Toshiko Sato could feel her heart growing weaker and weaker as she stared into the eyes of Captain Jack. Captain, my Captain, she thought. It’s okay. She wanted to reach up and touch the tears of grief out of his eyes — his eyes that looked so much older than they had that morning. But her arm was too heavy to lift. She tried and tried, but she couldn’t lift her hand to his face, so she left it behind and touched him without it. He fizzed against her like a wet finger against a hot iron. No pain, but she couldn’t quite touch him through it. The rest of her body felt heavy too, almost smothering, like a winter coat on a summer’s day, so she shrugged it off and let herself drift in the currents of air. But it wasn’t air. It was something fluid that refracted the light and made everything look different.
She looked back for a brief moment. In one part of her perception, she saw that she was lying dead on the floor in the medical unit, and Captain Jack was rocking her lifeless body, and Gwen was weeping, and Ianto stood in shock by the wall. In the other part, which was starting to see things much more clearly, she was very obviously floating somewhere above them, and there were no walls and no room, but just this fluid echo of life all around, and Gwen was a glowing pulse of warm love light, and Ianto was a larger but cooler green light of loyalty, and Captain Jack was immense and so blindingly bright he would have hurt her eyes, if she still had any to hurt, but she didn’t, so she just stared in awe. She reached out to touch each of them, but they resisted her hand, throwing sparks, and they could not feel her.
Jack’s light was so bright he almost drowned out the other light that was coming from somewhere above her. But that light came with sounds that drew her attention, and she turned away from her unimportant shell, and the glowing — and also unimportant — lights of her friends, and searched with all her perception, and the other light caught her, like a current.
She could almost see within this current. There was her mother, and her grandfather, and her great aunt Moriko who had died when Tosh was six. The current was drawing her, gently, swiftly, away from everything earthly, and that felt right. The light was warm and felt fantastic, like her mother’s womb — which strangely she remembered now with perfect clarity — and like ice cream and adrenaline and sex, all together.
The thought stopped her. She was brought up short, almost as if she had a body again, and everything solidified with a bump.
Where was Owen?
She turned away from the white light and searched. There were little dots of life all around her, glowing points of human and animal and plant lives, of varying brightnesses. Most of them — the living — were milling about in two dimensions on what must have been the ground. Many were floating around like she was, some of them slipping past her into their own currents and away, some of them quietly vanishing like smoke in the wind. She didn’t recognize them. They were no one she knew.
Then there was the wound of angry red down there amongst the living. Not a glow of light but the smoldering embers of a fire not quite extinguished, and she knew without a doubt that that was Owen.
She could hear her mother’s voice telling her to stop, but she couldn’t leave him there. She turned and left her current, fighting through until it faded and vanished, leaving her cold and alone, but no longer struggling. She could feel the desire to vanish with it, disappear into nothingness. It would have been very easy, now that she had turned away from all that death could have given back to her. It would have been thoughtless and painless nothingness. But she couldn’t leave him there.
She was by his side in a moment. Distance meant nothing, now. In one part of her perception, a human body was melting, screaming weakly, writhing horrifically in a contained nuclear blast. In another part, she could see Owen’s red smolder half choked in a substance that seemed like tar. He had no idea she was there.
She reached forward to touch him. There was no fizz of life energy, nothing to keep her from taking hold of his smoldering shoulder. Perceptions were shaky, and she was new to this bodilessness, so she had a body again — albeit a substanceless one — with hands that could pull and legs that could brace, and she grabbed and heaved with every once of her spirit strength.
It was no use. Owen was so firmly trapped in the tar, her tugging had barely shifted him. “Owen!” she cried out. “Owen, it’s me! Help me!”
Nothing. Owen's body in her other, substantial perception was a gooey mess of horror, but strangely the insubstantial tar was far more terrifying to her in her current state. She gave one more tug, and felt herself being dragged into it. Yelping with terror, she pulled back, and Owen seemed to sink even further under. The smoldering light faded, flickering.
“No!” Tosh made herself reach forward again, ignore the cloying, burning, smothering feel of the tarry insubstance, and wrap her substanceless arms around his dying light. Her own light faded under the tar’s baleful influence, and she wanted to scream. How had he endured it for so long? It was agony to her spirit.
“Owen,” she whispered to him. “Owen, it’s me. It’s me. Look at me. Open your eyes and see me, for once. Just this once. Hear me, see me, let me. Just this once, please. Just let me in.”
The smoldering light that was Owen showed no sign of perceiving her. He never did. Even when she was alive, when they were both right there and it had been so easy, he couldn’t. But she couldn’t leave him there. Tosh sighed — or would have — and pulled herself closer. “I won’t let go. But please, my love. Just open your eyes.” She would have been crying, if she’d had any eyes. Nothing. She almost gave into despair, then.“Oh, Owen.”
The melted, twisted body in the nuclear reactor paused in its writhings, and the smoldering light in her arms shifted. “Owen?” Had he heard her? Tosh called out as loudly as her spirit could muster. “Owen! Owen!”
“Owen! Yes, it’s me. Help me!” She grabbed hold of his shoulders and yanked.
“Aargh!” Owen screamed, both his body and spirit, and Tosh almost let go. But the smoldering redness grew a little brighter, and she knew what she was doing was right.
“That’s right,” Tosh said. “Let it hurt, come on! Come with me!”
“Augh! I can’t!”
“I won’t let go. I won’t, do you hear me?”
The tarry insubstance didn’t want to let him go. It had him, and it intended to keep him, and if Tosh got in the way, it would have her, too. Like a gruesome tug-o-war, Tosh pulled with all her might, and the tarry insubstance gripped tighter and tighter. Suddenly it lashed out, striking Tosh with a sticky tendril of blackness, staining her with nothing. She was diminished. She could feel it. She must have looked it, too, for Owen cried out. “No! No, leave her alone! Tosh, just leave me.”
“It’s okay. You have to be free.”
“So do you!”
“I was never free!”
Tosh stared at him. They were both so intense, so focused, that in that moment, it was as if they were both fully alive. His face was flushed and angry and desperate, and looked so alive, and she loved him so fiercely that it tore her in two. “I’d rather it took me than leave you here alone.” And she kissed him hard and passionately.
Both Owen’s hands went up to hold her face, lacing into her hair, and he brightened in her embrace. It was easier to hold him. She kissed him again, pulling him to her, and Owen kicked and strained, and then screamed again, in anguish. But she didn’t let go. Tosh held on to Owen with all of her love, dragging him out of the pit of black, away from his decaying corpse, out of despair and into her arms.
There was a moment of peace, then, where neither of them could believe it had happened. Then a scene evolved around them, half the lounge area of the hub, but partly Owen’s apartment, and partly Tosh’s bedroom when she was a child. It was just a place where they both felt comfortable, and they’d made it together, unknowingly. Tosh held him securely, breathing in his scent — or the memory of his scent, or something, it didn’t matter — and he buried his face in her hair. “What happened? Where are we?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” Tosh said.
“How did you get here? Where did you...?” He stopped and pulled away, looking down at her. He took in a deep breath, and his eyes closed. “Oh, Tosh.” He held her close again, nuzzling her neck. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
She knew he knew, then. “I didn’t want you to worry,” she said. “What could you have done? I was only dying.”
He made a sound that was half a laugh and half a sob. “How did you find me?”
“You were obvious,” Tosh said. “And I knew you.”
He squeezed her, and she realized they were both naked against each other, and they seemed to be floating in the middle of this unreal room, and none of it mattered. “Oh, Tosh,” he said again. “What happens now?”
“I don’t know,” Tosh admitted. “I missed the white light. I think that was what happened next, but... I had to find you.”
“You what?” He stared at her with incredulity.
“I went back for you. I couldn’t leave you there.”
He stared speechless for a long, long time. “Oh, Tosh,” he said a third time. He pulled away from her. He sank and sagged, and his red light — no longer smoldering but glowing steadily and passionately — dimmed. “You didn’t have to do that for me.”
Tosh sank down until she was on his level again. “I did it for me,” she said. “I was selfish, and I wanted you with me.” She took his insubstantial hand. “I love you.”
“I don’t deserve you.”
“I don’t care.”
He looked around. “This isn’t how it was last time. There was nothing last time.”
“Maybe there’s nothing this time,” Tosh admitted. “Maybe this is all just the final electro impulses of my brain, spasming through my synapses, giving me this wonderful dream.” She shrugged and reached for him. “I don’t care. I’ll take it.”
“I love you, Tosh,” Owen said. It was simple, and it was true. He let her embrace him again. “Why is it so hard to say it in the flesh?” And he kissed her, tenderly, beautifully, and it didn’t matter that neither of them had a body and neither of them were alive. They were together. And it was what she had been waiting for.
Tosh pulled away, startled. “Owen! Do you hear that?”
He shook his head. The room around them melted away as if — as if — it had never been. “They’re back!”
“My family. The light, it’s back.”
Owen’s hold on her loosened. “Than you should go.”
“Can’t you see it?”
He shook his head, but he looked sanguine.
“No,” Tosh said, disbelieving. “No! No, I’m not going without you.”
“No!” She gripped him tightly and kissed his cheek, his throat, again and again. “No,” she said. “I won’t go, I won’t do it. I don’t care.”
“I can’t see it, Tosh. It’s just empty out there.”
Tosh pulled away a little and stared at him. “That’s it,” she said. “Those lights that fade, they’re just gone. If I leave you here, you’ll just go. I know it.”
He smiled sadly. “Maybe that’s all I want.” He touched her cheek. “It’s okay. You’ve freed me. You’ve done what you needed to do, and it was more than I hoped for, and far more than I deserve. Tosh you need to go. Follow your white light. Go where it takes you.” He paused, and his eyes were soft. “And know I love you.”
Tosh was angry, but it was a light, triumphant anger. “No,” she said. “No, I’m not going. Not without you.”
“I can’t see it.”
“You can’t see it, you don’t think you deserve it,” she said. “You’ve been so filled with anger and remorse and cynicism, you die and all you see is black. Come here.”
“Come here! Let me show you what I see. I think I can, now.” She reached for him. “Oh, come here.” And she kissed him, drawing him close, closer, closer, until their residual human images had to fade to bring him close enough. It was beyond making love, but it felt almost like it, without flesh, mingling and merging until he was drawn inside her to see how she saw. And what she saw was him. Owen. Tortured and cynical and filled with rage, yes, but innocent like a little boy when he fell asleep half drunk, and cackling like a mad scientist when he figured something out, and filled with compassion as he freed the stranded star-whale into death. The passion that filled him as Tosh — unbeknownst and accidentally — caught sight of him making love to Gwen on the security camera in the hub. She’d never seen such passion. She’d turned the camera off quickly, but the brief image she’d seen had imprinted itself in her memory. The smell of him those few times he’d held her or kissed her, the feel of his hand on hers, the sound of his laughter. He made her laugh. He made her cry. He made her alive.
And she really wasn’t going to let him go.
Owen’s spirit melted a little, and brightened, and sagged against her. “Oh, that’s not me.”
“It is.” She pulled him even closer. “Come with me.”
He was softening. “If you really want me....”
“Come with me.”
And he sagged again, till they were mingling more deeply within each other. “I don’t think I can pull away,” he admitted.
“Then you’re stuck with me,” Tosh said. “Come with me.”
“Yes,” they said.
Tosh’s family called out to her, tried to draw her into the current of light. But she wasn't going alone. OwenandTosh looked up, both of them, bound. “All right,” they said. “We’ll go. Together.”
It was what they’d both been waiting for.