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Ratings & warnings: Adult (violence, themes: torture), character death
Characters: Tosh, Jack, the Master
Spoilers: TW 2x12, 'Fragments'; DW series three (set during the Year That Never Was)
Wordcount: ~3,000
Summary: These are the last few days that never were, and Tosh learns about bravery.

It all happened so quickly, in the mountains, that Tosh didn't say goodbye to any of them, not properly. In movies people got meaningful last glances and heartrending cries, but there was none of that for Torchwood Three. Before heading up on the mountain Tosh hugged Gwen awkwardly, and made a joke with Ianto about missing her coffee. She joined Owen outside to check through their bags for everything they'd need, all the survival gear and distress beacons. Even when the Toclafane attacked two hours later it was too sudden for Tosh to do more than call out Owen's name before she felt something hit her arm. When she looked down she had just enough time to recognize a tranquillizer dart.

She could remember the last thing she'd said to each of them. “Don't hurry yourself,” to Gwen. “See you later,” to Ianto. And, finally, “Owen!” shouted out amid the snow and the rock, making the Toclafane giggle maniacally.


When Tosh woke her head was spinning so much that she had to close her eyes tight again, clenching her fists against a crushing wave of nausea. Too late, apparently: her mouth tasted overwhelmingly of vomit. Everything, she realized with a lurch, hurt: her feet, her knees, her back, her face. As she licked her upper lip she tasted dried blood. She took a very deep, slow breath, her ribs aching, before opening her eyes again.

Metal. She was lying on metal. In the gloomy half-light—neon tubing? Her neck hurt too much to twist her head and check—she tried instead to work out the size of the room: the floor stretched only a few metres before her, and less beyond her feet and head. As she shifted, trying to reach up an arm to brush her hair from her face and wincing at the pain of it, she realized what she was wearing: a jumpsuit of dazzling, sacrificial white. It might not have been orange, but the sight still brought back her nausea with a vengeance.

Busy, she thought. She had to keep herself busy. Trying to pad herself down to check for anything left with her—some miracle oversight of radio or earpiece or GPS—Tosh realized that her hands were cuffed together, the metal digging into her skin. Wincing, she twisted to get a better view of the mechanism, but there was no luck: they were alien tech, totally incomprehensible without her kit and the scanners.

Tosh swore even though she knew that it wouldn't help before curling back up into a ball, wrapping her arms about her legs and pressing her face hard against her knees. Her nose throbbed, and she felt as if she'd been dropped on her face. Maybe she had.

They're going to keep you here without charge. Forever.

Tosh squeezed her eyes tight shut and tried to forget how much Jack had meant it.


Along with freedom, they took away Tosh's time. She had no idea how long she was left in the cell: days, weeks, months. The after-effects of the tranquillizers lingered, keeping her curled up with nausea and everything a little fuzzy about the edges. She found it hard to grasp hold of thoughts fully, to get beyond the most basic outlines of things—whether Gwen and Ianto had escaped. Where Owen was. What was going to happen to her. Time moved, yes, and occasionally tugged at her with its tide, but she had no way of judging it. The gloomy half-light of the cell remained grindingly constant. They had taken her watch.

She lay still for vast expanses of time, or curled up against the wall, her forehead pressed hard against the metal. Up close she could feel a very faint vibration, as if of large engines far away, and some more lucid part of her thought suddenly of airships, of the Valiant where the Toclafane were meant to be welcomed. Sometimes she drifted off into a broken sleep which was so similar to waking, so monotonous and grey, that she couldn't tell whether she had fallen asleep or not. Sometimes—but never often enough—there was a carton left on the floor by the door when she woke, filled with a grime-coloured paste which tasted of wet newspaper. It always made her sleep: a blessing, since it saved her from her aches and pains, the bruises which never seemed to heal, the constant ache of her hunger. It also made her shake, and sometimes, as she drifted between half-hallucinations and dreams, she raised her hands before her face and watched her fingers trembling.

Her dreams were nearly always about the team. The best was Gwen and Ianto, somehow hidden and undercover in a little mountain village, brewing a revolt against the Toclafane, or just living, keeping breathing and eating and walking. Sometimes, though she tried not to, Tosh wondered if Owen was alive or not. Maybe he got away, maybe she shouted in time. Maybe they let him go. Maybe he was only metres away from her in another cell, wondering exactly the same things about her.

She was usually sick after the dreams.


In the beginning, Tosh explored the room. There was a lull period after the worst pain and before the exhaustion made her whole body heavy when she could get to her feet, running her fingers over every surface, checking every crack. It didn't take her long to accept that there was no way out. Her only link to the outside world was a screen and a CCTV camera in one corner.

The screen only started to come to life when she was too tired to move about much. As she lay breathing shallow on the ground, shivering with cold or drugs or just with fear, she watched the pictures: soundless visions of what the Earth was now like, of carnage and slavery and giant weapons glinting under the sun. She saw the Toclafane at the pyramids, Machu Picchu, the Forbidden City.

Once, just once, something else was shown. At first Tosh didn't believe what she saw; when she did, she almost wished that she didn't. She'd rather Jack hadn't come back than came back like this. Was watching or not watching better when it was Jack there, strung up and bleeding, all alone?

She clenched her hands to try and stop their trembling, closing her eyes and biting her lip till she tasted copper. Jack needed her, now, and she would get him. She'd be there for him just like he was there for her, no matter what.


They came for her soon after that, two tall men in black uniforms with guns in holsters. She was so dazed with hunger and stress by then, still trembling with whatever they had put in her food, that she could hardly react as they hauled her roughly to her feet, pulling her between them down a long corridor. Too weak to keep up, muscles clumsy with lack of use, she stumbled on a step halfway along, yelping with pain as the men caught her sharply. By the time they reached the end of the hall black spots were dancing over her eyes and her breath came in searing, scraping chokes.

“I want to see Jack,” she gasped. The man who wasn't dealing with the keypad on the wall turned and nonchalantly planted an elbow in her solar plexus, making her double over with pain, clutching at her belly and straining for breath.

The lift had mirrors, and in it Tosh saw herself for the first time since that morning in the Himalayas. She almost didn't recognize herself. Her bones pressed against her skin, and old bruises lingered over her face and hands, faded to a mouldy green. Her lips were ashen.

For a moment, she imagined herself in the morgue, lying back in one of the drawers with Owen filling out her death certificate.

She was sick on one of the men's shoes.


They sat her in front of a computer and then left her there, locking the door after them. Tosh swallowed, gripping the desk hard to reassure herself that it was here, it was real. The keys felt tiny and insignificant under her fingers. As she tried to bring up the menu her shaking fingers pressed all the wrong keys, but inside it was simple enough. Plans, diagrams, instructions. Holes in the code. Something old, lain dormant deep inside of her for this nothing-time in the cell, bubbled to the surface again: she explored and investigated and marvelled, her movements more assured, the work-frown any member of Torchwood Three would have recognized back again. For a moment it was easy to forget who the computer belonged to, what it would be used for: it was only something from the past, something real and good, and Tosh clung to it as if to a life raft.

She could see why they wanted her. No one else would be able to deal with this sort of alien-hybrid system: no one but a few UNIT workers and maybe one of the French équipe. They had an amazing technical team. Or at least, Tosh realized with a jolt, they used to. Maybe they were here already, in one of those other cells, screaming where no one could hear. Maybe they'd refused and died in the streets of Paris, barricading the last doors against the Toclafane and dying under the Tricolore.


The man who called himself the Master and had once been the Prime Minister sat opposite her very calmly, sipping tea from a cheery mug labeled 'World's Best Dad'. When he caught her looking he grinned. “In joke.” He paused to reach for another chocolate bourbon on the tray one of the guards was holding, munching on it for a moment as he watched her before talking again. Little crumbs fell down onto his suit.

“I'm going to be straightforward with you, because frankly, this is a waste of my time. Either you work for me, or—well, bright girl like you, I'm sure you know how the cliché goes.”

“I want to see Jack.”

The Master raised a finger, waggling it at her as if she were a naughty child. “Uh uh uh! No can do. Mr Harkness is having some quality time learning the error of his meddling ways.” He reached over to pinch her cheek painfully hard. “Think about it. Don't worry! Free choice. I don't mind either way. I'm sure Jean-Marie can manage on his own. He's young, but he's tough. Doesn't need much sleep after those injections I had cooked up for him. Not now he's got the hallucinations under control.” For a second he grinned and then with an eerie speed his face reverted back to a blank, killer's stare.

“I don't make empty threats.”


These are the things that Tosh thought when the Master left.

Her first thought was about balance. If she agreed to work for him she might cause hundreds of thousands of deaths, but with that kind of access she could try to find the flaw in the system, maybe crash it, save hundreds of millions later. Be a killer and then a saviour. It was what Torchwood had been doing all along.

Her second thought was for the others. All of them. Humanity. Maybe if she worked hard for him, maybe if she made it perfect, he'd let them go—let even a few people live.

Her third thought was about Torchwood. If she helped him, maybe he'd tell her about what had happened to Owen. What had happened to Gwen and Ianto.

And then she thought about Jack, and she knew instantly what he would say: that no man with a stare or a laugh like the Master's would ever dispense favours or bargain with a prisoner. That she probably didn't want to know what had happened with the others, or where they were now. That she would die even when she finished this task: her and Jean-Marie from the équipe forced down onto their knees and shot, point blank, in the back of the head. Her last sight the floor.


“No,” she said to the Master, forcing herself to sit straighter, to push aside her exhaustion and hunger to be tall. “Kill me.”

The Master raised an eyebrow. “Oh, a little hero. How predictable. Not up to killing some of them to save your skin?” He paused, tilting his head, his voice becoming softer. “How about our little French boy, then? He's offing them with no questions asked. What about him? Would you kill him for them?”

Tosh swallowed.

“That's what's so pathetic about you,” the Master said conversationally. “All of you. No resolve. No real belief in what you do.” He shrugged, took a last bite out of his muffin, and stood up, looking down at her. “You're sure.”

“Yes,” Tosh said, absolutely sure that she was doing the right thing.

The Master shrugged again, pushing back his jacket to pull a gun from his belt. “It's your funeral.”

For a moment Tosh thought that he would tell her to kneel and she'd have the final dignity of refusing, but the Master simply kicked her chair from under her. Hands tied and unable to catch herself she fell heavily, knocked breathless, struggling to raise her head so she could see him. The Master crouched beside her and casually pressed the gun between her eyes, so close that she couldn't focus on the polished black metal.

Suddenly, when it was this close, Tosh was terrified. Fear hit her with a physical impact, crunching her organs and rattling through her bones, burning up her nerves. Death. To not exist. To never wake up, never taste, never see again. To never finish her projects. Never see the places she'd promised herself she'd see. Never hold someone. Never get to tell people things she'd wanted to say. All of her bravery and and principles suddenly seem so tenuous, so insubstantial in the face of this—the sheer animal terror of ceasing to exist.

The Master was so close she could feel his breath on her skin. “Sure?”

Tosh was terrified, trembling, sick with fear. “Yes.”

The pistol hit the side of her head so hard that she blacked out instantly.


Tosh had thought she was going to die when the Master was holding the gun to her head, but that was entirely, entirely different from knowing she was dying. Now the certainty was not so much terrifying—there was a promise in it this time, a liberation from the unbearable pain that lit up every nerve—as simply heavy, oppressive: it weighed on every inch of her, pressing slowly harder and harder.

So this, she thought through a haze of shock and blood loss, was dying.

It hurt. The Master had pushed her over the threshold of specific pain and now she was beyond where everything, bones flesh veins nerves, was alight with agony. She couldn't remember how it felt not to hurt and, for the first time in her life—and the last time, she realized with a jolt: everything was the last now, so many countless endings—her body was a burden rather than a tool, a broken mess of tendons and tissue which she would soon be rid of. From the corner of her eye, beyond the blood spattered floor on which she lay, she could see one of her legs, bent strangely; one of her arms was twisted behind her back and she could feel the weight of the Master's foot on it as he pressed his weight down ever so slowly on her wrist. Despite everything, the pain that she thought couldn't get any worse, she whimpered: quiet not with restraint but simply with exhaustion, resignation. She couldn't move to stop it any more.

“Look at her! Look at her, not me!”

From where she had been dropped sprawled on the floor at Jack's feet, Tosh couldn't understand, at first, why he'd say that: why Jack would shout at the Master with such conviction, such anger. She blinked nd tried to focus on Jack's shoes, to see the fabric of his trousers. It became clear, though: clearer and clearer as she felt herself getting lighter, watched the pool of deep dark red about her spread slowly, inexorably outwards, reaching Jack's feet.
Look at her. That was what Jack had done: see her, when no one else really had.

When the Master had held Tosh close in the doorway before it began, his hand delicately threatening as it rested on her throat, he had boasted to Jack about his offer, about Tosh's 'dumb loyalty' to her principles. A sheep, he'd called her. A sheep led to the slaughter. And Tosh had looked to Jack, expecting understanding, regretful praise—and instead he had implored her to say 'yes', to accept the Master's offer. Still groggy from the hit on her head, blood trickling down from her temple, she'd been confused: she respected Jack more than anyone, and she had no idea whether she should do what he said, why he wanted her to. Had he had a plan? Was he trying to signal something?

But now, her shivering calming as she slowly lost consciousness, Tosh suddenly felt sure of herself, felt proud. He'd seen her. She'd done good.


(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-05 05:50 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Wow, painful and tightly wound. Very well written and thought out. Poor Tosh, poor Jack, no hope, nothing to bargain with. I'm glad she didn't let the Master win. She always did good.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-05 10:16 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That was what Jack had done: see her, when no one else really had.

The fic as a whole was splendid, but this line in particular did it for me. Excellent work.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-02-07 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You know I love this, and that it kicks my ass every time.

Freaking beautiful.

(no subject)

Date: 2009-05-18 01:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Hi! I'm here from the [ profile] cot_reviews community. First of all, congratulations on your nomination for Round Three of the Children of Time Awards.

We try to review all of the nominated stories in each round, and in today's post ( we've featured your story. Please feel free to stop by and look.

Congratulations again, and good luck!


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