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Gallifrey: Ruination

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Romana felt immediately on edge as she stepped through the portal. Of course, with so many bad Gallifreys under their belt, it was difficult to tell if the feeling was due to genuine unease or if it was simply a product of nervous anticipation. Nothing looked terribly off, but then, it hadn’t looked that bad when they’d lost Brax, either.

The air shimmered as Leela and Narvin came through behind her. Leela held her head up, sniffing the air, and Narvin performed the same quick look that Romana herself had given when she had stepped through.

“The outlands again,” he said. “Well, at least there aren’t bones scattered about this time.”

“The air smells strange,” Leela said. “Though I do not know why.”

“I can’t smell anything,” Narvin said. “And we ought to get to the Capitol before we get caught this time, don’t you think?”

“Your senses are dull,” Leela said. “There is something wrong here.”

Romana gave an experimental sniff, but she smelled nothing unusual. Leela’s enhanced sense of smell may be telling her things she and Narvin couldn’t sense, but in any case, Narvin was right.

“Strange smell or no, we ought to get somewhere less suspicious,” she said. “Much easier to explain our presence in the Capitol than out here.” It was possible that their presence was already known, but as she could see no angry Time Lords materializing from any direction, it seemed that they either didn’t know, or didn’t care. Perhaps they were busy.

They reached the Capitol unhindered, though Narvin managed to slip in mud when they were almost there, rendering the hem of his robes dirty and splattered. He at least had the sense to keep quiet about it, perhaps because of the proximity of Leela’s hand to her knife, or perhaps because the Capitol as they approached was dead silent as well. The hairs on the back of Romana’s neck were starting to prickle.

“I hear no one,” Leela said.

“Quiet,” Romana said, cautiously peering around a corner. There was no one in sight, nor, in fact, any sign that anyone had been here recently. Her brow furrowed. Where were all the Time Lords? “You’re right. There’s no one here.”

Surely they hadn’t come to an empty Gallifrey. It wouldn’t be the first one—Romana shivered at the memory of a burned, war-torn Gallifrey, bones and bodies everywhere but not a living soul in sight—but here, there were no bones. It seemed as if they’d all just gone.

“Perhaps they anticipated our visit and are planning a surprise party,” Narvin suggested dryly, having noticed her confusion.

“Shut up, Narvin,” Romana said.

“He may be right, Romana,” Leela said, resting her hand on Romana’s shoulder. “They may be planning to surprise us. If this Capitol is anything like yours, there are many places to lay ambush along the corridors. Hidden doors, false walls, unexpected turns.”

“I have to agree,” Romana said. “Though I doubt it’s for anything nearly so pleasant as a party. Perhaps we should split—”

“Oh, no,” Narvin cut in. “We are not splitting up. Every time we get separated, one or more of us ends up getting hurt. Imagine the trouble we’d get into if we separated voluntarily. We’re staying together.”

“Afraid, Narvin?” Leela teased.

“I’m only being practical,” Narvin said. “The longer we stay together, the easier it will be to know when someone is not where they’re supposed to be.”

“Fine,” Romana conceded. “We’ll—”

“Shh!” Leela held up a hand to stop them going forward. “Did you hear that?”

Romana listened. There was nothing but the sound of their own breathing. “I don’t hear anything.”

“I heard… voices,” Leela said, though even she sounded uncertain. “Somewhere far away. No, wait! Listen!”

Romana listened, and this time she did catch the faint sound of a voice murmuring off in the distance. “So we’re not the only ones on this Gallifrey after all,” she muttered.

“They’re coming closer,” Narvin said. “Perhaps we should—”

“Hide? Yes, I agree,” Romana said.

Leela gave a sharp nod and moved until her hand touched the wall. “This way.”

She felt along the wall until she found a wall hanging, and pulled it aside to reveal a metal door. She fumbled at the handle, and there was a breathless moment when Romana was sure it was locked, but the handle turned and she pushed the door open with ease.

“Here,” she said. Narvin hurried through the door, and Romana followed. As Leela came through, she let the wall hanging fall back into place, hiding the door and hiding them. Romana blinked rapidly as her eyes adjusted to the lack of light.

“How did you know this was here?” she whispered, touching Leela’s shoulder.

“Experience,” Leela whispered back. “There is a passage like it on your Gallifrey. I thought this one might have it, too.”

“So it was a gamble.”

“But it paid off,” Narvin whispered from behind them. “Shh. I can’t hear what they’re saying.”

They fell silent. The voices were still indistinct, but they were approaching. Romana leaned forward as they came closer.

“—and only the two of us to guard the weapons stores, what are they thinking—”

“It’s not as though we have any to spare. An army that size—”

“I know that, but supposing anyone makes it past?”

“Past the Eternity guns? You’ve got to be joking.”

Romana felt her blood run cold. Eternity guns? There was no such thing on her own Gallifrey, but it sounded alarmingly familiar nonetheless. She leaned closer to the opening.

“But supposing the traitor—”

“Ha! That scum? He’s locked up nice and tight. How could he do anything?”

There was a note approaching panic in the Time Lord’s voice. “He might have already done something. How do we know that there aren’t savages on the planet already?”

“Even if there are, we’ll both have Eternity guns. You can blast them out of reality if they get close.”

Romana shuddered. So her initial suspicion had been right—the Eternity guns sounded like the Oubliette in portable form. Such a weapon would have devastating effects on the universe—and she dreaded to think what kind of Time Lords would invent them, let alone use them.

“But—” The first Time Lord still sounded apprehensive.

“You worry too much. Come on.”

The conversation faded off in the distance. Romana waited until they had been gone for several seconds before daring to breathe again.

“I think we need to leave as soon as possible,” she whispered.

“I concur,” Narvin said.

Leela nodded. “We have not been here long. The portal may still be where we left it.”

“It may,” Romana said. “We’ll wait until we’re out of the Capitol to contact K-9. He can’t keep his voice down.”

Narvin said, “If it—”

“Wait.” Leela put her hand over his mouth, muffling him into indignant silence. She faced toward the hallway, brow furrowed in concentration. “Do you hear that?”

Romana listened. There was only silence.

“They’ve gone, haven’t they?” she said. She took a step toward the wall hanging covering their hiding place, but she could still hear nothing.

“I do not know. I think so.” Leela listened again, but shook her head. “No… it is gone now. Come, Romana. We will make sure they have gone.”

“If we—” Narvin began again, but both girls shushed him at the same time, and he fell silent. He stayed back as the two of them crept forward to peer out into the hallway, Leela straining to catch sound of what she had heard before.

“What did you hear, Leela?” Romana said, her voice low as she looked up and down the corridor. It seemed empty now.

“I do not know,” Leela replied, her face tilted up, listening. “Footsteps, perhaps. It was very quiet. No—there it is again.” She tilted her head to face the ceiling. “Do you not hear it?”

Behind them, Narvin said “Rom—” but Romana waved him quiet without looking, and he stopped.

“I don’t hear anything,” Romana said.

“It was like… footsteps,” Leela said slowly. “And something else… it was too quiet, I cannot tell.”

“Well, whatever it was, it doesn’t concern us,” Romana said. “Those Time Lords have gone, at any rate. Come on, Narvin. It’s safe.”

There was no answer. Leela’s brow furrowed, and Romana turned around. “Narvin?”

“I do not hear him,” Leela said. “Do you see him?”

Romana squinted into the darkness. The passage was dim, and she couldn’t see more than several feet, but Narvin wasn’t there. She groaned.

“He’s gone,” she said. “Oh, tell me this isn’t happening, not now…”

“He would not leave,” Leela said. “It was he who said not to split up.”

“Well, of course, he’s been taken right from under our noses,” Romana said, thoroughly exasperated.

“We must find him,” Leela said.

Romana sighed. “At least we know which direction they’ve gone.” She stared into the dark passage. “Now, I wonder where this leads…”

--

He should have known better than to hang back. He should have been paying more attention. He should have done a lot of things, but now it was too late, as he was being borne along the passage in complete darkness, unable to do anything he should.

But Narvin was nothing if not practical. There was no sense dwelling on what he should have done. Instead, he turned his attention to the situation at hand, determining what there was that he could do.

In the dark, he couldn’t even begin to identify the species. For all he knew, they weren’t native to his universe at all. They moved with near complete silence, and quickly: the only hint he had of them was a brush against his robes right before huge hands covered his mouth and knocked his feet from under him. He thought they were taller than he was, but as he was being carried, it was difficult to tell. Their proportions were far from Time Lord, though they seemed to have the same basic skeletal structure: two arms, two legs, one head. That didn’t tell him much, though it ruled Nekkistani right out.

Two of them supported his body, one at each end, and a third had stuffed a gag in his mouth, but in the dark he had no way of knowing how many there were. He wasn’t tied, but their grip on his wrists and ankles was too strong for him to break easily, and when he tried, they simply tightened their grip. Where were they taking him?

They moved quickly, though they were making less and less effort to be quiet as they moved down the passage. Their pace slowed slightly, and they began whispering, or hissing. It wasn’t a language he was familiar with, if it was a language at all. Experimentally, he tried to shift his hand, and let out a muffled cry when the alien squeezed his wrist to the point of pain. It let out what he thought might be laughter.

He couldn’t escape while they were holding him. And even if he could, there was no chance he could outrun them, especially not in the dark. He had his staser, at least, but he couldn’t expect that to hit anything if he couldn’t see what he was shooting at.

But maybe there would be a chance. He craned his neck, though the darkness precluded him from seeing what lay ahead. Perhaps, at the end of this passage, they would have to leave him unguarded, or at least less guarded, and from there he could make his escape.

They slowed, and finally came to a stop. There was light filtering down from above, he realized; not enough to see by, but enough that the darkness wasn’t total any longer. He could see the vague shapes of his captors. Four of them, at least four that he could see from his current vantage point.

The one holding his arms let go suddenly, and he hit the floor with a force that knocked all the air out of his lungs. Before he could so much as reach for his staser, or even try to steady himself, they were on him again, this time tying his wrists with thick, coarse rope. The one holding his legs let them go, but he was ready for it this time, and let them drop with more dignity.

Once his hands were tied, they dragged him roughly to his feet. He tested the bonds, but there was no way he could get out of them without either a lot of time, something sharp, or outside help. None of which, of course, he had.

So he couldn’t get to his staser, he was outnumbered, and he couldn’t even call out. The odds were against him. His only hope was that Romana and Leela had noticed he was gone, and were coming after him. And what he wouldn’t give for Leela’s knife right now…

There was more hissing, then one of them said, “Walk, Time Lord.” Its voice was like a sizzle of acid, and when he didn’t comply immediately, one of them shoved him. He stumbled forward and nearly tripped. The ground was rising. And—it wasn’t his imagination—there was more light coming in from above. Enough that he saw the steps just before he reached them, and managed not to trip, despite jostling on all sides from the aliens.

He twisted his hands as he walked, keeping a slow, shuffling pace, as much to frustrate his captors as to give him time to think. If he got his hands free, he could get to his staser, and if there was more light up ahead, he could shoot them. He could take on four foes at once; he’d certainly done it before. They were fast, but if he could stun them, even one of them, he might stand a chance. It all depended on if he could get his hands free.

The rope was rough, and it chafed against his wrists, but he thought he could feel it loosening. He pretended to stumble, and the alien to his left yanked him upright, hissing something. In that acid voice, it said, “Walk steady.”

I’m trying, Narvin would have retorted, but the gag would have prevented anything but muffled grunts from coming through. He stayed silent and kept climbing, as slowly as he thought he could get away with. If he was careful, he might be able to get a hand free by the time they reached the top. The light, he saw now, was coming from a glowing strip set in the ceiling, illuminating a door. His mind raced. The door would lead into a corridor, and once there, he would be able to orient himself. If he could escape—

“Faster!” The alien behind him prodded his back, and he stumbled again. He wished again for the use of his voice, but settled for glaring over his shoulder. Even in the increased light, he couldn’t place the species. Their arms were thin, but strong, supporting hands that were the size of his head, and their heads were unsettlingly narrow. He hadn’t seen anything like them before.

The alien prodded him again, and he turned and increased his pace. Even if he couldn’t get his hands free, maybe he could surprise them and make a break for it…

They stopped him several steps down, and one of them crept forward to open the door and look through. After a brief hissed exchange, they pushed him forward again. His left hand was almost free. If he could just—

They pushed him out into a brightly-lit corridor. Eyes still adjusting, he looked both ways as quickly as he could. To the left was a sharp turn that, if this Citadel was anything like his own, meant the outside was near. To the right, the corridor stretched on and branched out.

There was a brief moment when none of them were touching him. Before the rest of them could get out of the passage, he elbowed past the one in front and ran.

It lasted less than three seconds. He didn’t even hear them coming after him. He only felt something heavy hit the back of his head, knocking him to the ground.

It was over. He tried to roll onto his back, but they were on him too quickly, and after another sharp pain, he thought no more.

--

The passage was empty and dark, and led only to another empty section of corridor. Narvin was nowhere in sight, or, Leela confirmed, in hearing range. Whatever or whoever had taken him moved quickly.

“We must find him somehow,” Leela said.

Romana nodded. “And quickly. If we don’t get to the portal soon, I dread to think where it might end up.”

“Nowhere near those Time Lords, I hope,” Leela said in a low voice. “Where are we now, Romana?”

Romana looked around, but the corridor didn’t tell her much. “Somewhere near the outer edge of the Capitol.”

“There is a way outside nearby?”

“I think so, yes.”

“Then let us go that way. We will be safer outside the Capitol, and we can contact K-9. He may be able to help us find Narvin.”

“Good plan,” Romana said. “Let’s go.”

It seemed like a long shot to Romana, K-9 being able to detect Narvin’s whereabouts from the Axis, but where else could they turn? They might never find him on their own. She glanced up and down the hall one last time before leading Leela out, only taking out her communicator when they were several yards away from the Capitol.

“K-9,” she said. “Are you there?”

“Affirmative, Mistress,” came K-9’s bright reply.

“We’ve lost Narvin,” Romana said, without preamble. “Do you think you might be able to pinpoint his biodata signature from the Axis? Quickly?”

There was a brief but agonizing pause. “I will run a search.”

“Please hurry,” Romana said, glancing at Leela. Her face was impassive, but her hands were curled into fists. Romana was sure the worry was plain on her face, but there was no one here to see it.

“Signature found,” K-9 announced, after an unbearably long span of silence. “The trace is faint. Shall I send the coordinates to your communicator, Mistress?”

“Please do,” Romana said. “And one more thing, K-9—where will we find the portal when we need to leave here?”

“I will send updated coordinates when you require them,” K-9 said. “Sending coordinates for Narvin now.”

The screen flashed, and Romana glanced down at it. “Thank you, K-9. We’ll see you soon.”

“Where is he?” Leela said, touching Romana’s arm.

“Back in the Capitol,” Romana said. She frowned at the screen. The coordinates were unfamiliar; they didn’t seem to correspond with any place on her own Gallifrey. “Now that doesn’t make any sense. Where have they taken him?”

“We must find him,” Leela said, when Romana made no immediate move to go.

“Of course,” Romana said. “But we’ve got to be careful. I don’t know this Gallifrey well at all. Come on. Back into the passageway.”

--

It seemed to Leela like they were walking in circles. Given Romana’s hesitation at nearly every turn, now, she was certain she wasn’t far off. Leela tried to keep track of the turnings, but soon she began to understand why Romana was confused; this Capitol was laid out nothing like the old familiar one.

“At least,” Romana said, a touch of exasperation in her tone, “we haven’t run into anyone else. Though it’s odd—aside from the two we heard before, there doesn’t seem to be anyone about at all.”

“It is odd,” Leela agreed, “but fortunate for us. I do not like to think what they would do if they found strangers roaming their corridors.”

“Count your blessings, I suppose,” Romana said. She stopped walking, and Leela pictured her face: a ferocious frown, glaring at whatever obstacle now stood in their way.

“Why have we stopped?” Leela said.

“I’m afraid we’re lost,” Romana said. “This passage should continue, but there’s no way forward. We can only turn left or right.”

Leela raised her head to sniff the air. There wasn’t much to smell: the familiar scent of Time Lords, though she could identify none of them; the sterile atmosphere of the Capitol that took on a scent all of its own; Romana, of course. She would have to rely on less physical senses, then.

“Left,” she said, and turned to go swiftly down the passage. She kept her hand against the wall, both to keep herself on the right track and to feel for any other clues to Narvin’s location.

The passage took a sharp turn, and she followed it. But she had only been going for a few more seconds before something prickled at that sixth sense, and she stopped.

She sniffed at the air again. Behind her, she could hear Romana’s footsteps, bringing with them Romana’s scent. There wasn’t as much smell of Time Lord here. But nor, she realized, was there much of the sterile scent she was so used to in the Capitol.

“Do you smell anything?” Romana said.

“I am not sure,” Leela said slowly. “Are we close to the coordinates?”

“Yes… he’s somewhere to the right.”

Leela pressed her palm firmly against the wall. “A secret passage?”

“It must be,” Romana said wearily. “There aren’t any doors along here.”

Leela put her ear to the wall and rapped her knuckles against it. Sure enough, the sound came back hollow.

“There is a passage,” she said. “Though I do not know how it opens.”

“Well—” Romana began, in a tone that did not indicate any solution was forthcoming, but Leela shushed her. She fell into a disgruntled silence that Leela ignored as she felt along the wall. Any imperfection, any crack could be the key to the entrance…

Her hand skated across a hairline crack.

“Ah,” she said triumphantly, and pressed the tip of her knife into the crack. It was not, most likely, how it was meant to be opened, but they didn’t have time to try and figure out a passcode or whatever else. She wiggled the knife back and forth until she could fit more of the blade in the crack, then slid it downward. There was a click, and a whoosh, and she inhaled a lungful of stale air.

“You did it!” Romana said.

“There is no need to sound surprised,” Leela said, but she smiled in satisfaction as she said it.

“Never mind that,” Romana said. “We’ve found him. Come on. There’s steps, so be careful.”

“I think we will need to be careful of more than that,” Leela said. The air from the passage had seeped out into the hall, and though it was diluted by the sterile air outside, she could smell the unpleasantness on it. It would only get worse once they were inside.

“You may be right,” Romana said. “Nevertheless, we have to go.”

Leela nodded grimly. “Let us hope nothing waits for us there.”

--

Romana had never seen such a dank place on her own Gallifrey. Even the catacombs were cleaner and dryer than this. Not to mention brighter. She wanted to put her hand on the wall to make sure she didn’t fall, but there was too much slime there, and touching it made her feel as though it would creep into her pores, under her fingernails, oozing between her fingers and into her body. She suppressed a shudder and opted to walk carefully, instead.

“Where are we, Romana?” Leela asked.

“I don’t know,” Romana replied. “I don’t think it exists on our Gallifrey. I certainly hope not. It’s dark down here.”

“It is like a cellar,” Leela said. “I can smell the dampness in the air. This is air that breeds misery and death.”

“A bit melodramatic, but I agree,” Romana said. The air smelled of damp and mildew, mold and rotting wood. Whatever was down here, it wasn’t attended to very often.

At the bottom of the steps, with almost no light left, there was a door. Romana tried the handle. It was locked.

“What is it?” Leela hissed, her quiet voice still loud enough to startle. Romana flinched.

“There’s a door,” she whispered. “A wooden door. It’s locked.”

“Show me.”

Romana took her hand and guided it to the handle. Leela took out her knife and dug it into the wood above the lock.

“Are you certain that’s wise?” Romana said.

“How else will we get in?” Leela replied, working her knife in the soft wood.

Romana bit her lip, holding back a protest as Leela let out a quiet “ha!” as the handle clicked and the door swung inward. It was even darker inside. Romana took one cautious step inside before a familiar voice came from the darkness, not too far away.

“Who’s there?” it said.

“Narvin!” Leela said.

“Thank goodness,” Romana said. “Are you all right? What happened?” She squinted into the gloom. “I can’t see a thing down here—where are you?”

There was a brief silence. “There’s a light,” he said. He sounded strange; too stiff, too measured. “Turn it on. To your left.”

Romana’s hand felt along the wall and found a panel, which she pressed. A dim light came on, barely enough to see by. There were strips, she saw, of what looked like emergency lights across the ceiling. And across the room from them, chained to the wall and looking distinctly haggard, was Narvin, a distrustful look in his shadowed eyes.

“Narvin,” Romana said, her voice guarded. Something felt wrong.

“What is the matter?” Leela whispered, hearing the tension in Romana’s tone.

Romana shook her head. “I don’t know yet.”

Narvin watched them, giving no indication if he heard the exchange. His fingers curled around the chains. “Who sent you?”

“No one sent us,” said Leela. “We came of our own—”

“Leela, wait.” Romana held up a hand. “Do you recognize us, Narvin?”

The Narvin facing them looked nonplussed. “No. Should I?”

“I thought as much,” Romana muttered. “He’s the wrong one.”

Leela gasped. “You mean this Narvin is not—?”

“That’s exactly what I mean.”

Narvin looked between the two, clearly not understanding. His look, nevertheless, was calculating. “Who are you? What do you want?”

“Never mind that,” Romana said. “Who put you here? And more importantly, why?”

His gaze was measured, judging. “You really don’t know, do you?”

“Would we be asking if we did?” Romana snapped. “Tell me.”

“But you know my name,” he said. “You knew I was here. You expect me to recognize you. And you called me the ‘wrong one.’ Who are you and why are you here?”

“We were looking for our friend,” Leela said. “We think he has been captured.”

“Your friend.”

“We,” Romana said, throwing caution into the wind, “are not from this universe. Nor is our friend. My name is Romana, and this is Leela. Our friend is you—our universe’s version of you. And given that someone went to an awful lot of trouble to put you here—though heavens only knows why—I’d give high odds you and he were captured by the same people.”

“I wouldn’t,” Narvin said. “You’re from a different universe, you two? Well, it’s not the least plausible thing I’ve ever heard. Are you going to free me?”

“Not until you tell us why you’re here in the first place,” Romana said.

“Can’t it wait? These chains aren’t exactly comfortable.”

“No, it cannot,” Leela said. “Explain yourself, Narvin.”

He gave a world-weary sigh. “Fine. Do you know of the Tvark race?”

“I can’t say I’m familiar,” Romana said.

“They call themselves traders.” He grimaced. “Really they’re more like pirates. Nothing but a bunch of thugs.”

“Did they put you here?” Leela said.

He shook his head. “No. That was the Time Lords.”

Romana’s eyebrows shot up. “Why—”

“They don’t tend to like it when you sell inside information to a race of thugs,” Narvin said.

“Then you are the traitor,” Leela said in astonishment.

He laughed bitterly. “Wouldn’t you be? Believe me, the Time Lords make anything I’ve done seem like a drop in the well.”

Romana frowned. Judging by what they had overheard in the corridor, he had a point. Still, selling information to pirates… “What sort of information are you selling?”

“Weapons stores,” Narvin said. “Codes, locks, guard schedules. Everything they need to get in undetected and come out blasting.”

“You would simply hand the most powerful weapons in the galaxy to a bunch of thugs?” Romana said, horrified.

“No!” Narvin pulled forward, chains rattling as he hit the end of their tether. “It’s mutually assured destruction! They’ll kill the Time Lords, but they don’t know how to use their weapons. They’ll self-destruct, or blow each other up, I really don’t care which. I wouldn’t set them on the universe any more than I would the Time Lords.”

“Perhaps we should leave him here,” Romana said, glaring at him. Their Narvin might have dropped his gaze and conceded, but this one stared right back at her. His gaze was cold and steady.

“Don’t you understand?” he said. “Do you know what these people have done? What they’re planning? The Time Lords are purists at their worst. They believe only their race has the right to exist in the universe. All others must be eliminated—or better yet, never have existed in the first place. That’s their campaign, and once they’ve finished with that they’ll turn to their own race, those of us who don’t fit their standard—that’s why they’ve put me here. Once they’ve eliminated the rest of the universe, they’ll come back for me.”

Romana’s hearts sank. This was worse, much worse than she had imagined. A race of Time Lords like that—they were no better than the Daleks. Worse, even, equipped with the weaponry to actually carry out their plan. But she said nothing, and Narvin, taking her silence as disagreement, changed tactics.

“You said your friend had been captured?” he said. A note of desperation crept into his voice. “The Tvark have him. If they think he’s me, which they will, they will think he’s withholding the information. They’ll stop at nothing to get it—for Rassilon’s sake, they’re a race of brutes! They’ll try to torture it out of him, and when he doesn’t tell them anything, they’ll just keep going.”

Romana’s lip curled. “I don’t see why we should trust you.” She half-turned as if to leave, and Narvin yanked forward again, getting as close as he could with the chains still in place.

“Listen,” he said urgently. “They will torture him to death. They are willing to kill to get that information, and they don’t know he hasn’t got it. I know where he’ll be, and how to get there, but if you don’t set me free, he will die slowly and painfully, and for nothing. I can save him. I can save all of us.”

Leela touched Romana’s arm. “Romana, I do not like to trust a traitor, but I think he is right. If we try to find our Narvin on our own, we may be too late. Besides, you have seen as much of the Time Lords here as I have. They are not like ours.”

“No,” Romana agreed with a sigh. “They’re nothing like ours.” She gave a sharp nod. “All right. Narvin, do you know where the key is?”

“Yes,” he said. “In the pocket of my captor.”

“Well, that’s no good, then.” Romana pondered for a moment. “What about a staser? A good blast ought to loose you.”

“Frankly, even if I had a staser, I don’t trust either of you to aim well enough not to shoot me in the process,” Narvin said.

“For pity’s sake, I will do it,” Leela said, unsheathing her knife and striding over to Narvin. “We are wasting time.”

He watched as she went, winced as her hands wandered to find his own hand, and felt along it until she found the chain holding him there. He turned back to Romana.

“She’s blind?” he said.

“I can still hear you,” Leela snapped. She felt along the chain until she found its weakest point, and with one swift blow, snapped it. He let out a quiet sigh of relief as she did the same to the other side, and as she stepped away, he pulled back and stretched.

“Much better,” he said. “Thank you.”

“Now is really not the time,” Romana said. “If you know where he’ll be, take us there. You can pamper yourself later.”

“Forgive me,” he said dryly. “One does get rather stiff after being chained to a wall for Rassilon knows how long.”

“And our friend may be dying,” Romana said. “But do, please, take your time. I’m sure there’s no rush.”

“Right.” He pushed his fingers under the cuffs to rub his wrists. “If we could get the key—”

“You are free,” Leela said. “What do you need a key for?” She had sheathed her knife and now stood beside Narvin, who flinched when she spoke.

“It would be nice,” he said, “to get the cuffs off my hands. But no matter. We need to get out of here.”

“That’s what we’ve been saying,” Romana said.

“If we’re caught here, your friend will be killed, and in all probability, so will you,” he snapped. “We will stand no chance of saving him, and Gallifrey will be allowed to continue on as it is. So let’s go.”

He grabbed Leela’s hand and strode toward the door. Leela wrenched her hand away. “I can walk,” she snarled.

He pulled back. “I thought you might need help—”

“I do not care what you thought.” She marched across the room back to Romana, only putting her hand to the wall when she reached the doorway. Romana stepped aside for her, and she got up two stairs before she stopped and turned her head. “Well? Are you coming?”

Narvin hurried to catch up to Romana, who turned to follow Leela up. When Leela was about five steps ahead, he touched Romana’s arm. She pulled away and glared at him.

“Is she always like this?” he muttered.

“Yes,” Romana said, not bothering to keep her voice down. “And she can hear you. Leela is not helpless, despite what you seem to think.”

Leela didn’t respond, except to straighten her shoulders and quicken her pace. Romana glanced at Narvin, who was staring at Leela’s back, his expression thoughtful. She turned back to Leela, who was thoroughly ignoring him.

Leela stopped at the top of the stairs, a hand on the wall, crouched just before the staircase met the main hall. Romana crept up beside her. “Hear anything?”

“Shh.” Leela held up a finger. Romana fell silent, and Narvin, coming up on the steps behind her, didn’t make a sound. After a few moments, Leela nodded.

“There is no one there,” she said. “But we must hurry. Narvin, you must know somewhere safe.”

“I do. There’s a passage not far from here that they don’t know about, which leads to an abandoned library. Hard on those with allergies, but an excellent hiding place for those who need to disappear.”

“A library?” Romana wrinkled her nose. “Why would they abandon a library?”

“You really don’t know these people,” Narvin muttered. He tapped her shoulder, and she moved aside so he could lead the way. “They’re quite the revisionists. If anything didn’t go perfectly, it doesn’t deserve to be known about.”

“Then why does it still exist?” Romana said. He moved fast, but it wasn’t difficult to keep up when they were all in a hurry.

“They don’t know about it,” Narvin said, with a hint of a sly grin over his shoulder. “Being in charge of an organization of spies has its advantages.”

“Wait,” Leela said suddenly, holding up a hand. “Quiet.”

They fell silent. A moment later, Romana heard the same thing Leela had: footsteps, approaching fast. Narvin looked around sharply.

“What day is it?” he muttered to Romana.

“How should I know?” she whispered back. “We only just arrived here.”

Fine. What did you see when you first got here? Where were the Time Lords?”

“I don’t know—there was a meeting of some sort, most of them were there.”

He swore under his breath. “War meeting already? We haven’t much time. Can either of you fight?”

In answer, Leela drew her knife, facing the direction of the footsteps. Wishing she had a staser, Romana backed up against the wall. To her surprise, Narvin joined her.

A group of Time Lords rounded the corner, and Leela let out a war cry and charged them. With the element of surprise on her side, she managed to bring down two of them before they could even react. Narvin was on them in a flash, drawing the staser from one of the two fallen and blasting it into the crowd.

Romana hesitated, unsure if she should join the action. This would not, it seemed, be a long battle; the way Leela and Narvin were fighting, she doubted she would even be of any help.

She ducked forward and grabbed the staser from the other fallen Time Lord anyway. Even if she didn’t plan to use it, it was better to be safe than sorry.

It was over in less than a minute. Leela was breathing heavily, her knife dripping blood as she stood amidst the carnage. Narvin, meanwhile, was picking his way through the bodies.

“Aha,” he said, stooping over to search the pockets of one of the fallen. “Excellent. I’ll take that, thank you.”

He straightened up holding a key, and in quick order he unlocked his cuffs and let them drop with a clank to the floor. He gave a smirk of satisfaction, then turned his attention to his wrists. They looked raw, but still he sighed with relief as he flexed them. “Oh, that is much better.”

“Are they all dead?” Romana said, staring at the Time Lords. There were about twenty of them, she thought; twenty dead in only a minute. She shuddered and looked away. What if she recognized one of them?

“Does it really matter?” Narvin said. “They’ll all be dead soon enough. As long as they don’t get back up to fight, I don’t care.” He made his way carefully back to the clear part of the corridor, and a moment later Leela joined them. “Now. Where was I? Ah, yes. This way.”

He led them a short way down the corridor and stopped in front of a portion of the wall that seemed no different from any other. After motioning them to be silent, he pressed his ear against it, as though listening for something. When apparently satisfied, he pulled away and pressed an unremarkable bit of wall. It slid in, and a moment later the section of wall they stood in front of opened silently.

“Impressive,” Romana muttered.

“What happened?” Leela said.

“Secret door,” Romana said. “Come on.”

She slipped inside, shortly followed by Leela. Narvin looked down the hall one last time before closing the door behind them.

--

Leela could tell when they got to the library because of the smell of books, and the sudden opening up of the air around her. She took a breath in and marveled. Such smells and open spaces were rare, even back on Romana’s Gallifrey. This library must be enormous.

“Incredible,” Romana breathed.

“Thank you,” Narvin said. “It has taken a lot of work to gather all this.”

“And it’s all books,” Romana said. “No datapads, no Matrix storage—? They must be incredibly old.”

“Some date back to Rassilon’s time.” Leela felt a stir of air as he brushed past her, and the tingle of dust on her skin. For the first time since taking the vampire blood, she wished for her sight back. It must be a magnificent thing to behold.

But that was not the point. She reached out and tapped the nearest person on the shoulder. From the feel, she guessed it to be Romana. “We do not have time to get distracted.”

“No, we don’t,” Narvin agreed, some distance away. “But nor do we have the luxury of simply rushing in without a plan. You can’t expect to just show up and save the day. They’ll kill you before you can get close.”

“Then what is the plan?” Leela said, turning her face in the direction of his voice.

“We do a trade,” he said. “Me for him.”

“And what do we tell them when they ask why there are two of you?” Romana said.

I,” Narvin said, emphasizing the singular, “will tell them exactly as much as they need to know.”

“You mean you’re going in there alone?” Romana said.

“It’s safer that way,” Narvin said. “I’ve dealt with them before. If you come in with me, they might just kill you on sight.”

“And you’ll tell them the truth?” Romana said.

“As much of it as I have to.”

Romana sniffed. “That sounds risky.”

“Of course it’s risky,” Narvin snapped. “We are not dealing with nice people, Romana. Every plan we could come up with is risky. It’s possible they won’t let either of us go, no matter how carefully we plan. Between them and the Time Lords, I will be lucky to escape with even one life left.”

“But—”

“It occurs to me,” Narvin said, his voice measured and dangerous, “that you know next to nothing about the situation, whereas I have been engineering it from the beginning. Perhaps you should let me decide what to do.”

“How dare you!” Romana’s voice had a quality that should have echoed, but the echoes were absorbed by the books. “I am your—”

Leela stepped forward and put her hand on her arm. “Romana,” she said, “he is right.”

“You’re taking his side?” said Romana, incredulous.

“There is no side to take,” Leela said. Her hand tightened on Romana’s arm as she made to pull away. “Listen, Romana. I say this as your friend. Narvin is right. We do not know these Tvark, nor do we know these Time Lords. If he says these are risks we must take, then we must take them. We cannot save our Narvin without him.”

Romana let her shoulders drop, and Leela released her arm. “Fine. But I don’t like it.”

“Neither do I,” Leela said. “But we do not have a choice.”

“Thank you,” Narvin said acidly. “Leela—come this way.” His fingers brushed her elbow, and she jerked away.

“I can walk without your help,” she snapped.

“And what about me, hmm?” Romana said. “Am I just supposed to stand here looking pretty?”

You are going to help me secure the library,” Narvin said. “There’s more than one door like the one we came through. Here are the codes for each door.” There was the sound of a datapad, of buttons being pressed, and rustling cloth. “You go that way, and we’ll meet up at the northeast corner.”

“Shouldn’t we stick together?” Romana said.

“Certainly,” Narvin said. “If you’d like to give the Time Lords more chance to find out where we are and get inside.”

“Then why can’t Leela come with me?”

“I rather thought you wouldn’t want to leave me alone, seeing as you’ve made it quite clear you don’t trust me,” Narvin said, an edge of exasperation apparent in his tone. “Is there anything else, or can we please get started?”

“Fine,” Romana snapped. “I’ll meet you there. Leela, keep an eye on him—or an ear.” Her footsteps were loud enough that even a Time Lord would know which way she was going, Leela thought.

Narvin touched her arm again, and she yanked it away. “Do not touch me.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “This way.”

His footsteps were quieter, and slower. She hesitated merely a second to follow them. But when they stopped, he didn’t seem to be doing anything.

“What is wrong?” she said. “Are the doors secured?”

“There aren’t any on this side,” he said. “I—”

“You lied to us?” Leela’s fingers strayed near her knife.

“I wanted to talk to you, alone,” Narvin said. “Please don’t stab me. I don’t mean you any harm.”

Leela let her hand settle on the handle of her knife and glared in the direction of his voice. He sighed. “I am unarmed, Leela. What could I do, hit you with a book? You’d hear me coming before I could lift it.”

She straightened up. “What do you want to talk with me about?”

“You,” he said. “I’ve seen the way you navigate without your sight, and the way you handle yourself in a fight. You’re better than most Time Lords.” He gave a short laugh. “You’re better than most Tvark, for that matter.”

“Better than you?”

He laughed again, this time longer. “I didn’t say that. But you are good. Shockingly so, for a cripple.”

“I am not a cripple!”

“No,” he said quickly. “No, of course you’re not. I didn’t mean—”

“You Time Lords are not so different no matter which Gallifrey you are from.” Leela curled her lip. “You do not say what you mean, and you do not mean what you say. If you call me a cripple, then you think I am a cripple. I—”

She stopped then, because Narvin had put his hands on her shoulders, holding her… almost gently. She took a half-step back, and he moved with her.

“I wanted to apologize,” he said. “Blindness does not happen here, Leela. When it does, the afflicted politely regenerates out of sight. Gallifrey functions because its people function.”

“I function,” Leela said defiantly.

“I know you do. That’s the point. I assumed you couldn’t, and I was wrong. For that, I apologize.”

Leela stood for a moment. Hearing such words come out of Narvin’s mouth was highly unusual, but even more so, she thought, from this Narvin in particular. And yet he seemed sincere, which was the oddest part. Could it be that all he meant was to apologize? Or was this more Time Lord doublespeak?

“What do you really want?” she finally said.

His hands dropped, and he heaved a sigh. “Being transparent doesn’t work on you, does it. Very well. If I get your Narvin out of their—and I cannot guarantee it—take care of him. He’ll need it.”

Unexpected words, again. “Of course we will.”

“I meant you, Leela. He will need… a friend.”

“We are not—” Leela began to protest, but something pressed against her lips, and it took her a moment—how long had it been since she had felt it?—to realize that it was Narvin’s lips. He was kissing her. And almost as soon as she had realized it, he had stopped.

She brought her fingers up to her lips. “Narvin,” she began, but before she could get any further, or even think where the rest of the sentence was going to go, Narvin turned away from her and began walking much more quickly than before. She hurried to keep up, her hand falling from her lips and settling loosely by her side. She wanted to ask him why, why he had done that, why she in particular was to take care of her—their—Narvin, why he was behaving like this, but he didn’t seem eager to discuss it.

No sooner had he stopped again, this time presumably in their designated meeting place, that she heard approaching footsteps that meant Romana had finished her assigned task. She knew immediately that it had been unnecessary, merely a ploy on Narvin’s part to get them alone together. A weak ploy, at that, but it had worked.

“All the doors are sealed,” Romana said. “I don’t suppose you’ve come up with a plan?”

“The best laid plans are far too easily derailed,” Narvin said. He sounded perfectly normal. Was kissing something he did often? Leela couldn’t imagine their Narvin doing it, but perhaps this universe was different. Or perhaps he just didn’t want Romana to know. She wondered briefly if that meant that she should tell her, but dismissed the idea. It didn’t matter. After all, the odds that they were ever going to see him again after this were very slim.

“But you must have some sort of plan,” Romana said. “Surely you’re not just going to go in empty handed?”

“Literally, yes,” Narvin said. “Figuratively, no. My plan rather depends on how quickly you three can get back to your universe—assuming I can get your friend out in the first place. If you cannot move quickly, I have to stall. The longer I stall, the more dangerous things will be for all of us.”

“We should be able to get out quickly, provided we’re not far from the outlands,” Romana said. “How much time could you safely stall?”

“I’m not sure.” Narvin hesitated, then hazarded, “A matter of microspans, perhaps. No more than five—can you get out within five microspans—?”

Leela wasn’t sure, but Romana said, “Easily,” and she remembered K-9’s words: the portal would be right where they left it. As long as they knew where they were, and where it was, they could get out in time without trouble.

“Right.” Narvin took a step closer, drawing them both into a conspiratorial huddle, as if anyone would be able to hear them otherwise. “Then here’s the plan…”

--

Narvin’s head lolled forward. All around him, the aliens laughed, and one of them grabbed his head and pulled it back upright. By now, he had reached the point where even if he had the information for them, he would not have been able to give it. Already sick from the pain, he was beginning to feel woozy from blood loss. He felt slippery and sticky with the stuff, oozing steadily out of his wounds.

“Tell us,” they rattled, and he swallowed and opened his mouth to tell them, yet again, that he didn’t know, he didn’t have the information they sought—but no words came out.

“Worthless,” one of them growled. They let his head drop forward again, and he took the respite gratefully, though he could feel the pressure it put on his left eye, and he could see the blood dripping onto his lap.

There was a knock on the door.

The aliens all fell silent. Narvin mustered his strength and lifted his head to look over. Who could that possibly be? Who would find a place like this and knock?

The knock came again. “Who goes?” one of the aliens snarled.

“I,” came a startlingly familiar voice. “Narvinectralonum, Coordinator of the CIA and the only Time Lord the Tvark will deal with. I have come to make a deal.”

Oh, Narvin thought hazily. Of course; there was a version of him in this universe. But why on Gallifrey would he be dealing with these… creatures?

“You lie,” one of them hissed.

The door swung open and Narvin found himself staring at… himself. He closed his eyes and let his head drop. Fine, he thought. Let him deal with these murderers.

“I do not lie,” the other Narvin said. “I’ve come to negotiate the release of your hostage. He knows nothing of importance—at least not for you.”

There was some hissing; a murmur of confusion. One of them spoke up. “Then who is—”

“A stranger,” the other Narvin said. “One of no worth to you. I have the codes, and I am still willing to give them to you—but only if you release this man.”

More hissing. “You said you would give us the codes already! This is no bargain.”

“You won’t get them otherwise,” Narvin snapped. “Torture him or torture me all you like, but your time is running out. The war meeting was held today. If you don’t hurry, the codes will be useless to you—the weapons store will be emptied out, and you will have missed your chance. Either you take the deal or you lose everything you’ve worked for. Your choice.”

Briefly, Narvin wondered if he was hallucinating. Was this unexpected rescue just a product of his tortured mind? Was he, after all, going to die here, on this strange Gallifrey, protecting the secrets of a race not his own, because he didn’t know them?

But a moment later he felt his wrists being untied roughly, and he was pulled to his feet in the same manner. There was a surprisingly light touch on his arm which became firmer as he swayed.

Narvin’s voice sounded right by his ear. “Can you walk?”

He swallowed and licked his lips. Could he speak? “Don’t know.”

The other Narvin swore under his breath. “You’ll have to. Listen. Leela and Romana aren’t far. Go out the door and walk straight as far as you can. They’ll see you, but you won’t see them, until they come get you. Can you do that?”

It didn’t sound as though he had a choice. He nodded.

“Good. Go.” The other Narvin gave him a push in the direction of the door, and Narvin stumbled, but caught himself against the wall. His head felt like it was pulsing, and if he stood wrong it might just fall right off his shoulders.

He didn’t look back as he made his way, with as much dignity as he could manage, through the door.

--

Leela and Romana waited in Narvin’s hideout, which was really the entrance to a hidden tunnel some distance away from the abandoned-looking building he had entered. Romana had contacted K-9 for the updated portal coordinates, thankfully not far from where they were, and Leela was fidgeting with impatience. Without her sight, she had no way to know what was going on from this far away, and though Romana was watching the door without so much as blinking, Leela couldn’t keep still.

“He has been in there a long time,” she said. “Do you think he lied to us?”

“Be patient, Leela, it’s only been a few microspans,” Romana muttered. “It does take time to bargain for a life, I’m sure.”

Leela stood up and began to pace farther back in the tunnel. “I do not know… perhaps he was too late.”

“I’m sure Narvin is fine,” Romana said, though it was a lie. Leela didn’t bother to dignify it with a response.

The door opened, and Romana perked up. “Leela—he’s coming out!”

Leela was immediately back by her side. “Is he all right? Can you see?”

“There he is—he’s coming. He’s—” She swallowed. “He looks bad, Leela.”

“What? What is it?” Leela demanded. “What is happening?”

Romana took a deep breath. “I can’t tell exactly, but he—he’s covered in blood. I think it’s his own. And he’s limping.”

Leela’s jaw tightened. “What have they done to him?”

“I don’t know. I can’t see from here—” Even as she said it, Narvin stumbled, and fell with a heavy thump. Leela, hearing the sound, was up and out of their hiding place before Romana could stop her, but she wouldn’t have anyway; she was out barely a nanospan after Leela was. They reached him at the same time, Leela following her ears and presumably the smell of blood, and together they lifted him up, one of his arms over each of their shoulders. On his left side, Romana realized where all the blood was coming from, and felt sick. He had only four fingers on that hand. Torture, the other Narvin had said—but she hadn’t thought he could mean it quite so literally.

“Narvin,” Leela said as they made their way as fast as they could back to their hiding place. “Are you all right?”

“Leela,” he said, and coughed. He didn’t appear to be coughing blood, thank Rassilon. “You’re here.”

“We are both here,” Leela soothed. “It will be all right.”

His feet dragged along the ground. He was barely clinging to consciousness, Romana realized, and a second later he lost his grip on it, his head dropping forward and his body going entire limp. Leela shifted her weight to hold him higher off the ground.

“He’s fainted,” Romana said. “He’s—he’s lost a lot of blood.”

“I know,” Leela said grimly. “I can smell it. What are his wounds?”

A clamor arose from the building behind them. For a moment, as she glanced behind herself, Romana thought the Tvark must have changed their minds and were coming after them, but when she saw no pursuers, she realized it was a victory cry.

“I’ll tell you later,” she said. “We have to get out of here.”

“The portal—”

“—should be close. Just a little further into the outlands and it’ll show up.”

They turned, heading in the direction K-9 had said the portal would be in. Romana fervently hoped he had not been wrong. With both of them supporting Narvin, they could make relatively swift progress, but if the portal wasn’t there…

Another cry came from behind them, and she risked a glance back. The Tvark were pouring out of the building, and some of them were looking their way. She looked forward again and saw, not too far off, the telltale shimmer in the air.

“Almost there,” she gasped out.

“Are we pursued?” Leela demanded.

“I don’t know—they’ve certainly seen us. We’ve got to hurry—”

Though they were already moving quickly, at Romana’s pronouncement, Leela began to move faster, and Romana increased her pace to keep up. Between them, Narvin groaned.

“We’re almost there,” Romana said, though she doubted he could hear her, or understand her. “Almost there…”

And then they were through, bursting into the Axis at top speed, Romana calling out for K-9 to close the portal behind them as soon as they were through. They slowed as the familiar, sterile walls of the Axis surrounded them.

“K-9,” Leela said, “where is the medical wing? Narvin is badly hurt.”

K-9 beeped a few times, then wheeled around and trundled off. “This way, Mistresses.”

--

They carried Narvin to the nearest thing the Axis had to a medical wing and laid him on a bed there. Romana said there looked to be plenty of equipment, and gave Leela a bucket of water and a cloth to try to wash some of the blood off Narvin. Throughout it all, he remained unconscious.

“We may have to strip him,” she said. Leela could hear her footsteps, three paces one way, a brief pause, three paces the other way. “Of course, he’d probably want to, anyway. His robes are absolutely soaked.”

“Tell me, Romana,” Leela said. “What are his injuries?”

Romana drew in a slow breath. “It’s not pleasant, Leela. He… they’ve done something to his left eye. There’s a lot of blood, and it’s swollen shut. I—I don’t think he’s lost it, but he may not be able to see out of it anymore. His left hand looks bad, too.” There was a pause, and when Romana spoke again, her voice had a slight tremble to it. “Index finger gone, some of the others look broken. We’ll need splints.” She swallowed audibly. It was not hard to guess why—all that, and she hadn’t finished speaking yet. “His nose looks broken, too. And he was limping, but I don’t think any bones are broken in his legs. A sprain, perhaps.” She let out a long sigh. “I’m not sure how much we can do for him, Leela.”

“We cannot give up,” Leela said fiercely. She dipped the rag into the bucket and wrung it out. The smell of blood was everywhere, almost overwhelming.

“I don’t mean to give up, Leela.” Romana hesitated. “Injuries like these… ordinarily I might recommend regenerating, but—”

“But he cannot.”

“Exactly.” Romana took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “We do have what we need here to stop the bleeding, and set the bones, but he—he won’t get his finger back, nor his eye. And we don’t have the materials for a prosthetic for either.”

Leela put her hand to Narvin’s head, and he moaned in his sleep. She leaned down and kissed his forehead. “He will manage,” she said. “We will manage.” She remembered, again, what the other Narvin had said to her. He will need a friend… then she would be a friend.

“Right,” Romana said firmly. “I’ll find the bandages. You—you keep cleaning him up. We’ll get him out of those robes and… here, he can put this on for now.” There was a rustle of cloth, and a small breeze of air. “It’s not much, but it’ll do. Stay with him, Leela.”

“I will not leave him,” Leela said softly. She reached for his hand, and though she wasn’t certain he could feel it, gave it a light squeeze. His right hand, at least, was intact. She closed her eyes ad lifted it to lightly kiss his fingers. “Oh, Narvin…”

Shortly, Romana returned with bandages, and they set to work. Romana then brought him medicine she said was a painkiller, as well as a sedative.

“He’ll sleep for a while,” she said. “It’s for the best. There’s a lot we have to do, and I’m sure he’d rather not be awake for most of it.”

Leela stroked his right hand. “But he will be all right?”

Romana sighed. “I don’t know. He’ll live, I think. No, I’m almost sure of it. But all right… I just don’t know.”

“If he lives, he will be all right,” Leela said. “He will recover. We will see to it.”

“I hope so, Leela,” Romana said. She sighed and sat down next to Leela. “I certainly hope so.”

--

The first thing that Narvin was aware of was the pain. It was dulled, for the most part; his hand throbbed under what he suspected was heavy bandaging, and his skull felt as though someone had cracked it with a hammer. He groaned and turned his head to the right, hoping it would ease the pressure, but it hardly helped.

He felt a soft hand on his own; Leela’s, at a guess. Certainly not one of the pirates. He tried to open his eyes. Only one complied, but it was enough to see Leela sitting by his bedside, and Romana standing a short way off.

“Leela,” he said, his voice weak and cracking. “Romana. Where are we?”

“We’re on the Axis,” Romana said. “We made it to safety.”

“The other Narvin helped us rescue you,” Leela added.

“Ah.” He sighed. “I didn’t imagine that, then.”

“How do you feel?” Leela said. Was it also his imagination, or was there a note of anxiety in her voice? “Are you in pain?”

He considered the question. Yes, of course he was in pain, but she had to know that. Romana must have told her the extent of his injuries.

“Nothing worth mentioning,” he said at last. “My hand aches, but at least it’s not bleeding anymore.” Or was it? He tilted his head to look, inadvertently putting pressure on the left side of his face. He winced. It was heavily bandaged, too, he realized. “My eye—”

“There was nothing we could do,” Romana said, too quickly. Did she feel guilty, he wondered, before she sped on with her explanation. “I don’t know what they did to you, but your eye is beyond repair.”

He let out a long sigh. None of his ribs seemed broken, at least. He couldn’t fault Romana for the loss of his eye, nor anything else, for that matter. She was no doctor, no healer. It was a miracle she and Leela had managed to do what they did.

“I suppose I should have expected that,” he said. He meant it as a reassurance, but it came out bitter.

“It is not so bad, Narvin,” Leela said earnestly. Her hands clasped around his one uninjured one. “I have lived without both my eyes for a long while now. You will learn to con… to compes… to manage.”

He closed his eye. “My depth perception is shot,” he said. It was the only thing he could think to say.

“Count yourself lucky that you weren’t,” Romana said.

He shook his head and tried not to grimace as the pain flared back to life. “With those creatures? No. A clean staser burst to the head would have been the easy way out.” He opened his eye a slit and lifted his hand. Even through the bandages, it was easy to see that he was missing a finger. “Depth perception or no depth perception, I’d never have held a staser again anyway.”

“I will help you,” Leela said. “A good knife can be more useful than a staser.”

Narvin didn’t respond. He watched her as she lifted his hand to her forehead, then to her lips. Her concern was touching, he thought, if somewhat unexpected. Something must have happened on that Gallifrey, he decided. He would ask her about it later.

“How long have I been unconscious?” he said. He had only just woken up, and already he was starting to feel woozy again. Whatever painkillers Leela and Romana had given him, they must be strong.

“Nearly two days,” Romana said. “Partially induced, of course. I can’t imagine the pain you’d have felt if you were conscious.”

“I can.” Narvin closed his eye. “Thank you.”

Leela caressed his fingers and, from the feel, pressed them to her lips again. He turned his head, putting as little pressure on his left side as possible.

“I think he needs more rest,” he heard Romana say. “For that matter, so do I. And I imagine you do too, Leela.”

“I will not leave him,” Leela said firmly.

There it was again, that concern. She had also, he realized now, not let go of his hand.

“I’ll be all right,” he tried to say, but it came out in a mumble; his consciousness was slipping away again, and before he could hear any response, he had fallen back to sleep.

--

Perhaps it was the pain that woke him; he couldn’t be sure. The only thing he knew was that it was dark, his hand was throbbing, and there was something soft and warm against his forehead.

At first he thought it was a wet cloth, left there to help ease the pain in his eye. A second later, he realized it was a hand. He opened his eye, and even in the dim light, he could see that it was Leela’s. She had fallen asleep, it seemed, still sitting by his bed. Romana, as far as he could tell, had left the room.

“Leela,” he murmured.

She gave a start, and her hand fell away from his forehead. “Narvin? Are you all right? Are you in pain?”

“Of course I’m in pain,” he said.

“You know what I mean.”

He took a deep breath in and let it out slowly. “No. No more than before.”

There was a brief silence. Leela leaned forward, and though her eyes, of course, were staring blankly into space, he knew she was listening.

“What happened in there?” he asked.

“In the other universe, you mean?” She sighed. “Many things, Narvin. I wish we had not gone.”

“That isn’t what I meant, Leela.”

Her brows knit together, and when she answered, she seemed to be choosing her words carefully. “The other Narvin… told me to take care of you. He said that you would need a friend.”

“A friend?” Narvin snorted, then winced. Leela smiled softly.

“That is what I said, as well,” she said. “But then…”

“But then what?”

She touched her fingers to her lower lip. “He kissed me.”

Narvin waited for her to go on, to offer some explanation. When she didn’t, he said, “What?”

“He kissed me,” Leela repeated. “I do not know why. I think that he respected me. Perhaps he thought you and I…”

Narvin felt he needed to say something, but he was unsure what. He settled for, “Ridiculous.”

Leela smiled softly. “I know.”

There was a brief moment of silence. Then she said, “Do you need more medicine?”

“No,” he said. “I’ll be all right. I’m going back to sleep.”

She was quiet for several seconds, her face downcast as if considering something. Finally, she stood and brushed a hand across his brow. The gentleness of the gesture surprised him, but he said nothing, only closed his eye and let out a quiet breath.

“Goodnight, Narvin,” she said. “Sleep well.”