Romana and Braxiatel are taking tea in her office. The tea is from Earth, from England, but Braxiatel makes an effort not to be reminded of the disaster that is his brother. It’s difficult, especially since he wouldn’t know what tea was if it wasn’t for the anglophile vagabond. But the tea is good, and probably has nothing to do with the Doctor.
Braxiatel sits back in his chair, looking at Romana over her desk. They have work to do, but he's willing to let it wait for the moment, willing to indulge in a moment of calm. Romana looks tired but content, with her collar loosened as much as it can be, and her hair down. Braxiatel takes another sip of tea.
"Very nice," he says, referring to everything. He slides his words into the silence without trying to break it.
"The Doctor gave this to me when he stopped by," says Romana, cheerfully. "The Shada affair, you recall."
"Yes," says Braxiatel and refrains from pinching the bridge of his nose or gripping his cup anything more than delicately. He's not quite sure if Romana meant to annoy him with that comment. She knows that he disapproved of her little gallivant. Braxiatel can't decide whether she's needling him or simply hadn't thought about it.
Braxiatel has known Romana for a long time. Longer, one might say, than she has known herself. He still hasn't got any real grasp on her character.
"Now," he says, leaning forward and setting aside the actually rather mediocre tea. "We need to speak about your popularity. Or, rather, your lack of it."
Romana leans forward as well, a gleam in her eye and a conspirator's worried smile on her lips, and it is much better than it had been, even before her tactless or tactical remark. These are the moments that Braxiatel likes, the ones where Romana's mockery drops away and he is rewarded with her attention and her admiration. There are things he still has to teach her, and though she cannot remember his previous tutelage she still has the habit of taking his lessons.
If he touches her overmuch during his lecture - hand on hers, fingers brushing her cheek, her nose, her hair - he flatters himself that she is too caught up to notice. If he doesn't flatter himself, he has to acknowledge that she's probably indulging him for the sake of the discussion.
That night, Braxiatel takes his TARDIS off Gallifrey, shifting himself out of sync with the rest of his race. Going to check on the Collection was easier when he was an off-world ambassador, but Braxiatel bears the cost of promotion easily. These days he grabs moments when he can, spinning them out into days or weeks on his own timeline. He's scheduled to organize a donation from his future at this point in his timeline, and it shouldn't take long. From Romana and Gallifrey's perspective, of course, it won't take any time at all.
He lands in one of the storage warehouses, and everything is quiet and dark. Braxiatel steps out and straightens the suit that he decided to wear in lieu of his formal robes.
Eventually, he pulls up a crate, checks to make sure nothing particularly breakable rests inside, and sits down to wait for himself.
Braxiatel meets his other selves more often then most do, more often than even the Doctor. Most of them are older versions of this body, and Braxiatel is glad to see that he, at least, is not throwing away his regenerations. At the rate his climb to the presidency is going, he shall need all of them.
There is a version of himself in an immaculate suit and with thinning hair, with deep lines around his eyes and mouth. In the mirror, Braxiatel looks at his face and sees that he is becoming that self. He has already got the suit. He wonders how long it will be before it is him delivering that Gelfian statuette to the young ambassador and his newly established Collection.
There is a version of himself in sumptuous robes and a tired smile, and Braxiatel wonders how long it can possibly be until that is him. He looks prosperous, at least, though not satisfied. Not that Braxiatel has ever really expected satisfaction.
There is a version of himself, one that that comes very seldom, with a different body and a neat red beard, who glares at Braxiatel and speaks with him only grudgingly, only when it is absolutely unavoidable. Braxiatel glares back, and tries not to be discouraged by that self's ragged clothing and air of weariness. He ignores the ozonic smell of staser fire that hangs around the bags of singed treasures that the red-haired self leaves behind.
And there is a version that Braxiatel has seen only once, a tall, quiet man who wears president's robes and who looks at Romana's portrait with a mixture of anger and sadness. Braxiatel didn't ask him why, and certainly didn't ask him how long it would be.
When the self he's waiting on arrives it's the suited version, the one with ever fewer secrets. Braxiatel stands up as his TARDIS materializes, standing straight with his hands tucked behind his back. He's never decided whether it is foolish to want to look smart for yourself.
"Well then," says his future self, when he steps out. He's got a tiny scratch on his cheek, but otherwise they're exactly the same. "It won't be long before you're making this delivery, so consider yourself warned. Contact the Judoon command when you feel ready to begin negotiations." He disappears back into the TARDIS to wheel out a mosaic held in a vacuum-lock. Braxiatel waits, not comfortable enough to set foot in the almost-his-TARDIS.
"Beautiful," he says, instead. "Venusian? Whatever were the Judoon doing with it?"
"I'm afraid they confiscated it," says his other self. He rubs his forehead, looking as if he's trying to distract himself from his thoughts. "If you don't mind, I'd like to get on with this."
They fill out paperwork and arrange everything. If Braxiatel isn't careful in his cataloging, the whole Collection falls to pieces. Finally they lift the mosaic into its own crate, decoupling it from the transport wheels. Braxiatel can easily see that it is the cumbrousness and the size of this artifact that prompted him to schedule a meeting - normally, simple donations like this would be handled by only one self. Braxiatel glances over at himself, and wonders why he hadn't asked for one of the Collection's staff to help instead of enlisting himself.
Braxiatel shakes his head, and reminds himself that he doesn't like it when anyone pries into his motivations, including himself. Surely there's a good reason, and, anyway, it's time to leave.
"Back to Romana and the drudge," he mutters, an offhand remark in place of a formal leave-taking.
"Don't talk to me about Romana," says his self, sharply. Braxiatel looks over and is startled by the resentment in his own eyes. Something will happen, and soon.
But, true to his own wishes, he doesn't talk to himself about Romana. Instead, he gets in his TARDIS and makes it back away. He leaves himself staring at a blue Monan bust as if it holds some sort of answer.
The next day is full of maneuvering and deceit. Little of it is for Braxiatel's own benefit, though conceptually anything that helps Romana is helping him. If she falls, he will surely fall with her.
Braxiatel talks, and yells, and whispers suggestions. He's good at this, and he knows he is. For each person, he tailors his approach, playing on what they think of him and what they already want to do. Narvin gets smirks and smugness meant to goad him into doing exactly the opposite of what Braxiatel says. It takes a lot of work to get Narvin to go against direct orders, so Braxiatel makes sure to leave him just enough of a loophole to slide out of. Most of the other Councilors get flattery and wheedling, enough attention to make them appreciate the Presidency just that little more. The support of the rest of the government may not be a prerequisite for gaining the support of the people, but it certainly confers an advantage.
Braxiatel tries to work past the sinking feeling that all of this has gotten a bit beyond him.
When Braxiatel first got into politics, he knew exactly what he was going to do. He was going to get through the barren stages of being an underling, rise to an advisory capacity, make himself invaluable, and then be granted the presidency when he was so secure that no one could ever topple him. He would rule Gallifrey and bring it into a new age.
What has happened instead is that he is stuck - invaluable, but immovable, like the person who knows how the filing system works. Somehow he has moved from being a rising star to being someone on par with Narvin or the Castellan. He knows where the bodies are buried, and for that reason he is needed where he is. And should the bodies ever rise up to haunt the Lady President, well, he is there as a handy sacrifice.
Braxiatel grits his teeth and gets on with it, the daily business of keeping Romana's hands firmly on the reins of state.
They have dinner together late at night. When they first met each other, dinner was in Braxiatel's rooms, over lab reports and exam scores and study guides. Now it is in Romana's office, food forgotten in lieu of a stack of datapads and a few pens and scraps of parchment. They've both spent enough time off-world and in politics to be happier, at times, with records that can be burned when they are no longer needed.
"I think we can rescue your image," says Braxiatel, at last. He toys with a datapad that is scrolling poll figures and pundit opinions. "The public can be swayed. But you might want to think about appointing a successor. To give an air of stability, if nothing else." Normally Braxiatel wouldn't say anything, but after a day of worrying that he will be an advisor forever, he can't help but make a grab for the top.
"Are you saying I'm unstable?" snaps Romana, and Braxiatel winces, because he knows he's unsettled her. Romana can be very nervous about her grasp on power, and he had only meant to prod, not to throw her on the defensive.
"I merely was suggesting-"
"Naming a successor would only lead to speculation about my stepping down, which is the last thing we want." Romana runs right over him, and her hands pull fretfully at the collar of her robe. Braxiatel's eyes are drawn even as he wishes she would just stop, he already knows he has pushed too hard, even just that little nudge-
"And there's hardly anyone suitable waiting in the wings."
"I wouldn't say that," says Braxiatel, tearing his eyes up to Romana's face.
She glares at him for a moment, and Braxiatel can time exactly the moment in which the implication hits her. It's when the anger falls from her eyes, to be replaced with regretful amusement.
"Oh, Brax," she says. "Oh, I really couldn't. Not you."
Braxiatel freezes, finally letting his frustration show on his face. He knows he only lets it out for a moment, but Romana is terribly perceptive.
"I apologize for my presumption, Lady President," says Braxiatel, stiffly. "If we might return to your strategy."
"I'm sorry," says Romana, but she doesn't look it. She draws breath, and Braxiatel thinks it's for some further act of false contrition, but instead she just leans forward a little. Her hands come up and she grabs his collar, this time. She kisses him gently, and then harshly, nipping at his lower lip. Braxiatel kisses her back, giving as good as he gets. He’d be surprised at Romana if he thought she was offering this as a consolation. More likely it’s just a ploy to keep him from protesting her decision, something to distract him.
It does distract him, though not enough to matter. They have done this before, and perhaps they'll do it again, and he knows that this action doesn't mean very much to either of them. If anything, the touch of Romana’s mouth to his is soothing, in the way of things that aren't going anywhere in particular.
Braxiatel reaches across the table to hold Romana's shoulders, and she cups his cheek with the hand that isn't twisting his collar. One of her fingernails scrapes under Braxiatel's eye, and the sharp pain makes him jerk a little, breaking the kiss.
"I," says Romana, when she pulls away. "I am going to do whatever I like about the public, because I am president. I hope to remain president for a long time, and there's no need for me to discuss my successor. Especially not with you, because I already know who you favor."
Romana's lips are red, and her eyes are bright, but she's not breathing hard and she's not uncertain. Braxiatel clenches a fist under the table and smirks as if nothing had happened.
"Now," Romana continues, "why don't you go back to holding forth so that I can bat my eyes and pretend I don't know exactly what you're trying to do?"
That's the last straw, but Braxiatel doesn't let it show for quite a while, not until he's left the Lady President's chambers far behind.
In his own rooms Braxiatel sits, and then stands, and finally looks at himself in the mirror above his washing basin. There's a scratch on his cheek, angry from the catch of Romana's fingers.
It's probably time to give the Judoon a call.
He changes into a suit as his private viewscreen connects them. It's easy to convince the Chief Judoon that their confiscated artwork would be better placed in the Collection than in a holding cell, somewhere. It's not as if the Judoon have any particular attachment to stolen goods whose owners have gone missing.
Braxiatel makes a mental note to make sure the owners go missing. Hopefully it won't be too unpleasant.
Even if it's not a tough sell, Braxiatel welcomes the distraction. He can already see where he went wrong with Romana, so long ago. It's when he fooled himself into thinking her intelligence would serve him, rather than undermining him.
In his TARDIS, he sends a message to himself, giving the date that the mosaic had been added. Even if the meeting hadn't already happened, he's in no mood to deal with the staff at the Collection. He, at least, will know better than to ask questions of himself.
After the message is gone, Braxiatel skips ahead to the agreed upon time for the Judoon delivery on an uninhabited planet. Afterward he returns his TARDIS to the Collection, adjusting the space coordinates slightly so that he won't land inside his own TARDIS. That would be a little awkward.
He pauses for a moment before pushing the door open, nodding at his rather stiff-looking self.
"Well then," he says, and he explains the situation. Then he brings out the mosaic and they deal with it all. It's tiresome, and Braxiatel catches himself rubbing at his face once or twice. He can tell it's just his mood, because things hadn't been this way the first time through.
His past self mentions Romana and Braxiatel has to restrain himself from doing something drastic, like raising his voice to himself.
“Don’t talk to me about Romana,” he says, trying to make it into an instruction rather than a whine. He can tell he's made himself nervous, however, even if he doesn’t say anything. He appreciates the tact with which he refrains from asking himself questions that wouldn't be answered.
Finally Braxiatel is alone, with his Collection and his frustration. He sits on the same crate he was sitting on before he got here, the slats still warm from his body, and stares, unseeing, at a priceless Monan statue. He fiddles with his cufflinks until he's calm enough to pilot himself home.
He wouldn't have been able to change anything if he'd mentioned what had happened to his younger self. All that has happened recently has been a revelation of what was already true, nothing more. But there are versions of Braxiatel that are younger than him by much more than a day. There's an off-world ambassador with a bowler and hungry eyes, wishing he had a proper TARDIS instead of a flimsy experimental Time Ring. There's an academy tutor with carefully mended robes and a rather questionable moustache, not officially cleared for travel through time or space. There's a boy not yet out of his fortieth year who has managed to make it to one of the warehouses of the Collection once or twice, through machinations that Braxiatel only half-remembers.
It's difficult not to go back now and give them advice, not to tell them to come up with a plan that has a chance of working. They're still working out the details, not yet committed to a course of action. Braxiatel's painted himself into a corner, and all he needed to do was leave a path out.
But his timeline and his existence are more important than setbacks, however permanent the stagnation may seem. Things aren't as bad as they might be. There is a version of himself who wears presidential robes. Braxiatel just has to find the path to that future.
The next time Braxiatel sees Romana, he is still in the process of figuring out where to go from here. This means he's a little preoccupied, a little colder and more polite than he normally is.
Sulking, Romana calls it, but Braxiatel is doing nothing of the sort. So he denies the accusation, and Romana picks at it, trying to provoke him as they walk the corridors of the Panopticon.
"Now that we've concluded establishing succession is out of the question," she says, with raised brows, "perhaps a simple appeal to the people is in order."
"The problem we are trying to solve is that the majority of the people dislike you," points out Braxiatel. He looks just above her left ear, which he knows annoys her. "Talking at them some more can hardly have an effect. Not unless you're prepared to disguise your actual position on off-world contact or any of your other unpopular stances."
"They just don't understand," says Romana. She runs her fingers along the wall as they turn a corner. "Gallifrey can no longer survive without the other temporal powers."
"Yet most believe it can't survive with the other temporal powers." Braxiatel has realized that he's not sure where they're going, but that's less important than the discussion. "Have you spoken to Narvin, lately? He's more representative than you might think."
"Just because I won't give you what you want doesn't mean you can discount my every idea." Romana looks away at where her hand is still trailing the wall. Braxiatel schools his features anyway, mindful of other eyes. They’re not in anything resembling private place.
"Just because you dislike my own ideas does not mean you should ignore my advice," he says, at last. "I'm hardly lashing out in a fit of pique."
"Aren't you?" asks Romana, looking at him at last. "Leela thinks-"
"Leela is by no means in touch with the will of the common Gallifreyan. She'll push you until you lose your presidency, and not to me, not to someone who will carry on."
"Carry on? That's not what this is about."
"You're never going to be President," says Romana, slowly, carefully. "I won't appoint you - I don't plan to step down, and I hope I don't die first. And you're too attached to my rule to be appointed by anyone else."
"Romana," says Braxiatel, but he's not sure what he should say, after that. His mind wants to slip into the practiced tones of the sycophant, but what's the point?
"Brax," says Romana. She stops walking and grasps his hand in her own. It's a very conscious, steady movement, and Braxiatel almost forgets that they're in public. He doesn't disentangle himself, even if it’s unwise for them to be seen like this.
"Brax, the only way this plan is going to work for you is if you have me assassinated and then fake up something appointing you my successor. And you wouldn't do that, would you?"
"No," says Braxiatel. "Of course not."
Romana nods, looking pleased.
"Because you've assuredly told Leela and your other minions to oppose my election if that ever occurs."
"Obviously," says Romana, and she smiles, brilliantly. "I learned from the best."
"Then take another lesson," says Braxiatel. He pulls his hand carefully away and begins to walk again. "Do your appeal to the people, if you like. But don't air your more radical opinions, less you be hounded from office without your consent. There are more ways to leave politics than you seem to think."
Romana nods, and turns into an office, abruptly. Braxiatel stands for a moment, unsure of whether to follow her, but in the end he just walks away.
Romana is hardly impervious to Braxiatel’s designs, whatever she may think. There is a version of Braxiatel who is wearing the president's robes, and looks at Romana's portrait like she's lost. Braxiatel has long ago accepted the need for sacrifices. If that's what it takes.
Braxiatel takes his TARDIS out and visits an old deserted colony-planet, one he first saw when he was fresh off Gallifrey, not really sure as of yet what he should be doing as an ambassador from a world that most thought was a myth. He watches an alien sun rise on an alien planet, and thinks.
He's not ready to cut his losses and go. He's not ready to concede that he may have to destroy Romana in order to orchestrate his own rise from her ashes. Surely he can rework this so he gets what he wants and Romana gets - well, something satisfactory. If anything but the presidency will satisfy her. People have walked away from it.
Braxiatel drums his fingers on his knee and stands up, testing his feet on the barren, badly-terraformed soil.
Perhaps the problem is that he gave too much of himself to Romana. Too much of his ambition, too much of his yearning for power, too much of his determination to hold on to whatever he managed to grab. He had certainly passed on his familial fascination with the alien and the strange as he was trying to instruct her in politics and manipulation.
She's grown up now, and set in her ways, the path he laid out for her and the little deviations she managed to make. Braxiatel won't be able to divert her now that his plans have to change. But maybe he can- yes-
There are more ways to leave the presidency than Romana thinks.
They kiss again in a dressing room before Romana goes before the Panopticon. They hold each other's temples and shield their thoughts from the other's prying fingers.
They smile as they part.
Then Romana is standing at the lectern, Braxiatel behind her, with the rest of her followers.
Her speech is about loyalty to Gallifrey and entrance into interplanetary politics, and how the two calls don't have to be contradictory. She's powerful and moving, and she actually sounds a little deranged, but Braxiatel isn't sure if anyone else can tell.
He's standing next to Narvin, but it would be ludicrous to ask the Coordinator. His default answer to anything is to hurl insults at Romana.
Braxiatel may criticize Romana, but he can't allow it from others.
"I can't believe this," mutters Narvin, just as expected. "Who does she think she is?"
"She’s exactly what Gallifrey needs," says Braxiatel, calmly. It's true, he thinks. For now.