The Risk You Run

Chapter 6

She blinked her eyes rapidly. When that didn't work, she rubbed them with a vigor that could have left her blinded. Luckily, there were only a few twinkling lights, and when those eventually faded, so had the crossing. River had been staring at the holographic text so long that her sight was beginning to betray her as if to say, "Enough's enough!" She crossed and placed her arms on the table and let her head rest there for a moment.

She had almost made it. She had had her hand on the door when she stopped and exhaled a breath and a groan. Dropping her head, River had begrudgingly spun around and made her way to the library instead. Withdrawing from the class might have made her days more enjoyable, but her life overall would have become unbearable. She would rather sit through months more of confusing and irrelevant physics lectures than hear one more Doctor lecture about the "responsibility of the time traveler…a basic understanding of physics is a must, River…Archaeology is rubbish enough…"

She couldn't…no, wouldn't…tell him why it had to be archaeology. There was no way that she would give up that much of herself to him, especially without assurance that he felt the same. She had a life to live – a life with an unexpectedness with which she felt ill-equipped to handle. It was a daily struggle to figure out how to make it work in spite of all that she had been taught to know and practice.

She was a war machine. Albeit, a war against a single man, but an instrument of destruction, nevertheless. It was all River had ever known…assassination. But as it turns out, life wasn't death. Life was friendship, loyalty, morality, family, belonging, protecting, learning…rejecting, struggling, crying...loving. Living now meant loneliness.

She supposed the argument could be made that the other path guaranteed solitude and self-destruction, and that the life she had chosen to pursue held promise and intimacy. But River would argue that it was a worse kind of loneliness. Now she knew what was missing…exactly what was missing. Who was missing. She had parents that cared for her and a man that had yet to make a promise to her – all of whom were together, while she fought for a new life against what instinct drove her towards. It was her nature to want to inflict hurt and pain and do as she damned-well-pleased. What was she to do now? The straight and narrow held many more curves and dangers for her than did the road to carnage. Carnage, she knew well. Honor, not so much.

And one thing was for sure, she absolutely did not know physics. River reluctantly lifted her head to resume studying the material when she heard the familiar chiming of the end-of-day bell. A bit disgusted that she'd wasted so much time and relieved to be released from the turmoil, River quickly gathered her materials and shut down her work station. She had yet to get accustomed to her new environment, and she felt uneasy about being outside alone after end-of-day.

As she made her way from the library to the dormitory, several students greeted her along the way and some even stopped to invite her to this or that. More often than not, she politely feigned excitement and accepted their invitations, knowing that she would choose instead to spend her time alone. Not that she always isolated herself. Quite often she would join friends for drinks at a local pub or the occasional university party, but for the most part, she spent her time trying to devise new ways to find him. Luck and whims were not working out so well.

"Hey, River! Wait up!"

River spun around scanned the crowd for the voice. A tall and athletic blonde woman was jogging towards her. She raised a hand and waved in response as her friend caught up.

"Damn, I've been calling you for ages! Ignoring me again?" The woman smiled between heaving breaths and fell in step with River.

"Sorry, Jack. Doing some mental physics. Guess I didn't hear you," River replied weakly. Something about her friend made her nervous. Well, not something…everything about her. Rarely did anything make her anxious, but this woman definitely set her on edge. She quickened her pace. "Trying to get back before the light fades."

Jack turned and walked backwards, rather close and facing River. She reached out and tucked a stray curl behind River's ear. "Always afraid of the dark, Ms. Song," Jack leaned in close and whispered with a wink. "There are no monsters in the dark here, River. The things that happen in the dark here are what dreams are made of."

River smiled tentatively when Jack giggled at her obvious discomfort. Several weeks before, River had had a bit much too much to drink and had been cornered in the ladies by the daughter of the pub's owners. Jack had kissed her, and River had responded to it…rather urgently, in fact. In a life discarded, River would have had Jack nude and begging for mercy in only minutes. However, she broke the contact and declined apologetically. But Jack had sensed something in her, and she refused to let it go. Truth be told, the flirtatious woman exuded a sexiness that River fought hard against. She may have had a longing in her heart for an elusive time traveler, but all the other parts of her responded to outside stimulus perfectly well. And Jack was nothing else if not stimulating.

"Oh, I'm sure the dark has wonders to behold," River suddenly felt a bit coy herself. "Or at least, that's what I've heard…"

A smile spread across Jack's face, and River was sure she saw a blush rise in the woman's cheeks. "Is that so?"

"That's the word around campus. But you can't believe everything you hear, I guess," River flirted.

"And some things are right on the mark, River Song." Jack stared directly into her eyes, and River felt that stirring that she had suppressed for far too long.

They had reached the lawn in front of her dormitory just as the light began to fade. River stopped for fear that if she didn't, Jack would follow her to her room. And River was only prepared to flirt. The thought of seeing it through made her a bit nauseous. "Well, this is me…."

"Hey, River…." Jack now appeared to be the more nervous of the two. "Next week is my birthday, and I have this heinous affair I'm obligated to with my parents, but I was wondering…"

River began searching her excuse databank for an acceptable reason to be unavailable while the other woman stumbled over her words.

"…if you'd like to meet at the pub afterwards. Just for a drink, I promise. No strings." For all the shameless flirting, Jack really liked River and wanted to start something more substantial than the occasional sexual escapade. That much was obvious by the tone of her invitation.

River really didn't have the heart to decline the softness in the woman's voice. She took Jack's hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. "Sure, Jack. It's your birthday, yeah?"

"Ok. Yeah. Great. Well then, I'll catch up to you after class on Tuesday to finalize, ok?" The woman let go of River's hand and began jogging backwards.

"Yeah. Tuesday." River felt panic begin to bubble in her gut. Something told her that this would not end well.

Jack waved goodbye and sprinted across campus into the darkness. River climbed the steps quickly and disappeared inside the building just as the last of the light faded.

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