The Risk You Run

Chapter 10

The Doctor sat in a kitchen chair and fiddled with the cap, tracing the lettering across the front. T.E.A.M. That's what they were. All of them, even though they were no longer together as the label would suggest. Amy and Rory had left the TARDIS shortly after Berlin. They would occasionally tag along on pleasure trips, but Amy had threatened him with bodily harm if he led them into galactic warfare. He may be a bit harder to kill than others, but he could still be maimed and thwacks would still throb.

River rarely traveled with them, but she would host the lively bunch whenever they fell out of the sky into her sandy backyard…and that one time into her bathroom. The last time she had accompanied him in the TARDIS was the trip from 5130 to 2011. She had relocated to 21st century Earth to continue her doctorate work and had little time to entertain any of them between teaching and writing. However, they were able to pull her nose out of her books long enough for walks down to the beach and a couple of trips to the more friendly planets.

And the Doctor….well, he just continued on life as usual. He had been traveling alone during the months since the Ponds vacated. He preferred to joke that it was because of the family dysfunction of his last crew, but in his hearts, he was hoping that River would join him. He wasn't convinced that it was the best choice nor did he think that she would even consider it, but he was willing to wait it out for a while.

He stood and dropped the hat into the chair as he walked cautiously to the other side of the kitchen. The Doctor was going on faith that the TARDIS would not leave him to relive that heartache again and judging from the heat that remained in the pots on the stove, he hadn't been gone for very long. Maybe a couple of hours, at the most. He crept slowly into the doorway between the kitchen and the sitting room and did an environment check.

There were a few lit candles scattered on the mantle and the end tables, and the stereo threw off an awkward glow from the blue and green synthesizer lights as the music played. Otherwise, there was no other light throughout the house. The windows were pushed outward, and the curtains blew with the occasional breeze. The smell of the pasta had been overtaken with the smell of salty air and a looming storm. When the music was low enough, he could hear the water crash onto the beach just yards outside of her window.

And on the floor in front of the couch was River. She was leaned back against the red brushed leather couch with her knees bent up to her chest. He arms were wrapped around her knees, one hand holding a glass of wine. The candlelight danced across her hair and face indiscriminately. He had only a profile view as she stared into the dimly lit nothing. He could hear her voice in and out of the lyrics, and he couldn't be sure but sometimes the light would flicker across her skin to reveal what looked to be tears.

"….I will change if I must…slow it down and bring it home, I will adjust…Oh, if only, if only you knew…everything I do is for you.."

As he continued to lean against the doorframe and watch her, he ran those words over and over in his brain. Certainly very few lyrics could capture River's journey as did those. For all her eye-rolling and sarcasm, no one had ever looked at him with such sentiment, devotion, desire and tenderness. And truth. He spent so much time sorting through the bullshit, including his own, that it sometimes put him a little off-balance by how honestly she looked into him.

There had been women in the Doctor's past who loved him, and though he had regarded them with great affection and had loved them in his own way, it didn't compare to what River was offering him. She had made no grand proclamations nor did she pine quietly. There had never been any need to speak the words between them. Words would only trivialize the power that kept bringing them together. She was simply who she was…imperfections and impeccabilities. And years down the road, she would have a soul as near to flawless as possible. She would live her life for the days that their paths would cross, but she would fill the inbetween with her own story. And he wanted to be a player in her life as much as the universe would allow.

His breaths were catching in his throat as he watched her doing absolutely nothing but contemplating. Suddenly it didn't matter that it would be the last time. At this very moment, it could well have been the only time for how much emotion was coursing uncomfortably through his body. His need to be near her and wrapped up in her was more than he could bear.

"You've been on my mind…I grow fonder every day…lose myself in time…just thinking of your face….God only knows, why it's taken me so long…to let my doubts go…you're the only one that want…"

He pushed himself out of his leaning position and tried not to run over to her.

River scraped the remaining food on their plates into the garbage and left the dishes in the sink. She didn't have the energy to do much more than that. The table was a mess, and the pots on the stove needed to be emptied, but unless they walked themselves over to the garbage, on the stove is where they would stay.

She opened a cabinet and reached for a clean wine glass. Her new plan for the evening was to pass out on the couch while music filled all the empty spaces, both inside and outside of her. She walked into the sitting room with her full glass and her nearly full bottle. River set the bottle on a side table and walked around lighting the candles that were supposed to be decorative. However, tonight she had a mood to create, and despondency required very little light. It had never really made sense to her why saddened lovers chose even sadder music for company, but she fell into tradition and rhythms of loneliness told the stories of despair and hopelessness.

River unlatched the two windows that faced the beach and opened them. It was a bit warmer outside than was comfortable, but she preferred the fresh air to being shut up in the house. She had spent the last seven years holding herself hostage under a simulation of Earth's atmosphere and a false daylight. She would suffer some temperature discomfort to be able to smell the ocean and feel the breeze dance over her skin. She lifted the dress over her head and tossed it over an easy chair. Standing in front of the window in her slip with her arms crossed and nursing her glass of wine, she watched waves break and roll over the beach. There was some rumbling in the distance, and she smiled to know that the heavens were also prone to internal disturbances.

River looked down the beach and caught her neighbor watching her from his porch. He gave a polite wave and tipped his own glass of wine to her. She smiled and returned the gesture before strolling over to the couch. She sat on the edge and then slid to the floor, pulling her knees up to her chest.

She tried to make herself as small as possible…because every inch of her ached for him. If her evening had gone as planned, he would be under her now. If she sat really still, she could still feel him stroke her arms and twirl his fingers in her hair. It would be so easy to give over to crying, but she would still be soul-sick. Tears were a sign of weakness, and she spent her life fighting weakness. If she were to give in, just once, she shuttered to think of the consequences.

River spent her days teaching her students to pour themselves into the past or to immerse themselves in the lives of others in order to make sense of their own existence. Archaeology and anthropology weren't just studies of the dead or the unknown. It was about investigating human nature and the human condition and the tenacity of peoples around the universe. She had decided to focus on certain Earth cultures for her graduate studies, and the more she immersed herself in her work the more she became affected by it. She feared that her objectivity would be compromised, but she felt helpless to stop it.

She had grown up on Earth, but it had been more of a holding cell. She had only one purpose for existence, and she had been taught little else. From shopping at the market to participating in various religious events, she was now being taught as much as she herself was teaching others. And River could feel the human half of her guide her forward. She understood that she would stumble and that she would sometimes get it completely wrong, but never so much that she couldn't make it right.

It took her leaving her world behind to finally come into her River-ness. She didn't know if she was the River she would be or the River that he needed her to be. But she was becoming a River that she was proud to be. And she had become a woman who could love and could understand what it meant to love.

Before she had pushed him out of the door, they had argued about his hesitancy to make that last commitment. He tried to explain that it wasn't a fear to give himself over, but to give up the last bit of himself. She had then shut herself off to him, and he knew it the moment he saw her eyes shadow over. It was only then that the Doctor had reluctantly told her what their first time would mean to him. His voice had trembled and his eyes reached out for comfort, but she had been too angry to let his words penetrate her wall. She searched her soul for something she knew would hurt him as she was being hurt, and she had let him believe that she could easily move on to someone new. And she was successful in a way that made her heart more than by anything he could have said or done.

The desperate truth was that she believed there would never be anyone for her but him. She may spend her entire life searching him out or waiting for him to show up, but he was it for her. She had spent the early part of her life being conditioned to hate him and training to end him, and she would spend the rest of her life trying to make it through the times he wasn't with her.

He'd never said the words, but he didn't need to. She hadn't put her heart into words, either. A thing didn't need to be said in order to exist. She felt an emotion that she had been specifically trained to ignore…guilt. Outside of the heat of the moment, she could acknowledge his fear and even admit to being horrified at the thought, especially when she had to consider that it was also her fate. She berated herself for causing him pain in addition to his burden of knowledge.

"You've been on my mind…I grow fonder every day…lose myself in time…just thinking of your face….God only knows, why it's taken me so long…to let my doubts go…you're the only one that want…"

River rested her head atop her knees. Tears won and spilled over onto her cheeks, and when her eyes came back into focus, she saw two barefeet buried in the carpet in front of her. She looked up to see him kneel and reach out gently brush her tears from her face.

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