She’s said the words before, but never meant it.
I’ll kill him.
If she truly was the Romana this world believes her to be, there wouldn’t be any hesitation. What her Chancellor has done has damaged her and what she seeks to achieve here. She can’t afford that. This is a cut-throat world and to appear weak, as Narvin has made her seem, can be fatal. She knows what it is expected of her: a few Councillors have already, subtly and not so subtly, raised the question of whom she will appoint as his successor. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t trust any of them. But then, if she can’t trust Narvin, what difference will it make? An honest mistake she could forgive, Rassilon knows she’s made enough of her own. But it’s not just that the operation went so spectacularly wrong. It’s that he didn’t tell her. He went behind her back in what looks a lot like a deliberate attempt to destabilise her Presidency. He hadn’t even the courage to betray her to her face. After the event, she had had to hear about it from Rahvon. And even then, even if she was willing to accept it as a mere political disagreement and not an attack on fellow citizens, not an action that might start a civil war on this powder keg of a Gallifrey, there was Leela. He must have known she was involved, that there was a chance she'd be there. He just didn't care.
“We are a team,” Leela teased, and Narvin smiled.
But they weren’t. Leela had left them, and Narvin - Narvin is never around anymore, always tucked away with his secrets and his plots and her. Once CIA, always CIA, never trustworthy.
If she does not discipline him, she will appear even weaker, too weak to survive. And there is only one form of discipline understood here.
They can’t meet in her office. It’s too public. Romana would rather not broadcast her every move to the vortisaurs of the Inner Council, even if they do seem to know her intentions before she does.
Narvin approaches along the secret passage. His tread is measured, but his impatience betrayed by the way he starts speaking before he’s reached her.
“So this is what it comes to. You don’t trust me.”
“You’re assuming,” she bites back, “that I ever did.”
“Thank you for that.”
She watches his face, his hands, his stance as she lays her accusation out. They don’t change and his voice is level as he defends himself; he’s not surprised.
“Do you really think after all- ”
“I don’t know what I think any more.” She cuts him off, she doesn’t want to hear it. “And you tried to kill Leela.”
She watches him and again, he’s not surprised.
“My job is to protect the state- ”
She doesn’t know what she thinks. The evidence is contrary to... she thought she knew Narvin. The events of the past few days are fact. Non-correlating data can therefore be discarded. She knows what she should think.
“You have betrayed me, Narvin. You are finished.”
He stands still and silent. She goes to walk away, then turns back again when he speaks.
“And what precisely does that mean? What are you going to do, throw me in the deepest dungeon? Exile me to the Outlands and let the hordes exact their revenge? I seem,” and he’s shouting now and has closed the distance between them, “to have been tried and convicted, so maybe the Supreme Leader would be gracious enough to inform me of my sentence!”
“I should have you killed, Narvin!” She doesn’t mean to shout back. She has been carefully keeping her distance, his betrayal deep and dark and achingly cold within her, a solid weight she can feel when she breathes. Their arguments have always been close, fierce, heated. She doesn’t want that. She has never wanted that.
He stares at her, the silence stretching thin. Then he laughs, choked and disbelieving.
“Very well, then. Very well. Hail the Supreme Leader. Shall I report for execution or will it be a surprise?”
“What you did - I have to put things right and -”
“I’m sorry,” he continues, interrupting her, “about my lack of regenerations. It rather limits the possibilities, doesn’t it? Apparently, your predecessor was fond of putting people to death repeatedly. Rassilon, listen to yourself.”
“Narvin!” she shouts over him.
“I am here for you,” he continues, quietly, defiantly. “I may be here by mistake, but I followed you to these new worlds and you are all I have left. I cannot survive... alone. I told Leela as much. If you want me dead, then I respect my President’s wishes. But I must respectfully disagree. You can’t even see what this world is doing to you, can you? You need me.”
She knows exactly what this world is doing to her. She is her own mirror image, cold, sharp and fragile. It's only the continuation of a process well under way, a process that began with her abduction by the Daleks. Ever since then, it seems she has only lost, lost everything that ever mattered to her, and piece by piece, lost herself.
“I need someone I can trust. I need someone who won’t go behind my back and sabotage everything I work for, Narvin! I need someone who will think twice before attacking fellow citizens, or did you enjoy the last civil war?”
“I assure you I didn’t. That’s why... I acted as I saw fit, I did what I thought best for this planet and I did not need your permission to do so. As your Chancellor, I am in charge of security -”
“You have upheld the letter of the law most admirably, Narvin. If you had paused for but a moment to consider the spirit, however, the notion might have crossed even your mind that, as my ally, it might be a good idea to inform me when you were planning on doing something that goes against everything -”
He doesn’t rise to the barb. If only he would admit to being in the wrong, if only he would apologise... foolish and short-sighted, while not exactly desirable traits in a Chancellor, would be preferable to the alternative, that he’s deliberately undermining her Presidency.
“I was thinking of what was best,” he says. “You are Gallifrey’s best hope, Romana.”
She’s thrown off balance, disarmed. Of everything he might have said - she doesn’t want to know this, doesn’t want it said out loud, even as she gives everything she has left to this planet, in all its cruelty.
“Because I did such a good job with our own? With Prydon’s world?” The words are thick with bitterness in her mouth. “I only want to put things right, Narvin, but I don’t think even this world deserves my good intentions.”
“Those - they...” He takes a breath. “It won’t work, Romana. You think - some irrational part of you thinks - that if you can just fix everything wrong with this Gallifrey, somehow you can atone for ours. It doesn’t work like that. This Gallifrey needs fixing, badly, but for its own sake or for our sakes, not as penance. You are not responsible for everything, every Gallifrey, every universe. You... ” Narvin gestures in frustration. “If Leela were here, she'd have some wisdom, some saying from her tribe to better -”
“Narvin,” Romana interrupts, biting her lip against a sudden and very inappropriate smile, “are you saying that Leela's more eloquent than you are?”
“She has a certain turn of phrase. Don’t tell her.”
“No, of course not,” she agrees, mock seriously.
“And she can get you to listen to her. Which is more than I manage.”
He half-smiles at her. She almost returns it, before the both of them remember where Leela is and why; she sees it in his eyes.
“I was thinking of what was best. Gallifrey needs you, this Gallifrey or ours. I was convinced it was necessary, but the operation had no support from the Inner Council, for quite different reasons from yours. I believe the term ‘waste of resources’ was used.”
“This planet may well be our home for the rest of our lives, and I have a vested interest in ensuring those are as long as possible. I have seen what inaction and ignorance does to a planet. So I did what I thought was right, and I kept you distanced, so that, if it went wrong, the responsibility was mine. My job is to protect you. I’m politically expendable.”
“You are not expendable!”
Her outburst takes them both by surprise.
“Is this a stay of execution, Madam President?”
She draws her shoulders back and tilts her chin up. “For the moment,” she says. This is the closest he will get to an acceptance of his reasoning, with the caveat that she doesn’t want this to happen again, and he accepts it with a nod of his head.
“How’s Leela?” This is the closest she will get to an apology for his actions; after all, he still thinks he was right.
“Awake and threatening to beat sense into you. She’ll be fine.”
He hesitates. “The Inner Council won’t be pleased.”
“The Inner Council are never pleased. First rule of politics.”
“Well then,” Narvin says. “I have duties to attend to.”
She nods. “Narvin,” she says, and he turns back from his first step away. “Whatever you thought of Braxiatel, he rarely made mistakes.”
He’s watching her face very closely, and it almost makes her uncomfortable, but she needs to say this.
“You are here for a reason and I am... grateful.”
He inclines his head. “I serve at the pleasure of the President.”
She’s glad it’s dark, that he’s walking away, that he hasn’t noticed the sudden rush of heat in her body.