God knows how I love you
Like a user needs a drug
And I'll never be free of you
You are poison in my blood
I tried to swim that river
And get to higher ground
But I've been three times under
The next one'll see me drown
--Emmylou Harris, "I Don't Wanna Talk About It Now"
It started years ago, with an ancient, timelessly beautiful man who told a story that was both achingly familiar and completely new. It was simple, then: two abandoned souls meeting by chance, sharing memories, loneliness, a few pints, and, when the pub shut down, a bed. It should have ended there: a single transgression she could look back on as little more than a moment of weakness.
She wasn't prepared for him to call two years later as she tried desperately to meet her deadline.
"I just missed him," he tells her, voice a mixture of excitement and heartbreak. "That school that blew up, he was there--"
For a moment, she considers lying to him as he prattles on, telling her all the details of what's already been documented in neat black type in front of her. She doesn't want to share this with him; she doesn't want his voice in her ear. She wants merely to finish her story and give herself time to reflect. "Jack," she interrupts, finally. "I'm on a deadline. I know. I-- " She swallows, forcing the words from her throat. "I was there."
For long moments there is silence on the other end of the line. When he does speak, his voice is choked, strangled. "Good for you."
"I'm sorry," she whispers, setting the phone back in its cradle. "I'm so sorry."
She thinks that's the end of it, takes a deep breath and sets her fingers back against the keyboard. Twenty minutes later the knock at her door makes her jump, sending her mug crashing to the floor.
"So much for being unlisted," she mutters, peering through the crack in the door. "How in the hell did you find me?"
"You saw him," he whispers. "You actually--" His eyes are dark, haunted, and for a moment too long, she takes pity on him. She unchains the door and lets him in.
The first time may have been an aberration, but the second time -- in her own bed with an unfiled story sitting open on her computer -- the second time is simply stupid.
The third time makes it a habit.
She follows a lead to Cardiff, then smack into Torchwood-- into him. They make good use of her hotel bed, and in the dead of night he brings her down to the Hub.
The tenderness and affection he holds for the underground world he's built makes her feel as though he's introducing her to a lover or a child. Irrational jealousy wells up in her chest only to give way to contagious enthusiasm. Then he shows her the cells.
"We don't have much right now," he says, almost apologetically. "Just the Weevils."
"What else do you keep down here?" she asks, backing away from the alien pounding against the Plexiglas.
"Oh, you know, just about anything that washes through. UNIT's after us to take in a bunch of those spidery mouse things-- have you ever met any of them? I hate those things--"
He keeps talking, but she can barely hear him as images of Luke locked between a Weevil and a Sontaran play out before her eyes.
She barely sleeps for a week after that, and she swears she'll never see him again.
One of the few memories Sarah has of her mother is a hand lightly slapping at her until she stopped sucking her thumb. Lavinia broke her of nail biting before her twelfth birthday. It took Harry two years, but she no longer reaches for the TARDIS key on its chain around her neck when every nerve in her body tingles with that delicious sense of imminent danger.
It's only fitting that the only habit she's ever failed to break is the most dangerous.
Luke's beginning to catch on, no doubt with Maria's help, but Alan, bless his heart, seems none the wiser. It worries her, how easy she finds it to drop Luke with the neighbor for a night. "I've got a story I need to track down," is all she needs to say and Alan opens the door and pulls out the sofabed.
Sometimes she laughs as she drives away, and the nights spent in hotel rooms across the country leave her feeling decadent and wanton. He makes her feel young again, and so few things do, nowadays.
She's lost count of how many times he's stripped her down to nothingness, reduced her to little more than base instincts: touch, taste, caress, moan. Months ago, they stopped relying on coincidence, sending eMails with containing only dates, times, and addresses. He has the power and the reason to destroy everything she holds dear, but she's only canceled on him once.
They've both shared so many secrets, sweat drying as they lie together, fingers still tracing patterns and seeking new skin. He's told her of lost loves and a life without end. She tells him about Harry and Josh and the dark days adjusting to linear time all over again. Whenever she's allowed herself to think that they've run out of things to say, they delve deeper into the stories they've already shared, opening themselves a bit more.
He knows some of the darkest places of her soul and she thinks she might know everything there is to know about him. Still, the most basic things in her life, those are the things she can't bring herself to mention, and Mr. Smith thwarts any attempt to find her personal details. He doesn't know her latest address or that she prefers tea to coffee. He doesn't know that the small tube she carries with her is useless as lipstick or that the only pet she's ever owned is a robotic dog.
He doesn't know about Luke.
Sometimes she wishes she could tell him, and it makes her careless.
"I can't make it tonight," she'd written a few weeks back. "My son's caught the flu." As soon as the words appeared on the screen, the cells deep below Cardiff flashed before her eyes and she pressed hard on her delete key.
It should have ended then as her life and the affair collided so starkly, but three weeks later she finds herself checking into yet another hotel, flesh already humming in anticipation.
"He's so broken, Sarah," he whispers against her throat. "All of them are, in their way, but Ianto..."
Listening to him talk about his other lover, she refuses to allow herself even the barest hint of jealousy. She's done her research long ago, and for years she's known that even if she wanted it, fidelity is one thing Jack Harkness is incapable of offering her. He's never asked for anything but acceptance, and she gives it freely.
"There are days when I miss Harry so much it keeps me from breathing," she says. "I'm sure I'd want to strangle him if he were here, but since he's not--"
He silences her with the twist of fingers around a nipple, and as his tongue slides up her thigh he pauses to say, so casually that for a moment she thinks he might be inquiring about the weather, "I keep meaning to ask, is Harry your son's father?"
She pulls away so quickly her knee catches the underside of his jaw and he curses under his breath.
"Whatever security system you're running is good," he says, rubbing at his jaw. "But my team's better."
"Not that much better," she snaps, rolling away from him. It's an old pissing match by now, who has the better tech, and if it were anything else he'd found she'd be laughing.
"No," he admits. "All they found was a school record. He's a bright kid. Luke, right?"
"Bloody brilliant," she mutters, snatching up her shirt and pulling it over her head. "You keep away from him."
The next time she sees him, it's daylight and they're lowering Harry Sullivan's body into the ground. He's standing a hundred yards away, head bowed. She's so much older now, hair silver against the black of her suit, but he is unchanged.
"I'm sorry," he whispers when she finds him after the service. "I know how much he--" She shakes her head, pressing a finger to his lips and he steps closer. "I've missed you, you never said why--"
"He's human," she says, pulling away. "Luke. He's more human than either of us, but his origin...."
A flicker of understanding passes over Jack's eyes and he nods "We only ever locked up the threats, Sarah."
"I might have loved you, once," she admits, turning to walk back across the lawn. "Goodbye, Jack."