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A Time For Every Purpose

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Chapter 2

 

There are times when Romana worries that she and Narvin may have reconciled too quickly in the eyes of the rest of Gallifrey. She hardly expects anyone to guess the existence of a plot to push the whole of time and space back a few chapters, obliterating a series of catastrophes the likes of which this planet had never before seen, simply because she and Narvin can stand the sight of each other these days. But occasionally, she fears that their recent tendency to act as a united front may cause some clever Time Lord—Darkel, for a start—to suspect the sorts of things she and her Coordinator have been getting up to behind closed doors these past seven months or so.

Right now, she isn't worrying about that at all.

"You cannot possibly be serious!" Narvin thunders, so loudly that half of the High Council jump in their seats.

"As flattering as it is to be told what I think, I assure you, Coordinator Narvin, that I am entirely serious."

Of private disagreements and vigorous idealogical exchanges they have had more than their fair share since they started sleeping together. Where would be the fun of giving those up?

"Madam President, you know I was against allowing alien students into the Academy to begin with..."

"I assure you, Coordinator, I am very well aware. I don't think my ears have stopped ringing yet."

But this is the first time they've had an actual fight since things changed between them, much less a public one. From the look of the staring faces around them, the rest of the Council seem to have been missing the show. Darkel, Romana notes with disgust, looks more pleased than a Tharil with cream.

"...but to actually allow them to stay..."

"...is the natural next step! After such an investment of Gallifreyan time and resources into the development of these young people, I would think you of all people would see the value in..."

Romana considers and quickly discards the notion that this confrontation is all somehow her fault for not telling him about her plans before. That's an utterly ridiculous idea. He's a grown Time Lord, in his third body and his seventh century, holding one of the most prominent political positions in the Citadel. If he can't take a few surprises, he's not fit to play at this level.

"Value! Madam President, if the egregious security risk of allowing hordes of foreign nationals—and from the most sophisticated races in the universe, but ours—to live not only on Gallifreyan soil, but with all the freedoms and rights of true Gallifreyan citizens..."

"If they choose to accept the offer to remain, they would be true Gallifreyan citizens, just as much as any Time Lords and Ladies, just as loyal to..."

"If they choose not to remain loyal to the races and planets of their origins, I certainly don't see why we should ever trust..."

"I'm not asking you to trust them, Coordinator Narvin, I know a lost cause when I see it, but you might at least consider that non-Time Lord Academy graduates who elect to remain on Gallifrey won't be out in the wider universe, no doubt—in your paranoid opinion—sharing our secrets with all and..."

"I appreciate the principle of keeping one's enemies close, Romana, but you must..."

"Madam President," she snaps, breathing hard. "In this room, Coordinator, you will show respect to my office, if not to me."

He stands for a moment, red-faced and shaking with anger, and then bows slightly, glaring. "Madam President."

"Thank you," she says, sharply. "Now, Coordinator Narvin, I appreciate that you have concerns about the security risks posed by the prospect of an expansion of our immigration laws, but I think it bears mentioning that the only foreign nationals eligible for such consideration will already have lived a considerable time on Gallifrey without demonstrating any worrisome or threatening behavior, and that, in order to become Academy students in the first place, these same foreign nationals have already undergone an extensive screening process, under the jurisdiction of your own agency. I am certain that the CIA will continue to perfect that process, rendering Gallifrey safer for all its citizens."

"Living in the strictly supervised environment of the Academy for a fixed span is not the same thing as being permitted free rein of the planet for a lifetime, as the Lady President is well aware," says Narvin, quietly. "There are real and serious issues at hand here, and they merit your honest consideration before any such steps are taken."

There is absolute silence in the Council chamber. "Well," says a voice from the other side of the room—Braxiatel, whose Chancellorship gives him a presiding role over Council meetings, "on that note, I think we ought all to have time for contemplation before any vote is taken. If there are no further issues pending," he pauses a moment, "I declare this meeting adjourned."

Romana is first out the door of the Council chamber, storming down the hall and fuming her way back to her own offices.

"Was the Council meeting satisfactory, mistress?" asks K-9, as she makes a valiant and completely fruitless attempt at slamming the automated door, which slides closed just as politely as ever.

"That was a very poor try at humor, K-9," she snaps.

"Apologies, mistress."

"And don't sound so smug."

"Madam President?" The timorous voice of her personal secretary sounds through the intercom. "Coordinator Narvin is here, my Lady. He wonders..."

"Tell Coordinator Narvin," says Romana, through gritted teeth, "that he is entirely free to, and in fact most assuredly should, go boil his head."

"Ma'am?"

"I have nothing to say to the Coordinator—but send for Leela, if she's not otherwise occupied, and tell her to bring her very sharpest knife."

"Yes, my Lady."

"Thank you, Areliane." Romana switches off the intercom with an emphatic jab of her finger.

"Trouble in paradise, mistress?"

"K-9, has it ever occurred to you that you live at such a height as to be a very attractive target for a good kick?"

"I do not live at all, mistress, and such a maneuver would be most unwise. The probability of bruising to your toes..."

"He's a prat, K-9."

"Mistress?"

"Narvin."

"Define 'prat.'"

"Oh, everything he is."

"That is a tautology, mistress."

"And therefore necessarily true. His pratness definitively established. Q.E.D."

"Observation, mistress?"

"What is it, K-9?"

"Since commencement of romantic relations between yourself and the Coordinator, you smile 439% more often, mistress."

Romana gives K-9 a sidelong glance. "That was not a very welcome observation, K-9," she says, but not very heatedly.

"Apologies," says K-9, again, with no contrition whatever.

The door slides open, and Leela enters. "What is it, Romana?" she asks, with concern. "You do not often send for me so suddenly."

"I thought I had a job for you, Leela," says Romana, watching as Leela settles into a chair with a grace and comfort that belie her sightlessness, "but I think K-9 has just convinced me that Narvin can keep his scalp. For now, anyway."

"What is it that he has done?" asks Leela, leaning forward, hand on the hilt of her knife. "If it is some other woman, I will..."

"Rassilon, no! Nothing like that. Only politics."

"Politics," sighs Leela. "Of course it is politics. It is always politics with you."

"You won't like this one any more than I do, Leela," says Romana, grimly. "The subject of our very public row was alien immigration to Gallifrey."

Leela snorts. "Of course Narvin does not like people who are not Time Lords coming to this planet. Surely you have known that for a very long time, Romana. He only likes me as many days as he does not, and I have saved his life, and fought battles by his side. Why should you be surprised by what he is?"

"I'm not surprised, I'm just angry. Doesn't it make you angry too, Leela?"

Leela shakes her head. "I have met many like him here, and I know now that he is better than most. He does not mind that I only like him as many days as I do not, so we understand each other very well. And we have in common what you and I had, once."

Romana frowns. "What do you mean?"

"We grew to know each other because I would gladly die for the Doctor, and so would you. And now I would gladly die for you, Romana, and so would Narvin."

Romana blinks. She stares, and blinks again. "Don't be absurd," she manages, faintly. "He most certainly would not."

"You are wrong," says Leela, simply. "I do not need to see his eyes to know how he looks at you."

Romana squirms in her seat for a few moments, as Leela sits silently, a little smile on her lips. "I don't know if I'm ready to forgive him yet, Leela," Romana says finally, with a sigh, "no matter how many nice things you and K-9 say about him."

Leela nods. "Keep your anger for as long as it does you good," she pronounces, "but not if it is hurting you more than he has done. And remember that you are angry only because you wish to think well of him."

"No," says Romana, permitting herself a hint of sulkiness since there's only Leela to hear, "I'm angry because I think he might have won."

Leela laughs, stands, crosses to Romana, and plants a quick kiss on her forehead. "Well, that is different," she says, teasingly coddling. "If that is so, I will surely slit his throat for you."

And then Romana is laughing, too. "That's a very kind offer, Leela, but I don't think it'd be worth it. Just think, his next regeneration might be even worse."

"May we all be saved so terrible a fate."

"Thank you, Leela," says Romana, softly.

"You have nothing to thank me for," smiles Leela, and slips out the door.

*

Six months ago, Narvin conceived the frankly brilliant notion that the Lady President might benefit from a regular evening briefing on Gallifreyan security from her CIA Coordinator. Romana's small army of office staff have all adjusted to the change, by now: they know that when Coordinator Narvin shows up, for the invariable last appointment of the day, they are free to clear away their things and go. The Coordinator, they are well-trained to believe, is more than capable of showing himself out.

It causes a certain degree of consternation, therefore, when the schedule is altered on this particular evening.

"I'm sorry, Coordinator," says Romana's chief secretary, who always looks as though she wants to wring her hands, and now more than ever, "the Madam President says that she won't be needing to see you this evening."

The entire office turns to stare in disbelief. "I see," says Narvin, outwardly perfectly composed. "Thank you, Areliane."

Romana's staff are the very best on Gallifrey, and therefore they manage to contain their frantic chatter until Narvin is practically out the door.

Narvin is not the sort of Time Lord to indulge in childish theatrics. He does not stomp on his way down the hall. When he presses the button for the lifts that will taken him out of the Presidential Complex, it is with a perfectly controlled jab of his finger, not with the slam of a closed fist. If she wants to ignore his attempts at making peace, that's perfectly fine with him. He isn't the one who blindsided her, in public, with a measure he knew she'd despise. In spite of which, he has now made two perfectly civilized attempts to speak to her, both of which she has rebuffed. He is under no circumstances going to grovel. He's done nothing wrong. In fact, he's done everything right. So he's going to go on behaving entirely normally, and when she decides to stop making a scene, perhaps he'll forgive her.

As a member of the High Council, Narvin has quarters in the very core of the Citadel, not at all far from the Presidential Complex. Very few Time Lords choose to walk anywhere at all, but Narvin enjoys a brisk stroll every now and then, and such a harmless eccentricity is looked on indulgently even in Gallifreyan society. It's less than a five microspan walk from Romana's quarters to his own, provided he doesn't dawdle.

He nearly gets as far as the door before he's struck by the urge to turn back. He makes it through a tasteless dinner, two spans of staring fixedly at various reports, and a further two spans of tossing and turning in the bed he's had to himself for half a century, the bed he still sleeps in except on those exceedingly rare nights when he and Romana forget good sense so far as to let him stay with her, and which is suddenly very, very large, and very, very empty. And in the darkest part of the night, two spans before first sunrise, he finally gives up, flings himself from his bed, yanks on his robes, and strides back the way he came, quickly enough to turn those five microspans into three.

Romana's suite occupies an entire storey of the Presidential Complex, the building where the governance of Gallifrey is carried out. Narvin is used to taking the lifts to the seventy-first floor, and passing between the pair of uniformed Chancellery Guards and through the main doors of her offices, the same doors he had cause to enter every day long before he ever knew what Romana's skin tasted like. The main door to Romana's private rooms is just through the antechamber beside her inner office, for her own convenience, which has in the past made it easy for Narvin to enter the Presidential suite for perfectly legitimate public reasons, and slip into her private rooms unnoticed for less bureaucratic purposes. There is no conceivable reason, however, why the guards on her outer offices would possibly let him through those doors at this time of the night.

There is, however, another door. The fifty-ninth floor is devoted to a lavish set of suites set aside for the use of visiting dignitaries, and was considered a sufficiently safe and quiet part of the Complex to locate the back door to the President's private rooms (dimensionally transcendental architecture, of course, rendering it absurdly simple to locate the door to a single-storey suite twelve floors below the suite itself). Narvin has avoided this door in the past; there can be no pretenses here. There is nothing remotely public about entering or leaving by this way. There is no cause for anyone to come through this door to see the Lady President. The only reason to use this door is to see the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar, and the list of reasons why anyone would want to see the Lady Romanadvoratrelundar at this time of night is significantly shorter and more to-the-point than Narvin cares for.

None of that would matter much, except for the fact that Romana is the President, and consequently this door is guarded, too. The Chancellery Guard are chosen, trained and groomed to be almost fanatically loyal, but that doesn't mean that Narvin comes even close to trusting any of them, and even the most loyal Time Lord can be hypnotized, or threatened, or tricked. Narvin is about to put the only personal secret he possesses in the hands of some young guardling he probably doesn't even know, and that's a worrying prospect indeed.

If things were different, he wouldn't risk it, no matter how much he needs to see Romana now. If one of them were married, for example, or if Romana had promoted him to his position after the beginning of their affair (they'd barely even met, then), or if their planet suffered under some kind of primitive religious taboo connecting sex and immorality, he would force himself to wait for morning to speak to her. As it is, though, he's willing to take that chance, because they aren't actually doing anything wrong.

He and Romana have discussed the subject, several months ago, when they were both beginning to admit to themselves that this was more than some temporary fling. They are agreed that it's best to keep things quiet for as long as they can, primarily because it's no one else's business, and because there will be a flurry of interest in the politics of the Lady President's bedroom if and when their affair becomes common knowledge. It's better for everyone concerned if it can be kept private for as long as possible, until it's been going on so long that it can hardly be spun as news at all, even by the most determined gossip or the yellowest so-called journalist. If a decade from now it can all be gently leaked out, when time has already made it unmistakably clear that their relationship hasn't affected her job performance, or Narvin's, or their behavior in office, or made them scandalously demonstrative in ways a President oughtn't to be, or led to egregious favoritism, or any of the dozen other malicious complexions that Darkel or their other enemies might put on things, then their work will be done.

If in the meanwhile, however, in spite of their precautions, some unfriendly person should happen to catch on, Romana and Narvin are both of them resolved to face up to the truth. It will be deeply inconvenient, likely embarrassing, possibly even slightly damaging to one or both of their careers, but the furore, if there is one, ought to die down quickly enough, and the status quo return in time. The only charge likely to actually stick to either of them as a result of their affair will be that of wasting time, but Romana is only five hundred and three, Narvin barely a century and a quarter older, and Time Lords in their first millennia are expected to get up to such things every now and then; they are young enough yet to be pardoned their appetites. Narvin would seriously consider leaking the thing himself, just to have it over and done with, if he didn't suspect that Romana's wrath would be swift and probably deadly. Even as it is, she'll no doubt give him a good tongue-lashing for betraying their secret to young Guardsman Henzil, who is at this moment staring at Narvin as he strides down the fifty-ninth floor corridor. She's angry enough at him already that he doesn't much care what the retribution will be.

"Henzil," says Narvin, inclining his head at the sleepy, startled-looking Time Lord. "I'm here to see the Lady President."

Henzil blinks stupidly. "Now, Coordinator?"

"Yes, Henzil."

"But it's the middle of the night, my Lord."

"Yes, Henzil."

"Do you...have an appointment, my Lord?"

"I don't need an appointment, Henzil. This is a personal matter."

"But...but Coordinator Narvin, sir..."

Narvin reaches his hand over Henzil's shoulder and presses it to the access panel on the wall. It beeps in a mannerly sort of way, and the door slides open.

"I don't need an appointment," Narvin repeats, stepping into the doorway, as Henzil stares in open wonderment. "And Henzil?"

"Sir?"

"You needn't worry no matter what you choose to do, Guardsman, but I would appreciate it on a personal level if the entire Capital didn't know about this tomorrow, and I think it's fair to say that the Madam President would share that appreciation."

Henzil blinks, and then straightens, and salutes. "Of course, Coordinator."

"Good. Thank you, Henzil."

Romana's personal quarters are simply arranged: four bedrooms on either side of a long corridor, one end of which culminates in the door Narvin has just entered through, the other leading to the enormous open room that forms her living space. There is a faint yellow glow from the other end of the hall, and Romana's bedroom door stands open. Narvin is glad she's still awake. His pride would be aching at this moment if he'd been driven from his bed to find her sleeping peaceful as a loomling, without a care in the universe.

He finds her sitting in her favorite armchair, legs tucked beneath her, staring at a burning log in the only real fireplace on Gallifrey. She's wearing a blue and cream dressing gown, the high neck covered in ruffles, of all things, but the feet that peek from beneath are bare, and her unbound hair lies scattered across her shoulders. The word that trips across his mind, before he can stop it, is 'demure,' which oughtn't to be such a powerful arrangement of syllables at all. She's so unbelievably appealing that he hastily revises his position on the possibility of groveling, changing its mental designation from 'never' to 'if given half the chance.'

She knows he's there watching, but she doesn't turn to look at him. When she doesn't speak, either, he crosses the room, sits in the opposite chair, and takes breaking the silence on himself.

"I came by your office earlier," he says. It feels like a stupid remark the moment he's said it, but of everything he could possibly have chosen, he supposes it's also far from the worst.

"I'm well aware of that."

"Twice, as a matter of fact."

"I was in no mood to see you."

She states it as a plain fact, only a hint of anger beneath. It still stings. "You'd have preferred to stare into the fire all night."

Her eyes flick up in annoyance, finally meeting his. "Don't suppose that has anything to do with you," she snaps.

He gives a quick, humorless laugh. "Of course not," he agrees. "We have a very public fight, you refuse to speak to me all day, and the fact that you can't sleep the following night is completely coincidental."

"Maybe it is," she agrees, defiant. "Perhaps you've forgotten, Narvin, but I am the President of Gallifrey. Do you think I don't have enough on my mind already to keep me up at nights?" She sits up, glaring at him. "Perhaps you'd like a small example of the issues on my plate? Just for a start: Free Time is still at large in the universe. The Monans are posturing again. I've been hearing worrying rumors of Dalek advances in temporal tech. My intelligence agency—I think you know their Coordinator?—still cannot lay their hands on Mephistopheles Arkadian. I'm being treated like a lunatic by half the Citadel for the priority I'm placing on eradicating the pigrat population, when I cannot make it clear why it's such a necessary precaution. Braxiatel, being Braxiatel, is discontented to rest quietly on his laurels as reinstated Chancellor, and has now taken to angling for the Vice Presidency. Darkel had me cornered half the afternoon, ever-so-carefully feeling her way around a conversation; I know she's playing some game she hasn't shown yet. My K-9 and Leela's are in some sort of petty robotic feud which is proving ridiculously inconvenient for everyone concerned. And there's the small issue, the minor point, that I am currently fighting tooth and nail to push through the reforms my planet needs just as desperately as it resists them, preferably without provoking another civil war along the way. If you were me, Narvin, precisely how well do you think you would sleep?"

"I think I'm not sleeping either," he answers, "and the only thing I've been thinking of is you."

Her expression only darkens. "Don't do that!"

"I'm sorry I shouted."

"I don't give a damn if you shout, I'm more than capable of shouting back."

"I'm sorry it was all so public."

"It was a Council debate, Narvin, how else could it have been but public? I don't mind that part, either."

"I can't make myself agree with you."

"I don't expect you to try."

"Then what else do you expect me to do?" He's been trying desperately not to raise his voice, but when she's looking at him like that, still so obviously furious, in spite of anything and everything he can think to say...

"Nothing!" She's out of her chair. "You disagree with me, and that's fine, you've a right to it. It's maybe even a little bit admirable to see you standing by your beliefs when there's something for you to lose. But the thing of it is, you're wrong, Narvin, what you believe is wrong, and that's making my life harder, and it makes me angry, and that's all there is! It doesn't change anything else, but I'm angry with you, I'm furious, and I..."

He's standing too, now, and when she strays near enough to him he catches her with ungentle hands, and pulls her in close. "Good," he says, and kisses her hard.

*

She doesn't hesitate for a moment—one of her hands clutches his arm, the other the nape of his neck, her fingernails biting into his skin. She kisses him back like she's starving for it, because she has been. He drives her crazy, and the fact that she has nothing to forgive him for makes it so very easy not to forgive him. She doesn't want to forgive him. She wants this: his lower lip between her teeth, and his hands tearing off her clothes, and his own mutual lack of pardon, burning in every kiss. She wants the way he shoves her to the bedroom, with no regard to walls and which of them bang up against them. She wants the way he bites her neck, the way she pulls his hair, the fact that neither of them even try to take off his robes. She wants his teeth on her breasts, and then hers on his thighs, wants the way he yanks her back up to kiss her mouth again and the hard slick press of their tongues when he does. And then she stops thinking even in terms of want, because he's pinned her wrists above her head with one hand as he presses himself inside her, and he's thrusting fast and deep, and it's very, very good. She catches him off-balance for a moment, and suddenly he's the one flat on his back, and it's her hands on his wrists, her hips moving furiously over him, and that's very, very good, too, and she still needs more. Leaning down, her hair falling around his face, she presses her forehead to his.

"Let me in."

He laughs roughly, his eyes hard. "You first."

It's been growing more and more frustrating for the both of them these past months, the fact that he can't come into her head. There's nothing complicated about the situation, really, about as primal as reasoning gets: they both want him in her mind because it will feel extraordinarily good, physical and mental pleasure to far exceed anything they've touched on in the past. While she's inside his head she can see his thoughts, know what he needs as soon as he does. But if they could close the circle, there would be a great deal more to it than that. As it is, she can see what he's feeling, appreciate it academically, but none of it reflects into her own mind. With mutual contact, on the other hand, they would not only understand instinctively and immediately what the other wanted, but could also link their emotions, share and amplify every instant of pleasure, reflected to infinity like two mirrors perfectly poised.

Not only pleasure, she thinks. At this moment, his anger and hers would crash together like cymbals, like waves in a tempest, the rock and the hard place. That thought shouldn't make her eyes roll back in her head with lust. They do, anyway.

"I can't. You know I can't."

"But you want to. You want me inside your mind."

"Yes."

"You trust me?"

"I hate you."

He shivers, and pulls his hands free, resting them on her hips where they can rise and fall as she does. "And you love me."

That's not a word they use, not ever. She hates him for saying it, still more because she's terrified it might be true. "I trust you."

"Good." His hands are broad and warm, and one of them runs up her spine, a caress that makes her arch and gasp. It settles in her hair, keeping her head pressed tight against his. She expects him to give in and open his mind to her, because that half-measure is far better than nothing, but what he does surprises her.

It isn't proper mental contact at all. He isn't letting her in. He's pressing his closed mind against hers, over and over, closer and closer, and that should be ridiculous, or feel like nothing at all, except it doesn't. All she can think is that it's the exact mental equivalent of frottage: there is some sensitivity there, enough to make her desperately crave more, enough to make her press back against him wildly, the exposed surface of her mind grinding hard against his, sensation sparking and flashing like static electricity at the places where they touch. The occasional hint of a stray thought or emotion of his crackles through the connection—an image of her flushed face, a lance of pure, raw need that isn't her own, the feeling of her own hipbone and skin where he clutches her tight—and she wonders what bits of her thoughts he's seeing. Then thought becomes completely impossible, and she's only able to struggle wildly, against and for the climax she's nearing, clutching tight to the bright kernel of anger threatening to slip away from her: angry with him for making her feel this way, for making her want him, need him so utterly.

It's such a ridiculous luxury, in their devastatingly polite, passive-aggressive society, to be granted the privilege of real anger. She hasn't ever known she needed this, but she does, and she can't hate him, when he's giving her this, when he's sliding his hand around her throat—not enough to block her windpipe, though it's so perfect that her breath catches anyway—and his other hand is steadying her hip as he thrusts up involuntarily to meet her. The friction of their minds is still so good, and still so far from enough, and she wants to let him in so badly, and at the last moment, finally, he gives in and opens his own mental doors. She falls, gasping, out of control, her hips still moving furiously as she hovers on the edge, and lashes out desperately into his mind, wildly overstimulating his every sense, ratcheting his pleasure far beyond any sane measure, so that he comes with a strangled shout, just a moment after she does.

"Romana," he says, into her hair, a minor eternity later.

"Yes?"

"We're all right now, aren't we." It isn't a question.

"Narvin," she yawns into his collarbone, "if you ever again use a term so banal as 'all right' anywhere near the vicinity of sex as spectacular as that, I will kill you in your sleep."

He laughs, low and rumbling. "I know you. By the time you'd managed to wake up enough to take aim, I'd have long since made my getaway."

"You are a tautological prat," she says, burrowing deeper against his chest. "Now shut up and hold me."

"I live to serve," he smiles, kissing her on the brow, "my Lady President."

*

He plans on slipping back out the way he came, in time for his first appointment of the day. He pauses on the threshold, as Henzil darts toward him the moment he pokes a toe out.

"Please, Coordinator, sir," says Henzil. "I tried not to tell her anything, but she..."

Narvin frowns. "The Lady President has been out here to speak to you, Henzil? I didn't see her leave."

Henzil shakes his head frantically. "No, sir, not the President, it was..."

An arm in a blue and cream dressing gown emerges from the Presidential suite. It grasps a solid handful of Narvin's robes, and drags him back inside.

"Tell me later, Henzil," Narvin has time to shout, before the door slides shut again.

*

"This is a very bad idea," he observes, placidly, from somewhere to the left of her. Romana has never studied the ceiling of her hallway from a position sprawled out on the carpet before. She thinks it would be a very dull procedure if she weren't tangled half over and half under a very naked Time Lord, and so sated her whole body seems to be humming with contentment.

"Everyone knows I ruined my immune system with all that traipsing about to foreign dimensions." His ribcage is very near to her mouth. She gives a speculative nibble, just to see, and he wriggles in a very controlled sort of way, the response of a man far too Time Lord to admit even to himself that he is capable of being tickled. "They'll forgive me for one sick day after twenty-three years in office. I'm sure K-9 made his diagnosis sound very convincing."

"That's all fine, but the both of us disappearing at the same time, and today of all days...they'll probably think we're trying to murder each other."

"Aren't we?" she asks, leaning up, and poking her tongue into his ear.

"Possibly," he grants.

"Then they'd have the right idea."

"The right idea is precisely what we don't want anyone else to have."

"Narvin," she says, propping herself up on one elbow to stare down at him. "If you had seen us in the Council chamber yesterday, and you weren't you, precisely how many other likely options would you consider as to what we might do to each other the next time we met before you got to what actually happened?"

He blinks, and considers. "Five thousand, six hundred and eighty-three," he says, after a moment. "Significantly below challenging each other to a duel, throwing rotten fruit in each other's faces, and violating every single rule of war in the entire Shadow Proclamation."

"I rest my case," she proclaims, kissing his chin. "There's never been a safer moment for us to steal a day together."

"If my President orders it, who am I to disobey?" He angles his head down so that her mouth meets his, and kisses her with no urgency whatever, for the sheer joy of it, their tongues sliding together in a meandering dance.

"Narvin," she says, "in your travels on human-populated planets, have you ever happened to encounter a bathtub?"

"Absurdly wasteful, inefficient, primitive immersive washing vessels?"

"The one in my TARDIS is big enough for two. Even accounting for a great deal of potential sloshing."

"Is it wrong that I find you unbelievably attractive when you're plotting and scheming?"

"I would expect nothing less of you. And you always find me unbelievably attractive."

"Yes," he agrees, pulling her up as he stands and heading in the direction of her TARDIS, "I most certainly do."

*

"You don't usually do that."

Narvin's opinion on bathtubs has somewhat altered in the past few spans—as have his opinions on all three of Romana's guest beds, both of her sofas, and her dining table. They're back in her bed at the moment, however, and his opinion on that was very good to begin with.

"Do what?"

"Say my name. In...quite that context."

"Would you rather I didn't?"

"Very much the opposite."

"Oh."

"Oh?"

"Well, it's just, it's not the most instinctively...moanable name. 'Narvin.' It does fairly well for a whimper every now and then—not that I would know personally, you understand, I'm not a whimpering kind of woman..."

"Of course not," he agrees, mock-seriously. "All that a moment ago was clearly keening."

"A minor but vital distinction." She nods solemnly. "But, well, there are names that want to be moaned, and there are names that don't, you know. It's nothing personal."

"I love saying your name." He's quite certain that the sentence he opened his mouth to speak wasn't anything remotely like that. She looks over at him, her eyebrows raising in surprise.

"Do you?"

"Yes," he admits.

"Is it a power thing? Because you usually can't? I'm sorry for snapping at you about it yesterday, by the way, that was uncalled-for."

"It isn't a power thing," he says. "Your name is...well, it's beautiful. Poetic."

She stares at him, and doesn't say anything. "You're waiting for me to say it now, aren't you?"

"I had thought that was the logical conclusion."

He shakes his head. "It wouldn't count if I forced it," he says, as though it ought to be obvious. "It just has to happen, that's all."

He hasn't ever seen her look at him like this before. Her eyebrows are as raised as they can possibly be, and her lips are parted, and she looks as though she would very much like to smile, if only she could remember how, and she's somehow giving the impression of blushing without blushing in fact. "Narvin," she says, after a moment, dazed and slightly incredulous, "I'm fairly certain that's the most romantic thing anyone has ever said to me."

It's his turn to fight against an undignified flush. "I'll try to avoid that in future."

"Please," she agrees, fervently. "It's incredibly disconcerting."

"Right," he seconds. "Would you like to hear my opinions on Time Lord superiority and Gallifrey's proper place in the universe?"

"I will do absolutely anything to avoid it. Rassilon, you're a bloody fascist."

"Absolutely anything?"

"Well, within reason. For a possibly skewed definition of 'reason.'"

He whispers a suggestion into her ear. "Oh, most definitely that," she says, shivering as his breath hits her neck.

"Excellent." She kisses him, and it tastes like the next few spans of his life, disappearing between her lips. And then, because she's smiling against his mouth, and he against hers, and she's warm beside him, and he isn't sure any longer what happiness even meant before he met her, he gives in, and finishes the sentence.

"Romana."

*

She's grateful the next morning that it habitually takes her five microspans after opening her eyes for awareness to fully encroach. If she were the sort to come awake at the drop of a hat (like some Time Lords she could name), it's possible she would have panicked at finding herself unexpectedly alone, or have experienced embarrassing forebodings about the note on the pillow beside her. As it is, she reads it quite calmly, which turns out to be entirely the proper response.

 

I don't know if I'll be able to make myself leave once your eyes open, and after yesterday morning, you must admit I can't depend on you being much help in getting me out the door. You may be the most woefully liberal President this planet has seen in millennia, but Gallifrey needs you, and so far as I know no President in history has ever managed to conduct a successful reign without ever leaving her bed. So I am slipping away while Gallifrey means something to me, before I come to my senses enough to decide that the rest of the universe can dissolve into chaos and gladly if it means I get to keep you for myself. Against such a compelling sentiment, I really don't expect altruism to last for more than another microspan, so forgive this hasty ending—

N

 

She should destroy it. She knows she should. But she's got the morning to blame for the fact that, instead, she leaves it on her nightstand as she prepares to face the day. And just before she heads out into her offices, she slips the note into her pocket, and makes a quick detour to her TARDIS. She heads straight to the library, and then to the section of Earth books, which no one but her will ever read, and carefully slips the note between two middle pages of something called All the President's Men, because she's old enough to know that there are some jokes in this universe worth making.

*

Three days later, the High Council comes to a vote on the Lady President Romanadvoratrelundar's bill to extend lifetime visas and the right to apply for full citizenship to foreign students who complete their degrees at the Academy. The measure is defeated, but so narrowly that Narvin knows full well that Romana will try again soon, and almost certainly succeed next time. Narvin still doesn't like the idea, but if it does pass into law he'll defend it with his lives; he belongs to his planet and his President. And in the meanwhile, that same President is going to be extremely piqued by this setback. She's going to be frustrated, and irritated, and filled with righteous indignation, and looking to take it out on someone who stood in her way, and yet who can be trusted not to use her loss of cool against her. Narvin shoves his hands in his pockets, and only just stops himself from whistling as he heads back to his offices.

Shortly before second sunset, when he's just contemplating the prospect of laying aside his files on Renegade activity (the Rani, his intelligence reports suggest, has recently become a prisoner on a planet where she was conducting a highly illegal series of experiments; Narvin is torn between the urge to leave her where she'll be quietly out of his hair and getting no more than she deserves, and a feeling that such measures from a lesser species are an insult to Gallifrey, and that he ought to arrange a mission to bring her home for proper prosecution) and making his way to the Presidential Complex, there is a knock on his door.

"Come," he calls, and Andred steps in. Leela's husband has been working for Narvin for some months now, talked into it, surprisingly, by the savage herself. She still seems to think that Narvin needs watching, though Narvin is sure that's a double-edged sword. It's Romana Leela's concerned for, after all. It startles him a bit to know that, these days, Leela would consider it her personal duty to avenge his death if some enemy happened to get a lucky shot in, but on the other hand, there is a comforting normalcy to the thought that if he puts a single toe out of line with Romana, Leela will slit his throat without a moment of hesitation. Having the human's formerly-estranged spouse watching over him would be an annoyance if the other Time Lord weren't competent, but as it is, Narvin certainly doesn't mind having someone more-or-less dependable nearby. Not that he trusts Andred, but he doesn't trust anyone who works for him, and only one person who doesn't.

"Inquisitor Darkel would like a word," Andred informs him. Leela has told Andred all about the months-that-weren't, though he can't remember them himself, so he has some notion of why Darkel is a person of significance. "Should I let her in?"

Narvin raises an eyebrow. "I suppose I'll probably survive," he decides. "Send her in, Andred."

Andred inclines his head and slips out, and soon Darkel has replaced him in Narvin's doorway. "Inquisitor." Narvin stands. "Please, have a seat. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"I came to offer my congratulations on the victory," says Darkel, as she spreads her robes and sits. "You always have been a Time Lord willing to take the initiative."

"Very generous, I'm sure, but such a minor political point hardly merited such effort on your part."

"On the contrary," she smiles, something worryingly smug about it. "I consider it very major indeed."

"I'm not expecting it to last," he admits. "Romana..."

"Ah, yes, the Madam President," Darkel interrupts. "She does have a way of charming people over to her side, doesn't she?"

"She'd hardly have proved such an able politician otherwise."

"Oh, I'm not certain I see it quite that way." Darkel's eyes grow a hint sharper. "Forming associations is a useful skill for a politician, certainly, but Presidents have to be particularly careful about such things. Otherwise those...connections can become a considerable liability. Don't you think, Coordinator?"

Narvin's lungs tighten in his chest. He quickly reconsiders everything Darkel has said since she walked in the door, and is left nervously unsure that the 'victory' Darkel means has anything to do with the High Council. "Some might consider the Lady President's friendship with the Doctor to be a point against her," he says, carefully, "but then again, he was Lord President himself. Twice, as a matter of fact."

"Considered on its own, certainly not enough to indicate any serious lapse of judgment on her part," Darkel says calmly, examining her fingernails. "There is also the 'Lady' Leela, of course..."

"Who has proved a surprisingly effective if unconventional bodyguard."

"She is also the President's friend."

"Most of Gallifrey may not be very excited about the President keeping human friends, but it's hardly likely to sway public opinion very dramatically."

"No indeed," Darkel agrees. "Friendships don't make for very effective scandals, do they? Even friendships with half-naked savage girls."

Narvin says nothing, betrays no emotion even as the word 'scandal' goes on ringing in his ears. Darkel studies him, as he is studying her, and then, as though some thought has only just occurred to her, she gives a sudden bark of a laugh. "Something amusing?" Narvin asks, coolly.

"I was only just thinking what a truly marvelous irony it would be if, after spending so much of her time with Renegades, aliens and temporal criminals," Narvin's fingers tighten just slightly at the realization that Darkel knows more about Braxiatel's leisure activities than she's ever let on, "the sainted Romanadvoratrelundar were finally to be brought down on account of a practically respectable Time Lord."

"I'm not certain what you think you know, Inquisitor Darkel," says Narvin, very softly, "but what I know is this: President Romana is not going to be brought down, not by you or anyone. She is going to have a very long, very eventful Presidency, and retire with honor when it suits her to do so."

"Somehow, I very much doubt that." Darkel smiles. "You see, I happen to know a particularly ambitious Time Lord who I'm quite sure is perfectly positioned to obtain any amount of...shall we say, compromising material, just the right kind of thing to ruin a President's credibility. The sort of Time Lord, I need hardly mention, who would be assured of a very warm welcome in my new administration."

He's been prepared for almost anything she could say. He's been prepared for insults, for taunts, for threats, for bargains, for all manner of petty vindictiveness. But he's not been at all prepared for her to assume he's so low he would stoop to publicly humiliating Romana in the most personal way imaginable, intentionally and maliciously, for the sake of a few political points. His mind flies to the question of just what Darkel thinks she's asking him for—would still photographs satisfy her, he wonders, if they were achingly explicit? Or sound, perhaps, so long as there was enough in the way of gasping and moaning? Or would she demand every second recorded, 360-surround if possible, every single sordid detail preserved to be liberally shared with the world at large? Perhaps more than once, hours and hours of material? Would she stipulate the specific acts preferred for capture? Something primitive, something kinky, something wretchedly debauched, enough to ensure that no one on this planet would ever be able to look their Lady President in the face again once the tapes were oh-so-accidentally leaked?

Narvin's hands are shaking, his teeth grinding so hard he thinks he may wear straight through his jaw. He's not certain he's ever felt like this in all his lives. He wants to tear the black hearts from Darkel's chest, and feed them to her while they're still beating. "Get out."

"Don't try to play noble," Darkel fakes a yawn. "It is so very tiresome."

He's around his desk, and has yanked her up from her chair before he can stop himself. "Perhaps you misunderstood," he grits out, his vision swimming red, "I meant now, and consider yourself lucky if you make it out of the building before I have you shot."

He takes a certain satisfaction in the way she tenses, the fact that, for a moment, he has made her honestly afraid. And then the eternal, infinitely hateful smile is back. "Oh, that's perfect. It's far better than I thought," she says. "You fancy yourself in love with her, don't you?"

He knows that, later, he'll try to convince himself that his hands stayed clenched at his sides. They don't. They're reaching for her throat before he can stop them, and only the fact that she slips through the door and away stops him actually attempting a murder.

A moment later, Andred's head pops into his office. "Is everything all right, Coordinator?" he asks. "I heard..." He stops at the sight of Narvin's bloodied knuckles, and the corresponding dent in the opposite wall.

"Andred," he says, very quietly, and excessively calmly, "put in a call to the Lady President's office, please. Tell her I'm on my way over, with urgent business to discuss."

"Yes, sir," says Andred, as Narvin strides off in the direction of the Presidential Complex, a few stray drops of blood dripping from his still-clenched fist, and leaving violent crimson stains on his white robes.