Not my characters, though I would treat them well.

…..

Doctor Owen Harper, Torchwood operative, Sentient Zombie Alien Hunter (aka Mr. Walking Sci-fi Cliché), is making sure that whatever happens, he won't scream. If he screams, it'll make Tosh cry. And after years of sniping at everyone and everything, since he lost Diane – no, no, since he lost Kate – he realizes that if these are his last moments, he is not going to make the shy, lovely, underappreciated Toshiko Sato cry.

The light's very bright now. He hopes his inability to feel pain will carry him through whatever happens. He sinks to his knees. He can hardly see with all this whiteness.

Then a hand takes his.

"What?"

"It's a bit stark in here, isn't it?" says a cheery female voice in his ear. "Let me fix that."

Then they are bathed in a soft, golden glow, and he can see his out-of-nowhere companion. She's a pretty, young-looking, dark-haired girl, a good deal like Gwen if Gwen never got any sun and wore lots of white powder. She has an Egyptian-symbol-thingy around her neck. Cropped leather jacket. Spiky bracelet. Heeled black boots. A curl under one eye, black lipstick, the sort you'd expect on a sullen teenager. But she looks at him like seeing him has made her day perfect.

"Oh my god, you're going to get killed. I don't know where you came from, but this station's going into meltdown and…"

"Ssh." She smoothes his hair like a mother would. Like his mother would have, if she'd given a damn about him. "This might be easier for you if you lie down."

He complies. He feels tired. "Who are you?"

She smiles. "I'm Death. The real one."

"But I fought with that skeleton. I won."

"That's…let's say that's an employee of mine. I can't have people bringing other people back willy-nilly. Messes everything up, and I'm just one anthropomorphic personification getting by, haven't got the staff for it. They need to know there are serious consequences. They need to be scared. Did you ever wonder why that monster only picked off humans who were going to die within the next few days in any case?"

"But, you're – you're – you're so hot."

She giggles. "You are too, but right now it's mostly in the 'radioactive' sense. Thing is, if people had proof Death was especially pleasant, compared to what they were expecting, what would keep them living when the going got tough? So if someone does get revived, I don't let them remember me while they're alive. Technically, you're still in the land of the living, but you're dead enough to see me and I thought it would be less frightening if you could have someone sitting with you. My schedule's relatively clear, not having to take in all of Cardiff at once, and I don't like what I look like to a Weevil. The teeth are weird. Bothers me for hours after."

"Wait, have you met Jack?"

The sparkle in her eye says it all. Owen feels a stab of jealousy. "He's convinced he'll seduce me one of these deaths. I do sort of look forward too seeing him, though. Messed up as that might sound. I mostly see people twice, and when someone's as fun as Jack it's nice to have repeats."

"Twice?" He looks at his bandaged hand, and notices that the bandages are burning. He mercifully doesn't register it as the agony it should be.

"You too, Owen. I brought you into this world, and I'm taking you out."

He raises his eyebrows. Then he notices those are on fire too. Well. "So I'm eyeing up my cosmic mother?"

"You Torchwood types have always been as kinky a knotted-up pipe cleaner. The majority of you proposition me the moment I show up. Not Suzie." At this she frowns briefly. "It was sort of tricky with Suzie. I couldn't let her out of the waiting room, as it were. It was months. You only get to go upstairs when you're dead for good."

Owen hasn't laughed in a while. It feels nice, even though his clothes are shriveling into cinders. He doesn't mind her seeing him naked, though. The sort of closeness he had with Kate comes naturally, like he's known her all his life. "Am I going to…melt?"

"Basically. Don't worry, I've seen it all. Really. All."

"What does it look like when someone's fallen into a hamburger-grinder?"

This doesn't faze her the slightest. "Like especially juicy Big Macs with bits of teeth, why?"

Owen tries to shrug, but his shoulders aren't letting him. They feel too gelatinous. "When Jack brought me back, I fantasized doing all sorts of things to him. I got over it, though."

Death scratches her head. "I think he's done that one, actually. We had time to play five games of strip poker before the Bad Wolf managed to separate him from the ground chuck."

Owen chooses to ignore this puzzling Bad Wolf reference – for one thing, it had been the name of a band he briefly joined as a teenager, for no reason they could ever explain – in favor of the far more pressing question. "How do you play multiple games of strip poker in a row?"

"He taught me. You start playing it so that when you lose a hand, your opponent puts something on. Once you're both fully clothed you can start over." She sighs. "Of course, since he has been, will be, and is buried alive for several centuries, we mostly only had, have, will have time to swap stories. Don't worry. He gets out, has gotten out okay and sane."

"Sane?"

"The Bad Wolf doesn't just put his body back together. It puts his mind back, too. Also, I asked my little sister to leave him alone, even though she likes him. Poor Delirium. She's such a sweetie but she just can't keep from breaking things."

"Uh, Death?"

"Yes, Owen?"

"My body's losing its form. My hand's like putty." This doesn't bother him as much as he expected.

"Yes, Owen. I'm right here. When it's done I can take you to the next part."

"What is the next part?"

She puts a slender finger to her dark lips. "Lots of options. Pretty much depends on what you really think you deserve. And before you think about that too hard, remember who you've saved and that Jack forgives you."

"Will Diane be there? Or Kate? Or my granddad?"

"I loved your granddad. He was a great doctor."

"Yeah, he was."

"You'll find out soon."

He looks into her soft, dark eyes, thinks about the city being safe for another day, and smiles. "Third time luck."