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Five Times Romanadvoratrelundar Missed the Signs, and One Time She Couldn't Possibly Ignore Them

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Five Times Romanadvoratrelundar Missed the Signs, and One Time She Couldn't Possibly Ignore Them
(or, 'the Everybody Loves Romana fic')

 

5)

 

There comes a time, Romana decides, when enough is quite simply enough.

"Doctor," she snaps, pink coat spinning minutely slower than the rest of her as she whirls to face him, like a chronic historisis just a moment out of sync, "this has got to stop."

He blinks at her, childishly wide-eyed in the way she's never sure whether to buy. "Has it?"

"I've felt you staring at me all day, you know."

"Have you?"

"And seen it, from the corner of my eye. And I've got K-9 to back me up, haven't I, K-9?"

"Affirmative, mistress. Master Doctor has maintained eye contact with various portions of your anatomy approximately 704.6% more frequently than average in the past twelve macrospans."

"Thank you, K-9." She gives the metal dog a fond look before turning back to the Doctor, whose expression of enormous-eyed innocence remains fixed firmly in place. "Naturally, I do know why you can't stop looking."

"Do you?" he asks, just a hint hoarsely, running one large hand through the mop of hair as eccentrically omni-directional as he is.

"You sound like a polyphase avatron, do stop repeating everything I say. And yes, of course I do."

The way the Doctor shoves his hands into his pockets at that strikes an odd note somewhere in the back of Romana's brain, but she can't quite comprehend it now, and files it away for later. He certainly sounds like himself when he says, "And you're going to tell me, whether I'd like to hear it or not."

"I'm quite certain you won't like it..."

"Never stopped you before," he mutters, but she plows right through the interruption.

"But then, no one likes to be reminded of his own egotism."

The Doctor's sudden shock now is so blatant, so clearly unfeigned, that she makes up her mind never again to trust the exaggerated doe eyes. "Egotism?" he asks, aghast. "Me?"

"Oh, I knew it was a bad plan to choose an ensemble so much like yours, Doctor, but I hardly anticipated that you'd find yourself absolutely unable to look away for hours on end. It's a wonder I can ever pull you away from a mirror, when the sight of a mere coat and scarf are enough to leave you so enthralled. I'll have to find something else to wear if I'm to have any peace from now on. You really are the most narcissistic Time Lord I've ever met." She breezes past the still-stunned Doctor, out the door of the console room. "It's a pity," she calls back over her shoulder, as she disappears in the direction of the wardrobe room, "I really was rather fond of this scarf..."

The Doctor stares gobsmacked for a few more moments. And then his lip twitches, and he presses his back against the wall, and a comprehensive guffaw escapes his lips. Laughter shakes through his lanky form as his body sinks, back to the wall, legs stretched straight in front of him. He hits the floor with a pronounced bump and much fluttering of tassels.

"Are you fully functional, master?" asks K-9, with metallic concern.

"Oh, fine, just fine. Serves me right, anyhow—she's twice as young as my own granddaughter. Half as old. Two times as temporally underdeveloped, and doubly ineligible. Next time, K-9, do stop me when I'm making an ass of myself, yes?"

"Master?"

"Never mind, K-9," says the Doctor, patting his favorite computer affectionately. "That's a good dog." And tipping his hat over his eyes, the Doctor settles in for a nap with a smile still stretching across his lips.

 

4)

 

Darkel is never the Time Lady to ignore an opportunity.

Like every Time Lord on Gallifrey, Inquisitor Darkel has followed Lady Romanadvoratrelundar's meteoric rise to power with considerable interest. Like every ambitious Time Lord on Gallifrey, Darkel has also followed Romana's rise with absolutely fathomless envy. Inquisitor Darkel is prepared to despise, to loathe, indeed positively to abhor this pretentious little upstart renegade who has inexplicably been elevated to the highest office in the land. But when at last they meet, at the inquiry into Romana's actions in the affair of the timeonic fusion device, Darkel is forced to admit that the Lady President is a bit...well...charming.

Besides, Darkel tells herself, this is the President. That's more than enough reason, all on its own.

"Madam President." Darkel is waiting when Romana emerges from the courtroom. Coordinator Narvin has just stormed out, and Darkel has been expecting to catch Romana alone. She has reasoned without the Lady President's absurd alien bodyguard. "Ah, Miss...Leela, is it? I wonder if I might have a moment alone with the President."

Leela eyes her warily, and Darkel only just manages to keep her lip from curling in disgust. Ignorant offworlder. "That is for Romana to say," announces Leela, skeptically.

"I am sorry, Inquisitor Darkel, but I really am very busy," Romana says—wearily, but with a little smile. "The pressures of the office, you know."

Darkel is far from pleased at the prospect of having an audience, but needs must, she supposes. "I simply wanted to convey how profoundly glad I am to have met you," Darkel smiles ingratiatingly, "and to mention that if there's ever anything you need," she slides a hand onto Romana's arm, not at all unobtrusively, "I'd be more than happy to provide it."

"That's very kind," says Romana, absently, tugging free of Darkel's grip. "It was a pleasure to meet you as well, of course. If you'll excuse me...Leela?"

Darkel watches Romana and Leela turn and walk away down one of those neverending corridors so profuse in the Citadel. So that's how it's going to be, is it?

Leela's voice drifts in a distant whisper from the end of the corridor. "I do not think I trust that woman, Romana. She..." The rest of the sentence is swallowed up by the whirring of the door as Romana and Leela vanish.

Darkel refuses to be spurned by a chit of a girl barely out of the Academy, no matter who she thinks she is. President or not, Romana is going to learn that Darkelastraquistahastrad is not to be rejected. If she cannot catch her flutterwings with honey, there's only vinegar left. And it's far better this way, anyhow. How much more satisfying to take the position of power she deserves, rather than to receive it by someone else's gift. Yes, much better to have Romana as her enemy. That pretty mouth will be far prettier all twisted up in anguish.

Darkel will have her revenge on this repugnant Lady President—and her little savage, too.

 

3)

 

Hope is a luxury Brax has never had.

There are advantages and disadvantages to being in contact with one's future selves. Braxiatel has never been able to decide which category best houses the absolute certainty, from almost the first moment he was aware of the attraction, that he would never, ever be the one to Get the Girl.

It's a ridiculous paradox, really, the kind of ridiculous paradox inherent in his personal brand of preordination. He has the knowledge at his fingertips to make himself everything Romanadvoratrelundar could ever want. He has the power to be more useful, more suitable, more helpful to her than anyone, to take better care of her than any other Time Lord ever could. And yet, that very same knowledge comes with a self-endorsed guarantee that he won't. Grandfather paradoxes are one thing, saving Romana from one crisis or another only because his older selves are around to tell him how he's already managed it—that's all well and good. But he can't take the knowledge they have of his mistakes and do something different with it, correct those mistakes in advance and change the futurepast. He's far too responsible to risk that kind of damage to the timeline. And so he's cursed to know precisely what he's going to do wrong when it comes to the girl he has so diligently shaped into a President all his own, and yet be absolutely unable to correct those very errors.

Still, Brax wouldn't give up his foreknowledge for all the worlds. It's given him something incredibly precious: he knows his moments before they ever happen. He knows precisely which instants ought to be savored, precisely when he needs to focus and hold on to the feeling of a right-now. Those tiny fragments of perfection that happen in every life are not fleeting for him; he captures them, enslaves them, holds them tight to keep them ready for the long emptinesses and the deep disappointments that he already knows are coming. He meets his challenges armored in a careful chain-mail of memories, good times meticulously cultivated, a million little masterpieces. Brax has always been a preserver of masterpieces.

Brax may know the future, but there are things he doesn't ask himself. He couldn't help needing to know whether he'd ever win her, couldn't resist asking that. But once he's been solemnly assured of a negative, he doesn't inquire whether she'll ever realize that her erstwhile tutor doesn't see her as a little girl anymore. There are answers it isn't safe for him to know, and he doesn't think he could stand it, living with the knowledge that she'll someday look on him with pity. He can endure a very, very great many things, but he doesn't think he could take that.

It helps, a great deal, that he's supremely subtle to begin with. Knowing as he does the impossibility of success, it's fairly easy, really, to keep his emotions safely under wraps. On only one occasion does he seriously fear he may have gone too far.

It's such a sudden thing, which is what nearly undoes him. Very little is sudden to him any longer. Indeed, he's already well-informed about the Pandora creature and the role it's going to play in his life from henceforth—not for nothing has he spent centuries honing his mental control, strengthening his defenses, preparing for his future occupation as a Time Lord Matrix partition; not for nothing has he devoted such effort to gaining the rank of Chancellor. There are a few things, however, that he still doesn't know. His elder selves have refused to tell him the identity of the wretched creature Leela calls 'the Broken Man,' on the grounds that even the best actor (and Brax is an exceptional actor) gives a better performance when he isn't performing, and that in any case it isn't something he needs to know just yet. K-9's recording of that young fool, Castellan Wynter, intentionally making a monster of himself to deny Pandora the use of his body is just as much of a horrifying revelation for Brax as it is for any of them. And the surprise and disgust of that revelation throw him too far off his guard to be cautious.

Brax and Romana are standing side-by-side in Romana's office, listening to K-9's recording of Wynter's unfortunate if heroic attempts, the enhanced version including the voice of Pandora from within Wynter's head. And when they reach the ghastly moment when Wynter crushes his own hands in the seal of the door, complete with the audible snapping and grinding of bones, the squelch of pulverizing flesh, and the poor Time Lord's whimpers of agony, Romana turns, and presses her face into Brax's shoulder.

His hand goes to the small of her back, before he can stop himself, and lingers there a microspan too long.

It's his worst slip-up in decades of careful concealment. And all she does is pull back, and swallow, and give him a shaky sort of smile, and visibly pull herself together, re-donning the mask of composure he taught her to fashion.

Of all things, it makes Brax very, very weary. He's too old to feel like this. He's certainly too old to feel like this about a Time Lady he's known from barely more than a child. He's too old to be angry at her for not seeing how much he wants to possess that mind of hers, absolutely unique and exquisite specimen that it is, and too old to be angry at himself for wanting to possess it. He's a tired old Time Lord, burdened down with his centuries, burdened down with his knowledge, burdened down with his duty, burdened down with his power.

On the other hand, he's about to lose everything—and that, oddly enough, sounds precisely, exactly, and absolutely perfect.

Laughing silently somewhere in his mind, Brax squares his shoulders, and strides resolutely towards Pandora, and the start of the next chapter of his lives.

 

2)

 

Since her visit to the anomaly vault, Romana has grown profoundly annoyed by the unplanned social calls taking place within her skull.

"I need you," protests the Pandora creature, in a high, unnatural whine. "You are mine, Romana. Your self...your ambition...your body...I need you..."

"I'm afraid I still require all of those myself," Romana answers, teeth gritted with the strain of fighting Pandora's power. "You've picked the wrong Time Lady if you expect me to give up without a fight."

"It will be so sweet when you permit me to join with you, my lovely little Imperiatrix. You needn't be afraid."

"As though I would ever be afraid of you. You don't even properly exist!"

"We were destined to be one."

"I am Romanadvoratrelundar, Lord High President of Gallifrey. My destiny is my own to write."

"You do not understand!"

"Oh, I understand very well indeed," Romana gasps, "and I have only one answer for you: Get. Stuffed."

"Romana!" cries Pandora, as, with a tremendous effort, Romana shoves the voices from her head by sheer force of will.

Honestly, thinks Romana in exasperation, some people simply cannot tell when they've worn out their welcomes.

 

1)

 

Narvin has never seen Romana weak before.

There was a time when he hated her for her strength, that desperate and absolute conviction. In these later days, however, he has learned to revere it, as a reflection of something inside himself. Narvin believes in Gallifrey and in the office of the Lord High President, in that order, so absolutely that 'believe' isn't even the right word any longer. He is built on that dual conviction, physically constructed of it; it is the strong nuclear force binding the nucleus of his being, and if he ever loses faith he will crumble into subatomic dust. Narvin knows what it means to be a zealot without zealotry, and before he met the Time Lady who has turned his life on its head, he had even caught occasional flashes of that same light in a few other exceptional souls. But the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar believes that way about everything she believes, perpetually burning herself whole with the flame of it, and she is wonderful and terrible to behold.

Except now. Right now, at this moment, Romana is frail as a newborn kittenshark, drained to the marrow by her final battle with Pandora. Uncaring of her bedridden condition, the vultures of the High Council have flown to circle around her medical bed, so she can play her necessary part in the latest round of what would be the schoolyard game of a lot of vicious Time Tots if it weren't so deadly serious. There she lies, pale and small against her over-starched sheets, looking so impossibly fragile, and it's throwing Narvin's worldview into a disarray that even civil war didn't manage. The sedentary, pacific, sluggardly nature of the Time Lord race had been a dependable fact of his existence for centuries, but apparently he had counted on Romana's strength as an even more indubitable truth.

To be a good spymaster requires a tremendous deal of patience, and Narvin knows himself for a very good spymaster indeed. He has a tremendous deal of patience. That patience does not, however, extend to his own internal uncertainties. He cannot name the strange emotion inspired by sight of Romana's vulnerability, and he doesn't like that fact one bit. What cannot be named cannot be classified; what cannot be classified cannot be controlled. If he cannot control his emotions, he cannot control himself, and that is a very worrying prospect indeed.

Narvin needs to be able to depend on himself—always, but especially now. Darkel is up to her usual power-mad scheming, the Presidency in uncannily close range of her grasping talons. Narvin's attention should be on keeping the situation in hand, staying one step ahead (three steps ahead, if he can manage it) of the manipulation and double-crossing. It should be someone else, not Narvin, sparing an eye to note the Lady President's uneasy breathing, surreptitiously monitoring the trembling of her eyelids and her hands. It should be someone else's hoarse exclamation that alerts the rest of the council when her eyes roll back in her head, and she slumps unconscious on her medi-dais.

Narvin thinks he ought to be wishing Leela was here, as he shoos a pack of disorderly Time Lords from her hospital room to give the Lady Romana some air. Not that he often wishes for the presence of the President's barely-clad alien...companion, but watching Romana, protecting Romana, those are the limited roles at which the savage excels. Narvin, on the other hand, feels himself ill-equipped for the situation at hand.

"Romana," he says, in a voice so gentle he hardly recognizes it as his own, and then again, "Romana."

The name feels good in his mouth, smooth, comfortable, in a way he'd never suspected it could be. She makes a little noise, half a moan, and he is overcome by the sudden, fierce desire to say her name again. Narvin never lets himself have anything he wants that much. He states the obvious instead, just to avoid it. "You passed out again."

"Oh, I'm sorry, Narvin," she groans, and she means it, and that's all wrong, too. Romana apologizing should be vinegar in an open wound, not genuine regret. "This body..."

"You must call for an adjournment. You are in no physical condition..."

"No, I have to see this through to the end," and there, that's the Romana he knows, insistent and commanding, "and I have to do it now." She sighs. "The time has come. And in any case, Darkel believes she has me where she wants me. She won't back down now."

"Then what can we do?"

He realizes the misstep a moment before she does. "We, Narvin?"

Narvin is never so nervous, so unsure, and he still can't tell why, and he hates it. "I have come to believe that...I...My faith in the presidential office has been sorely tried of late. I knew Valyes was a weak man, though I was prepared to stand behind him, but Darkel..."

"...Now I seem to be the least of all evils." She is laughing, almost, and it makes her eyes sparkle. If she wasn't so deathly pale, she would be beautiful, he thinks, tangentially, in a quiet, unheeded corner of his mind.

"We've had our differences in the past, Romana, but now you have my full support. If Darkel...after everything she has done...I will not in all conscience be able to support her term of office. If she attains the presidency...I shall resign." He doesn't know it's true until he says it. What can he do, without his position, without his planet to think of, without the fight to fight? Does he mean it? Would he? Could he? What would he be, if not this?

"Or," Romana interrupts his panic, "you could stand against her." He only half-listens to her speech, too preoccupied still with the terrifying notion of life after the CIA, but his attention snaps back suddenly when he realizes what she's getting at: she wants him to run for the presidency. "You are on the High Council, Narvin," she concludes, "and I can think of no better candidate."

"The thought had not escaped me," he lies through his teeth. He's an ambitious man, he always has been, but Romana is his president. He can't be...

"I would have been disappointed if it had."

Romana is his president. Such an obviously simple thought, and yet such a sudden, enormous, consuming idea. He doesn't believe in the office, not really, not any longer. How long has it been since the foundation of his being has become this small, pale woman, this sometime enemy who he has never agreed with and yet always respected, this President eclipsing every other?

"But if you are successful at the tribunal, who will you nominate as your successor?"

Before she can answer, the sound of booted feet drifts in from the hall. It's a steady tapping, the tick of a watch, a heartsbeat—something regular and reliable, to remind Narvin what he's meant to be. He's a member of the species with all the time in the universe, the consummate philosophers, but right now Narvin hasn't got time for philosophy.

The door slides open, and a Chancellery uniform enters, all that fluttering red and cream that renders the wearer both conspicuous and invisible. "Excuse me ma'am, Acting President Darkel wishes to reconvene the council."

"Thank you, Henzil," Narvin dismisses, and Henzil politely retires.

"It seems that she's already getting used to calling the shots," Romana says, with grim amusement. Narvin is fiercely glad of Darkel, for a moment. It's good to have an enemy, a clear, unambiguous enemy (one of the few points, he thinks, on which he and Leela are in accord). It was easier when Romana was his enemy, too, instead of...whatever she is now.

"Can Darkel have manipulated everything from the beginning?" Narvin wonders. "The various strains of the Dogma virus, the transduction barriers, the invasion...everything, just so that she could seize the presidency?"

"Perhaps," Romana sighs, feebly enough to remind him how fragile she still is, how much she still needs an ally.

"Then we have to make sure she does not succeed."

"No, don't come to the tribunal. I need you to do something else for me. Leela is searching the capital for K-9. Make sure she's safe."

Narvin's lips tighten. Romana has more important things to devote her energy to than her human pet, and Narvin has more important people to keep safe. "Romana, you are weak," he insists. "You need someone in there, by your side, or they will tear you apart."

"I'm not beaten yet, Narvin," she fires back. She sounds just like her normal self—and then the vehemence of the words catches up to her. She sways where she sits. He reaches out, and catches her by the elbow.

Her skin is warm and soft, and his throat is very dry, and she looks earnestly up at him, and says, "Trust me," and suddenly his life makes infinitely more sense, terrifyingly so, and it occurs to him, finally, what a very great deal of trouble he is in, and precisely what kind.

"Of course," says Narvin, in a gentle murmur that may as well be a groan. And then, with a spy's talent for remembering his cover story no matter what else is happening in his head, he adds, "I'll find her."

"Take Captain Henzil with you," she snaps, clearly annoyed, and he realizes his hand is still on her arm. He drops it instantly, retreats across the room. He doesn't think it's safe to say anything, not another word. He's got to get away from her, as soon as possible, to somewhere safe and quiet where he can berate himself for fifty kinds of an idiot. Of all the women, of all the women in all the worlds at all the times in the whole damn universe...

"And Narvin..." She stops him with his hand hovering over the door controls. "Thank you."

He doesn't say anything. He can't say anything. Anything he could say would be a really quite spectacularly disastrous idea, so he nods, instead. Once the door closes behind him he strides off down the hall as quickly as he can without making a scene, and only just stops himself running, as though he could outpace emotion, and revelation, and Romanadvoratrelundar, and just leave every part of this behind.

Maybe it'll be better if Darkel gets the presidency after all, he thinks, and stifles a bitter laugh. At least with a President who disgusted him, there'd be no chance of feeling anything like this.

 

0)

 

The Outlands are cold at night, and so is Romana.

Leela has never grown used to the coldness of the Time Lords, not of their bodies nor of their minds, not in many years of marriage to Andred and of life on this red world. But those two hearts in their chests can still feel something, Leela knows, and Romana's hearts better than most. Leela would never have imagined it when she first met this woman. She is so proud, sometimes, so easy with her orders, so much a Time Lord in so many ways. And yet as Romana watches her childhood home burning into cinders—watches, a thing that Leela will never do again, only smell smoke and feel heat and be burned if she strays too close—Leela hears Romana's breathing go ragged and sniffle through her nose.

If Leela were a Time Lady, she would ignore Romana's unhappiness, and call that an act of kindness. But Leela is not one of these cold people, and she is very glad of that. She does not ignore Romana's suffering. She touches her hand to Romana's chin, to feel the tears there, and, when Romana wavers, Leela catches her by the arms, and lowers them both gently to sit on the ground.

"I'm sorry, Leela," Romana says, and leans her head on Leela's shoulder. "I didn't mean to make such a spectacle of myself."

"You are not making a spec-tacle," Leela says, because it is true. "You have lost much, Romana. It is right to mourn for the passing of things that are good."

"Yes," says Romana, softly. "I suppose I have 'lost much.' I thought I would be President for centuries, and here I am: without title, without power, betrayed by one of the few people I trusted, without even a home to go back to, on a planet I broke—and all at such cost. So many dead, Leela, so many, many dead..."

"That was not your fault!" Leela argues. It is not like Romana to sound so defeated. "You cannot blame yourself for Pandora and Darkel and their terrible ambition, and Braxiatel and Matthias's betrayal is an evil on their souls, not yours. You have only done what was right."

"Have I?" Romana asks. "I've done things I'm not proud of. I began a civil war, Leela. I destroyed many old things, beautiful as well as ugly, at the cost of innocent lives. I made myself Imperiatrix, made myself a dictator; no one forced me to do that. I pushed and pulled and shoved this world recklessly towards changes it wasn't ready for, and I..."

"You did what was right," Leela repeats. "The changes that you fought for, that I fought for, they were good changes. It was a good fight."

"You really think so, after all that it cost you?" Romana sits up, and Leela misses the weight of her head, even if the closeness of her body is no harbor from the cold. "I've not had a chance to say properly how sorry I am about your sight, Leela," she says, gently. "You have lost even more than I have in this war."

"I do not like it," Leela admits. "I miss colors. I miss seeing the sky. I miss watching the world breathe." They sit quiet for a time, thinking. Then Leela says, "But there are good things, too. Things that I see more clearly now. Things I can do now that I could not before."

"Really?" Romana asks, taking Leela seriously in a way that so few Time Lords do. "Like what?"

Leela brings her hand to Romana's face, her fingers light. "You would not have let me do this before, I think," she says, as her touch makes a map of Romana's skin and bones. Romana's eyelashes tickle her fingertips, and when her thumb runs over Romana's lip she breathes out against Leela's palm.

"No," Romana agrees, "I suppose I wouldn't."

"But perhaps that is not because I am blind," says Leela, thoughtfully.

"What do you mean?"

Carefully, thinking it out very clearly in her mind to be sure her lack of sight will not make her clumsy, Leela swings her legs so that she sits above Romana, her knees to either side of Romana's narrow hips. "Perhaps," she says, "it is because we are all alone in the cold, and you are not President any more, and you see at last how much you need a friend."

"Leela..." says Romana, not quite sure. Leela knows how to make her sure. She is very glad that Time Lords are like the Sevateem in this, that kissing is not strange among their people. Those cold lips have always felt right to her, and Romana's are sweet and soft, and different from Andred's in ways that are strange and good.

"Leela, wait," Romana says, but she does not say it like she means it. Leela kisses one side of her mouth, quickly, and then the other, and then straight in the middle, slipping her tongue into Romana's mouth. Romana makes a noise and opens, letting Leela's tongue in, but then she starts back, pulls away.

"Stop," she says, and this time she does mean it. "I'm sorry, Leela, but we... This isn't a good idea."

"You do not think me comely?" Leela asks, only a little hurt.

Romana snorts. "I'd have to be bli..." She bites off the word. "I'd have to be stupid," she amends. "You are very, very...comely. That isn't the trouble."

"It is that I am a human?"

"No!" Romana gasps, too shocked for it to be a lie. "Of course that doesn't matter."

"Then what?"

Romana touches Leela's cheek. "You are my friend," Romana says. "The dearest and most faithful friend I have, Leela. If you were a stranger, I'd say this kind of comfort is just what we both need right now. But you would deserve more from me than...well, than just this. And lately, I... There is someone I..."

"You are in love?" Leela asks, in surprise.

"Good heavens, no! Rassilon, I hope not, he'd never let me live that down. But I may be... I've seen a new side recently of someone I've known for a long time, and he...it's made me consider him in a new light. I may have developed a bit of an...attraction."

Leela rolls her eyes, and Romana laughs. "Yes, all right, all right, I know! We Time Lords and our stiff upper lips. I'm not like you, Leela." She tucks a strand of Leela's hair behind her ear. "You have only one heart, and yet you give it so easily. I wish I could be so open. But right now, I'm not sure what I feel for him, and it would be unfair of me to begin something with you until I'm certain. Can you forgive me?"

She asks it so earnestly that Leela smiles. "There is nothing for me to forgive," she announces, and kisses Romana one more time, quick and friendly, to prove that it is so. "But if I am so dear a friend, my Romana, I think that you must tell me who it is that has so filled your mind."

Romana groans, but Leela knows that she is only teasing. "Lee-la..."

"Come now, or I will guess it!" Leela laughs. "Let me see. Who has proven himself more a man, in these strange days? Certainly not Braxiatel or Matthias."

Romana's voice sours as she remembers their treachery. "Certainly not."

"Commander Hallan is a very fine warrior," Leela suggests. "And he did a very brave thing to save you."

"Both of those things are true," Romana agrees. "But it isn't Hallan. I'm afraid 'fine warrior' isn't quite as important a trait to me as it is to you."

"Captain Annos, then. He is honest and loyal and good."

"He's 'Acting Castellan Annos' now, I think he'd thank you to remember. And no, not Annos."

Leela frowns, considering. And then her eyes widen. "No," she says. "Romana." Romana does not say anything. "He has shown himself very much more honorable lately than I had thought, but...but surely not. Romana, you do not even like him."

Leela can hear the way Romana's mouth moves as she worries at her lip. "Well..."

Leela gasps. "Really?"

"Well," Romana says again, and shifts a bit. And then she stands, and pulls Leela up with her. "There's no time for any of that now, anyway," she sighs. "We oughtn't have delayed so long as it is. What just happened to Janartis—we have to get the news back to the Citadel. They have to know about the virus."

"But you are not President any more," Leela points out. "Surely that is someone else's job now."

"The Dogma virus is a threat to us all. I have no intention of sitting still and waiting while the planet is infected." Romana turns, towards the direction from which the smoke of her burning home still drifts. "Farewell, Sons and Daughters of Heartshaven," she says with a sigh. "I was not deserving of your name."

Leela takes Romana's hand and squeezes it for comfort. There is one question that will always bring Romana from a bad mood. "What now?"

And Romana squeezes back. "Now..."

 

...and one more time, with feeling

 

Romana thinks 'another day, another crisis' may prove to be the theme of all her lives—but this one is serious even compared to all the rest.

Knowing full well how unpopular her plan will prove, Romana takes each of her allies separately aside in one of the many stripped-bare rooms of what was once the Braxiatel Collection to reveal the scheme she has hatched for the rescue of their beleaguered planet. Brax agrees with the wisdom of it, albeit reluctantly. Leela turns very pale, but gives in on the condition that she be allowed to come along, serving her erstwhile role as bodyguard. Only one of their little band refuses to be talked around.

"This is preposterous!" Narvin thunders. "Madam President—Romana..."

"Do you have a better plan?" she shouts back. "Our world is falling apart, Narvin! If there's any chance..."

"I cannot allow you to take such a risk! The odds that you will survive such an attempt are..."

"Minimal," she agrees, "but it's still the best option—the only option that can possibly restore us to the Gallifrey we know. If I fail, there will still be Brax's ark scheme to fall back on, but if I succeed, we will have power enough to set everything right again, and more besides. I have to try!"

"You are too important! If you would let me..."

"It cannot be anyone else! Only a president of Gallifrey can bypass the protections around the Great Key; you know that, Narvin. And Brax cannot possibly return to Gallifrey, not with Pandora..."

"My Lady, you must see how hopeless this is! You won't survive thirty seconds back on Gallifrey, you have no chance..."

"One chance in a thousand, perhaps, but that's more than enough to make it worth it! Narvin, think of what it will mean if I succeed, think of what we're fighting for! My life is worth very little in comparison with..."

"Your life is worth a very great deal, and I will not permit you to throw it away!"

"I don't care what you will and will not permit! You cannot stop..."

"No? If I have to knock you unconscious..."

"I'd like to see you try!"

"You are the most stubborn..."

"Oh, now if that isn't the pot calling the kettle..."

"...frustrating, absurd, infuriating..."

"...hard-headed, contrary, wrong-minded..."

"...foolhardy..."

"...obstreperous..."

"...delusional..."

"...interfering..."

Romana has more than enough adjectives to continue her tirade for a good long while, and every intention of doing just that. To her considerable shock, however, she finds herself suddenly incapable of carrying on a satisfactory argument. It is impossible to form accusations with anything like acceptable diction while Narvin's lips are pressed against hers so hard she can feel the shape of his teeth.

It's not a long kiss at all—just enough to be a kiss, the genuine article, and not some sort of single-hearted peck. Romana suspects from the look on his face, after, that he pulls away the instant it occurs to him what he's just done.

They are still very, very close together, his hands tight on her arms, hers pressed instinctively against his chest. For a moment they stare at each other, unmoving, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, and then he releases his grip and takes a step back.

"I'm so sorry, Romana, I...I don't know what came over me. You have my deepest apologies, I...I'll just go, I won't..."

When she kisses him, it's every inch as insistent, but a great deal softer, and a great deal sweeter, and a great deal more mutual, and a great deal more lingering. Neither of them is forced to resort to respiratory bypass, but it's a very near thing indeed.

"Narvin?" she says, once she's got her breath back.

"Romana?"

"I do still hate you just a bit, you know."

"And I you, my Lady."

"You're still a backward-thinking, isolationist xenophobe."

"And you are still a starry-eyed, irresponsible naïf."

"Good." She wraps her arms around his neck.

"Good," he agrees, and suspends the conversation.

He is, she thinks, far better at kissing than any bureaucrat has any right to be—but so is she, so that's all right, then. The only problem is going to be finding the strength of will to stop kissing him. Fortunately, strength of will is a commodity Romana possesses in considerable quantity.

"Narvin?"

"Yes?"

"I'm still going."

"I know."

"And you're not coming with me."

"Romana..."

"Gallifrey needs you, Narvin—and will even more, if I fall. But I think...."

"Yes?"

"I think you've just done something to better the odds." She smiles up at him. "I'll fight that much harder to return here in triumph, knowing I've got something to look forward to when I get back."

His breath hitches, and she slides from his embrace. At the door, she turns back to face him. "And knowing that I'll be proving you wrong, of course," she adds, with a cheeky grin. "That's always worth giving one-hundred-and-ten percent."

"Naturally," he answers, with a short, sharp laugh.

"Naturally," she agrees. "Another time, Coordinator Narvin," she says, still smiling, as she slips through the door, and heads off to save the world.