ianto's voice over Jack's comm was tinny. It was also a little worried, but it didn't have that we're all going to die overtone to it, so Jack didn't answer until he was done chewing.

"Yeah?" he asked, wiping his mouth.

"CCTV nine. I think someone's looking for us."

Jack turned around and cued up one of the monitors to CCTV 9, also known as the Liftcam. Someone was standing on it, bouncing a little, studying it carefully. Blond hair, a long trenchcoat, a blue suit --

Jack let out a whoop of pleasure. "John fucking Constantine!"

"Sorry?" Ianto said, sounding a little like Jack's shout had deafened him.


"John Constantine!" Jack said. "I showed you the photo of us, remember? I've known him since he was your age. He's a complete asshole, he's always putting his nose in where he's not wanted. Every time we meet we have a fistfight and then fuck like bunn -- uh. But that won't happen this time," he finished quickly.

There was a laugh down the comm. "Right, Jack. He's fit; just ask me along, I have no objections."

"You are my favourite," Jack said fervently, and ran into the atrium to cue the lift.


XV. Washington Naval Yard, 2006

"I just had a call from a psychopath," Owen announced.

"Takes one to know one," Jack said, and Owen snapped a clean surgical glove at him. "What'd they want?"

"She said you said to call me about the fingerprint holographer we're not supposed to have for another twenty years," Owen said.

"Ah," Jack grinned. "Abby."

"Might've been her name. She talked fast. I said I had to clear it with you. Who is she?"

"American woman," Jack said. "Works for NCIS out of Washington. Her boss is hot. I was there in '02, when they found a dead Marine. Turned out to be an alien. Before your time."

"Hot boss?" Owen asked.


"Jethro Gibbs," Jack said with relish. "Wouldn't let me get within ten feet of him, more's the pity. Silver fox. Think I'd look good grey?"

"I think you'd look like an arse," Owen said. Jack shrugged.

"Package it up, send it off," he said. "Wait, no, before you do, check with me. I'll put a love note in for Abby. And maybe one for Gibbs," he added with a grin.



XVI. Chernobyl, Present Day


I traveled all sorts of places. This planet is too small. The whole world a graveyard.


Still. I have lived so many lives. It's time to find another one.