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A Time For Every Purpose

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Chapter 1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We're not actually in my bed."

"No," he agrees.

"We could be in my bed."

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

"Not necessarily."

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

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

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

"Hmmm?"

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

"Yes?"

"That is..."

"Spit it out, Narvin."

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

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

"Know?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You wrote the law."

"Yes."

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

"Yes," he agrees, desolately.

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

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

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

"I'm sorry!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Narvin shuts up.

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

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

And then she laughs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

"Hmm?" she mumbles.

"It doesn't need to be mutual."

She blinks, struggles partly upright. "What?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I'm dressed, Narvin."

"It is a pity."

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

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

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

"An astute observation, my Lady."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Madam President."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lunch meeting..."

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

"And if she were not President?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"She has someone to live for now."

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

"It would be my pleasure, Madam President."

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

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

"And perhaps some dinner."

"I could hardly refuse such a cordial invitation."

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

"Anything could happen."

"What with the wine..."

"...and the atmosphere..."

"...and the..."

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

"Why not?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter Text

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.

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.

Chapter Text

Epilogue

 

No one on Gallifrey comments on the fact that the Lady President has scheduled her yearly holiday to Davidia to precisely coincide with the official lifting of a certain regulation on Presidential behavior. No one comments on the fact that, while two suites are booked, as formerly, in the names of the Lady President and her human bodyguard, the staff on Davidia are told that they ought to expect four visitors. No one comments on the facts that Coordinator Narvin and Agent Andred—now the acknowledged head of Narvin's considerably increased security detail—happen to be scheduled to be off-planet at precisely the same time as President Romana and Bodyguard Leela. Which is to say that no one comments on those things within Narvin's hearing, but that, as a dealer in secrets, he's perfectly aware that his personal life isn't remotely personal these days, and that half of Gallifrey is talking about it all behind his back.

Narvin has already been informed that the ritual of the Davidia trip is still to be strictly observed. For at least one night of their visit, Romana is going to permit herself to be dragged away for some sort of absurd excursion with the savage, the Lord High President of Gallifrey sleeping outside, in nature, with no one but a primitive in skins for company (sometimes, Romana still makes him despair for the Presidency, and he's not sure what he'd do if suddenly she didn't). But the first night on Davidia is theirs. That morning, the law that has kept their minds apart for nineteen months will go officially out of effect, and Narvin will finally be able to come into Romana's head.

Once, when he was a young field agent, barely out of basic training, Narvin was sent on a mission to Earth, early 20th century. He maintains to this day that he'd done nothing which ought to have provoked a mob, but primitives are unpredictable beings, and, he has learned since, habitually irritable during their hibernal season. So it was that he had found himself dashing through a small country town, sinking and sliding in several inches of snow, with a large number of angry humans running after him. In hopes of shaking off the pursuit—or, at worst, of holing up in what looked like the sturdiest available place—he had ducked into a small stone building which his research had indicated was likely some variety of religious edifice.

It had been much darker inside than it had been out, with the sun blazing bright on white drifts of snow, and yet it had felt like he was stepping into a world made entirely of light. The walls had been covered in windows, stained glass as far as the eye could see, color blazing everywhere like tumultuous fire, sinking into everything, burrowing beneath Narvin's skin and all the way through him, and yet somehow the effect wasn't garish; he wasn't sure he'd ever felt so quiet in his lives. It had done nothing to take religion off of the list of the most preposterous alien institutions he'd ever heard of. But he'd understood why, if these stupid brief creatures felt it necessary to worship their gods, they would choose to do it somewhere like this. Just to move from the violent, loud, whitewashed world outside to this place of dark and silence and color was a spiritual experience.

Stepping into Romana's mind, it turns out, is exactly like that.

"Rassilon, Omega and the Other," he breathes. And she's in his head, too, so she can see exactly what he's thinking, and he's in hers, so he sees her flustered, flattered pleasure, and she can feel how much that pleases him. She kisses him, soft and breathless, and it occurs to him for the very first time that he's only got thirteen lives to live.

They aren't going to be nearly enough.