Rassilon, thinks Romana, was a pompous, overbearing, self-obsessed wanker.
Everything about this is unnatural, suffocating, wrong and wrong and wrong. She is drowning in a thousand yards of robes, no peripheral vision around this painted farce of collar, with what little approach to elegance she may have managed to eke out in spite of the rest shoved firmly down the drain by this silly, tawdry bauble around her neck that isn't a sash at all, no matter what the Once and Future Founder might have called it. That's not even starting on this office, unchanged these many centuries, more enormous and more empty than any nave of any cathedral the Doctor ever took her to visit on Earth, an echoing place of worship with a dark slab of a desk for an altar. She hasn't yet considered whether she is the idol to be worshiped or the sacrifice to be slaughtered. It only takes a moment's reflection to decide that she's probably both.
Sitting behind that desk will make her really and truly President. Oh, she stood in the Panopticon, heard the rod descend three times—doom, doom, everlasting doom—but that didn't really count. Sitting in that chair, however, seizing the crown and jamming it on her own head, that will truly render her imperial. She's tired, all the way down to the core of her, and these ridiculous clothes are heavy, and there's no other chair in this sacred space (one does not sit in the presence of the Divine), but she's damned if she's going to let anyone else decide her fate for her, much less have it dictated by something so mundane as an arrangement of furniture. And so she considers for a moment, and hoists herself up onto the corner of this comically majestical desk, the one that doesn't suit her even a bit, and just sits.
"This was a mistake," she comments wryly, to the shoes she cannot even see beneath the velvet and brocade.
"No," replies a smooth voice, from somewhere near the door, "it wasn't."
She nearly jumps. She has no idea how he got in without her noticing (all the doors in the Citadel are so noisy, she had forgotten how much in her years away), much less who let him wander unannounced into the Presidential Office, on Inauguration Day, when she left strict instructions that she wasn't to be disturbed. That doesn't mean she isn't glad he's here.
"Brax," she breathes.
"Madam President," he replies, with a little bow.
She groans just a bit, tips forward, hands on her knees. "Please don't call me that, Brax, it's horribly disconcerting."
He ambles across the room, quietly, as casual as though he were enjoying an afternoon stroll, and not crossing the sanctum sanctorum of the universe. His crimson robes are open over something tastefully charcoal and pinstriped, his Cardinal's hat protruding from a pocket somewhere, his ceremonial collar missing altogether. When he reaches her, faster than it seems like he ought to be able to cross such a space, he grasps hold of her own collar and tugs it free of its moorings in the shoulders of her robes, leaning it discarded against the side of the desk. "I'm afraid you'll have to get used to it, My Lady."
"I suppose you'll think me a petulant child if I put out my lip, kick my heels, and tell you I don't want to?" she asks, wearily.
"I don't recall petulance as one of your vices even when you were a child," he says, with a small smile. "Stubbornness, perhaps, but even then you were brilliant far beyond your years, a natural leader, gifted with foresight and decision."
"That's quite enough flattery for one day, Braxiatel." Catching his hands, she lifts them to the Sash of Rassilon, still around her neck, and he pulls it over her head, and lays it safely on the desk beside her.
"All by way of practice, Madam President," he says, lightly. "You are liable to end up surrounded by sycophants, particularly in these early days when so many offices need filling. And they will have no lack of ammunition for praise."
"Oh, I see." She lifts her head, amusement glinting in her eyes. "This is all an educational exercise, Tutor Braxiatel? Increasing my resistance to boot-lickers, brown-nosers and the charmingly mendacious?"
"Precisely," he agrees, untying the sash of her robes. "How perceptive My Lady President is."
"Well in that case, by all means," she says, magnanimously, stretching out her arms to give him room to work. "Feel free to describe my good qualities in just as much depth as it suits you."
"Where can one possibly start?" The hands that unbutton her robes are steady and light, professional in their touch. "With your strength of will, perhaps? Never hesitant to follow the right path, no matter how difficult it may be."
"The very same trait which you referred to as stubbornness just a moment ago," she points out, smiling.
"Stubbornness in pursuing the best course is not a vice," he rejoins, "just as compassion is not a weakness so long as it comes in company with insight—two other virtues with which the Madam President is blessed."
"I'm afraid very few other Time Lords would agree with you on the value of compassion, no matter how informed." He has her robes unfastened now and eases the arms down her shoulders, revealing a perfectly-cut jacket and skirt in a warm shade of cream.
"Ah, but there, too, my President shows her strength." The last remaining article of her ceremonial regalia is the only portion of her costume that she doesn't much mind. He lifts the Coronet from her brow with infinite care, setting it delicately aside. "The confidence to think independently..."
"I don't feel confident," she admits. "Not now. I never wanted this, Brax. Oh, I do know I've got more brains than any of the old fools on the Council, you needn't convince me of that," she shoots him a quick grin, "but that doesn't mean I can fix everything wrong with Gallifreyan society single-handedly."
"Perhaps not single-handedly," he agrees. "What about with the help of a friend?"
She holds his eyes for a long moment. "A friend?"
"If you'd care for one," he says, softly. "You will have my loyal support, my Lady, in every way that I can give it."
Her brow furrows, just a bit. "You don't even know most of what I'm planning to do, yet."
He levers himself up to sit beside her on the desk. "For a start, I would guess you're planning on redesigning the Presidential offices."
She laughs, and he smiles in return. "I've certainly been thinking about it." She quirks her head, studies his face. "I'm serious, Brax," she says. "I still don't know why you fought so hard to convince me to accept the office, and I don't know what you think you'll gain by supporting me. Most of Gallifrey thinks I'll be a spectacular failure, that I'll never get my agenda passed by the High Council and will be forced to settle down as little more than a puppet President within the month."
"Most of Gallifrey doesn't know what I know."
"And what, precisely, do you know?"
"That you will be the greatest President this planet has ever seen."
She looks away, unsmiling. "I thought we were through with flattery for the moment."
He reaches out a hand, slides his fingers along her chin, and tilts her face back towards him. "You," he repeats, absolutely serious, "will be the greatest President this planet has ever seen."
"With you as my friend and teacher," she says. Her tone is skeptical and amused, but she doesn't move away from his hand.
"You hardly require a teacher any longer, Madam President."
"Oh, I don't know," she smiles. "I think I've quite enjoyed today's lesson. Do I get a gold star if I can tell you what it was really all about?"
He raises an eyebrow. "I'm sure I don't know what you mean."
"And I'm sure you do." She slides her own fingers along his, where they rest on her jaw, and then tugs his hand away, down to rest on the desk between them. "Hearing myself praised may be a lesson in resisting sycophancy," she observes, coolly, hiking up a knee as she crosses her legs, "but hearing myself praised by a man who just happens simultaneously to be taking my clothes off is a lesson in resisting seduction, Braxiatel."
He crosses his hands and rests them just above his knees, apparently unruffled—but the tension in his shoulders doesn't escape her notice. "And did it work?" he inquires, calmly.
Her lips curl. "What a charmingly non-specific question." She slides off the desk, stands just in front of him. "If you mean the lesson, then yes, I think it worked perfectly. But if you mean the seduction..." She leans in, slowly, until her lips are very, very near his ear. "I think you have one or two things still to learn yourself, Brax," she murmurs. "But study hard..." She brushes her nose along his cheek until it touches his, and they are left staring eye-to-eye, "...and maybe next time you'll earn yourself full marks."
She steps back, and watches with some satisfaction as he swallows. And then she strides around to the other side of the desk—he leaps down from his perch to watch her—and, with one last deep breath, settles into the chair behind it.
"Not so uncomfortable at all," she observes, contentedly. "That will be all, Cardinal Braxiatel. Would you be so kind as to ask my secretary to send in my next appointment? And do take those ghastly robes away with you, I don't think I'll be needing them."
For a moment he only studies her. And then, to her utter astonishment, he grins, completely and unabashedly. She has never seen him smile like that, not anything remotely like it, and it's so absolutely infectious that she cannot stop herself from smiling back. "There," he pronounces, "I knew it wouldn't be long. You always were such a fast learner."
"Did I or did I not just dismiss you, Brax?" she asks him, with a laugh. It is only just beginning to occur to her that, of all things, this Presidential idea may actually turn out to be fun. The brightest Time Lords and Ladies on Gallifrey for intellectual sparring partners, the chance to actually breathe some fresh air into this mouldering society, and more or less unthinking obedience to practically her every whim—well, it can't be all bad.
Brax gives a dramatic bow, still smiling. "I live to serve, my Lady President."
A few minutes ago, it was what she needed. She gives him a great deal of credit for recognizing as much. But it isn't what she needs right now, and it won't be, in the months and years to come. "No, enough of that."
"If you really do want to be a friend, Brax," she says, "then be the person to remind me who I am."
He raises an eyebrow. "As you wish," he says. She knows he's understood her; he's far too canny to mistake her meaning. It's nothing but showmanship that delays him until his hand is on the door before he inclines his head in her direction and says, softly, "Romana."
As Cardinal Braxiatel slips from the Presidential office, the Lady President of Gallifrey turns to the window and looks out over her new dominion, feeling natural, humming with life, right and right and right. She has remembered who she is, and this is the last time, she vows, that she will ever let herself forget.
A cautious cough sounds behind her, and she whirls to face the new arrival. "Ah, Cardinal Valyes," she greets him, voice as sweet as honey, smile like a cat's, "I'd like to talk to you about educational reform."
Romana isn't going to play this game by anybody else's rules—and what's more, she thinks, watching with a bloom of satisfaction as Valyes goes pale, she is, beyond the slightest shadow of a doubt, going to win.