Someone Else's Shoes
Torchwood ; Tosh, Gwen (background canon pairings) ; PG-13 ; 3500 words ; bodyswap!fic
"This has happened before?" Gwen asked. Tosh really didn't know why she sounded surprised.
Written for halfamoon (and to indulge my love of this trope), and thanks to iambickilometer for betaing!
Someone Else's Shoes
Tosh woke up groggily, and not in her own bed. She stayed very still, frozen by a mix of dread and a splitting headache. Then there was movement next to her, and she had to clamp her mouth shut to stop herself yelping.
Slowly, so slowly, she sat up. There was a man in the bed. A sleeping, naked man. She leaned over, trying to see his face, and -- crap. Tosh took in the room, the things in it -- the jacket slung over a chair, the handbag by the bathroom door, the shirts hanging off the wardrobe door handle.
She was in Gwen's house, in Gwen's bed, next to Gwen's husband.
As quietly as she could, Tosh slid out from the covers and ran for the bathroom. She felt terrible, the worst hangover imaginable -- it was like every inch of her had been pulled apart and put back wrong, she could barely keep upright. She locked herself in the bathroom and tried not to panic. There had to be an explanation for how she ended up here other than mad, drunken sex with Rhys. She hadn't even been out last night; she'd been tracking an energy signature, she and Gwen were both on the late shift . . .
She turned on the light and saw herself in the mirror, and then she realised: this was so, so much worse than she'd thought.
In despair and resignation -- something this disturbing was bound to happen to her eventually -- Tosh rushed to the toilet, tripping up over herself. Nausea rushed over her, and she threw up the contents of Gwen's stomach.
She sat on the floor for a while, then drank three glasses of water and didn't feel better in the slightest. Then she quickly unlocked the door and took Gwen's handbag -- phone, phone, there had to be a phone.
She flipped Gwen's mobile open, scrolled down to her own name, and called.
"Hello?" It was Tosh's own voice, sounding spooked.
"Hi--" Tosh cut off, startled as Gwen's voice left her mouth. Then she tried again. "Gwen? Is that you?"
"Tosh? Oh, thank Christ. Did you --"
"Wake up in your house, in your body, then completely freak out?" Tosh supplied.
"Yeah, that sounds about right. God. First the killer alien foetus, now this -- we have bloody awful jobs."
"Yes, we do."
There was silence for a moment, then Gwen bubbled up with laughter over the phone line, and Tosh couldn't help but join in.
"Oh," she said weakly, "what are we going to do?"
"Draw up a battle plan," said Gwen. "Meet me on the Plass, then we'll talk to Jack, he'll know what to do."
"Right. Should I -- what should I say to Rhys?"
Gwen groaned. "Rhys, I hadn't -- he's asleep right now?"
"And -- he's not wearing anything, is he?"
"Not as such, no."
"Wow, Tosh -- I'm really sorry."
"Don't worry about it. I mean, I thought for a minute that I'd - but it turns out it's aliens."
"Small mercies, then." Gwen muttered.
Tosh laughed. "Yes, a relief for me too."
"Right. So, I'm just going to get dressed and . . . oh." Gwen trailed off.
Tosh had been trying not to think about the mechanics of this too much. "I think it's best if we just do what we have to do."
"Right. Um. I'll see you." Gwen hung up.
Tosh readied herself for another trip out of the bathroom. Rhys was still mercifully asleep, but as she went into the room the sheets had shifted and -- she quickly averted her eyes. No amount of training had prepared her for this, and her next task wasn't much better. She tried to tell herself she wasn't rootling through Gwen's underwear drawer so much as she was -- fine, yes, that was exactly what she was doing.
"Hell," she breathed.
She grabbed everything she needed, things she'd seen Gwen wear, then fled back to the safety of the bathroom. She got dressed mostly with her eyes shut. It wasn't that she hadn't seen Gwen naked before - long hours, closer quarters and a job that frequently featured slime ensured they were all pretty familiar with each other. Still, this was different, and it was strange enough to be dressing a body that was both her own and someone else's without examining it more than she had to.
Everything felt unsettling. The way her balance shifted as she pulled on socks, the fact that the bra she grabbed at random sat completely differently to anything she was used to. Even taking steps seemed strange and difficult. She splashed water on her face and debated what to do with her hair. It hung heavier than her own, and though Gwen usually wore it down, Tosh didn't think she could bear the feel of someone else's hair tickling the back of her neck. She settled for pulling it into the side ponytail she'd seen Gwen adopt at times.
When she was done, Tosh decided she looked like a reasonable approximation of Gwen - no one should be able to tell anything was wrong from sight alone, at least. She went to make her escape.
Tosh froze. "Morning, Rhys!" she said as brightly as she could. "Sorry, I've got to go to work."
"Yeah yeah, I know," said Rhys. "Just make sure you come home some time, won't you?"
Rhys didn't say anything else, and when Tosh looked back, he was asleep again.
She ran for it.
Gwen had coffee waiting for her when she reached the Plass.
"Here - I'm really not much of a morning person, you might need it."
Tosh took the cup gratefully, drinking deeply to counteract the profound weirdness of seeing herself animated by someone else. "Do you think that's the sort of thing that stays with the body? I have no idea how this works."
"Yeah, all right if we worry about that later, Tosh? Right now, I want to find out what happened, and how we get ourselves put back again."
"We'll have to tell the others."
"They'll believe us, won't they? This is hardly the strangest thing that's ever happened."
"No, they will, but - might be a bit awkward."
"Do you think?"
"Owen," said Tosh, succinctly.
"Ah," said Gwen.
There was a thoughtful silence.
Gwen got up. "We'd best go in, I suppose."
"Okay, team meeting, right now!" Gwen called out as the doors rolled back.
Ianto stopped in his tracks along one of the walkways. "Tosh? Everything all right?"
Gwen looked startled for a second. "Just - Ianto, could you bring the others down to the conference room, please? We need to explain something to everyone."
Ianto glanced at Tosh, who nodded.
"Of course, I'll get them now," he said, and disappeared.
"That was very commanding of me," Tosh noted wryly.
"And look at the results!"
"I think we've already got enough extroverts on the team - no offence."
Gwen laughed. "You're probably right."
Jack looked put out when they arrived. "Toshiko? I assume there's a good reason for you pulling me out of my office mid-report."
"You hate doing reports," Gwen pointed out.
"Well, yeah, but - what's gotten into you?"
"I'm Gwen," Gwen said in Tosh's body.
"And I'm Toshiko," Tosh agreed in distinctly Welsh tones.
"Well, that's the worst attempt at a practical joke I've ever seen," said Owen. "Not funny, girls!"
"Oh, I wish I was kidding," said Gwen, stepping forward. Everyone sat up a little. "This is me, Gwen, and I promise you that's Tosh - we woke up like this and we need to fix it."
Jack nodded. "Okay, one last thing - ID codes, please."
"You know," Ianto muttered, "we're going to have to come up with a new way of proving our identities, I'm running out of ways to generate new codes after these things happen."
Meanwhile, Jack was satisfied as Gwen and Tosh rattled off their last-resort, not-to-be-divulged-to-another-soul personal codes. Tosh thought she was on her tenth set; she'd rather lost count after the incident with the teleport and the raccoon.
Jack got to his feet. "Owen - full medical exams. Ianto, pull out all our records on bodyswapping."
"This has happened before?" Gwen asked.
Tosh really didn't know why she sounded surprised.
Gwen trotted up the stairs, shaking her head. "Owen wants you - I'll warn you, he's a bit freaked out. Not that he can talk."
Tosh laughed -- the fact that one's dead colleague was a source of perennial humour was one of those little mysteries some future biographer of Torchwood could worry about later -- and went down to see him.
"Gw-- Tosh! Yes, okay, come sit here, let's take a look at you."
Owen looked steadfastly at his medical equipment, taking out a needle with tremendous care and precision.
"Owen? You okay?"
"Yeah yeah, course I am," he replied, looking at the table with great interest. "Roll up your sleeve."
"Of all the things you've seen, I wouldn't have thought--"
"It's weird, all right?" Owen said, a little defensive, a little sheepish. "I mean, you're Tosh, I know you're Tosh, the way you talk is like her but then I look at you - I'll get with the programme in a minute."
"Pretty strange for me too, you know," Tosh said quietly as he walked over to take a blood test.
"I'll bet. So. Any, um, insights you'd like to share?"
"What? No, not those sort - Jesus, Tosh, what do you take me for?"
Tosh rolled her eyes, and he laughed. "I just meant - must be quite the experience, seeing the whole world through someone else's eyes." He paused. "Never mind, it's stupid, let's just get you checked out and back to the old Tosh, yeah?"
"It's not stupid. You're right, it is strange. Odd being Welsh all of a sudden, for one thing." She smiled. "Who knows, maybe this is all part of a benevolent alien plan to teach Gwen and me about life."
Owen scoffed. "Yeah, that sounds like just the kind of thing that happens around here all the time."
"Well, just in case it isn't my fairy godmother, I'm going to go run some scans - am I done here?"
He bagged a blood sample. "Off you go, I'll shout if I think anything weird's going on - relatively speaking, at least."
Tosh slid off the exam table. She misjudged the distance between her feet and the floor and staggered sideways a little.
"Woah, okay." Owen grabbed her shoulders. "Easy does it. I should have mentioned - absolutely no going into the field, there's no way you can manage a gun when you're in this condition."
Tosh smiled ruefully at that. "Fair enough. Computers it is."
Jack and Ianto drove out to the site Tosh and Gwen had been scoping the previous night, looking for any clues as to what might have caused this, but they came back empty-handed.
Meanwhile, Tosh had decided that the energy must have come straight through the Rift, caught up in the backwash of space and time that dropped so many things on the beleaguered citizens of Cardiff.
"That doesn't sound good," said Gwen. "How are we going to change back?"
Tosh sighed. "I see three scenarios here - one, we've missed something that the Rift dropped through that can help us. Two, the energy might come through the Rift again, and if so we could find a way to harness it, get it to change back. Three - well. Let's hope three doesn't happen."
Gwen sighed. "What can I do?"
"Wait, I'm afraid - I've got every program I can think of running, we'll see if anything shows up."
Gwen sat down in the chair beside her. "I'll wait with you, then."
They watched algorithms work their way across the screen mostly in silence. Tosh always found the machinations of the mainframe soothing, not to mention the fascination of a system she still didn't really understand - no one did, after all, and she did at least know it better than Jack.
Gwen looked restless at first, as though aching for something to do, someone to question or action to take, but eventually she settled and watched the screens with Tosh.
Ianto clearly saw supplying them with abundant amounts of coffee to be a sacred duty in the circumstances.
"You don't seem too unnerved by this," Tosh said as he distributed muffins along with their next caffeine intake.
Ianto shrugged. "Seen it all, by this point. Besides," -- he grinned a little -- "I am officially the only normal employee in Torchwood today."
"Come again?" Gwen asked.
"You see, I am neither dead, nor immortal, and I reside within the body I was born into." Ianto took a satisfied bite of a croissant.
"Hmm," said Tosh. "Just you wait your turn, you won't be so smug when you wind up temporarily regressing to infanthood next month or something."
Ianto looked entirely unfazed by the suggestion. "Let me have my moment, Tosh, that's all I ask."
Ianto shut his eyes in bliss, and Gwen leaned over and stole the rest of his croissant.
Whenever Tosh managed to shake off the lingering fear that this really was going to be her fate for the rest of her life, she was much happier focusing on the fascinating nature of the experience. She conducted experiments, tried out her handwriting -- mostly like her own, though a little untidier than she normally aimed for, as though the vowels were looping into Gwen's more rambling style of their own accord.
"What's transferred over, really?" she said to Gwen. "Consciousness? What does that mean? I have my memories, my thought processes feel the same, but I've got your reflexes, not to mention the occasional sudden craving for tuna, which is definitely not coming from me."
"Do you think it means anything?" Gwen asked.
Tosh shook her head. "I don't know. I think it means we are something, not just cells - I am not the same thing as the neural pathways in my brain, I don't need them to be me."
"So, what - we've switched souls or something, do you think?"
"Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it," said Tosh.
Gwen laughed. "To be fair, we live in a secret underground base and catch aliens for a living - these days I find myself pretty open-minded."
"It's at times like this I wish we weren't quite so secret and underground - imagine the research we could do on this, the papers we could write."
Gwen laughed. "Damn that whole 'outside the government' catch."
Mostly, Jack was acting as though nothing more interesting had happened to his employees than a trip to the hairdressers'. He slipped up sometimes, though - not in names or facts, but in his manner. He asked Gwen questions in quiet, affectionate tones and kept speaking to Tosh as though he expected her to retort with a challenge at any moment.
Tosh wondered whether Jack had a self-penned handbook anywhere, notes on how to deal with every agent he'd ever had. Poor Jack: good intentions, but doomed never to succeed in the long run or even in the short term, really, when the world they inhabited kept the ground constantly moving beneath their feet.
Tosh comforted herself in the idea that this whole experience had to have bought her good credit for the rest of the month at least. She made a promise to herself that she'd welcome her own body back with a gin and tonic coupled with nice long session with her linguistics code. She wasn't quite sure she should inflict that on Gwen.
Gwen decided they'd have to tell Rhys; as she pointed out, it was doing Tosh the biggest favour out of anyone, and Tosh couldn't argue with that.
Rhys's freakout had a certain resigned quality to it, and once he'd spluttered and cursed Jack's eternal names for a few minutes he shrugged and gave in, just about managing to talk to Gwen like she really was his wife.
"What a mess," Rhys muttered. "What will we do if anyone calls for you, if your parents show up or something?"
"You'll have to keep them all at bay," said Gwen. "Believe us, we're trying as best we can to get this sorted out."
"And you will, won't you?"
"Probably," Tosh started to say, but Gwen cut in with an emphatic "definitely", and Rhys looked reassured.
"In the meantime," Gwen went on, "I think I should stay at Tosh's - it'll only be very weird for everyone otherwise. Besides, we might switch back into each other at any moment!"
"Right." Rhys sighed, but he nodded. "Wait, hang on a sec - when exactly did this happen, anyway?"
"Oh, well--" "You see, it was probably--"
"At work," Gwen said firmly.
"Well, thank goodness for that, eh?"
"Yes," Tosh agreed faintly.
They took the bus back to Tosh's flat -- driving was definitely classified under Things Not To Attempt whilst not fully in control of your motor functions -- and Tosh thought about Gwen's life, about having another person who was so much a part of your life and so dependant on you and your welfare. Hell of a thing to balance in a job like this.
After all, the truth of it was that if something irreversible ever happened to Tosh, no one outside work would even know, not ever, unless Jack took it upon himself to get in touch with her mother. Gwen was anchored to this city, to the real world, but Tosh didn't truly exist - off the grid, outside the world, and nothing really there to stop her slipping away like Owen, like Jack, or worse.
Now, she'd even lost herself - when she looked in the mirror, her own face was nowhere to be seen.
Being home was better, and having Gwen around helped. They balanced each other, the exact same level of strangeness, the experience shared becoming almost normal as they caught each other's eye from time to time and laughed or were felled by the same step up to the kitchen.
Gwen found something inane and popular on TV, the perfect way to adopt the semblance of ordinariness for a while. Tosh didn't bother to follow the plot, just curled up her sofa and let herself be surrounded by more things that were familiar than things that were strange. If Tosh let her eyes fall shut, she could mentally adjust so that they were back to normal, that it was Gwen's laugh she can hear next to her, that that her own hands were resting her cheek on the sofa arm, and with the quiet hum of the television and Gwen's solid presence by her side, everything was --
"Tosh? Tosh, come on, let's get you to bed, you can't sleep here - think of my spine!"
Gwen hauled her up and half-carried her through the flat, and Tosh was asleep almost before she hit the pillow.
Tosh woke up groggily, and in her own bed. She stayed very still. Slowly, she raised a hand above her face, and it was her own, the right size and feel and colour. She bit her lip to stop herself shouting out in relief, and sat up.
"Gwen?" she called. "Gwen, wake up, are you --?"
There was no reply, so Tosh got up, throwing on her bathrobe with speed and poise -- never before had she so appreciated the speed and efficiency of reflexes and the movement of her own muscles. She padded over to the living room, hoping Gwen had managed to master the sofa bed.
Gwen was sitting up, pinned to the sofa arms. "Tosh?" she asked, then clapped a hand to her mouth.
"Gwen? What's the matter?"
She shook her head. "I'm not Gwen."
"Oh. Oh. Um, okay. Who are you?"
Tosh tried valiantly, and she almost succeeded in not laughing.
"It isn't funny."
"Let me have my moment, Ianto. Okay, moment over - are you feeling sick?"
Ianto nodded, careful not to move too much.
"I know the feeling. The bathroom's second door on the left."
Ianto bolted, and Tosh shook her head in despair. This was going to be hell to put back together. Still, her Rift monitors had probably found something overnight. She picked up her phone and rang Ianto's number.
"Tosh?" It was Jack's voice on the line.
"Jack! Oh, I didn't think-- right."
"You sound yourself again, have you changed back?"
"Yes! Yes, I'm back to normal, everything's fine. Um, is Ianto with you?"
"Yeah, why? Need him for something?"
There was the sound of the toilet flushing down the hall, because Ianto was here, and Gwen was wherever Ianto had been, which was somewhere Jack would pick up the phone, and-- oh god.
"Uh, Jack? About that. Something you should probably know."