Romana never wanted to see this.
Twenty years as a Dalek slave left her with a casing as hard as theirs, inside of which she twisted in on herself, alone for so long with only her name and title for inadequate company. She has enough familiarity with the concept of psychological trauma and sufficient self-knowledge to recognise her own issues. In captivity, she was all she had. In captivity, she was powerless. So when she is free, and powerful, she finds it hard to rely on anyone other than herself. She finds it hard to give others control over her world, for fear she’ll never get it back.
She finds it hard, professionally. (She’d trusted Vansell and look where that got her.) It’s that much more terrifying in a personal context. Having friends left you far, far too vulnerable. So she hid the truth in her hearts and found herself only able to express her affection and gratitude in the most stumbling, stilted terms, couched in professional confidence. Leela could be offended by this (she could never view her friends as ‘assets’, brave warriors to fight alongside, perhaps); Brax valued his Lady President’s words far more than such crumbs merited.
Her friends could hurt her worse than anyone else, ripping her casing open and leaving her bitter and bleeding. This was amply demonstrated again and again – arguing with Leela on Davidia, Brax’s exile and revealed ambition, K-9 possessed by the Dogma virus, Brax nominating his Presidential successor, Leela and K-9 both abandoning her – and it never hurt any less.
More friends were absolutely the last thing she needed, she told herself.
Her world kept shrinking.
When Narvin fought for her – against Pandora, she corrects -, it made him part of a decided minority, but that didn’t make them friends. They were just two Time Lords sane enough and with enough free will left to decide Pandora was not the best future for Gallifrey. (Narvin has a scar on his arm where he bled to release his President from her dungeon, the blood of a CIA Coordinator being both a useful override and an appalling if traditional security risk.)
When Narvin roused her from unconsciousness, looking as uncomfortable as any Gallifreyan would around such physical infirmity, and asked “What can we do?”, it didn’t make them friends. Rassilon knows, she needed allies right then, but it was merely a temporary arrangement and as soon as the world was some kind of right side up, she assumed, things would continue as usual.
When Narvin became, quite suddenly and quite by accident, one of the four beings she knew in whatever universe they were in, that didn’t make them friends. She told Leela as much.
Leela said she knew better. She always did.
Romana never wanted to see this. She’s still raw and bleeding from losing Brax, K-9, and Leela. She cannot let Narvin’s continued presence be any sort of comfort, not when it is so tenuous, not when this world may snatch him at any moment, has already taken their other selves. (She doesn’t listen to herself, and it is.)
Narvin has never been the sort of person to wear his hearts on his sleeve – never afraid to speak his mind, particularly with her, but his hearts never entered into it, she thought. The eyes are the windows to the soul, the Doctor had quoted to her, and laughed, his own eyes charmingly crinkled. The lines around Narvin’s eyes are from pain and care; his rare – increasingly frequent, her memory reminds her – smiles are small, the emotion in his eyes. There are a terrifying multitude of emotions in his eyes now. He might as well be stripped down to the bone.
She never wanted to see this. While she could tell herself it was all in her head, all on her side, just an ill-advised, frankly ridiculous notion, there was nothing at risk. If she had never seen this, she would never have had to choose.
Narvin is her friend and she needs him. His friendship is the only thing she has left, that and all the cares and worries and problems of a Gallifrey not her own, a Gallifrey recently flooded with freed slaves and now facing chronic unemployment, a critical housing shortage, and pandemic sickness. Narvin is her Chancellor and she needs him, Gallifrey needs him. This relationship is working, both personally and professionally, and to introduce a new element, to risk wrecking both aspects and this planet with them, simply to indulge herself, would be the height of selfishness, surely. She doesn’t want to hurt him, but she inevitably will - Leela and Brax are proof of that, as is all of Gallifrey, their Gallifrey – either way.
She could pretend she doesn’t understand, take the third path of ignorance. But neither of them is stupid – though they can hardly be said to excel in this area – and both of them know that. The elaborate reliefs the other Romana ordered for the walls of the Presidential Office are digging into her back, in a distant sort of way, and her body is humming with shock and fear and adrenaline. Narvin’s still looking at her, their faces a breath apart, and she feels uncomfortably exposed, vulnerable; her eyes must be just as clear to him. Her arms tighten convulsively around him and he hisses in pain at the burn left on his back by the incendiary rifle bolt he’s just saved her from.
His chest is rising against hers with deeper breaths than he should be taking, even after that sprint down the corridor, metres ahead of the loyal Chancellery Guard, pushing her back inside her office just as the emergency shield he’d installed for such occasions sprang up. The edge of the bolt had just grazed him, cut off from its power source by the shield. Half a nanospan later and he would have been reduced to carbon.
“No regeneration possible.” Her memory completes the sentence in Councillor Braxiatel’s uncharacteristically panicked tones (she’d insisted on watching the news vid of the aftermath of her assassination. Security concerns, she’d told Commentator Theta Sigma). Now that’s true no matter what form the assassination. Narvin’s so terrifyingly mortal now, just like Leela.
It would be so easy to just avoid this. All she has to do is complain about the bruises her impact against the wall will no doubt cause, or ask him pointedly about any security concerns, maybe admit she does have a sense for the dramatic but that she’d prefer a little more warning next time, and this will be over. Narvin will complain she’s trying to get herself killed, because she wants to punish him with the Presidency, and tell her, again, that he’s in charge of her security, that he’s her advisor, so will she listen to him? She will tell him she’s the President and doesn’t have to listen to anyone. And he will say he does her the courtesy of listening, Rassilon knows why, when he doesn’t have to, and surely a nicely brought up aristocratic Time Lord such as herself will return the favour. And she’ll ask him, once again, to show her where exactly in the Constitution it says Presidents have no power over their Chancellors, oh dear, did they not get round to that part in this universe.
And everything will be back to normal.
The silence stretches on far too long, long empty nanospans, and Narvin pulls away. Her arms fall back to her sides.
“If you’ll excuse me, Madam President.” He turns away, muttering something about security failures.
The third path, then.
Narvin is an intelligent man, quite capable of making his own choices, and she should respect that. (She still isn’t listening to herself.) Romana has never avoided the hard choices, nor left them to others. (This is not self-justification, and has nothing to do with the leaden weight of disappointment in her stomach.)
The relationship is already there, a thought strangely disquieting and comforting in equal measures. Laid out in front of her like a rich carpet with a complex pattern - arguments, sacrifices, co-operation, care - the work of years, and she hadn’t seen it, hadn’t wanted to. Her friend, her Chancellor, her partner. She needs him, for her sanity, her safety, her success. She looks into the future, on this Gallifrey stranded in one time, and sees them further and further apart, the gulf imperceptibly widening day by day as they take a wide berth around what they both know is there.
She doesn’t want to lose him too, oh Rassilon, she doesn’t want to lose him. They work well together. They need each other, and Gallifrey needs them. So. She will inevitably screw this up somehow, but she trusts Narvin to set her right, and vice versa. All it requires now is a step, an acknowledgement.
She reaches out and catches his fingers. Her stomach leaps, suddenly light with fear; what if she’s wrong? This could wreck everything –
He looks back at her, his eyes bright, and his fingers tighten around hers. She smiles back with the same light.
She trusts him.