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Another Time

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Another Time

 

Romana has programmed the locks of the Presidential suite to show Narvin into her quarters of their own accord, just as soon as he arrives. While he's flattered by the gesture, in all its implications, he feels just at this moment that he could do with less of standing around in her immaculately designed sitting room with a bouquet of Clomian lilies in one hand and a bottle of Châteaux Lafite in the other, waiting for her shout of "Just a moment!" to resolve into her presence, and feeling an absolute arse.

He turns away from the door to her inner quarters for an instant, to study what he supposes would appear to him a very fine painting if he gave the slightest hint of an approach to a damn about art. Naturally, he's had his back turned for all of seven seconds when a throat clears immediately behind him.

She's wearing something very, very un-Gallifreyan. It's silky, and slinky, and exquisitely flattering, and he mostly can't even look at it for wanting to take it off.

"You look..." He tries to inhale, and finds it unprecedentedly difficult. There ought to be another word at the end of that sentence, her increasingly arched eyebrow is telling him so, but the longer she's there, that close to him, looking like that, the more impossible becomes the review of his available vocabulary.

"You," she says finally, clearly accepting that his statement has reached its end, "look an absolute arse."

"Thank Rassilon," he groans, and then she's meeting his lunge halfway, her hand on the back of his neck and her lips unrelenting, and dragging him towards her bedroom, through a sodden mess of broken glass and scattered, rumpled petals.

*

Technically speaking, transmatting onto Gallifrey is impossible. On the other hand, the transduction barriers have been decidedly shaky of late. More importantly, the talent assembled at the Braxiatel Collection includes a Time Lady who built her own TARDIS alone, from scratch, by hand, and piloted it freeform across a barrier between universes; a Time Lord who began his career as a scientific researcher and clawed his way to the top of the greasy ladder of the Celestial Intervention Agency due in large part to his technical expertise; a pseudo-sentient supercomputer whose databanks hold unfathomable quantities of raw scientific knowledge; and, of course, Braxiatel himself, who knows more or less everything about everything. Rigging up a way to transport Romana and Leela onto Gallifrey is very much the easy part.

Waiting for them to return is a great deal more difficult.

For precisely two hundred and six microspans, Narvin and Brax stand shoulder to shoulder and don't say a word, K-9 sitting silent sentinel to one side. And on the two hundred and seventh, just when Narvin is absolutely certain that he will never be sane again, a gasping Time Lady materializes on the other side of the room, her arms around a skin-clad human.

"Brax," Romana chokes out, "tell me you have a medical bay somewhere on this thing."

*

Narvin has considered himself, up to now, as a more than moderately suave individual. He prides himself on his lack of rough edges—smooth voice, cool temper, lithe in motion, clear of thought. On the other hand, that has never applied to her. She has always rubbed him wrong, tangled him up, left him outdone, undone, done for. He thinks he must have been spectacularly blind not to see the significance of that a long time ago. He also thinks that it's going to prove a continuing problem, even now he has pinned down the reasons.

Hands, for example. Narvin has a very fine pair of hands indeed, and he knows it. His fingers are strong and nimble and smooth, and yet, compared to the thin, silken stuff of her dress they feel rough, clumsy and absurd. He loses his way in the folds of it, too frantic with seeking her among the fabric, too consumed with the need to not stop kissing her to pull back and look what he's doing. And the longer he fumbles, the more blatantly she smiles against his mouth. Finally she pulls his head down and over, so she can press her lips against his ear.

"If it's any incentive," she murmurs, amused, nipping at his earlobe, "I'm not wearing anything underneath."

He makes a horrendously embarrassing noise, the worst parts of a moan and a whimper; she laughs outright at that, but sweetly, without malice. And then she takes pity on him, and presses her hands over his, guiding them to her hem, moving with him as he tugs the dress over her head.

He has time for only two more thoughts—first, that she was telling the truth, and, second, that he is not, and in fact has never been, in any way remotely suave. And then she wraps her legs around his waist, and says, "Well, Coordinator Narvin, what are you going to do with me now?"

"Everything," he announces, and sets straightaway about it.

*

Both Time Lords have already rushed forward, babbling simultaneous inquiries at the thoroughly battered-looking women. "I'm all right, more or less," Romana says, "but Leela was badly hit. If she doesn't get medical attention..."

"I'll see to it." Brax pulls the unconscious Leela from Romana's side, scoops her into his arms, and hurries off in the direction of the medical wing. Before he's out the door Romana is swaying on her feet, but Narvin catches her before she can fall, and guides her carefully to a bench on the far side of the room.

"You're hurt too," he accuses, but his face gentles when her head falls onto his shoulder.

"Not badly," she replies, wearily, but she winces in pain when he tries to put his arm around her. "Not too badly," she amends.

He isn't inclined to trust her on that, but he knows perfectly well that she's far too damn stubborn to be convinced to see sense. She is the most important thing, but clearly she is at least breathing, and there's another question nearly as crucial as her well-being.

"And the Key?"

She looks up at him. Her face is sweaty and dirt-smudged, her eyes lodged in dark pools of absolute exhaustion—and when she smiles, he thinks it's among the most breathtaking sights he's ever witnessed. "What do you think?"

He's never tried to kiss someone before while they could neither of them stop laughing, and he wonders, as his mouth fills with the taste of her, how he could possibly have waited for so long.

*

"This is a terribly bad idea," she mentions, at the most inopportune moment imaginable.

"Yes," Narvin says.

"It will all come out...eventually...and there will be...repercussions."

"Yes," Narvin affirms.

"Our enemies...mmmm....won't hesitate to...to make...political hay."

"Yes," Narvin agrees.

"And they...and we...oh...Narvin...Narvin, harder."

"Yes," Narvin groans against Romana's neck, and eagerly complies.

*

They agree to save the council of war for the following day, once Leela is stable and Romana has been persuaded to rest. In the meanwhile, the Key of Rassilon, greatest and most powerful of all the Rassilonate artifacts, lies in the center of a plain metal table in the medical center of the Braxiatel Collection. Brax and Narvin sit in chairs on either side, guarding over it, and over the two slumbering women on the medi-cots behind them.

"I am going to say this once, and once only," says Braxiatel, just as Narvin is beginning to doze off, so suddenly he half-leaps from his chair. "Hurt her, and they will never find the body."

A groggy mumble emerges from Leela's cot. "Not if I get to him first," she slurs. "If he hurts her, they will find very small bits of him all over Gallifrey—and that will be before he stops screaming."

"I am actually here, you know," comments Romana, wearily. "And Imperiatrix of Gallifrey, I'll have you remember. I'm quite capable of having him vaporized if he hurts me, thank you very much."

"Is everyone here forgetting that I'm a man with an army of time-traveling secret agents at my..."

"Shut up, Narvin," say all three of the others in unison.

"Right," says Narvin, with a sigh. "Since it seems we're all awake, can we leave off threatening me for just a moment to attend to the small business of saving our planet?"

*

Among the broad range of emotions which the Time Lord mind and body are capable of experiencing, there is one very particular feeling which Narvin has always supposed must be something like the mental state of a deboned fish.

From somewhere beneath the curtain of her straw-gold hair, Romana begins to laugh. Narvin can feel it shaking through them both, in the places where their bare legs are still tangled up together on Romana's once very, very expensive and now irretrievably sweat-stained sheets.

"What is it?" he asks.

She brushes the hair from her eyes and grins at him, looking younger than he thinks he's ever seen her. "At the Academy," she says, still laughing even as she speaks, "they used to call me the Ice Maiden."

And then he is laughing too, and kissing her again, and she is straddling his thighs, and he wonders, fleetingly, how either of them will ever get any work done again.

*

"And what exactly does this Great Key do?" They are all crowded around Leela's bed, and, as the one who has spilled the most blood for this plan, they give her the privilege of speaking first.

"Controls the Eye of Harmony, primarily."

"And what does..."

"It's a power source, a harnessed black hole. It's used to power TARDISes, mostly."

"It gives you the power to travel through time?"

"Not exac-" Narvin begins, but Romana cuts him off.

"Yes," she answers, "and that's exactly what we're going to do with it."

They all turn to look at her. "Lady and gentlemen," Romana announces, with a wry smile, "prepare yourself for the greatest conjuring trick of all time. Six months of Gallifreyan history are about to disappear."

*

He has no idea what she sees in him, but then, he isn't sure he needs to. He's fairly certain no man in the universe could actually deserve her, and failing that the best any poor soul can do is try. She wants him—Rassilon knows why. But she's here, moving over him, all cream and pink and smooth, sweet curves, not so much a gift horse as a galaxy or two topped with a tasteful bow, and he's not going to squander this opportunity worrying about the moment when she comes to her senses. He's going to do every damn thing he can to encourage her delusion of his desirability, the glorious fable that he is somehow worthy to lick her boots, much less any other part of her less mentionable in polite society. He's not going to waste his time carefully cataloging every inch of her, because he intends still to have her tomorrow, and the next night, and the night after that, the better to refresh his memory. He's going to devote every single iota of his energy to pleasuring her so thoroughly that she doesn't ever think to ask herself why on Gallifrey she's bothering with him, to trick her into believing he's loving her practically as well as she merits. If he gives her absolutely everything he is, absolutely every second, she may not think to leave him for a very, very long time yet.

"Narvin," she whispers into his ear, "do stop looking at me like some sort of object of worship. Have you forgotten the part where you disagree with absolutely everything I stand for?"

He laughs then, at himself far more than her, and flips her over, loving the sudden flash of her eyes. "No, my Lady," he smirks, "but you aren't standing now."

"True," she agrees. "But I could be. Would you like to try this that...way....oh..."

"Not yet, if you don't mind," he murmurs, his mouth against her breast. "I think I like you just the way you are."

That is a quite ridiculous understatement, but he quietly promises himself, as she is arching and gasping beneath him, that he won't ever let her see how much.

*

"We are going to just...make it all go away? The war, and Pandora, and...and everything?" Leela asks, in shock.

"Much as it pains me to say it, Darkel was right. Pandora's escape from the Matrix was the moment when everything went wrong. If we could go back to a short while before that, destroy the dark partition and her along with it, prevent her ever escaping at all... The Eye of Harmony is powerful enough to drag the entire universe back to that point, though such a massive expenditure of power will leave even the Eye almost entirely drained. This is a one-time solution, and not one I would ever advocate lightly. It is the absolute last resort. But I think we're to the point of needing one of those, don't you?"

Narvin and Brax exchange looks. Leela can't possibly understand how absolutely unprecedented a suggestion it is, but they do. Nothing on remotely this scale has been attempted since the days of Rassilon. Then Narvin looks to Romana, and back at Brax, and Brax nods. If she says it's right, then it is, and that's all.

"Will everyone remember this?" Leela asks. "Will they all know that the world is not true?"

"The four of us will—five, with K-9—and to some extent the Matrix, though it may be a bit sketchy on these weeks when it hasn't existed. No one else will have any idea."

"And everything will change?"

"You're thinking of your sight?" Romana asks. "I'm sorry, Leela, but no. We won't be affected. We'll just...just pop back to wherever we were then, but the things that have changed about us will remain the same. We have to change, otherwise we couldn't remember. We wouldn't be able to stop Pandora any more than we did last time."

"I was not thinking of my eyes," says Leela. "It is right, that we should carry the scars of the battles we have fought, even if everyone else will forget them. I was thinking..."

"Of Andred." That is Narvin, to everyone's surprise, including his own. When Leela nods, he goes on, "Yes, Leela, he'll be alive again. Just as he was before Pandora escaped."

"And so, unfortunately," adds Brax, "will Darkel. Even if we can destroy Pandora within the Matrix and stop the two of them joining forces, the good Inquisitor's new lease on life will be an extremely undesirable side effect."

"And the thing in Braxiatel's mind?" asks Leela. "Will that be gone? Will he be able to come home?"

None of the three Time Lords, not even Brax himself, seem to have considered this point. "The fragment of Pandora in my mind is a separate entity from me," says Brax, slowly. "It should be subject to the timeshift, even if I am not. And so if Pandora never escapes, then...yes. I think I will."

"Well, that is that, then," announces Leela. "Gallifrey as it was, and all our tribe back on it. What is there to decide?"

They all stare at Leela for a moment. Sightless as she is, she responds only with the blithe unconcern of perfect ignorance.

"Quite," says Romana at last, just a bit hoarsely. "I couldn't have said it better myself."

*

"I should probably go," he breathes, somewhere near her cheekbone. "All of Gallifrey will be talking tomorrow if anyone finds me here."

"It's nearly morning, anyway," she yawns. "I know we can't make a habit of it. But for tonight, stay." She curls minutely closer to him. "Please."

He stays.

*

It all happens so suddenly that there isn't anything to feel. One moment Narvin is watching Romana, with the Key in her hand, and the next he's behind his desk, in his own office, without even so much as a blink to mark the passage.

The first thing he does is rush to the window, much to the shock of the startled field operative who only a moment ago was receiving instructions from a Coordinator Narvin with slightly longer hair, significantly less stubble, and ten more pounds on him. The Citadel lies below him, sparkling in the afternoon suns: whole, healthy, standing tall and proud, not a derelict or rubble-heap in sight. He gives a hoarse exclamation, further disconcerting poor Agent Magrenn, and then rushes to his personal Matrix terminal. It's humming with life, the greatest repository of knowledge in the history of the universe alive and well behind that glowing screen.

"Sir?" asks Magrenn, finally.

"Dismissed, Agent Magrenn."

"But Sir, you haven't...",

"Oh, use your own initiative, man!" calls Narvin over his shoulder, already dashing for the hall. "I haven't got the time!"

He arrives in the Presidential office hot on Leela's heels, just in time to watch the human catch Romana in an joyful, laughing hug. "Oh Romana, Romana, it smells like Gallifrey again!"

Romana laughs too. "It's wonderful," she agrees, looking up at Narvin with a hint of something almost like shyness. His ridiculous first thought is that it's been some time since he's seen her in the Presidential robes. They don't particularly suit her, however much the occupation does. He's longing suddenly to see her in something less ornate.

"It all seems to have gone according to plan," Narvin acknowledges. "Which makes the next step..."

"Already attended to," says Braxiatel, stepping over the threshold. "It was a tricky job, but K-9 here was able to destroy the dark partition in a single blow, eliminating any chance of an escape attempt. The entity known as Pandora is, as of this moment, completely destroyed."

"Chancellor Braxiatel, what have I done without you?" Romana sighs, striding over to lay a hand on his arm. "Thank you."

"A-hem," says a voice, from about a foot from the floor.

"And you, K-9!" Romana laughs, scooping him into her arms. "Good dog, K-9, very good dog."

"I am compelled to admit, mistress, that I did require assistance."

"Really, K-9? From whom?"

There is a whirring of servos, and a slightly older, slightly more battered robotic dog rolls into view. "From me, mistress Romana."

"K-9!" cries Leela, ecstatically. "Oh, K-9, I forgot!" She dashes across the room and flings herself bodily onto her own K-9 unit. "There was an explosion, K-9, it was all my fault for not saving you, I fought so to get back to you, I wanted to kill Hallan, but now none of it happened at all and you are here, really and truly! Oh, K-9, I missed you so!"

Any comment from K-9 Mark I is muffled by Leela's embrace, but his tail wags enthusiastically for all to see.

"By Presidential fiat, I hereby declare this a holiday for us all," Romana says, self-mockingly portentous, with an enormous smile. "If I catch any of you doing any work before tomorrow morning, I'll wreak the most terrible vengeance."

"I tremble and obey," declares Brax, practically smiling—which, for Brax, is an extreme expression of emotion indeed. "If you'll excuse me, Madam President, I have a miraculously restored art collection to attend to."

"And I have a husband who deserves a good thrashing," says Leela.

"Don't batter him too badly, Leela," Romana advises, sedate.

"We shall see," mutters Leela darkly. "He may have all his fingers still tomorrow."

Brax, Leela and the elder K-9 depart, leaving Romana, Narvin, and her K-9 in the office. "K-9," she says, "I think you'd better shut down and recharge for a bit."

"Pardon, mistress, but I have a message for Coordinator Narvin."

"For Narvin?" Romana asks, in surprise.

"Affirmative, mistress."

"From whom?"

"From the Doctor master."

"The Doctor?" Romana is even more shocked now.

"Go ahead, K-9," says Narvin.

"Message begins: 'Dear future love interest of Romana's, whomsoever-or-is-that-whosoever you may happen to be: best of luck, mate, you'll certainly need it, and please bear in mind that if you ever so much as entertain the notion of hurting her, this K-9 unit is programmed to...'"

"Immediate shutdown, K-9," says Romana, severely.

The metal dog complies. And then it's just Romana and Narvin.

They stand in awkward silence for a moment. And then he makes a move towards her, just as she says, "Narvin, I..." in an apologetic sort of tone.

He's been afraid of this. The danger is over, sanity is restored, and it's all been a matter of the heat of the moment and the madness of the battlefield. It's all about to be over before it ever had a chance to properly start, and he'll have to live his life from now on pretending it never meant anything much to him anyway. Which will mean getting out of this room with his dignity intact. Which will take every bit of his concentration, so he'll have to start now.

"I see," he says, quietly, with a valiant attempt at unconcern. "Well. No hard feelings, then. I'll respect your wishes, of course, you needn't worry about..."

"Narvin," she says, rolling her eyes, crossing the three steps between them, and sliding her fingers into his hair, "don't be any more of an idiot than you can possibly avoid."

Narvin blinks. "Ah," he says. "Right, then. Best I don't say anything at all, in that case."

"I've got no objections to that plan," she smiles, and for the next few minutes she does a very effective job indeed of stopping him from speaking.

"What were you actually going to say?" he asks, at the next convenient opportunity.

"I was going to mention the facts that at this precise moment I am bone-tired, unacceptably filthy and probably still in need of healing, but that if you'd care to stop by my rooms around ten bells tonight..."

"I would," he says, very, very quickly. "Care. For...a visit."

"I had a sneaking suspicion that you might."

"What gave it away?" He nuzzles into her neck, kissing his way up from her shoulder to just below her ear.

"A lady always knows these things."

"And you are every inch a lady."

"You can't possibly know that," she murmurs. "There are quite a few inches of me you're not fully acquainted with yet."

"Yet?" he asks, hopeful and hoarse.

"Tonight," she says, pushing him smilingly away.

"Tonight," he confirms. He is almost to the door when a sudden, absurd thought flits across his forebrain, something to do with gallantry and chivalry and Rassilon knows what else, and he darts back across the room. Catching her hand, he pulls it to his lips, and brushes the lightest kiss imaginable across her fingertips.

"Romana," he says, his voice deeper than usual. To his profound delight, and considerable surprise, she doesn't tell him he's being ridiculous. Instead she blushes very slightly, and is still blushing at the moment when he slips out of the room.

He leans his back against the door of her office for just a moment, draws in a deep breath. And then he notices half a dozen aides, secretaries and assorted general staff staring directly at him.

"As you were," says Narvin, hurriedly, and strides quickly from Romana's outer office.

*

He doesn't mean to sleep. But it's been days now, and her bed is very, very comfortable, and she's next to him, keeping him warm.

They wake almost simultaneously, her first lazy stirrings pushing him into consciousness. He snaps fully awake quickly, as he always does, but she meanders towards awareness as languorously as a cat, all stretching of muscles and little humming noises. He thinks he could watch her like this for a very, very long time, and that someday, if he's extraordinarily lucky, he'll have had mornings enough in her bed to say that he has.

When she finally opens her eyes, they look not towards Narvin, but to the long windows on the opposite side of the room. First sunrise is just creeping over the horizon, a warm carmine glow. "It's a new day on Gallifrey," she says, softly. For a moment more she watches over her planet, and then she turns over to give Narvin a smile.

"Yes," he agrees, watching her smile broaden as he moves his mouth to hover over hers, "it certainly is."