Actions

Work Header

A Time For Every Purpose

Chapter Text

Chapter 3

 

Romana is alone in her office when Narvin arrives. Her expression when first she sees him isn't particularly welcoming; he's completely forgotten the vote, and her probable annoyance, and he really hasn't got time to care about that right now. He doesn't try to talk her around, he just grasps her by the arm as gently as he can manage right now, and drags her in the direction of her private quarters.

"Precisely what do you think you're..." she begins, considerably peeved, and then she notices his hand, those scraped-raw knuckles on her bicep, and amends her statement to a confused, "Narvin, what..."

When the door to her rooms closes behind them he lets her go, stands awkwardly for a moment. And then he catches her in his arms, pulls her close, and holds her, still shaking with repressed fury.

"Narvin?" she asks, concerned. "Tell me what's going on. Please."

"I just had a meeting," he mumbles into her shoulder, "with Darkel."

She stiffens, and pulls back. "What did she..."

He fists his hand in her hair, and pulls her into a hard, consuming kiss. She accepts it willingly, but when it's over she darts away from his next attempt. "Come here," she orders, pulling him towards the nearest sofa and toppling him onto it. "Now," she says, settling herself beside him, "what did Darkel say?"

He can hardly form the words. "She informed me," he says, closing his eyes in an effort to find his calm, "that she had every reason to suspect that I was in a position to provide her with the makings of a very good scandal. The kind of scandal, in particular, that would result from me planting a camera in the Lady President's bedroom, and then accidentally dropping it somewhere vaguely in the area of her hands once I was certain it was sufficiently full of the sorts of things you'd rather the rest of Gallifrey didn't watch. And that if I felt inclined to engineer all that, I could be certain of a very high position in her administration."

Romana doesn't say anything. He opens his eyes to find her white as a sheet, her lips pressed so tightly they've almost vanished from her face. "Tell me her face looks like your hand right now," she says, finally.

"I made the mistake of telling her to leave before I got to the violence," he admits. "My wall may not have deserved it nearly as much, but it can't end my career."

"And neither can Darkel," says Romana, fiercely. "So long as I'm standing, you'll have your career." She considers. "Well, if you deserve it. I will throw you out on your ear if you stop doing your job well."

"Is this you being comforting?" he asks. "There aren't many things you're actually bad at, but..."

"I implied I think you do your job well now," she points out, and then ruins it by continuing, "which is an extremely generous assessment. Do you want me to hold your hand, or do you want me to plot us a way out of this? Now stop talking, I'm trying to think."

He does stop talking, and stares quietly at her. "What is it now?" she snaps, when his gaze doesn't drift away.

"I'm fairly certain you've ruined me for other Time Ladies," he comments, in an offhand sort of way.

She tries to keep frowning. He watches as the smile she's fighting wins skirmishes in both corners of her mouth, before establishing its definitive victory and marching in triumph across her lips. The tension in her shoulders eases, and when he lifts his arm in invitation she slides beneath it and settles against him.

"Darkel knows," she says, starting again from the beginning.

"Darkel knows," he agrees.

"The rest of Gallifrey doesn't."

"Also true."

"So she'll be looking for a way to use that information to cause a scandal."

"Clearly, she already is looking."

"Was it all a bluff?" Romana asks. "Did she just want us to know that she knows? Did she expect you to say no?"

"I don't think so." He grimaces, staring fixedly ahead. "I think her opinion of me really is that miserable."

"She's got no concept of honor herself," says Romana, softly. "There's nothing she wouldn't stoop to to get what she wants. It's not surprising she thinks everyone else is just as vile as she is." She lifts a hand to his neck, and nudges his face towards her. "I know better."

After the third kiss, he forces himself to lean back, just by an inch. "Strategy," he mentions, and then kisses her again. "Things to be...planning."

She sighs, and pulls away. "Damn Darkel's eyes," she grumbles. "Right. So. Well, whether she was expecting your help or not, she will have other options planned. Several of them, I don't doubt."

"Why did she approach me about it now?" he asks. "That seems like a place to start."

"I can think of three reasons," says Romana, her brow furrowing. "Either she's only just guessed, or she's had her suspicions for some time but recently had them confirmed somehow, or else she thought there was some reason you might be particularly receptive to the idea of throwing me over just now."

"Or she thinks you're particularly vulnerable at the moment," he adds.

"Probably any number of those," she agrees.

"The Council vote?" he guesses.

"Proof that you haven't suddenly given up on everything you believed." She nods. "If she knew about us before, she may be thinking it's a sign things are rocky between us, and if she's only caught on recently, it could lead her to the conclusion that this is nothing more than sex."

"Either way, it'd seem like a good moment to corner me. Especially because she'll be expecting you to be distracted, professionally or personally or both, by the whole thing."

"But now she's had her try with you and failed, what's her next move?" The way she is nibbling at her lip is not at all conducive to coherent thought on his part, but he does his best.

"The fact that this," he waves a hand between the two of them, "isn't public knowledge is the only card she's got. She'll be waiting for the best possible moment to play it. If she can make it seem as though you've been lying to the public, or...I don't know. Wasting time? Without my help, she can't possibly make the case that you're somehow disgracing the dignity of the office. As it is, she knows enough to make our lives inconvenient, but she's got no reason to use it, beyond pure malevolence."

"She certainly is malevolent," Romana agrees, "but she won't waste inside information that way, not if she thinks there's any chance she could eventually use it to enhance her political position. At very least, she'll save it for a moment when she wants us distracted, and then let us be swamped by the publicity while she goes about her nefarious business."

He raises an eyebrow. "Did you just use the word 'nefarious?' In actual conversation?"

"Well, she is nefarious," says Romana, defensively.

"Of course she is, darling."

"Don't you dare condescend to me, Narvindrasterienableth!" she exclaims, mockingly aghast, swinging her body up to rest above him, arms around his neck, legs to either side of his. "I'm the Lord High President of Gallifrey, I'll have you know."

"Oh, I'm very well aware of that fact," he says, running his hands down her sides, enjoying the sharp intake of her breath when his thumbs brush the edges of her breasts. "We wouldn't be in any trouble if you weren't."

He freezes a moment after she does, as it occurs to him what he just said. "That is... I meant..."

"I know what you meant." She's not angry, but suddenly she sounds very tired. She slumps down, perched on his knees, her forehead resting on his. "Narvin," she says, "do you wish things were different?"

"What do you mean?" he asks, cautious.

"If we didn't have to worry about secrecy. If we could just...just be, however and whenever we liked. Not worrying about your excuse for seeing me, or who's guarding the doors, or what Darkel is going to do now she's found out, or what would happen if the High Council knew, or the press. Would you rather we could just be like other people?"

"I'm glad you're the President," he says, slowly, "because I know it makes you feel you're doing good, and however much I may disagree with your policies, you are good at this. I know you wouldn't give it up, and I'd never want you to, not until you thought the time was right. But I wish the job didn't mean so many complications for us."

She nods—gently, so as not to knock their heads together. "So do I," she admits. "There have been times I thought...well, I thought you liked the secrecy of it, a bit."

"Why would I..."

"You are a spy," she says, grinning. "I thought it might make you feel at home."

He smiles back. "Oh, as though you didn't like a good bit of plotting yourself every now and then, my Lady President."

"That's entirely different," she laughs, running her hands over his chest. "I'm not..."

"Nefarious?" he supplies, innocently.

She swats playfully at him, and he catches her hand, and pulls it in, and presses a kiss to her wrist. "We still need to decide what to do about Darkel," she points out.

"Mmm," he agrees, humming against a tangle of veins and arteries just below her skin, feeling the throb of her pulses against his lips. "What would you suggest?"

"Our relationship will be a story when it becomes public knowledge, whether we like it or not," she says, as he begins to kiss his way up her arm, sliding up the wide arms of her sleeves as he goes. "It would have been easier if we could have let a few years pass, first, but now that Darkel knows it's too dangerous to wait. If we don't want to let her choose the moment when the rest of the world finds out—and we don't want to let her choose the moment when the rest of the world finds out—we're going to have to let it leak ourselves. Quietly, discreetly, with as much dignity as possible, and as soon as it's at all convenient." She pauses to consider, just as he drops her arm and leans in to work on her neck. "It's possible no one will actually care very much," she offers. "I am a public figure, but really, it isn't..."

"You're young, beautiful, and incredibly powerful," he says, sliding his tongue along the crook of her neck. "Someone will care who you're sleeping with."

"Thank Rassilon you're none of those things, or they'd never leave us alone," she teases.

"I beg your pardon," he leans back. "I'm barely more than a century older than you are, thank you very much. And while I'd hardly try to make a case for 'beautiful,' must everyone always forget that I'm a man with an army of time-traveling secret agents at my..."

"Shut up, Narvin," she says, fondly.

"Right," he agrees. "Are we past the council of war now, and to the part where our clothes come off? It seems to me as though we should be getting to that part some time soon. I mean, if it takes this much planning and scheming to buy us a little time alone, it seems the least we can do is put it to good use."

"Hmmm," she says, considering, and leans in, slowly, until she's within a hint of a breath of a kiss. "Except," she darts back at the last possible moment, laughing as he groans, "we've not considered the possibility that we might be playing straight into Darkel's hands."

He falls back against the sofa cushions with a profound sigh. "She is prone to that sort of thing," he admits. "Maneuvering people into unwittingly doing her bidding."

"It would be inconvenient for her if there appeared to be any connection between her name and the press catching wind of it," Romana points out. "It would look as though she was engaging in sordid scandalmongering."

"Which, of course, would be entirely true."

"Yes," she agrees. "But the point remains that she won't be able to go mentioning it everywhere, willy-nilly, any more than we can."

"So you think there's no hurry about breaking the news ourselves?"

She lets herself fall forward, her head knocking against his shoulder. "I don't know," she admits. "Maybe we've been doing this wrong from the beginning. Maybe we shouldn't have ever tried to hide it, maybe we should have...I don't know. Let ourselves be seen together? Out in the world?"

He blinks. "When do either of us ever go out in the world? We're Gallifreyan bureaucrats, Romana. We work, and when we're tired of that, we settle down for some nice, relaxing work."

"I get invited to things," she says, vaguely. "As President. Cultural events. Galas and the like."

"How often do you actually accept?"

"Twice a year, maybe. If I'm not too terribly busy at the time."

"So we might possibly have been seen in public together a grand total of once," he says. "I don't consider that to be a tremendous missed opportunity."

"No." She sighs. "Perhaps I ought to start accepting more often? And dragging you along, so we can look dignified, and respectable, but also...cozy?"

"Encourage people to stare and gossip?"

"If it gets it out of their systems? Oh, I don't know, Narvin, I've never done this before! Tried to be President, and have a...have a...whatever you are. I don't think there's a manual on the subject, especially not on Gallifrey."

"We'll just have to write it, then," he says, and pulls her down into a brief kiss. "What precisely was our original plan?"

"Well...I'm not sure we'd got to precisely. We were just going to, well, stop trying to keep it secret. At some unspecified future point."

"Right. Well, then, we'll just stop trying to keep it a secret within the next few weeks, and see how that goes?"

"It doesn't sound completely wretched, and it's something resembling a plan. I'll take it," she pronounces.

"Thank Rassilon," he declares. "Now. Nudity."

"I'm afraid not," she says, smiling. "While I can't imagine any Time Lady who could resist a proposition so compellingly phrased, I'm afraid a President's job is never done. There's been some sort of ridiculous scheduling conflict with the Summit on Responsible Temporal Intervention, and I'm going to be in and out of conference calls all night. I've got about ten microspans before I need to be back behind my desk."

He frowns. "Shouldn't I be involved in this summit somehow? I am..."

"I think it's taken as read that any temporal intervention from your agency, Narvin, will almost certainly be anything but responsible."

"Of course." He rolls his eyes.

"I promise, you're not missing much. SoRTI is a bit of a joke, really, but appearances do have to be maintained. The rest of the universe knows our temporal tech is so far in advance of theirs that we can more or less do what we like with the timelines, but so long as we make the odd show of consulting them, we all stay a few steps away from a major conflict, anyhow."

"Romana," he says, impressed. "You almost sounded like a Time Lady just then."

"I detest you on a fairly regular basis, you know," she says, smiling. "And don't think I've forgotten about that vote this morning. We are going to have words on that subject, when I've got the time."

"I look forward to it." He toys with the back of her neck, spelling nonsense words in lazy circles with a fingertip on her skin. "Ten microspans, you said?"

"More like eight, now."

"I still think that's time enough for a little..."

It is time enough, for more than a little, and they make sure it isn't wasted.

*

Their new plan lasts for four days. Three and a half, if Romana's being strictly accurate. In that time, Narvin stays with her one night and is seen leaving her offices in the morning; they schedule a lunch meeting the following day without noting down a reason; and he calls her 'Romana' in front of her staff three times. The grand total of attention produced by this shift in behavior amounts to not so much as the batting of a single eyelash from anyone at all. Romana begins to wonder whether she could have spent the past twenty years in bed with half of Gallifrey without anybody so much as noticing.

Every fourth morning of Romana's life is spent in the High Council chamber, fighting desperately to get something done in spite of the obstinate immobility of their calcified culture. However important they may be, Council meetings are among Romana's least favorite parts of this job, and she's in no mood for one this morning to begin with.

If a year ago someone had told her that soon she'd be having very good sex indeed five nights a week or more and yet would find herself more sexually frustrated than she can ever before recall, she'd have laughed in their faces. It shouldn't matter that Narvin can't come into her head. She's with a man who's good to her and for her. The way he wants her takes her breath away, and the way she wants him surprises her, and makes her laugh, and makes him laugh with her, and that's shockingly good. So it shouldn't matter that the psychic aspect of their relationship can only ever be one-sided. It shouldn't, and that would be perfectly sound logic were it not for the fact that it does.

She had thought she wanted him in her head before—she did want it before, more all the time—but this past week, since they've been experimenting with what she's begun to think of as 'surface contact,' his absence from her head has become an unbearable and constant itch. It makes her feel like a spoilt child, to be so worked-up about what ought to be such a minor point, but it isn't minor on a personal level, she thinks, not at all. Asking a Time Lady to live in intimate proximity to her partner of choice and yet to forgo mental contact is only slightly less unreasonable than requiring her to give up physical touch. It isn't psychologically healthy, and it isn't right. But there's not a damn thing she can do about it without putting her office on the line, and that she cannot and will not do.

The High Council meeting makes a convenient scapegoat for her annoyance. It's too early to try again for the bill on student immigration, and with that defeat so recent the timing is wrong for her to propose any of the dozen other progressive set-pieces she has sitting in reserve for the proper moment. Failing that, she's got nothing to do but sit on the sidelines, and she's never been any good at sitting on the sidelines. Today's agenda is mostly banal and procedural, nothing of particular interest, nothing to do but sit and stew and brood and wish she could be doing something useful, like negotiating that treaty on the regulation of interdimensional travel (she is something of an expert on the subject), or writing her speech for this year's graduation ceremony at the Academy, or...

Inquisitor Darkel is standing, and saying, "Before we conclude, might I trouble the Council with a bit of urgent and highly significant business?"

This is Darkel, the most consumingly ambitious Time Lady Romana has ever known. Darkel, who will stop at nothing to see Romana destroyed. Darkel, who has somehow found out Romana's only secret. And suddenly Romana isn't remotely bored any longer.

"Ladies and Lords of the High Council," says Darkel, "I come before you today with sad and sober purpose."

'Bored' isn't, in fact, in the same universe with what Romana is feeling any longer. In the billion-year project in bioengineering that is the Time Lord race, many qualities considered too primitive have been selectively edited out from a basic humanoid template. Only a very few of the more animalistic traits have survived this long. Sex drive remains a part of the Time Lord makeup only as an extreme fallback position, a failsafe on the very off-chance that looming technology should someday be lost and sexual reproduction become once more necessary for the survival of the species. And survival is at the root of the basic, primal reaction Romana is experiencing now, another of the few that have stood the test of time: every hair on her body is standing on end.

"It is always difficult," Darkel continues, "to face the possibility of misconduct on the part of one of our fellows in this hallowed assembly..."

Romana dares one instant-brief glance at Narvin. He looks as tense as she feels, his jaw clenched. He tries to hold her eye, but she forces herself immediately to look back to Darkel. She can't afford even a moment of inattention, not now.

"...particularly on the part of one chosen to be an example to us all, invested with a deeper trust than any other among us."

Romana tries very hard to look serious and concerned, without betraying any sign of anger. Half the eyes in the Council chamber have just swung from Darkel to watch her, and she cannot possibly let herself seem as furious as she is in fact.

"When I began this investigation, it was with the deepest reluctance, and in earnest hopes that I would find my suspicions disproved by the facts. Much to my dismay, however, each new piece of evidence led me with greater inevitability towards the same sad conclusion."

"Perhaps," Romana interrupts, tiny hints of fury sparking through her enforced calm like peeks of skin through cloth worn threadbare, "the Inquisitor would be so kind as to share with us the subject of said investigation, the content of those suspicions, and the extent of the aforementioned evidence, so that we may each of us draw our own conclusions, sad or otherwise."

Darkel raises a condescending eyebrow. "As my Lady President wishes, of course," she says, pinching her lips in a not-smile which nonetheless makes her fiendish pleasure only too obvious. "Councilors, I have no desire to point fingers or place blame. We are all aware that the President of this august body is held to an extremely high set of standards, an exacting code of conduct which many of us would find it difficult to uphold to the letter. However, we have not all of us chosen to accept such an exalted office. To make such a choice implies an understanding and acceptance of the associated burdens and responsibilities, and..."

Romana's patience snaps. "What are you accusing me of, Inquisitor?"

"I would very much appreciate it, Madam President, if you would permit me to present the case in my own way."

"Do you intend to lay a formal charge against me, or do you simply have a personal complaint to levy? In either case, this is not the proper forum."

"I believe that I have sufficient evidence to convene a formal inquiry, but I thought it in the best interests of all concerned, and indeed of Gallifrey as a whole, if the matter could be dealt with in a less public setting. It is so very delicate, you see."

"Oh, yes, I see," Romana laughs harshly. "You chose to address your concerns before a meeting of the High Council in order to avoid publicity. I ought to have known."

"This is hardly a matter for flippancy, Madam President," says Darkel, her eyes glinting.

"And what is it a matter for? I must point out once again that you have not yet deigned to inform us precisely what it is that I am meant to have done."

"I submit, Madam President, that you have acted in violation of subsection twelve, article gamma of the Code of Presidential conduct, and that the stated punishment for such a violation is immediate impeachment."

Romana's eyes widen for a moment. And then she understands, and cannot stop herself from laughing, because, truly, the ironies stretch so deep she can hardly keep track of them all. "Oh, very good, Inquisitor. I am fully aware of the content of that article, but would you perhaps be so kind as to summarize for those here who may be less well-informed?"

"In brief," says Darkel, "I allege that the Lady President has engaged in acts of voluntary mental contact, as strictly forbidden to Presidents under the law."

*

For the first few moments after Darkel's pronouncement, Narvin only goggles in shock and horror. For the next few moments, he unwittingly admires Darkel, somewhere beneath his utter detestation, for sheer boldness if nothing else. And then, once the shock of it is past, he thinks it's an uncharacteristically risky gamble on her part, putting herself in the limelight as Romana's accuser. The Inquisitor couldn't possibly have proof even if her accusation were justified, and of course Narvin knows that it isn't. He's forgotten just for the moment, however, that with Darkel, the endgame is always six steps further down the road.

"Inquisitor," says Romana, scathingly, "I fail to see how you could possibly have obtained any evidence to support such a finding. Unless you claim that I've been engaging in these acts with you personally? I'm flattered by the attention, Inquisitor, but I'm afraid you're not my type."

"That's just the trouble, Madam President," says Darkel, ignoring the grins of a few of the younger Council members. "While the regulation in question was considered sufficiently crucial to pass into law, it is at present fundamentally unenforceable. However, I have obtained sufficient circumstantial evidence..."

"Circumstantial evidence is not..."

"...to indicate a high likelihood that the law is being broken," Darkel plows through Romana's interruption.

"If you think you will succeed in achieving a Presidential impeachment simply because you happen to believe it's likely that the law is being broken..."

"Begging the President's pardon." The new voice in the Council chamber is Randorian, an Arkalian Cardinal who, while harboring no love for Romana's liberal policies, has also been an avowed enemy of Darkel's since she defeated his bid for the Inquisitorship. "I think it would benefit us all to understand just what the Inquisitor's circumstantial evidence might consist of."

This encounter hasn't been Narvin's idea of a good time so far, but he has a feeling things are about to get a great deal worse. "My investigations have uncovered security records, surveilance footage, and eyewitness accounts which reveal that the President has...how shall I put it...been entertaining a frequent visitor in her private chambers, at all bells of the day and night, for some months if not longer. Does the Lady President deny that she is currently embroiled in a romantic liaison of some duration?"

Narvin catches his breath. No matter what Romana says in reply, Darkel has just let the cat out of the bag. Narvin's identity as the Time Lord in question will, he doesn't doubt, be a matter of public record within the day.

Romana is blotched red-and-white with anger. "My personal life," she says, deadly quiet, "is not the business of this Council, nor is it yours, Inquisitor. I am under no obligation either to deny or to affirm such allegations."

"I regret that I must disagree, Madam President. I comprehend that inquiries of such a personal nature must be distressing, but in this particular case there is a direct relation to matters of law."

"I fail to see how."

"Are you aware that sociographical studies reveal that fewer than one percent of Time Lord couples who engage in acts of physical intimacy with a long-term partner do not also engage in corresponding psychic behavior?"

"Fewer than one percent of Time Lord couples are forbidden by law from entering into mental contact," says Romana, softly. "I, on the other hand, am so forbidden, as you have pointed out."

"Are we to take it, then, that you deny the allegation of unlawful psychic activity?"

"Absolutely and categorically." Romana's voice is stronger now. "My behavior since I accepted this office has always been in accordance with the Code of Presidential conduct, including the specific clause at issue."

"Well," says Braxiatel, rising from his seat at the far end of the Council table. Narvin has wondered how long it would take Brax to get involved, and is shocked he's waited this long. Narvin himself has been itching to jump to Romana's defense, but he's sensible enough—barely—to avoid giving Darkel that opening. Anything he can do himself will only make the situation worse. "I think that ought to be enough to satisfy..."

"Forgive me, Chancellor, but the fact that the accused denies an accusation has certainly never been considered sufficient grounds for exoneration in any other inquiry..."

"This is not a formal inquiry, Inquisitor," says Brax.

"Nor, I think, does anyone here wish for it to become so, Chancellor, but the fact remains that the Lady President has done nothing whatever to establish her innocence."

"In a civilized system of jurisprudence, Inquisitor," Romana says, sourly, "it is not the responsibility of the accused to establish innocence, but of the accuser to establish guilt."

"Agreed, Madam President," Darkel says, with a gleam in her eye that Narvin recognizes with trepidation. "And I believe that I can definitively establish guilt in this particular case, if only the Council will authorize a somewhat...unorthodox method of investigation."

"Precisely what method would that be, Inquisitor?" Narvin cannot sit still and do nothing any longer, and she cannot possibly use so innocuous a question against him.

"I believe it would be in the best interests of us all," says Darkel, "if the Council were to authorize a direct examination of the President's memories."

There is a moment of absolute silence, and then the entire chamber is buzzing as half of the Council begins to talk at once. Narvin is not one of that half. He is sitting with eyes wide open, as the full extent of Darkel's powerplay begins to become clear to him.

"This is preposterous!" The voice that thunders above the crowd is Brax's. "Inquisitor, the use of psychic interrogation in legal inquiry is strictly banned, and has been for millennia."

"But technically, Chancellor," Darkel smiles, "this is not an inquiry, as you yourself pointed out only a moment ago. Technically, the only problem is the very same law under consideration at present, which prevents any Time Lord from entering the President's mind. If the Council were to formally agree to waive that law in this specific circumstance, to permit a trusted, qualified Time Lord to examine the President's mind for signs of unauthorized contact, the only other requirement would be the consent of the Lady President herself. I am sure she would be only too happy to agree, to permit us all to put this unpleasant business behind us. Unless, of course, she has something to hide?"

Narvin had thought he appreciated subterfuge, but he finds himself gasping at the sheer deviousness of it. None of this has been about impeachment at all, he realizes, his head spinning. It's all been Darkel's ploy to gain unfettered access to Romana's head. The idea of the havoc the Inquisitor could wreak if allowed free rein inside Romana's skull—access to her every memory, her plans, her personality, and the ability to alter any of those—is too horrific even to consider. But oh, she'll be so careful, Narvin knows that. Darkel wouldn't bother planting false memories in Romana's brain, or pushing her into a sudden confession of wrongdoing before all the Council, much less an act of simple brutality like ripping Romana's mind to shreds, though she could do any of those things if granted access to Romana's head. No, Narvin is willing to bet that, if Darkel gets her way, gets the Council's permission to go rooting around in Romana's mind, Romana will be found just as innocent as she is in fact. Life will go back to normal for six months, or a year, or two years, or five. And then Romana will suddenly announce that she's giving up politics, and going to live somewhere far from the Citadel, and that she's naming as her successor a Time Lady of tremendous &c. &c., a certain Darkelastraquistahastrad...

Narvin can tell just by looking at her that Romana is busy reaching a similar set of conclusions. She's gone pale at the very thought. Narvin can actually see her fighting down an 'over my dead bodies will I ever let her in my head.' "I cannot advocate so lightly setting aside the law of the land, Inquisitor," says Romana, with exquisite self-control. "The regulation that requires me to keep my consciousness closed to all other minds is in place for a reason. I assume that you were planning on conducting this mental examination yourself, but the fact remains that it would be no more appropriate for you to have access to the sensitive state secrets in my mind than it would be for anyone else. In fact, in your zeal to ensure that the letter of the law has been upheld, you would be violating its spirit. The simple fact is that no one else on Gallifrey has sufficiently high security clearance to conduct an examination of my mind, and therefore I'm afraid you must all content yourself with my sworn word that no unauthorized mental contact has taken place."

"Excuse me, Madam President," pipes in a timorous voice from the very back of the Council chamber, "I'm afraid that isn't strictly accurate."

The entire Council chamber whirls. Aldromon is the most unassuming, apolitical member of the entire Council, a Time Lord whose presence in the chamber is almost entirely a courtesy. Even for a Gallifreyan he is ancient as the hills, having enjoyed long, full lives in each of his previous eleven regenerations and being well advanced in this, his twelfth. Rumor has it that he was an able politician in his youth, but those days are long past, and these days Aldromon seems to devote most of his time to going as unnoticed as he possibly can. He is the last Time Lord Narvin would ever expect to see poking his nose into such a high-profile debate.

"Similar cases have occurred in the past, Madam President, involving official secrets interfering with the pursuit of responsible jurisprudence," continues Aldromon, shakily. "During the Presidency of Pandak III, a precedent was set for the conduct of judicial investigations which deal with government secrets on the highest level. It was established that there is one figure, apart from the Lord High President, whose position as encountering a great deal of sensitive information in the normal course of his duties makes him a suitable candidate to be granted access to state secrets technically above his rank when it becomes absolutely necessary for the enforcement of the law. While this precedent was never written or voted into law, it is become custom through use, and thus, in my educated opinion, ought to be considered with the same reverence..."

"Pardon the interruption, Councilor," Romana says, genuinely gentle even under the circumstances in the way she always tries to be with those whose intentions are good, "but I think we are all anxious to hear the identity of this person."

"Ah," says Aldromon. "Yes. Yes. Pardon, Madam President. That would be the Coordinator of the Celestial Intervention Agency."

Narvin freezes. So does Romana. "I'm sorry?" she asks finally, faintly.

"The Coordinator of the Celestial Intervention Agency, Madam President. At this particular moment, Coordinator Narvin."

*

The entire High Council is absolutely silent for at least ten seconds. Of the forty-six members, Romana knows that forty-two are contemplating the recent fireworks between herself and Narvin, not to mention the many times they have publicly butted heads in the past, and wondering how long it will be until the explosion. The other four—herself, Narvin, Braxiatel and Darkel—are stunned into silence for a very different reason.

"Narvin," says Romana, finally, in a strange, unsteady voice. "You expect me to allow Coordinator Narvin, of all people, into my mind?"

She hasn't dared look in his direction. But she can't help it when he speaks. "Forgive me, my Lady President," he says, something trembling in his jaw, "but I assure you, the prospect delights me no more than it does you."

"Well," she says, desperately resisting the way her lips are wriggling, "I suppose you'll simply have to grit your teeth and do your duty, Coordinator. As will I. If the Council considers it absolutely necessary to preserve their confidence in my Presidency, I will submit to a psychic examination under your jurisdiction, but I do so under extreme protest."

"I will do everything I can to make the process as...painless as possible," he says, blinking furiously.

She turns her eyes up and to the side. She has no idea how she's keeping herself from laughing. "I would appreciate that," she says.

"I hesitate to mention it, Madam President..."

"Yes, Coordinator?"

"The accusation that has been laid against you is a very serious one, my Lady, and if, as the Inquisitor alleges, you have displayed tendencies which might make you particularly likely to commit the crime in question, I'm not certain that one single examination of your mind will suffice."

She looks back to him, raising her eyebrows. "You think repeated examinations will prove necessary?"

"I think we might all feel more secure about...the integrity of state secrets, if I was permitted to conduct such investigations on a regular basis."

"How frequently do you suppose it will be necessary for you to enter my mind, Coordinator?"

"Sensitive information in the wrong hands could become a liability to Gallifrey very swiftly indeed, Madam President." He is absolutely shaking with repressed laughter now, and it's making it still more difficult for her to keep a straight face. "It may seem an extreme measure, but I believe that, if we were to incorporate a regular mental examination into your evening security briefing..."

She can't help it then, but she's prepared, and the rest of the Council chamber sees only a furious coughing fit, and not the Lady President laughing herself to tears. "You expect me to permit you inside my head every single night, Coordinator?"

Narvin's eyes are glinting so dramatically that his whole face seems alight with it. "For Gallifrey, Madam President," Narvin concludes, with a magnificent pretense of solemnity.

"In that case, how can I refuse?"

"Right," says Narvin. "Well. Now that's taken care of..."

"Councilors," says a peeved voice, and Romana nearly groans. Of course Darkel isn't content to admit she's been defeated, even when she so obviously has. "Coordinator Narvin is an absolutely unacceptable choice to conduct such an examination."

Aldromon interjects once again, insistent despite the shakiness of his voice. "By custom, Inquisitor, he is the only qualified..."

"Custom or no custom, the crime of which the Madam President stands accused is one which cannot be committed without an accomplice, and I hardly think that any of us would consider that accomplice to be the most dependable person to offer judgment."

It takes most of the Council a moment to untangle the syntax and get to the core of meaning. Finally, Cardinal Randorian speaks. "Inquisitor," he says, voice heavy with incredulity, "are you attempting to insinuate that the Lady President and Coordinator Narvin..."

"I dislike the necessity of naming names, Cardinal," says Darkel, "but as it is so directly relevant, I feel I must mention that the facts certainly incline in that direction."

Randorian stares. And then, quite suddenly, he bursts into a tremendous and very undignified guffaw. "Inquisitor Darkel," he gasps, "you cannot possibly be serious."

Randorian isn't the only member of the Council who seems to find the idea of the Coordinator in the President's bed to be tremendously amusing. Half the chamber has been progressing from repressed giggles to full-on fits of laughter. Darkel is gaping, and Romana has to say that she feels much the same.

"Do you honestly expect us to believe such a thing, Inquisitor Darkel?" Randorian gasps between laughs. "The President of Gallifrey, with the entire universe at her disposal, and Narvin..."

Romana watches as Narvin goes white, and then violently red. She doesn't think she's ever seen him look so miserable. Darkel has been sitting in shock, but suddenly she smirks, a wicked gleam in her eye. "I assure you, Councilor, it took me a long while to accept the idea myself, but I..."

"Enough!"

The laughter in the chamber suddenly ceases. Romana considers herself to have been incredibly patient throughout this whole ordeal. She's behaved as she ought. But there is only so much any sane Time Lady can possibly take, and she has just been shoved far beyond that point. She is out of her chair, cheeks blazing, trembling with ire. "That is enough, Councilors! This entire proceeding has been nothing more than a feeble excuse for lurid gossip and shameless scandalmongering, and I have endured it because it has come clothed in some semblance of legal relevance. But there can be no excuse for the highest and most distinguished legal assembly in the universe to disgrace itself giggling over my private life like a horde of gossiping schoolchildren! You will behave with some pretense of dignity, or I will exile the lot of you!"

From the other side of the Council table, Brax is smiling the very particular little smile he reserves for those moments when he is proud to have been her teacher. Darkel is sitting rigid, cautious, and most of the rest of the council look as guilty as Time Tots caught with their temporal physics homework left undone. Narvin, on the other hand, still looks so lost and wounded that she aches with it.

"I had believed that this went without saying," Romana continues, slightly more calmly, "but clearly it has become necessary for us to have a few words about the Presidency, and precisely to what degree this Council may consider itself entitled to a say in my existence. My planet may have as much of my life as it requires, just so much as it can possibly benefit by. I agreed to that when I accepted my post. What remains, however, is for me to do with as I choose. I am not a machine, councilors, nor has any President of Gallifrey been so far—though if my Lords and Ladies of the Council so advise it, I would be happy to appoint K-9 as my successor when the moment comes for my resignation." No one laughs. "But I am a mortal being, and, as such, my own time is all I have. Time is all any of us has, councilors. Lives are not made of possessions or associations or even of deeds: they are made days and years and centuries, and you will not tell me how or with whom to spend mine.

"As President of this Council, I appreciate that my public acts reflect on you all, on our planet and our race, and I strive at every moment to fulfill that trust. I know that many of you disagree with me on matters of policy, and I respect your right both to hold and to voice those opinions. I am sure every one of you could find some moment of my Presidency when your personal view of a situation has differed from mine, when you might have wished that my judgment had taken a different course. I defy any of you, however, to name any occasion when my behavior in this office has been at fault. For all Inquisitor Darkel's accusations, can she point to one single moment when my supposed activities have reflected negatively upon Gallifrey, or upon the office of the President?"

Darkel's face is growing pinched, her eyes small and wary. "The very fact that this Council is forced to waste its time in such discussion..."

"...Is entirely your doing, and not mine," Romana snaps. "And I will very glad, I assure you, to see that discussion end, just as soon as I address one small point of legality. I think the Inquisitor will admit that legislation is within the purpose of this assembly?" Darkel says nothing, only inclines her head in a way she no doubt considers stately.

"My Ladies, my Lords," Romana continues, "the regulation under which Inquisitor Darkel has made her accusations is, to put it in simplest possible terms, a bad law, one that can only lead, as the Inquisitor herself points out, to the wasting of the Council's time. The collected knowledge of the Matrix is in the keeping of the President of this Council. It is a President's job, one of her most important duties, to determine who will and will not be privy to which portions of that information. To entrust a President with that task on the one hand, and to assume on the other that she would ever be so careless as to permit an enemy of Gallifrey access to that same sensitive knowledge through the medium of her mind, is an egregious, absurd double standard. It is an insult to the Office of the Presidency, and it deserves to be immediately repealed."

"And how very convenient for you if it were," hisses Darkel, over the murmur of many voices. "Councilors, surely you must see..."

"However," Romana continues, "I respect the law of Gallifrey—all its laws, even those with which I may personally disagree—and I have followed all of its laws, at all times and in all ways. I will submit willingly to a psychic examination to prove as much; I have nothing whatever to hide. I would like it on the record that I believe Coordinator Narvin to be an honest and loyal servant of the state, and that I have the deepest trust that he would never allow anything to compromise the faithful execution of his duty," she looks to Narvin, only for a moment, hoping he sees the tiny note of apology for what she is about to do, "but if the Council would prefer a different examiner, I suggest that Chancellor Braxiatel, as the highest ranking member of this chamber, would be the most logical substitute."

Romana fights not to look back to Narvin, whose face has reddened just slightly in her peripheral vision. She keeps her focus on Brax, at the far end of the Council table. "If the Chancellor is willing, of course."

"I have no objection," says Brax, solemnly.

"Forgive me interjecting once again," says Darkel, sourly, "but I have an objection. Chancellor Braxiatel, admirable public servant though he may be, has also been a close personal friend of the Lady President for many years, and as such..."

"If anything, Inquisitor Darkel, my judgement ought to be suspected in the opposite direction," scoffs Brax. "You are forgetting, Inquisitor, that should the Lady President in fact be found guilty to the charge you have laid against her, she would be subject to impeachment, under the law. It is also written in the law that when a President is impeached, the Presidency passes to the Vice President—or if, as at the present moment, there is no Vice President, to the Lord Chancellor. I would gain a very great deal, you must therefore admit, by finding the Madam President guilty; it is she, not you, who has cause to doubt my bias, and I am deeply honored by the trust she shows in my veracity."

Romana inclines her head in acknowledgement, as the Council chamber fills with nods and murmurs of assent.

"Let us put it to the vote," says Braxiatel. "Is it the wish of the Council that an examination of the Lady President's mind should be performed, under my jurisdiction, to put to rest Inquisitor Darkel's accusations of unlawful psychic activity on the Lady President's part?"

Romana steals a glance at Narvin as he is raising his hand in assent; his face is as set and cold as stone, and he stares determinedly at the far wall, seeing no one and nothing. The vote is unanimous, though Darkel's is the last hand to raise. Clearly, this is not at all what she intended, but having raised the issue in the first place she can hardly be seen to disagree.

Brax stands and strides quickly to the front of the chamber, where Romana has risen as well. "Would my Lady President prefer..."

"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly," Romana sighs. "Just get it over with, Brax, please."

He keeps his eyes open, as she does, and maintains as respectful a distance between them as possible. But nothing he can do can diminish the uncomfortable intimacy of it when he rests his forehead lightly against hers and quietly steps into her mind. She tries to fight down her frustration, her anger, and knows at least that Brax won't be able to mistake the direction of those emotions. She is angry with herself—nonsensically, she knows—for letting it come to this; she is angry with Narvin for the same reason, and, more deservedly, for writing this damned law in the first place. But mostly, she is absolutely furious with Darkel, for a vast number of reasons, all of them entirely justified.

As am I, Brax assures, dryly, to the sentiment she doesn't speak.

I really am sorry about this, Brax, she sighs. Do what you must. I won't try to hide anything.

Romana, he asks, still lingering at the forefront of her brain, making no attempt to search her memories, has Narvin been inside your head?

I've been in his mind, but I swear to you by everything I hold dear that he hasn't been in mine.

Anyone else, since you took the office?

No. She grins, with her real lips on her real face. When precisely have I had time?

He smiles back at her. There is a slight shifting somewhere to the left of her, and it suddenly occurs to her what it must look like, she and Brax sharing smiles while he's in her mind. That grin, she realizes, mortified, was among the worst things she could possibly have done to Narvin at this moment. She quickly schools her face back to solemnity.

Brax, of course, sees the entire train of thought as it passes through her head. You care about him a great deal, he says, softly.

You'll see for yourself in a moment, I suppose. The memories you want...

I don't need to see your memories, Romana. Brax straightens the tie of his mental projection, and it's such an absurd, endearing gesture that she nearly smiles again. As it is, only he commits that expression of emotion, and only inside her mind, where no one else can see, as her wave of affection hits him. I trust your word. And even if I didn't, it would be foolish of you to lie when I'm in a position to see for myself.

Even so, you may be asked about this examination under oath. I'll not have you lying for me, saying you checked memories you've never handled.

I can say, quite truthfully, that I asked you and you answered, at a moment when I would have been able to tell if you were lying. You couldn't possibly answer falsely without some sign of it in here. He gestures with one arm of his psychic projection. I hope you don't take it amiss, Madam President, but I have no desire whatever to painstakingly comb through your more...intimate memories, especially when I see no advantage in it.

Relief floods through her. Thank you, Brax, she says, emphatically.

No trouble at all, my Lady, he answers. If that's all...

Wait, just one moment, she says, thinking hard. You've done a great deal for me today, and I truly appreciate it, but while you're here, would you mind doing me one more little favor?

*

Narvin isn't sure, in retrospect, precisely how he survived the experience. He thinks at the time that it probably has something to do with Darkel, watching him like a hawk in spite of the fact that she never seems to look away from Romana and Braxiatel. He won't give that bitch the satisfaction of seeing precisely how much the experience of watching someone else—and Braxiatel, of all people—being handed in an instant the very privilege Narvin has been starving for these past seven months is maddening him. He certainly won't let her guess that there's something far deeper to it even than that. Narvin is a rational man, and therefore the feeling he is currently experiencing cannot be possessiveness. He would never be so petty. He doesn't at all want to dash to the front of the chamber, snatch Romana away from Brax, and kiss her breathless in front of Rassilon, the Matrix and everybody, until she melts and clings and whimpers and it becomes inescapably clear to everyone who it is she'll be taking home tonight. He's just digging his fingernails into his thigh under the Council table because he can, that's all. Not because he's jealous.

It doesn't help the tiniest, littlest bit that she's currently smiling at Braxiatel like she's enjoying having him inside her mind.

Narvin keeps his chin high, and forces a neutral expression onto his face through sheer, bloody-minded stubbornness. And for the four point two microspans Brax spends with his forehead resting against Romana's, Narvin stays still, and viciously quashes every single thought that makes an attempt at flitting through his head

Somehow and somewhen, it's over. Narvin thinks it should probably startle him, after so much stillness, but he's fighting so hard to turn off his receptiveness to absolutely everything that the words barely float into Narvin's mind when Brax says, "I can find no evidence of any kind to suggest that any other consciousness has entered the Lady President's mental space since she attained her current position."

It shouldn't come as any sort of surprise or relief, when Narvin knows full well that it's the truth. Still, Brax might always have chosen to lie, in a simple power play or one of his typically convoluted Braxian plots, and, beyond that, it isn't actually impossible that someone other than Narvin might have been in Romana's head at some time or other since she gained her title. Narvin has watched enough wildly unlikely things happen in his lives that he doesn't take anything for granted any longer, and so he finds himself releasing a breath he didn't know he was holding as the Council chamber bursts into excited chatter.

"I trust," says Romana after a moment, loudly enough to make herself heard, and the Council settles once again into silence, "that this will put to rest any doubts you may have entertained as to the ethics and legality of my conduct, and mark an end of such allegations. And now, having respectfully proposed that the Council consider the repeal of subsection twelve, article gamma of the Code of Presidential conduct—the clause that prohibits a President from entering into voluntary psychic contact—and it being custom for a sitting President to absent herself during the debate of laws that specifically concern her office, I will leave you to consider the question. My Lords. My Ladies."

The moment Romana disappears, Narvin's flimsy pretense of inner calm dissolves into ashes. She's the only person here who could have detected the difference between "holding himself together, barely" and "losing it behind a calm facade," and he doesn't mind lying to all the rest of them. He thinks that when the vote comes he manages to favor repeal, but he wouldn't bet his lives on it. He has no idea how long he's alone in the Council chamber before it even occurs to him that the meeting has ended.

His memory is working wrong. He retains very clear impressions, later, of the feeling of the Council table under his hand, the smooth grain of the wood, the way he trails his fingers along it as he's walking from the room. But the next thing he recalls even vaguely is the door of Romana's office, materializing in front of him like a TARDIS flickering into existence from sometime and someplace else.

She's standing by the window when he walks in, and turns to look as he strides across the room. He's not precisely in his body at the moment, and so he doesn't try to kiss her, not even properly to hold her. He only slips his hands up her arms to her elbows, orients them to each other, locks them in orbit. And even that brings a wary look to her face, and a tentative "Narvin..." to her lips.

"Just listen."

"But..."

"Please." It's so much rawer than he means it to be, so much it makes her stare. Her eyes dart to the side for just a moment, and then she looks back, and nods.

"Romana," he begins, and now he's come to it it's got much more difficult, suddenly, "I know this isn't how you wanted this to be. I know it was all supposed to stay behind closed doors. I know this was supposed to be something quiet, something that made both of our lives easier and better without also making them harder and more complicated. I know you've got cause to be rethinking things right now, and that's perfectly fine. But if you believe for one moment that I am going to stand aside and calmly let you go just because the entire planet of Gallifrey apparently thinks the very idea of us together is absurd and probably objectionable, you're absolutely mad."

Her eyes go wide. "Narvin," she begins again, more urgently this time, but he cuts her short.

"I am going to fight for you, Romana. I don't care if every single Time Lord who's ever lived has objections, I will not just walk away. The only person, the only person who can tell me to leave is you, and even then, I promise you, I will do every sane thing I can possibly think of to change your mind."

"Narvin..."

"I don't pretend to deserve you. I haven't ever even begun to understand what you see in me, Romana. I don't think you realize it, but it's a very rare person who spends five microspans with you and doesn't end up a little bit in love with you by the end of it. By what astronomically improbable stroke of luck I ever made it this far I don't have a clue. But I'm here now, and I'm not going anywhere. You're absurdly obstinate, and when you wake up in the morning your hair goes in the most gravitationally impossible directions, and you're stronger than anyone has ever had any right to be, and you're still ridiculously naïve, and sometimes you're so beautiful I'm afraid to touch you, because you cannot possibly be real, or here, with me, and if you send me packing now I doubt very much I'll have stopped missing you a thousand years from now. So I don't care if there are going to be ten trillion eyes watching everything I do from now on, and I don't care what anyone says. I'm here, and I'm staying."

There is silence for a moment. "Is that all?" she asks, softly.

He exhales deeply. "I think so."

"Then I hate to have to mention it," she says, as gentle as he's ever heard her, and yet with the slightest edge of wry humor, "but do turn your head, Narvin."

His first reaction is confusion. And then he blanches, and turns.

"I, for one," comments Braxiatel, from the armchair by the wall, "am heartily in favor of 'let's never speak a word about this again' as a general plan of attack."

Narvin opens his mouth, and shuts it again. "I concur," he says, hoarsely.

"Excellent," says Brax, standing. "Oh, I am going to regret this next part," he sighs, ambling in Narvin and Romana's general direction. "I have never said this to you before, Romana, and I suspect I never will again, but you do owe me for this one."

"Understood," she says, stepping away from Narvin. He only just stops his hands clenching on her arms as she pulls away.

"What is..." Narvin barely manages to ask, and then Brax is grasping him by the shoulders. "What..." he tries again, just before Brax's forehead slams down onto his. Immediately after the impact Brax releases his hold, and they stumble away from each other, both nursing aching heads.

"What the bloody fuck!"

"Thank you, Brax," Romana says, smiling, and laying a hand on his wrist.

"'Thank you, Brax?'" Narvin repeats, incredulous.

Brax may nod, or he may just be attempting to clear his head. "I'll leave you alone, then, Madam President. And for Rassilon's sake, Narvin, don't open it until I'm gone."

"Open..." Narvin gasps, and then it occurs to him, finally, that a bundle of tightly packed neural data manifesting itself as a smallish, neatly-wrapped parcel has just appeared in his headspace.

"Romana," he says, gritting his teeth, just as Brax disappears out the door at the other side of the room, "any kind of answers would be really very much appreciated."

"There's one or two thoughts I've been wanting to show you," she says, pulling him over to the couch and settling him down, "and I had no other way to get them out of my mind and into yours than to smuggle them out with Brax."

Narvin knows, academically, that a Time Lord mind will reflexively open for a fraction of a second in response to a blow on the head. But he's never actually had it happen to him before. "I just had mutual mental contact with Braxiatel?" he asks, horrified.

"Well, only just barely," she says, soothingly. "And he was no more enthusiastic about the idea than you are, if that helps at all."

"Next time you're sending someone else on delivery mission into my head, however brief, would you mind terribly telling me first?"

"Of course," she agrees, solemn but smiling.

"And could you perhaps make it anyone but Braxiatel?"

"I'll do my best."

"And I still haven't..." He shakes his head, clearing out the cobwebs. "Today has been...very."

"I'll certainly agree with that." There is a pause. "Aren't you going to open it?"

It takes him a moment to grasp what she means, for all that it is, in fact, spectacularly obvious. The number of significant occurrences in his life in the past two spans has been such a considerable strain on his mental resources that the Gallifreyan language has ceased to make much sense any longer. "Wait," he says, abruptly, as an earlier item among said occurrences darts to the front of his mind, "wait, was this even necessary? Was it...did we win the vote?"

She stares at him. "Narvin, you were there."

"Physically, yes," he grants. "But I'm afraid I couldn't tell you a thing about what happened."

She laughs, and leans in to kiss him, and after everything else it's so simply good that he groans, and presses into it, and before he's quite sure how it happened she's mostly in his lap, with her fingers in his hair, and life is suddenly a very great deal better. Generally speaking, they have a strict set of unspoken rules about what is and isn't acceptable in this office, but at this particular moment all rules are apparently off.

"Brax told me," she smiles, after. "Mostly a win, though Darkel did get in one petty little parting shot. The voting went our way, but she invoked some obscure statute stating that the repeal of any Gallifreyan law doesn't go into effect until a year after the day of the vote, except in cases of extreme emergency." She looks at him sideways from under her eyelashes. "You didn't write that one, did you?"

"My hands are clean."

"So we've got a bit more waiting if we're to manage this without getting me kicked out of office. Assuming you're willing to wait, that is," she says, coloring slightly. "From the sound of things a few microspans ago, I'd guess it won't be a problem."

"I...yes," he agrees, avoiding her eyes. "You haven't actually...said anything about that, yet. Well, beyond, 'I don't know if you've noticed, but you've just made a spectacular idiot of yourself.'"

"I recall saying it slightly differently," she says, bringing a hand to the side of his face and tilting up his chin so he can see her smile. "Would it help if I mention that the packet sitting unopened in your head has the answer to your question in it?"

"Which question?"

"Why you," she says, softly.

He blinks, and exhales, and blinks again. "Yes," he says. "I think it would."

"May I..." She pulls him towards her until their heads touch. "May I watch you open it?"

"Of course." She's in his head within a moment. Normally, Time Lords don't bother projecting a manifestation of themselves into their own mindscapes, content to exist as the landscape itself, the ground rather than the figure. It's no time or effort to manage, however, and within a moment another Narvin is standing beside Romana and her little box of memories inside his own head. He gently transforms his mindscape until it matches the world outside his open eyes: his mental self and Romana's, comfortably situated on a mental couch in a mental version of her office, only the box in his hands ruining the precise correspondence.

"Well?" she asks, impatient, smiling at him with her real and psychic faces both.

"There's no hurry," he says. "It's taken us seven months to get this far, and this is as much of your mind as I can have for a year now. I'm going to savor this while I can."

"Narvin," she groans, teasingly annoyed. He smiles back at her and pulls the string on the thing that isn't really a box, watching as it dissolves in his imagined hands.

What he's seeing is a direct extract from her own mind—memories, emotional data, ideas. It doesn't precisely consist of words, and then again there is definitely a message, one that can almost be expressed in terms of language. A few fragments are clearly just things she thinks he ought to see (the entire memory of Brax's time inside her head, for example, so he doesn't ever have to wonder precisely what went on). But the overriding idea, the one that fills his mind in almost-verbal form, is something like this:

Before the war, I would never have looked twice at you, Narvin, and quite frankly you wouldn't have deserved it; you are still a bit of a prat, you know. But during the war, you did one of the most remarkable things I've ever seen. It is very, very easy for us to believe in people who agree with us, and not especially difficult to sacrifice for the people we believe in. Correspondingly, however, it is very, very difficult for us to believe in people who don't agree with us, based only on trust in their strength of character. In the war, Narvin, you fought for me, were willing to lay down your life and very nearly did, and not because we think the same way, or believe the same things, but because you trusted me. I cannot begin to show you what that feels like. No one has ever made me feel that way before. It...touched me, very, very profoundly. It took unbelievable strength on your part to support me, and I've seen that same strength in you many times since. There was a time I would never have imagined myself saying so, but you're a good man, Narvin, and you make me happy. So the rest of Gallifrey may think precisely whatever they like about us, and I won't care a bit. It'll be difficult, sometimes, but I know we'll manage everything. And I'm yours, for just so long as you'll have me.

He's very, very glad that she's inside his head. He would never have managed to find the right words to say. But she's there. She can see it. And so he doesn't need to say anything at all.