Work Header

classical mechanics (or: it's the fall that's gonna kill you)

Work Text:

Memories are killing. So you must not think of certain things, of those that are dear to you, or rather you must think of them, for if you don't there is the danger of finding them, in your mind, little by little.

-The Expelled, Samuel Beckett

Tosh always hated Zeno's paradoxes, so they are, of course, the principles she fixates on. (Never mind she has always been more about maths than physics, never mind that it isn't her field, never mind never mind never mind.) There's something inherently cruel about it, she thinks – the hare chasing the tortoise, never able to catch up, never able to reach the same level. The tortoise at its maddeningly slow pace winning by technicality, by ruling of the universe.

It isn't true, of course – a principle already disproven, already irrelevant – but there's a poetry to it that keeps it in the popular imagination. They don't want the hare to catch the tortoise; for once, the tortoise wins.

Tosh hates it the way she hates the spiral of the conch shell, the snake that eats its own tail, the way that ends become beginnings becomes present becomes future becomes past; again and again and again, the same histories regurgitated for future generations, for generations past, for one-and-a-half and two – for the first who came over and the ones they take with them.

She isn't an explorer; she doesn't choose a plot of land to stake her claim, doesn't choose to mark trees to prove that she is here, that she is someone, that she is worth memorializing. She marks her own stories on herself – the bruised legs; arms, thinly muscled; the way her hand will wind in her own hair and tug as her mother used to, pressure against the scalp to remind her of her mistake, of the sin she has committed, of being wrong.

This is what she learns in England – pain is one thing, memory another; and the entire time she is listening, she is writing down, taking notes, yes, this is what this word means, this is what this word means, and Churchill and Keats – the truth is everything is the same.

Owen kisses her at a party once.

It's Christmastime and the world isn't ending – for once – so they throw a party. There's liquor and she turns on the radio and they pretend it's a normal office Christmas with cheap decorations and awkward silences and getting drunk at two in the afternoon. Tosh doesn't drink much, choosing instead to nurse a cocktail. She tries to rationalize it as caution, watchfulness – surely someone will need to be driven home tonight and it doesn't do for all of them to be drunk – but that isn't really why.

It gets close to midnight and they're all still there – lost souls with no place else to go, she imagines – and Suzie and Owen are swaying together in a show of a dance, her hands on his forearm, their mouths too close yet not touching. Suzie pouts then, laughing softly, and Tosh can't look elsewhere – just enough alcohol to make herself look like an idiot. The thing about parties is that there's anonymity, she thinks. But here? Trying to run away from each other here is impossible.

She downs the rest of her drink and then, Owen is approaching her, his hands shoved in his pockets, his mouth a hard line against his face. One of those smirks he has that seem utterly cruel. He grins then, dropping a sweet on the edge of her desk. "Happy Christmas, Tosh."

She returns the smile, trying to suppress the nervousness that settles low in her stomach. "Happy Christmas to you too, Owen." Her voice tremors. And she hates this, the way everything gets thrown when he's involved– her voice an octave higher one day, an octave lower the next, and all the same, too quiet, too quiet.

She's lost her voice somewhere along the way, the dotted-line path from one country to the other, from prison to Torchwood, replacing the space with paper and notes and records. Calculations and diary entries and appointments and code fill in for speaking, for noise.

There are some days she thinks she couldn't possibly do this any longer – the job, living here, anything – and it's those days that Jack pulls her aside, her wrist in his hand. There's something unnatural in it, she thinks – Jack trying to anchor somebody else. She knows that's answer enough – the way he tries to keep her here, to remind her of her duty, of the bargain she's made - but this isn't a complete story; the scenes don't build towards a narrative, and she feels trapped trying to find the structure in her own life.

A girl is born in one place, ends up in another, with the ashes of her mother scattered like leaves crushed underfoot, like autumn, and there is, of course, that saying, that proverb – or maybe not a proverb, maybe just a feeling to be grown up with, a taste umami that can never be translated, only incompletely verbalized, an attempted explanation – cherry blossoms can only be cherished because they will fall from the tree.

A girl is born in one place, ends up in another, and cannot figure out how she ended up there except by way of an orange jumpsuit and the promise of death. There is the budo and there is her mother and there are fairy tales and fables and Jack who claims to understand, who doesn't belong here, who needs to find his own space in his own time.

But the bargain -

You owe us this much, he seems to say.

She wants to tell him she doesn't owe him – or it, Torchwood, the world – anything.

And here Owen is with a sweet smile – a false smile, never smile at a crocodile - that tells her that nothing good can come of this, that there is cruelty in every deliberate movement. Ghosts don't only haunt homes or people; they haunt the spaces – the crevices in paneling, the gaps in memory, the porousness in the bones, the bubbles in marrow; she knows the way they creep inside and settle in the most difficult places, the way they can distort memory for their own uses, to bring nothing but nightmares.

All she can smell is the alcohol on his breath when he sets his hands down on the desk on either side of her and leans in. Her hip nudges the corner of the desk and he inches even further into her personal space. "For holiday spirit?" he murmurs, his hands slipping towards her back. Suzie's laugh is loud from across the room.

His thumb brushes the edge of one of her reports, the ink still fresh from that evening; it smears across the whorl of his fingerprint. His lips part slightly as he leans in and she feels the panic thrum through her like a sparking wire.

He chuckles when his lips touch hers. Her fingers wrap around the curve of his wrist and his mouth is warm, the taste of him slightly sour on her tongue (from the drinks, she'd imagine). He's not as good a kisser as she would have thought, as she'd imagined (no matter where you go, there are, after all, Prince Charming stories and Prince Charming illusions; [warrior] princesses with hair done up, pinned elaborately with dangling glass beads, part-fox women who follow their desired around and help him out [when he is too drunk, too incapable to fight for himself] but the kisses are always to be cherished, to be remembered, memorialized in sonnets; the way the lips curve around each other, the way the breath exhaled comes softly on the bottom lip, the way lips quiver – as the harlequin novels would have it – the way that they do when there is too much anticipation, too much waiting – when kisses are stand-ins for sex); he moves against her, his nose bumping hers, his tongue flicking against her bottom lip. She groans softly and his fingers push against her sweater into the flesh of her back.

He pulls back, white teeth on his bottom lip, and she can't think of how to respond, to react, other than to take her hands off his wrists and set them in her lap.

"Happy Christmas," he repeats, walking back towards his desk.

The papers on her desk fall to the floor; to her, the sound of autumn (the shuffle of leaves blown in the street like an old Eliot poem).

And if how lost she feels is measured by distance, by space, by these physical things that can be calculated and measured, that can be numbered and named (further measured here in time as well as space, measured

lim x (t + ∆t) – x(t)

∆t→0 ∆t

because it isn't how far she is moving – through miles, kilometers – but to where and how quickly and that is the thing: velocity – the measure of speed in a given direction. Hell in a handbasket, perhaps the literary equivalent; not that she is moving from point A to point B in a fixed dimension in a fixed space but that she is moving to Hell – capital H – no matter how hard she tries because signing a contract between one evil and another does not guarantee anything else), then surely there must be a solution somewhere amidst the numbers and fractions, letters and symbols stacked atop other letters and symbols.

How then to dilute herself into an equation, into a problem that must be solved (for problems exist to be solved, equations exist to be broken down into their simplest forms), how then to solve the problem of Owen (a different problem, then, one of biology – something in the same field, but not quite the same; the question of parts, of living, of keeping death and life separate), how then to begin.

Everything is in the record-keeping. (Her first trip on the bus, a homeless old man next to her smelling of garbage, teeth missing, hissing at her – say what you will about mussolini, but he kept the trains on time! – roaring with laughter at his own joke, spittle coating the back of the seat in front of them.)

And the picture she has of them from the Christmas party – pinned to the refrigerator by a magnet like a writhing insect on a slide.

And what is there to say if some nights, when she finishes bottles of wine – bottles ˈbɒt(ə)ls' [COUNTABLE] a glass or plastic container for liquids, usually with a narrow part at the top that is called the neck, third-person plural simple present indicative of bottle – she finds herself terrified and fascinated by the photo, moving it behind things – sofa cushions, the extra virgin olive oil on the counter, soy sauce bottles, packets of seaweed – so that she can just set her thoughts at ease for a single moment, to stop thinking about this problem of solutions, to stop thinking.

Solitude is not the salve haiku poets would make it out to be. (The answer: fuck you, Bashō [芭蕉]:

furu ike ya / kawazu tobikomu / mizu no oto

because the point is the surprise, the point is that you can never anticipate the answer to the problem, the point is that the problem is never given to you unless you cannot solve it, the point is to be reminded that the pond has ripples, whether you want the peace disrupted or not.)

And history becomes past becomes future becomes present – the swirl of the conch, curling back into itself again -

In the morning, she spends two hours scrambling underneath cushions and boxes and papers, even with her hangover, for the photo, worn in the corner from where she has pinned it between her thumb and forefinger too many times.

She can't bring herself to shatter the illusion.

(Not yet.)

She finds Mary.

Or Mary finds her.

She isn't quite sure which way is the truth.

It was a mistake. Stated clearly in the mission log, written in her own neat penmanship. And still Jack insists on this meeting (two people twisting under the weight of their own lives and pretending), to talk about the extent of the damage, the consequences. "You all right, Toshiko?"

She looks at him directly. "Fine," she says, smiling. She studies the way his fingers curl over the edge of the desk, how pale his hand looks against the dark wood. "Is that all?"

He narrows his eyes at her. She tips her head, turning on her heel and heading out. (He doesn't say anything. The thing she has realized – Jack has never been a good leader, merely someone operating under presumption.)

The aftermath, when properly calculated –


Easily tabulated and quantified as disorganized thoughts and shuffled papers, journals upon journals with nonsensical strings of words – images she remembers that she shouldn't and places she's forgotten that she ought to know. Names and places and situations, some that belong to her and some that don't. And the muscle memory – sensation memory – of her head pounding from too many thoughts, the pressure of everyone else's presence.

Isn't this what you wanted, Mary had whispered to her in bed. To be needed? Loved?

(Mary – the e-z Enlightenment packaged in an alien soul masking itself in a human body. Another prisoner, and isn't that fitting; running from their own fates together, from the acts they have committed for understandable reasons. Mary, offering her other peoples' thoughts to occupy the spaces in her head where she used to remember the insides of prisons and forceful interrogation [not yet outlawed by the Geneva Convention, and perhaps disregarded by nations if it were; after all, The Bomb {yes, that one} has become another stale artifact of history; something to be distrusted by young students who can hardly believe the gravitas of it until they can see the photos themselves – dress patterns burnt onto the skin, cracked watch faces, and people melted into the earth].)

She can't remember her own response.

And here, in the records she has been keeping – this must be her. The slanted handwriting, letters pressed too close together, too tightly compacted, the wet running ink.

Owen doesn't look her in the eye for days.

It wasn't your business, he whispers (or he thought – his disdain and contempt blur together and she can't tell this instance apart from the other times, if there were other times at all), and she nods, yes, she agrees, yes, it wasn't her place –

That doesn't change facts. The problem of Owen has been further complicated – Gwen, and Gwen's boyfriend, and his feelings (if there are any, they must be considered, but this has always been an issue with Owen – impossible to read beyond the hard creases in his face, the contempt, the condescension) – another variable – and part of her enjoys it – the open guilt that Gwen wears, the sense of remorse that she suddenly feels, smiling and making gestures at forgiveness – bringing her tea, food, checking in.

Tosh writes names and dates for days - all numbers and letters - and watches them form lists and columns on the page until they don't mean anything at all.

She forgets how to write her name in Japanese.

It was an accident, meeting Tommy. Owen had been running late – as usual – and Jack hadn't a clue how to inspect the medical equipment.

Not that she'd known either. (But her official position is no position; nameless and titleless, here to assist because she has one area of expertise and that area is to be silent and to help, to provide definitions and background information and statistics where necessary, to understand machinery [for whether she is part one herself, she imagines they are never sure], to calculate and compute.

Her job title does not discuss contracts. Her job description does not include sacrifice. Not quite right for anybody else, but we appreciate you taking the time to apply and we will contact you shortly, sir-stroke-madam.)

He'd reached for his sidearm when he first saw her, a hard snarl, his jaw twitching. "Who are you?" he'd asked, "Where the hell am I?"

Jack had made things easier (as always) – a Captain, nonetheless, and no, Tommy, the war is over; Tosh(iko) is here to help you, Tommy. And she knows the message – she isn't one of those people (no, those accusations must be reserved for the second) -

Toshiko-cum-Tosh - tɒʃ

n. (Uncountable) Silly nonsense; twaddle; balderdash.

Possibly derived from tosheroon ("5 crowns"), therefore something of minimal worth.

Diluted from the Japanese -敏子- genius child. Yes, easy to see here how things become lost in translation, how the value gets lost in the exchange rate, and she has forgotten how many yen to a dollar, how many dollar to a pound sterling. The numbers in currency, she has never been concerned with, when she should have been paying attention the entire time; this – the last line of the haiku, the shock, the surprise, the joke on you.

And she tries for soft comforting tones. "Yes, I'm here to help," she says, and he tugs his hand out of her grasp (only trying to measure his pulse, only trying to assess the status of his being alive, trying to be Owen).

"Can I get somebody else, please?"

And Owen had come in then, half into his lab coat, stethoscope hanging from his shoulder, ready to inspect him. "What's she doing here?" he'd said. Not unkindly, she remembers, though her memory isn't a thing to trust.

"That's what I'm wondering," Tommy said.

And Tosh slipped out into the hallway and recited the quadratic equation in her head until she passed far enough from the room (the same old question of velocity, the same old questions and nonexistent solutions), until the voices faded.

She and Tommy somehow become involved, a unit in their own right, binomial (Tosh and Tommy) within parentheses, never to be discussed separately on the one day that he is revived in hopes of discovering his greater purpose. He holds her hand, his palm gradually growing warmer the longer he sits on the gurney, and she smiles at him and counts the number of times he squeezes her hand, the number of times he smiles at her, the number of times he smiles large enough for his cheeks to dimple.

He sits on the gurney and sets his hand on hers, and says, "Stay." (Every time, as if the protocol were to be changed, as if anything is different this time than the other time.)

Owen looks at them once – that, she remembers.

And when someone steps from the opposite side of the mirror – Alice in Wonderland, but reversed; Wonderland in Alice, the Hatter here in Wales, in Cardiff, in Real Life, capitalized to show its significance and its state of being real – everything turns on its head.

There is something about Tommy that makes other people look at her differently. He's boyish, certainly, and charming and something about him reminds her of Superman, always wanting to play the dashing hero and save someone.

Most everyone's mad here.

The Cheshire Cat, perhaps a relic from another universe, disappearing and reappearing at will because of the Rift. It's impassable; nothing's impossible. Relics of wordplay and literature and little cartoon girls in delicate dresses running around trying to find their way home. No one talks about Wonderland creeping into dreams and memories; no one thinks about how Alice could possibly look at her own world the same way again, having danced around with mad hatters and mice the size of men and seen the world upside-down.

And Tommy?

He spends his time marveling at what the world has become, talking vaguely of the old World Exhibitions they used to have and how nothing they ever showed could be as great as this – things like hybrid cars and televisions, Internet porn and smartphones.

He trusts her now, not like before, and Tosh waits for the other shoe to drop. To be too optimistic only invites the possibility of failure and Tommy? Them? So far left untouched by the Rift and its damaging fingers, by the destructive nature of Torchwood itself; sure, he has a greater purpose – one that Jack talks about in vague terms – but it could be something other than sacrifice: delivering a message, visiting an old friend, retrieving an artifact.

Tommy turns the world upside-down and all the people suddenly become something new; like magnets flitting around each other, polarized to repel, one has flipped and the relationships have changed.

This time is different, Owen tells her one evening, cracking open a beer. You're – you're getting yourself into something.

She stirs her tea absentmindedly. What am I getting myself into? What you and Diane had?

His jaw tightens. You – just be careful. And then he'd just gotten up and left, his beer still left on the table. She almost wants to laugh.

She doesn't love him – Tommy - but she knows she doesn't need to. He wakes up once a year and waits to be used for the mission (they've never spoken about it, but she wonders if he's terrified, waiting for his fate; she knows how cold Torchwood seems – how cold Torchwood is– and she wouldn't know what advice to give if he'd asked her at all but she wants to know, wants to see him angry, to see him fight) but for now, everything is Wonderland. So they go to the cinema and the pub and he buys her chips and she laughs and his mouth is sweet when he kisses her.

She marks the day on her calendar – his wake up days – like Christmas.

They have to send him back to die (and that is the sound of the other shoe dropping; here, where they don't take their shoes off at the door, where tiptoeing quietly around the old memories and the ghosts is not an option).

She catches Owen watching her from the corner, his arms folded over his chest, and she starts laughing. Tommy's sitting sullen, silent, in the corner and she turns, biting down against the butt of her hand, shoulders shaking.

Gwen reaches for her shoulders and she shifts out of her grasp. "Tosh, are you all right?"

In the harsh light of the infirmary, the surgical tools look even sharper. "Fine," she says.

Jack steps out into the hallway.

Tosh thinks about praying. There's no use, of course. No scientific basis for God, no rational basis for God. Not here – Torchwood – where men and women fall out of the sky for them to fall in love with, for them to become attached to only for them to be recalled back to wherever they came from. The Lord giveth and He taketh away.

Owen switches the medical machines off.

(It's then that Tommy starts sobbing, and that everyone trickles out into the hallway to shift their weight uncomfortably between their feet and pretend they aren't listening. Grief is never an easy thing to confront, but she has stared it in the face far too many times to be terrified of its look anymore; she doesn't hold Tommy, doesn't touch him – there is no solace for someone who knows they are about to die [whether or not for the wrong reasons or the right reasons is irrelevant; perhaps the right reasons makes it go down more easily and perhaps it makes believing in God easier and perhaps] and he doesn't ask her to do anything.

He doesn't take her hand and he doesn't ask her to stay and he doesn't ask her to leave.

It's breathing, mostly. The harsh ragged sound of his attempts at deep breaths through the sobs, the coughing laughter of a life unrealized, the unfairness of it all.

If it's the Great War, he says, does dying for it make me a great man?

A riddle, and not an impossible one. She says, you already were a great man and he slides an arm around her waist and pulls her towards him, his mouth pressing against her shoulder, forehead pressing against collarbone.

I love you, he says, and it's a lie – they both know that – but the dying need some kind of comfort and he is a soldier and he's young and there are supposed to be ticker-tape parades and people to see them off and people to greet them at home and maybe a grenade to the face, maybe bullets against the spine, shrapnel in his thigh, against his ribs, but never this – to recover from war only to have to realize that returning to it is inevitable, that dying for it is unavoidable.

In the end, war takes what it takes, reaps what it doesn't sow. It always wins, so there's no reason to attempt to gamble. He twines his hand in her hair and he kisses her and his mouth is hard against hers, his fingers forceful on the nape of her neck, and she knows the question he is asking. The question of the dead and the dying – to take life from anyone and anywhere they can find it.)

Tommy disappears and Tosh floats a lantern down the channel. The dead returning to the spirit world they came from. Owen offers to buy her a drink, tries to get her to talk to him, The snake eating its own tail and they have returned to this – point A: one body emotionally distant and the other hovering like a satellite, positions modified by the introduction of a third – something that knocks everything slightly off-tilt.

The Wonderland effect.

She leaves him on the bridge, although it's nice that he made an effort – always make an attempt to see the positive in things, New Years' Resolution 1998, and isn't that what she's doing? Lose a lover to the universe, gain a nice conversation. Exchange rates very rarely even out.

That does not, however, mean a break in old habits. Tosh heads to the off-license and buys more bottles – that word again, the plural simple present indicative et cetera et cetera – of hard liquor than is absolutely necessary to get her drunk. It's shots of vodka until she's fallen asleep on the bathroom floor, the ceiling seemingly making shapes of its own accord.

Owen rings her once and she drops her phone in the tub.

Things cannot be built upon memory – too much like monuments made of sand, it can too easily decay, collapse, be manipulated, be changed. In the morning after the night of Tommy's departure, when she wakes up on the bathroom floor, tongue sticking to the roof of her mouth, lips dry, an open bottle of vodka lying next to her, the ceramic tile imprinted on her cheek, there is nothing to recall, nothing that can be summoned to memory.

There was, of course, the puzzle that could be pieced together: yes, there must have been drinking for here, the bottle of vodka, and on its mouth, the print of her lipstick (and oh, at some point, she must have worn lipstick). In the kitchen, glasses of wine, still stained red so there must have been drinking before she had gone to buy more. And in the living room, a half-rolled cigarette.

Present becomes past and Tosh cannot help but recognize her teenage mistakes lying on top of her coffee table, her kitchen counters, the floor of her bathroom. When she had resolved to become a neater person, to keep everything clean and spotless (New Years' 2001), it had been under the presumption that it would leech into the rest of her life. That she would wrap herself more tightly, that the loose parts of her would no longer be visible to others, would no longer bleed into the rest of it.

She wakes up with a hangover and the pressing reminder that when memory is all you have, you have nothing at all. Her mother, leaving behind nothing but stories pressed together from memory like the fading smell of potpourri that she is meant to safeguard, to keep hold of.

Ruin in five words or less:

That's how she meets Adam.

Adam is easy to ingratiate in the spaces where she does not know her great-grandfather's name and does not remember what happens to her grandfather after the war. In between her favourite pieces of Japanese poetry and the memorization of Newtonian physical laws, he winds himself through like a needle threading a piece of cloth – inseparable until the thread is severed. It is her fault; that much is clear.

He thrives on her; the trail that Mary has left must be easy to find, and he walks its path easily. There isn't much to do to elucidate the true Tosh out of her – there is too much bitterness and resentment and finally, he can materialize, a fully formed person to stand on Welsh ground, to kiss her, to slip between her legs and taste another body.

There's so much of her memory that is already fluid, too malleable, and everything begins to change. The rest of the team, for one.

And Owen – and their dynamic – stands like a marker throughout her memories of the country. There is the kiss at the Christmas party, and the photo, and the recollections of pain at finding Gwen and Owen's affair. There's enough emotional pain for Adam to gorge himself on, enough memory to toy with and rewrite to place himself within the center of the narrative.

The third line of the haiku? Nothing works as its supposed to; no simple topsy-turvy here – they've rotated through several dimensions, twisted and turned and pushed and pulled and inverted, and now Owen, of course, is completely in love with her, the poor thing, and she doesn't quite know how to tell him that she's not interested, that she would never be interested in someone like him, not when people like Adam are around.

For once, Tosh feels solid in knowing who she is and what she's here for; there is Torchwood and she is indispensable to it, and there is Adam. And Owen? How could they possibly relate to each other when he can barely look her in the eye, when he has some formed notion in his head about the kind of noble person that she must be – and she isn't noble, not by any means; she has fought and clawed her way to settle wherever it is that she has landed, and she has no time for his lovesick looks towards her, like that of a little boy who has never seen the world. She can be no one's savior; that is the thing that Owen must know.

Tosh breaks Owen's heart and doesn't think about it beyond that; the hardest truths are the ones that must be told, and better now than later.

Adam is exorcised from their heads, but she can still feel his footprints everywhere, just as she can feel Mary's. Too many voices in her head and all she remembers is the way that she spoke to Owen, the way that she finally walked with her shoulders pulled back, standing tall.

Even Adam – master at navigating other people's memories as he was – didn't find the prison memories lurking deep. There was the shallow self-loathing, the unrequited love, the need to prove herself, the need to find herself, but the rest of it –

Her mother, prison, finding Jack –

Even ghosts – aliens, demons - she supposes, have their limits.

The culmination of the story –

Owen agrees to a date. Whether or not he asks her or she asks him, she can't really remember, and no, she has not gained the capability to learn from her mistakes – not now, not before, and not since – and to expect good things without the universe exacting a cost –

She knows the risks and she knows the game – the way that it has unfolded and the way that it'll continue to progress. Les jeux sont faitsand the chips lie where they lie and she will position them the same place she has always done before. Again and again and again, and she will never make a different choice. Karma – to live the same ten thousand lives and make the same choices and receive the same consequences and the same fate.

Except the story has changed, so the end must be different.

Owen dies.

And is revived and dies again and revives again (but the fact remains that he has become deceased, line crossed and name crossed off the list and all). He spends hours fuming, throwing things in a tantrum, and she thinks she ought to remind him that he should be careful, that if he breaks his bones, there is no fixing it, no way to make the bone reheal (no chance of bringing life where there is none); it's useless, though – that, she also knows – because Owen needs this, needs the space to react to their selfish decision to try to keep him alive.

(And the confession of love – what of that?

Of course he doesn't speak of it. It had always been a not-so-well-kept secret between the two of them, linking them to each other, but now that they have spoken it aloud, it has lost its charm, lost its power; like a curse, it is the speaking that makes it real – speaking always loosely defined for there will be curses always, no matter what one tries to do to ward them off [Mother trying to do so for years only to fail spectacularly at the end] – and now, they wait for the other shoe to drop.

Curses are like patterns: always to be found, and commonplace, if sought.

And the problem of Owen – now a riddle that occupies the entire blackboard; there must be a proof here, to say that this is how an Owen Harper operates and will always operate, especially with regard to the constant Tosh and the variable nature of Owen Harper's cruelty.)

He throws his surgical tools at the wall, overturns gurneys, screams so loudly that the Weevils withdraw into their corners, terrified of the sound. She doesn't approach him, but she doesn't leave either. She stays in her position in the corner, watchful of the moment when she can make herself useful. (The ultimate virtue: to become useful; and the second: to become significant; and the third: to become loved.)

He screams and he scowls and he cries, shouting about the fucked-up-ness of it all until he is spitting at the wall, face still pale. "What the fuck are you still doing here?" he shouts at her.

She doesn't cower. "Waiting," she says.

He sniffs, brushing his nose with his hand. "Yeah? Waiting for what?" And then, the harsh laugh. "If you're waiting for that date, you're going to be waiting a long time."

Her eyes narrow, lips pressed in a thin line. The question always of distance – the tortoise moving ahead 20 meters, and the hare trying to catch up. And what of emotional distance, personal distance; what paradoxes did Zeno have in store for those situations? She bites her lip and picks the scalpel up off the floor, its smooth sharp edge a beautiful line. Her nail polish is chipping, but the size of the scalpel, its smooth lines – it makes her fingers look so delicate. Like china.

He meets her gaze and says, "Tosh?" And there is that sound of the little boy again, voice part-cautious and part-surprise.

She sets the scalpel down on the counter. (And is this it? The moment when the equation is finally balanced on both sides, no more adding or subtracting, multiplying or dividing, factoring to be done – when he looks at her and he sees all the capacity she has for darkness within her, when she is more than just the technical help, more than just the background assistant, more than just uncommonly kind or pleasant.

It is that moment – the epiphany – when everything clicks into place and people stop being archetypes and begin to be human beings [that moment when you have ceased looking into the abyss, but the abyss has begun looking into you]; he looks at her and she wonders if he suddenly understands that she has never been an unquestioning ally on their side, but merely a critic, resentful and acerbic, who learnt to hold her tongue.)

"Yes, Owen?" she says.

He licks his lips, tapping a rhythm against the wall with his knuckles; he never looks at her. (And yes, there must be the question of whether he imagined whatever monster it was he thought he saw or whether the monster was real, whether the Tosh he thought he knew was never her.) "Nothing," he says, voice so quiet it tremors.

Death quiets him in that way: he retreats into himself, becomes a more-concentrated Owen than they have ever seen before, interspersing violent outbursts – explosions of rage to prove that he is alive, that he can still feel even if he can't feel – into his everyday routines.

And Tosh still goes through the motions (because isn't that the epitome of Britishness? To continue, to keep calm and carry on even if bombs are falling on houses, even if the dead have risen back to life, even if there's nothing he can do with his afterlife among the living?), bringing him tea and the occasional plate of sandwiches. He never looks at them, but there's always a perfunctory thank you – more than he had given her before – and she thinks, the niceties must be obeyed in order to prove that the apocalypse isn't coming. Civilization continues to exist as long as there is still the taking of toast and tea.

And how best to prove his standard of living? (The thing they agree to never talk about again in the short space between now and when she dies [for she will die; a prophetic thing to be born on April 9 – how could she ever have managed to avoid death and suffering when they are part and parcel of her character, when they are imbued into the day she was born? Better to accept prophecy than to avoid it and find oneself surprised by the suddenness of it all], he initiates.

Too much time spent with the dull clarity of death, or perhaps too much time spent with the living, but he waits in the Hub – living there an alternative to his apartment, to being confronted with the trappings of life in the city with its monthly rent and utility bills and empty refrigerator – until the rest of them have trickled out, and it's just him and her and the humming of the dozens of machines she uses.

It's in-between the time when she is writing her reports and tidying up everyone else's accounts in their own case files when he approaches her desk [and yes, memory is inextricable here as well; there, the smudge of chocolate from the Christmas party – unobserved, perhaps, or carelessly left – from the last time] and brushes the ends of her hair with the tips of his fingers.

She stills, her breathing shaky, and he says her name. Or maybe he doesn't and she believes that he did, but the point is that she understands his meaning, the intent behind the action. He brushes her hair from her shoulder and she turns to face him.

Everything else happens quickly and in imprecise order: there is the kiss, first; his mouth bruising, demanding on hers – the proof he is demanding that he is still alive, that he can still, that he is still a man, even after all of this; his body boxing her against the desk, and she can't think, doesn't think, just responds. [The footnoted reference here – Newton's third.]

It's ceaseless, unyielding; Owen has no need of air and she's panting, gasping between kisses and her lips are already tingling and his hands are so cool against her. His mouth moves to her neck then as his hand busies itself with the unbuttoning and unzipping of her jeans and she jerks her hips towards him just once, the computer chair squeaking. He laughs as her head drops back with another rattling breath, his hand slipping down the front of her jeans.

She grips the arm of the chair. "Owen."

And she knows this isn't about her. She knows, but god, she can't help but indulge herself; if she gets something out of it, then does it matter what his intent is? For as long as she's worked at Torchwood – and longer than most of them, except Jack – she doesn't think any of them truly understood her own capacity to be fucked up. But Owen has his hand down the front of her jeans, his mouth against her neck, brushing his fingertips delicately across her skin, and she wonders what they would say if they could see her now.

And when his fingers are finally inside of her, when she's sitting on the very edge of the chair and gently moving with his fingers, white-knuckling the chair, she knows that this moment has nothing to do with her and everything to do with the control he wants to feel he's regained.

He looks at her, pressing a kiss to her lightly freckled collarbone.

When she comes, she closes her eyes, her hips jerking against the seat of the chair. He stands then and heads to the bathroom without a word. It was never about anything other than affirmation.)

And the prophecy comes to pass: April 2008, and they shepherd themselves to the other side.

It's quiet on the line and she is bleeding into her own hands – again the snake eating itself – and he has gone backward, returned to his old habits – terrified of the dark, terrified of leaving, terrified of the things he doesn't know. And she's grateful for it, his focus on his own pain, the screams and the shouting; the end of the world should come with a bang, and not a whimper.

And hasn't that always been their dynamic – him the bang and she the whimper?

She's going to die today. And now is the time to be weighing her sins against her good deeds, to insure that she has bought herself a place in someplace other than hell. But she can't focus; she wants to wait for the line to grow quiet, for his breathing to suddenly even out into silence, for there to be nothing other than the warning klaxons going off in the background. They are here to see each other to the end, aren't they?

"Tosh?" he says. And yes, Owen, yes, she has heard this question before, heard it from Tommy when it was his turn to return and face his own prophetic nightmare, has answered this question before, has ignored the question – yes, you are going to die and yes, there is certain death for both of them – and no, she has no idea of what lies beyond (and shouldn't he have a clearer picture than her? Perhaps that's why he's so terrified), but she takes a deep breath and tries to sound lively.

"Yes, Owen?"

He sniffs and part of her wonders if he will find another way to survive, if the powers of the resurrection glove were even greater than their imagining. "I'm sorry, Tosh. I'm so – "

She thinks of praying, but neither of them are particularly good at it. His breathing turns ragged and she imagines the radiation must be beginning to affect him now; he murmurs something, the words slurred together, and she murmurs affirmative noises. Yes, she understands; yes, she's here; yes, the two of them are going to die linked together – the thread, it turns out, never severed – without the company of each other's bodies. There's weight to physical presence, and she misses that now.

Her toes are tingling and she wiggles her fingers, the dried blood between them cracking with the movement.

The numbness is moving further up her body and she's stopped crying and Owen has stopped making noise and she has prepared for this, she has prepared her goodbyes on the computer and she is ready; this is the culmination of her birthday – certain death and suffering – and yet, her mother always believed that she could save them both.

She names the SI units in her head like saints when everything begins to blur; the last thing she remembers: Jack. (Fitting, after all, isn't it? To be saved by him and then, to die by him, because of him, for his mission –

The last thing she remembers: his face, the warmth of his hands. And that's it – contract's up, and now, he'll have to find somebody new to take her place and do her duties and use them up until they too have wasted away for his mission – or for the greater hope of saving the earth, but Tosh knows more often than not, the two blur and they have been serving him as much as they have been serving the planet.)

And what legacy is left?

The stacks of papers in her apartment left to yellow and age until they become brittle, cracking at someone's touch, the handwriting no longer legible. And perhaps they can be collected into an amalgam of her life – this, the person she used to be; this, the entirety of a human life; this, the life of a 21st century woman in Wales – in sum: how not to live your life. And in between the even lines of notes, of meticulously detailed observations, must be her story – must be, for she has told it to no one and stories exist independent of the characters; stories are taken down, either in memory or on paper, and passed on (this is who your grandmother was, this is who your parents were, this, then, must be how you will be). And in her piles of notes, in the dusty corners of her bedroom, her story must be hiding (people measured by the artifacts they have collected, by the way they choose to arrange their furniture, the food they have kept in their refrigerators).

Heroes are meant to have origin stories.

The end is the beginning is the snake and the conch curling back into itself.

She wakes up on a beach, the sand digging into the backs of her thighs, her hair damp and clinging to her neck. Whether the beach is metaphorical, metaphysical, or actual is another question. There's a rolling tide and she's freezing and the last thing she remembers (memory, that tricky thing) is being left to die.

Her hands run over her ribcage, her stomach; the bleeding has stopped, but there – the indentation in the skin, hard and raised, a scar already forming.

"You all right?"

Even the air tastes like salt.

She stands, the water frothing at her ankles. "Do you know where we are?"

There are possibilities, certainly – Heaven, the desired choice; Hell, the most obvious; purgatory; limbo; the waiting room for reincarnation; the room to wait for celestial judgment; a dimension that exists in a state of impossibility for all lost souls; the space where ghosts are made; but certainly not a beach – nothing quite so simplistic, not when they have given their lives (and for him, multiple times) towards something that they imagined could redeem them to some kind of peace. (And in the end, that is always what they wish the dead: peace, as if the dead don't cling to their own vices, their petty jealousies, the loves and hates that motivated them through life.

This is why there are tables set with food, gifts laid out; this is why they burn joss paper and false money; this is why they permit the dead the option to eat first. The thing she has forgotten in the migration, the parable of the myth: the dead hold on to their grudges like everyone else.)

"Don't know," he says, reaching out to help her up.

(She should know better – the running theme in her head, sometimes in her mother's voice and sometimes in her own, but always: learn from your mistakes.)

She takes his hand.

The most striking aspect of Zeno's paradoxes to her has always been the cruelty of the circumstances: constant pursuit with no option to pause, no option to surpass the opponent (tortoise, hare, roles constantly changing), infinite movement in finite spaces of time.

And here they are: moving – perhaps not infinitely, perhaps not forever, but still moving when they shouldn't be, when the both of them should be six feet underground being devoured by bacteria and the worms of the earth.

She kisses him then too (pronouns and placement important, she to him and not the inverse), hands against his face, his teeth grazing her lip – the puzzle here, the problem here is to decipher whether this represents forward movement or backward – positive acceleration or negative, for if gravity is to be considered despite Einstein's objection, then it must be included as a factor; if she is moving in a direction that constitutes progression, that establishes that time x is where Toshiko Sato officially learned from her mistakes (noted in the log, in the archives, in the documents that will establish that she was a Person, perhaps of muted importance, but a Person who did Things, whether or not those Things are historically relevant) and realized the futility of chasing men who were not interested in her, or the futility of courtesy when telling men you do not love who are in love with you that their advances are objectionable (each universe, each situation with an equal probability of occurrence).

The haiku: she kisses him and/

nothing but silence and cold/

(and here: the third line, the punchline to the joke or the punch to the stomach depending on where you are and who you are with, and, of course, in retrospect, there are no other options; for if Owen Harper in one universe thinks something and does something, then all the Owen Harpers in all the universes must have thought his thoughts and considered his potential action [although different universes being stable and similar to the universe here – in this time and in this space, which cannot be presently identified, catalogued, or referenced – rendering the resultant action variable] and this is where Tosh sees that there has been no movement at all, merely the illusion of movement [the previous questions regarding progression/regression no longer relevant] and they have stayed the same, static as electrons in their clouds, their respective orbits)

his ringing laughter.

She kisses him and his hand is surprisingly warm against her cheek and he says, "How long have you been waiting to do that?"

Her toe traces a line in the sand.

"Doesn't matter, does it?" she says.

"Sure, it does," he says.

The question was never of timelines, of when, but if; the longer she thinks about it, the longer everything becomes clear that Owen has become threaded within her, a dashed line of thread; Dr. Owen Harper – doctor as in biological, as in medical school, e.g. in the business of fixing people (whether or not the odds of their being fixed are good or bad), become part of her thought process, part of her if only through proxy because he was a bridge to the act of Fixing and being Fixed – those ideas of forward movement again, even if the rabbit can never reach the tortoise because they will be moving infinitely within their own universes.

And perhaps the science has gotten muddled but the histories will remain the same; her legacy will be part of her mother's and her mother's remains part of her grandmother's and the conch will never unfurl on its own volition; they always return to familiar paths.

An arrow shot from a bow moves at x kilometers per hour, but it does not matter where the huntsman was aiming (if he was aiming at all) or whoever he intends to kill (or whatever) or whether he's killing for the right reasons or the wrong reasons or by whose morality (West, East, or other markers of the humaneness of the treatment) such rightness or wrongness is calculated because the answer is that the arrow will never reach its destination –

To move from point x at (x,y) on plane z to point x2 requires first that the arrow reach point x1 between the two – the midpoint, the easiest example; and to reach point x1 at (x,y) on plane z requires that the arrow must also reach point x1/2 and so on and so forth, et cetera, ad nauseam, creating infinite motion in a finite distance –

thus rendering motion (movement, progression, the question of distances [emotional, mental, physical, familial]) impossible;

quod erat demonstrandum.

He takes her hand on a beach in the afterlife and she kisses him and there is the inescapable fact that they are both dead (officially deceased with authenticated certificates and all), and there is nothing left to calculate, nothing left to think or to do, except perhaps to make peace or complete their last mission or to find a new mission or to simply move on and finally stop existing.

He takes her hand and they wake up (whether metaphorical, physical, philosophical, or actual to be determined) in a place (x,y) on plane z that cannot be identified. He doesn't let go of her hand and she wonders if they can find a way to make the Rift accessible, to return them to the place they hated (hated, yet inextricable from themselves).

"What are we supposed to do now?" he says.

And she says, "I don't know. Move on, perhaps."

They return in the typical way: transparent, unable to touch anything except each other (not even the furniture who are just as lifeless as they are) but able to speak (although whether or not the others can hear them is unknown); she lingers in the spaces of Jack's office, touching everything she can even if they cannot register her touch.

When Jack sees her, there are no admissions of apology, no shock, just a rattling sigh (and she can see how tense he is, the way his neck and shoulders become stiff).

"I thought this would happen," he says, adjusting one of his braces.

She chews on the nail of her thumb. "Glad you warned us then," she says. He arches a brow, chin tilted up towards her – oh, yes, he hadn't been expecting this but even the trappings of death has its own freedom – arms crossed.

Owen slips through the wall and Jack rubs at his eyes – o captain, my captain – and none of them say anything. Owen's hand still feels warm when he slips his fingers between hers, and she could become used to this, she thinks – the warmth of his hand, the warmth of his skin, the softness of his mouth (and isn't that a surprise, how quickly transformation can happen; a hardened jaw to a soft mouth in such a [short, perhaps, or long; all relative in the distorted view of hindsight {no clarity of the dead, simply the myopic visions of the no-longer-living who have not yet managed the objectivity of being one of the no-longer-living}]);

The end of the story could have been nothing else:

(Jack rummages through his drawers and sets a few of their belongings – relics, artifacts – on the front of his desk by his nameplate. There are sidearms too, and fake badges, fake identification, the photo of them from the Christmas party.

"You planning on coming back?"

Owen coughs. "We are back, aren't we?"

"Not what I meant," Jack says, slipping his hands in his pockets. The pocketwatch he used to keep on his desk absent.

And what would they do, the unfortunate abandoned dead, unable to touch things or people, unable to do much but float through furniture, float through the world, aimless yet searching. The answer: that the question was never truly a question.

They haunt the Hub - for what other option could have been fitting? What other option could have made sense? – and help when they can, when the Torchwood team [in flesh and blood] are in the office. And in the gaps of time when they are missing, when the office is empty, they hover around their old stations and Owen slips his hand underneath her shirt, tracing lines against her skin, moving up her ribcage, securing her to him, his mouth against her neck, just behind her ear, and this is movement, isn't it?)

The snake devours its own tail and fixes its destiny to a single point A, and does not move in any other direction (x, y, or z).