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A Time For Every Purpose

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Chapter 1

 

It is nearly a month after the Coordinator of the CIA begins paying an unusual number of evening calls on the Lady President before Narvin finally plucks up the nerve to ask the question.

"Admit it," Romana murmurs, shifting her knees so she rests more comfortably astraddle Narvin in her favorite armchair. "It was a good speech."

"I'll admit that it was admirably devious," he grants, kissing his way along her collarbone. "All that claptrap about trust and belief and the promise of a new generation..."

"It was not claptrap, and there was nothing devious about it!" she argues, as she slides her hands over his chest. "I believed every word."

"You believed that going on to a lot of Time Tots and the farmed-out brats of Rassilon knows how many other temporal powers about how deeply the President of Gallifrey is depending on their good behavior and how brave they are in paving the way for future generations would guilt any prospective Free Timers into changing their ways, and rule out the possibility of another Gillestes." Narvin needs a deep breath after that mouthful, and Romana takes advantage of the pause to lean down and kiss him, enthusiastically, open-mouthed and wet.

"Oh...all right, yes," she agrees, leaning her forehead against his. "Do you think it'll work?"

"Possibly," he grants. "But not nearly as well as the seven hundred thousand undetectable nanoscopic surveillance devices that absolutely no one with any connection to the CIA has under no circumstances spent the last week planting on every square inch of the Academy grounds, the students, and the tutors."

"It's a good thing you're not actually here right now to say things like that," Romana comments. "If the Lady President of Gallifrey had any reason to suspect that any such surveillance was taking place, she would have every reason to drag the Coordinator of the CIA to her office by his ear," she gives the organ in question a pleasantly firm bite, "and give him a very thorough bawling out indeed."

"You say it as though they wouldn't both enjoy that," he comments mildly, sliding his hands beneath the Presidential robes and running them up her thighs.

"Yes, but think how Brax and Leela would roll their eyes," Romana replies, her hands working at Narvin's buttons. "Just as a matter of curiosity, who else have you under no circumstances been watching lately?"

"Darkel, Wynter, Antimon and Janartis, for a start." He shrugs his shoulders, aiding her in pulling off his sleeves before starting in on the fastenings of her own robes. "Wynter is nothing but a suggestible young idiot, we've got nothing to worry about from him, and it'll be easy to build a legitimate case against Antimon from the data in the Matrix; I'll have him in custody within the week. The other two are more worrying. Janartis is a bad seed all around, but he hasn't actually done anything wrong yet. And Darkel..."

"Is too sly to let herself get caught," sighs Romana. "But at the moment she's not got power enough to be truly dangerous. All we can do is keep a very, very close eye on her."

"But some other time," he observes, as Romana's robes puddle on the floor. "Right now, I've got far better things to keep an eye on." She had claimed, when he asked her about it a few weeks ago, that she favors red underthings as a mark of Prydonian loyalty. He's not sure he believes that, but the reasons are far less significant than the effect, which is more or less incomparably spectacular.

She plants her hands on his bare shoulders and leans back, a teasing invitation to admire the view. "See anything you like?"

"Passable," he observes, sliding his thumbs over her hipbones.

"Prat," she says, affectionately, and kisses him deep, a kiss with intention behind it.

"If you wanted blatant flattery, it wouldn't be me in your bed," he mentions, slipping the words between kisses.

"We're not actually in my bed."

"No," he agrees.

"We could be in my bed."

"I'd have to stop kissing you first."

"Not necessarily."

Narvin hasn't made a habit in his lives of carrying beautiful women around in his arms. Not that he isn't able, he is a Time Lord, and Romana is hardly what one might call a burden, but it makes him feel absolutely ridiculous, and he's desperately afraid he's going to bang her into some heretofore cleverly concealed piece of furniture, or else stumble on nothing but air, particularly when he's still trying to make a respectable showing of kissing her, and...

"Oh, for Rassilon's sake, put me down then, Narvin, really," she sighs. But she smiles at him when he gratefully complies, and takes his hand, and pulls him to her bed.

"Romana," he says, when she's tugged him in beside her and slid her leg over his hip.

"Hmmm?"

"I've been...I've been wanting to ask..."

"Yes?"

"That is..."

"Spit it out, Narvin."

Cursing his own ridiculous case of nerves, Narvin leans his forehead against hers. He wants this to a fairly disgraceful degree, and there's only so much waiting any sane man can accept without comment. Thankful that there is a protocol here, one that doesn't require any words, he stretches out his psychic awareness, and does the equivalent of knocking politely at the doors to her mind. "May I come in?" he asks, softly.

She pulls back, breaking that surface contact, and her brow furrows—not, to his relief, in anger, only confusion. "You didn't know?" she asks.

"Know?"

"I was sure you were in the council chamber that day, Narvin. And it's the sort of thing they'd have asked you about, it was supposed to be a security measure. Well, and an insult, but they said a security measure."

"A secur..." he says, and then stops. He doesn't so much stop, in fact, as he freezes. He freezes, and falls back onto the pillows, and devotes the very small portion of his brain not suddenly preoccupied with cataloging how many kinds of an idiot he's been and realizing the excessive temperature of the water he's just dived headlong into to searching for the proper words to sum up the situation.

"Oh, really...oh, that's just not...oh, fuck."

"I'm sorry you feel so strongly about it," she says, quietly.

"No!" He sits up. "No, it isn't...I mean, I did, I do, I want...but...but that isn't even close to the problem, it's..."

"Narvin?" she asks, suddenly suspicious. He only groans, and she asks again, still more suspicious, "Narvin?"

"I wrote the law," he moans, and buries his head in his hands.

She sits absolutely silent for a moment. "You...wrote the law," she repeats, deadly quiet.

He swallows, and squares his chin to take it like a Time Lord. "I'm so sorry, Romana."

"You wrote the law."

"Yes."

"The law that says that for a President of Gallifrey to establish full-scale psychic contact is a risk to the integrity of state secrets, and that Presidents are bound to psychic celibacy for their terms of office, at the risk of immediate impeachment."

"Yes," he agrees, desolately.

"The law that the high council passed just after my accession specifically to humiliate and annoy me."

"Oh, I'm sure there was far more than that behind it, on a subconscious level." Narvin doesn't recall a time since his Academy days when he so wished the planet would swallow him whole. "I certainly didn't think of it that way, but I wouldn't be surprised if misplaced jealousy of Braxiatel..."

"Narvin!" she screeches, suddenly very red in the face.

"I'm sorry!"

"And then—oh, I especially like this part—you apparently forgot? Why did you think we hadn't been in each other's heads yet?"

This is a very, very bad time for him to be unable to find something reasonable to say. "Maidenly...reticence?"

Time Lords cannot, in fact, suffer apoplectic fits, but Narvin supposes that Romana's face just at this moment looks more or less as it would if she could. "Narvin!"

"And I thought possibly you still didn't trust me that far," he adds, hastily.

"And why. Would I possibly. Not. Trust. You?" she forces out, between gritted teeth.

"You shouldn't," he says, in a state of absolute and utter misery. "Clearly, you shouldn't. You should..."

"So help me, Narvin, one more moment of self-pity and I will call K-9 in here and let him use your head for target practice!"

Narvin shuts up.

"You wrote the law," she says, her fury somewhat tempered with incredulity. He rests a light, tentative hand on her shoulder, and she shakes it off, violently and instantly. "You wrote the law."

They sit on their separate sides of the bed, and don't say anything at all. Narvin does everything he can think of to maintain absolute silence for what must be a full microspan or more, wondering how emphatic of breathing will be tolerated.

And then she laughs.

It starts off as a sudden burst, a half-incredulous giggle. But it happens again. And again. And suddenly she's laughing so hard tears are streaming down her face, absolutely shaking with it, and, against all sense, she lays her head down on his chest, and pulls his arm around her.

"Narvin," she gasps, through the laughter still convulsing her, "I really do despise you."

He releases a breath, tentative relief flooding through him, and pulls her closer. "Romana..."

"Don't say anything," she orders, still stifling giggles, and raises her head. "Not a word."

He's been more or less expecting that she'll never want to kiss him again. He has no idea why she's decided to prove him wrong, but there's not a chance in the Seven Systems that he's going to squander it. He's going to kiss her like she'll change her mind any second and turn him out of her rooms without even a moment to recover his robes, like this is his very last chance.

"Coordinator Narvin," she announces, when at last they break for breath, "you have some serious groveling to do."

He chokes on an unbelieving laugh of his own, and lets his head fall to her shoulder, and she kisses the crown of his head, and he thinks, oddly, that this must be what it means to be owned, that she has just gained sole possession of him, and that it really ought to bother him a considerable deal more.

*

When she thinks about it—which is more often than she'd ever admit—she thinks that sex with him is always a powerplay, and that's exactly why she loves it. He fucks like he's got something to prove, like a battle, but she knows something about those, and this is like no other battle she's ever lived. It isn't her he's fighting: it's every other lover she's ever had, might ever have, every Time Lord she has ever admired, every person she's ever so much as glanced at. There is no one so devoted to keeping you, his hands say, as they play over her skin, no one so willing to work for you, to fight for a place at your side and in your bed.

It's not so much possessiveness as logic, and that's absurd, and perfect. Possession, jealousy, those are messy and inexact, and he isn't that. True, the first few evenings together neither of them could quite stop moving, and the first time round on those earliest nights was often over faster than either of them planned, but that was all, apparently, by way of proving Leela right ("You Time Lords and your bodies! You cannot pretend you have no flesh, or it will end by having you instead. My tribe knows this. Why do you not, if you are so wise?"). And now that the hunger has faded just a little, now they're past the desperate undersexed-ness of a pair Time Lord civil servants overworked for centuries, Narvin has grown focused and meticulous in bed, every iota of his attention devoted to the cause of undoing Romana utterly, and it's intoxicating, and heady, and she doesn't ever want it to stop. He's not particularly original, perhaps, not a creative type, but his grasp of the basics is very, very competent indeed, and anything she wants, anything she asks for, he's more than willing to do. Romana has never exactly had trouble giving orders.

They don't call it a love affair. It isn't, really. Not exactly. They can't possibly acknowledge it to the rest of Gallifrey, the furore would be deafening and completely unnecessary, and she thinks the secrecy would bother her, if this were a love affair. She'd want to shout it from the rooftops, wouldn't she? And she doesn't, not a bit. On the contrary—she relishes the degree to which everything stays just exactly the same as it was before. During business hours (and given their jobs, that's nothing like a regular schedule) they behave just as they always have. Even when they're together in her office, running the universe as they have always done, she doesn't mind not touching him, and thinks she would probably desperately miss their arguments if suddenly they were to find themselves in perfect accord. They aren't in anything like perfect accord, and therefore this cannot be anything but an increasingly longstanding dalliance.

Except that that's not right, either. They've known each other far too long, been through far too much together, for this to ever be 'just' anything. And there are moments when they are alone, moments like now, when he's holding her, and they're naked and sated and there's nothing left to want, when there is something unfathomably tender about him, so much it shocked her in the beginning. She reminded herself how gentle he was when she was ill after Pandora, how understanding he's been with Leela since she lost her sight, reminded herself that it was Darkel's slaughter of innocents that first drove him to Romana's side, and his kindness began to seem a little less strange. And now it's becoming something she depends on: the way he kisses her when he leaves at night, lingeringly, like he truly doesn't want to go; the way he holds her eyes until the last possible moment, until wood and steel seal him away from her view; the way he lights up the moment they get each other alone, as though he's just been brought fully to life again, and how much it feels that way for her, too.

Whatever the word for this, however much or little it means, Romana fears that this affair is growing to be something that she needs.

*

"Romana." Every night since their first together he's been packed off back to his own quarters before morning, but from how near she is now to nodding off in his arms he thinks tonight he may just be allowed to stay. That's utterly ridiculous, that she should be rewarding him for his undeniable stupidity, and yet it's apparently true.

"Hmm?" she mumbles.

"It doesn't need to be mutual."

She blinks, struggles partly upright. "What?"

"You have to shut me out of your mind," he says, "but that doesn't mean you can't come into mine."

She comes fully awake at that. One-sided psychic contact isn't unusual for very young Gallifreyans—tutors entering the minds of their students, teaching the basics of the mental arts without baring their souls to their charges, or parents sliding just inside a child's head to soothe and comfort—but is so strange among adults as to be almost taboo. The psychic vocabulary of the Time Lord bedroom is an intense business, much more than a simple sharing of surface thoughts. Practiced psychics can manipulate the material of a partner's emotions, amplifying pleasure or intensifying desire, or even work on the level of raw neural impulse to trick the brain, creating physical sensation without actual touch.

Such profound control requires very deep access to the mind, and mutual contact serves as a sort of safety net. In two fully joined minds, the pain or pleasure of one partner will to some extent redound to the other through the shared link. But if Romana is in Narvin's head while he cannot enter hers, she could, he knows, cause him any amount of agony without feeling a thing herself. He can shut his secrets behind careful mental doors to prevent her from stumbling on them accidentally, but she'll have all the keys, and he'll have no resort if she chooses to use them, no matching revenge to exact on her own hidden thoughts. She could alter his memories, his permanent emotions, his ideals, could actually change who he is, and he'd have no method of retaliation, maybe even wouldn't know she'd done it. Mutual mental contact requires a good deal of trust to begin with, but inviting her unreciprocally into his head is placing everything he has in her hands with no reservations, and he knows it.

"Narvin," she breathes, unsure, eyes wide and serious. "I... Are you sure that..."

He presses his forehead against hers again, and opens his mental doors—not flung gaping, nor eased open a crack, just enough, a friendly invitation. Summoning up a memory, one he has very meticulously preserved, he eases a careful tendril of it through his mental portals, so she can see it, feel it, where she vacillates on the threshold of his mind. It's little more than a caress of antiseptic and murmur of soft skin beneath fingertips, a tease carefully calculated to intrigue. He knows her weaknesses as well as her strengths; she is as uncontrollably curious as a precocious child. She follows that thread of memory, just as he knew she would, through the gates of his mind and into his head.

It's a risk, bringing her to this particular memory. He knows how much emotion they are and aren't allowed to show, and it's a risk, letting her see the moment of his first, blinding awareness of her, Romana-as-Romana rather than The Lady President. Letting her understand how much she captivated him then, and does still, is undeniably dangerous. But it's worth it, and so he shows her, anyway: the High Council chamber, and herself, feeble and beyond exhausted, curled up on a medi-dais, and his hand on her arm. He lets her feel everything, absolutely every hint of his consuming tangle of emotions in that instant, and then her own remembered words, ringing through his ears: Trust me.

I did, he murmurs, into his mindscape, where she can hear him now. I do.

Her physical eyes are still staring at him, even as the psychic construct that is her presence in his head gazes around through the clearing mist of the memory he just showed her, taking in the antechamber of his mindscape. A dozen twisting corridors spiral off in all directions: memory, emotion, sensation, imagination; plans for the future, impressions of the present, fragments of the past; ambition, distraction, knowledge, intention, interest, desire, each cordoned off in its own separate channel and yet blended and intertwined with all the rest.

Labyrinthine, says the Romana in his head, with that smile that is every inch her own. Why doesn't that surprise me?

You know me well, he answers, and because she's in his mind she can see the significance of it, all the ways he means it, all the reasons he believes it to be true: occasions when she looked at him with perfect sympathy, and times she has said just the thing he deserved—whether he liked it or not—and moments when she affected him more deeply than she ever knew, intermixed with fragments and slivers of those thousand tiny interactions that make up an acquaintance, a tentative friendship, the eager first chapter of a fledgling romance.

Perhaps, she answers, though it seems I've got quite a lot yet to learn.

For a moment, it hits him wrong, the vulnerability of his position suddenly painfully obvious. There are more than a few things inside his mind she wouldn't care for a bit—not only things he's thought and done in the past (and he's the Coordinator of the CIA, that list is neither pretty nor short), but things he still believes, still intends, still wants. He and Romana haven't been political opponents just for show, certainly not just for the fun of it; there are parts of his fundamental character very, very different to hers. He has a moment of intense conviction that this has been a terrible mistake, that within ten microspans in his head she'll have given up on him completely. And it's all made far worse by the fact that she's experiencing his doubts in real time, as they happen, knows exactly what he's thinking and feeling.

Narvin, she says, softly but urgently, it's all right. And then, aloud, "Do you want me to..."

"No," he says, hurriedly. "Forgive me, Romana, it won't happen a..."

He's cut off by her lips on his, kissing him slow and sweet. As her mouth slides over his, her mental self sets about gently soothing away his agitation. Positioned as she is, she is more than capable of forcibly redirecting his attention, shoving his thoughts wherever she wants them with no regard for his own will. Instead, she targets his physical responses first: evens his heartrates, deepens his breaths, relaxes his muscles. And then, to his surprise, she dips into his memories of her, and chooses a few specific moments to suggest for his perusal.

I wish... This would work better, if I could only let you see my side, she says, with a mental sigh. But you're not a complete dolt, Narvin—at least not all the time, she teases. I think you'll get the picture.

The memories she pushes forward stretch back many years. Few last more than a moment or two, and all are purely visual, no auditory data of any kind. Every one is full of Romana, and in every one, she is looking at him. Sometimes her expression is annoyance, sometimes frustration, sometimes anger, but also interest, or even respect, or, in more recent memories, affection, and desire, and something less easy to define.

You drive me absolutely crazy, sometimes, she breaks their kiss, to give him a physical as well as a mental smile, and Rassilon knows we disagree on nearly everything. But you owe me better than to suppose I'd have trusted you into my bed if any of that could change my mind. You make me feel a great many things, bad as well as good, but disgust hasn't ever been one of them.

He breathes deeply, letting her see and feel his gratitude and contentment. And then he smirks. So I'm to take it, then, that you don't find me entirely vile?

She grins. Oh, now, let's not be too hasty. She's laughing inside his head, and it's marvelous. You are undeniably a repulsive, scheming, conscienceless wretch of a man. I've no doubt you've been slipping some sort of CIA-brewed gene-coded aphrodisiac into my tea this last month. It's the only sane explanation for my absolutely scandalous behavior. She bites her lip for a moment, eyes sparkling, and then she's tugging his hand upwards, and sliding his index finger into her mouth. What other plausible reason could I have for this...

And then, without warning, she's redirecting the sensation inside his brain, sliding his neural pathways all out of joint, and, though she hasn't moved, he's suddenly feeling the warm sweet slide of her mouth somewhere decidedly other than his finger. The inside of his head flashes white-hot, and she's laughing again, and suckling greedily at his finger with the most wicked expression imaginable, and he's gasping in ways he certainly doesn't intend, and touching her, clumsily, directionlessly, everywhere he can reach.

For a moment he wants more than anything to be able to respond in kind to her exquisite mental torment. And then it occurs to him that there are still some ways her presence in his head can be twisted to his advantage. He thinks of every single thing he wants to do to her, all at once, every fantasy he can summon, every filthy daydream he's ever entertained, and shoves them all to the forefront of his headspace, where she can't help but see them. He bombards her with images of herself: imagined (he wishes he could take her on her desk, those damned robes shoved up around her waist and her heels digging into his arse, with half of Gallifrey watching as he makes their President scream), remembered (two nights ago he couldn't stop watching her moving over him, hair falling backwards in a cascade of gold as she arched her smooth white neck and came around him), and planned (someday, he'll reach his hand up as he's kissing her feet, bring her off grinding on his fingers, with the softness of his mouth still wrapped around her toes).

She draws in a sharp breath, and her cheeks constrict around his finger, and it's the best kind of agony. And from then on, it's a duel, a battle of wills. She has control over every part of him, can stimulate any emotion, produce any sensation, puppet his body anywhere she likes. But his mind is his own, and she, within it, is subject to every thought he could never find the words to articulate or the audacity to speak.

She wins, of course. They both know she will, that's never in question, but the battle is the fun of it. Anyway, it's difficult to feel himself to have lost anything at all when he can feel her mouth as though it were all over his body, even though he knows it's really pressed into the crook of his neck, when she's directing his hands as they touch her and the angle of his hips as they thrust, when she's making little noises in the back of her throat and her fingernails are scrabbling against his shoulder-blades. And in the end it's nearer a draw than he expected, for all that it's her show and he only a player in it, because she tips over the edge just as he's thinking, somewhere in-between the gasping, aching flashes of pleasure, of how much more than need he's feeling for her at this moment, of how far beyond incomparable she is.

*

"Mistress," says a tinny sort of voice. The bed shakes, very slightly, and then again, and then again, in precisely the same way it would if a moderately sized robotic dog happened to be repeatedly ramming himself against it. By the time it occurs to Romana that the similarity of sensation may not be entirely coincidental, and that perhaps she should entertain the notion of unspooling herself from her cocoon of covers and possibly even peeling her cheek from the pillow, Narvin is already sitting up next to her. She doesn't need to open her eyes to be absolutely certain that his posture at this moment could serve as an illuminating illustration for any respectable manual of deportment, if only there happened to be a competent artist in the vicinity to capture it.

"What is it, K-9?" he asks, sounding not even the least bit groggy, and it's so wildly unforgivable that steps really must be taken. She snakes an arm from the covers and attempts to pull the pillow from beneath her own head for bludgeoning purposes. That, however, proves an untenable solution, full of unnatural bending of arms and herculean efforts, and she's forced to settle for thumping her head against Narvin's middle in what is meant to be a reproving sort of way, and in fact ends up appallingly like nuzzling.

"High Council meeting convenes in thirty microspans," K-9 helpfully informs. "Advise hasty departure, Coordinator Narvin."

It's enough to shock her system into wanting to be awake, at any rate. The shot of adrenaline is sufficient to see her out of bed and hurriedly tugging her hair into something resembling order. She even manages to stumble to the bedroom door on her own power, just in time to watch Narvin hurry across her living quarters. Somehow, he is already dressed, pressed and alarmingly tidy, and before she has time to properly register the fact that his arms are full of fabric, they aren't, anymore, because the robes he was carrying are now on her, artfully draped and fitting her better than she can ever recall them doing before.

"Narvin," she says, experimentally, just as a test that her voice is working at all. It seems to be, more or less, so she tries something with verbs in it. "I don't think this can possibly be natural."

"I'm sure you must be right," he agrees, seriously. "Clearly, I was experimented-on during my days as an innocent young field agent, resulting in the terrible ability to regain consciousness."

"I'm dressed, Narvin."

"It is a pity."

"You're a morning person," she accuses, meaning it to sting.

"I've tried to keep it from you," he replies, straight-faced, "but I simply couldn't go on living a lie."

"And you're standing there looking..." She waves a hand, hoping that will prove sufficiently descriptive.

"An astute observation, my Lady."

"This," she comments, making a vague upward gesture meant to indicate her own muzzy-headedness, "is all your fault."

"Is it indeed?" He's smirking. It's not nearly as unattractive as she wants it to be.

"Yes," she says, emphatically. "With the...last night. And...and all the...last night...ing."

"I would be more than happy," he says, his hands straying somewhere along her spine, "to take credit for any and all of last night."

"Well you can't," she says, petulantly. "Because..."

She hasn't been kissed good-morning in she doesn't remember how long. There was the first morning after with Narvin, yes, but that hadn't been so much a kiss good morning as an entire program of very, very well-chosen morning activities, in which kissing had played a significant but hardly a starring role. But it's been ages since she had something quite like this, a kidnapped moment of her own time, too brief to matter to the rest of the world and yet too important to her—and to him—to be wasted. And overall, on the whole, it's really rather unconditionally lovely.

"More awake now?" he asks, a short while later, his lips still very near to hers.

There is a brief pause. "Narvin," she says, "you cannot bug the grounds of the Academy. I categorically forbid it. Never mind the degree to which it would undermine this government's credibility with the students, but think what the other temporal powers would..."

"There you are," he laughs, letting her slip from his arms. "Good morning, Madam President."

"I'm quite serious," she says, heading for the door that leads to the small antechamber between her living quarters and her offices (on-site housing is, she admits, one of her favorite perks of this job). "I want them deactivated immediately, and preferably entirely removed."

"Be reasonable, Romana," he argues. "Suppose we only listen in on the Gallifreyan students. Then no one can accuse us..."

"This is not a matter for discussion, Narvin," she says, in her best lilting lecture voice. "You will begin the deactivation, and sooner, rather than later. What's on the schedule today, K-9?" she asks, as they emerge into the antechamber where her computer has politely retired.

"High Council meeting in ten microspans. Meeting with delegation from planet Logopolis to discuss the scientific application of block transfer computation and its uses in the maintenance of timespace stability, ten bells. Weekly conference call with major temporal powers to discuss countermeasures against terrorist group 'Free Time,' midday. Lunch meeting with representative from human Time Agency, to discuss recent acts of temporal vandalism in fifth millennium relative..."

"Madam President."

The voice that interrupts K-9 as they are stepping into Romana's outer offices is quite probably her least favorite in all the universe wide.

"Inquisitor Darkel," she acknowledges. "What a...pleasure. I wasn't aware we had an appointment this morning."

It is difficult, very difficult, to remember that Darkel is not her acknowledged enemy as the world stands now. The war they fought against each other, the endless schemes and open hostilities, are now the figment of a destroyed future that Darkel herself doesn't even remember. Romana knows perfectly well that Darkel's relentless ambition is alive and well, that there will be new plots and schemes of Darkel's own making to replace the war-that-wasn't, even with no Pandora in the picture. But Romana has sworn to herself up and down that she'll move heavens and earth to stop her planet being caught in the crossfire this time around. Let Darkel make all the personal attacks she likes, but if she harms a hair on the heads of any of Romana's people, there will be a reckoning.

"Oh, nothing so formal, Madam President. I merely stopped by in the hopes of having a few words on a minor point of jurisprudence relating to your ban of the mindprobe, and I was informed that you had no other appointments before the Council meeting this morning." Darkel eyes Narvin up and down. "But I see the Coordinator slipped in before me. It's funny, your secretary spoke as though no one else had come through yet this morning."

"Stealth is my profession." Narvin gives Darkel an oily sort of smile, one that comes very far from reaching his eyes. Darkel may technically never have planted a bomb on Narvin as things stand now, but Narvin clearly hasn't forgotten it any more than Romana has.

"Narvin and I were just discussing security arrangements at the Academy," Romana says smoothly, with a well-developed politician's habit of concealment without lies. Narvin opens his mouth, and she cuts him off. "The answer is no, Coordinator. I want a report on the progress of your deactivation efforts on my desk by tonight."

"My Lady," says Narvin, catching Romana's eye with a tiny smile, bowing slightly as he retires.

"Now, Inquisitor Darkel. I'm afraid I haven't time just at the moment, but if you'd care to stop by a few microspans before midday, I should be able to squeeze you in."

"As the President wishes, of course," says Darkel, all false civility, and she vanishes in her turn.

"Still a microspan or two left, anyway. Now, what were you saying, K-9?"

"Lunch meeting..."

"Oh, yes, the Time Agency. I do hope they send the same one as last time. Shameless flirt, but very easy on the eyes. Captain... something. It'll come back to me. Go ahead, K-9, what's next?"

"Three bells, presentation from Director Lamien of the government laboratories, to demonstrate new technological advances in..."

Romana strides off for the lift that will carry her to the High Council chamber, K-9 rolling faithfully behind, and the Presidential day is officially begun.

*

Narvin is surprised, and not at all pleased, to find Darkel once more lurking outside Romana's offices when he returns that evening, well after second sunset. He is even less pleased, and for more reasons than the obvious, when he learns that she's there to talk to him.

"Coordinator Narvin," she begins, cornering him in a quiet alcove before he can find any way to make an escape, "I cannot help but notice that in recent weeks, you seem to have suffered a change of hearts."

The wording may be coincidental...and then again, it may not. Narvin has played this game for far too long to take anything for granted. His eyes narrow. "I don't think I follow, Inquisitor."

"A month ago, you were a staunch opponent of Romana's reforms," Darkel points out. "But more recently, your commitment seems to be wavering. I merely wondered what can have happened to change your mind." She gives a particularly poisonous smile. "If it's been nothing more than healthy debate, then please, enlighten me. I do so love an invigorating exchange of ideas."

This woman betrayed him, tried to kill him, was responsible for the destruction of the better part of their capital, and, far more importantly, allied herself voluntarily with the force that nearly killed Romana. Watching her die screaming once before wasn't nearly enough to kill Narvin's loathing, but he's well-trained in hiding what he truly thinks. "I don't agree with President Romana's reforms any more than you do, Darkel," Narvin says, coolly, "but my loyalty lies with the office. I serve Gallifrey, and she is Gallifrey. Now, if you'll excuse me..."

"And if she were not President?"

"I don't deal in hypotheticals, Inquisitor Darkel." He slips past her and heads back towards Romana's offices. "And I don't expect to need a real answer to that question for many, many years yet."

"Narvin." The corridor, though deserted, is still a public place, and so Darkel doesn't shout. But her hiss has just as much intensity as any amount of volume could have lent it. Her heels click sharply on the marble of the corridors as she stalks back to Narvin, too far into his personal space. "How has she bought you?" she spits.

Narvin is grateful, very grateful, that she's said something to give him permission to show his anger. His jaw sets, and his eyes burn. "She has earned my loyalty," he says, very quietly, "by proving her integrity, her intelligence, and her commitment to the people of this planet. I trust her judgment, even when it conflicts with my own, because she is genuinely worthy of that trust. If you think you can prove yourself the better Time Lady on those criteria, by all means do feel free to try, but until then, this conversation is at an end."

Once more he makes to leave. This time she catches him by the arm, digging in her fingernails. "There is something more going on here, Narvin, and I will find out what it is."

"I wish you the best of luck," he snaps, and, tearing his arm from her grip, manages finally to get away, leaving Darkel standing staring in the corridor.

Leela is with Romana in her office when Narvin storms in. Romana's human bodyguard has been away from the Citadel for the better part of this month, attempting to repair her rocky relationship with her husband, and Narvin finds, to his horror, that he's practically missed her all this time. "Romana," he says, inclining his head at the women who share a couch on one side of the office. He crosses to Romana's desk, and deposits the datapad that forms his ostensible reason for this particular evening visit, the report she asked him for this morning. "Hello, Savage."

"Hello, Keeper of Lies," says Leela, just as cordially, as he settles into an armchair just opposite them.

"Is that a new one? I think I like it." He doesn't quite smile, and Leela doesn't quite smile back, and the balance is perfectly maintained. "No doubt I've interrupted a good gossip about certain Time Lords I could mention. Don't mind me, just carry on as though I weren't here."

"We were discussing Leela's teaching position at the Academy," says Romana, with an affectionate glare. "You really don't know anything about women, do you?"

"Are they the ones with the long hair and the nice legs?" he asks, mockingly stone-faced. "Not a thing, I'm afraid."

"Were you always this way?" asks Leela, turning her head from the one to the other. "I think I must have been very stupid before, if I did not notice."

"Our technique has come on a bit recently," says Romana, smiling, "and you certainly haven't been any more stupid than we have ourselves."

"I've been meaning to talk to you about Andred, Leela," says Narvin. "I thought he was very nearly competent when he was working for me, and now I know he managed it without proper CIA training I'm practically impressed. If he's looking for a new position now he's been pardoned, I'd be willing..."

"That is Andred's decision to make," says Leela, firmly. And then she grins. "But I will not leave him again if he chooses to work for you, Narvin."

"A ringing endorsement if ever I heard one," Narvin laughs.

"Well, you could not have expected that my en-doors-mint would say that I am glad to have him at that place, doing..."

"Leela," says Romana, hurriedly, "we all know your feelings on the CIA."

Leela cocks her head at Romana, considering, and then she grins enormously. "You do not want me to hurt Narvin's feelings!" she cries, with a positive shriek of laughter.

"If you suppose I haven't heard far worse about the CIA..."

"That," says Leela, still laughing, "is not why it is funny."

"That's quite enough teasing from you, Leela," says Romana, blushing just a bit.

"Someone must tease you, and none of your Time Lords are brave enough."

"None of my Time Lords know," says Romana, paling. "Leela...you haven't..."

"Only Andred, and he has sworn not to tell," assures Leela. "Though I do not know why you must be so secret about these things. Why should you care what other people think?"

Romana and Narvin share a look. "There would be a great deal of fuss, Leela," says Romana. "I'm the President of Gallifrey. If nothing else, there would be plenty of malicious gossip, and we have enemies who could twist the situation in any number of unpleasant ways."

"You think that someone might hurt Narvin to hurt you?" asks Leela, suddenly alert.

"I wasn't thinking of anything quite so extreme, though I suppose it's not impossible that..."

Leela nods, resolutely. "Then he will need a body-guard, too," Leela decides. "I am very busy, protecting you and teaching at the Academy, but I think I could find hours enough to..."

"I have security of my own as head of the CIA, Leela," says Narvin, unable to stop himself from smiling, "but it's kind of you to offer."

Leela looks skeptical. "I do not think that is good enough," she says. "Romana's bondmate ought to..."

Narvin erupts in a furious coughing fit that obliterates the rest of Leela's sentence. "If no one else knows that he is my...if no one else knows," Romana hastily steps in, "he won't need any more protection than he had before."

"Well...if you are sure," Leela grudgingly grants. Then she brightens. "I will tell Andred he should accept your offer, Narvin," she pronounces. "He can be trusted to protect you."

"You and Andred have reconciled, Leela," says Romana, impressed.

Leela sobers. "I saw his corpse laid cold into the ground," she says, softly. "It is easier to forgive, after that."

"I suppose it would be," Romana answers, equally quiet.

"I will go to him now," Leela decides, "if you do not need me, Romana."

"Go ahead, Leela," Romana dismisses. "I'll see you tomorrow."

"Goodbye, Narvin," says Leela, patting him on the shoulder. "Bed her well. She is a very great President, you know."

"Leela," says Narvin, wryly, "I can tell when you're playing up the savage angle on purpose."

"Whether you can tell or not, it is still fun!" Leela laughs, as she slips from the room.

"And that is a woman who wanted to be left alone to die, a month ago," Romana says, with a smile.

"She has someone to live for now."

"Yes," she agrees, looking away for a moment with a smile still on her lips. "Coordinator Narvin," she leans forward, propping her chin on her hand, "I have had a very long day. I wonder if you would mind terribly giving me a short summary of that report, and leaving the written copy for me to peruse some other time."

"It would be my pleasure, Madam President."

"And since you're my last meeting of the day, and doing me this little favor, it seems the least I can do to invite you next door to my rooms for a glass of wine while you're filling me in on your progress."

"That seems perfectly logical." He stands, and offers his hand to pull her upright.

"And perhaps some dinner."

"I could hardly refuse such a cordial invitation."

"And after that...well, who knows?"

"Anything could happen."

"What with the wine..."

"...and the atmosphere..."

"...and the..."

The moment they step through the doors to her private rooms, he has her pressed up against the wall, his lips bearing down on hers. "I don't think I should stay long," he mumbles into her mouth between kisses.

"Why not?"

"I hate to bring up a name so bound to kill the mood, but Darkel..."

She groans, and rests her head against his shoulder. "What has she done now?"

"She cornered me a few microspans ago. Led me through quite the little interrogation about my apparent change of opinion where the Lady President was concerned, and graciously informed me that you must have bought my loyalty some way or another—and that she'd be doing her part to find out precisely how."

"Marvelous," Romana sighs. "Do you think she guesses..."

"This?" He trails his fingers over the back of her neck. "So far as I could tell, no, not yet. But you know how her mind works. If we give her any reason to suspect..."

"She'll suspect whether we give her a reason or not," says Romana, firmly, pressing herself up against him in what he feels is an unfairly distracting sort of way. "I accept that we have to be discreet. But I refuse to live my life based on what Inquisitor Darkel may or may not suspect."

He fully intends to be sensible about things. He intends to point out that, however little they both like it, Darkel is more than capable of causing serious difficulties for them in the long term. He intends to mention that being careful is hardly the same thing as letting their enemies win. He intends to tell her that he'll come back tomorrow, and stay just as long as she likes, and that that will be wiser altogether. It's just, she's so magnificent when she's being indomitable.

Narvin has better things to do with his evening than intending.