Leela’s mission was simple enough: come to the planet of Kerlaugar and negotiate a treaty on Gallifrey’s behalf, securing mining rights for the Time Lords on Kerlaugar's third moon. After Leela’s disastrous incident with the Monan ambassador, Romana presented this as an opportunity to redeem herself in the eyes of the High Council – and also, Leela suspects, in Romana’s own eyes as well.
When Narvin gave her a mission briefing, laying out all of the CIA’s data files about the planet, Leela felt excitement for the task ahead. Kerlaugar, a human colony world settled thousands of years ago, is populated by a people whose customs and clothing have a blush of familiarity. She won't have to wear silly Time Lord robes, and treaty negotiations involve several days’ worth of tournament competition, a test of worthiness before verbal negotiations take place; the physical contests serve as a form of bargaining, in and of themselves. At least, that’s what Narvin said before handing her a time ring and sending her on her way. In the wake of the Monan incident, he’s been far more understanding than Romana, and intent on ensuring things return to normal between the three of them. He’d been unusually solicitous as she prepared for her mission, offering reassurance and encouragement before she left. She almost wishes they'd argued instead; she isn't quite sure what to make of him, when he's so accommodating.
The Kerlaugarian tournament plays out exactly as Narvin described. Leela spends an enjoyable few days competing with the strongest champions Kerlaugar has to offer, and as the contests wear on, she often finds herself facing off against the planet’s leader, a bearded mountain of a man named Warlord Gylfi, Supreme Ruler of Kerlaugar and all her Heavenly Realms by the Grace of the Raven God.
“Call me Gyl,” he murmurs in her ear after an intense archery competition between them that ends in a draw, as do most of their face-offs. Eyes twinkling with pleasure, he seizes her hand and lifts it into the air with his own. The gathered crowds scream their approval. “Our treaty shall be a long-lasting and happy one, Lady Leela.”
This was the moment Leela probably should have seen what was on the horizon. But she was distracted, flush with the thrill of competition. Anyway, in his briefing Narvin hadn’t mentioned any unusual technicalities in sealing a Kerlaugarian treaty, and since the two of them faced the Dalek Controller on the Axis together, she has found herself trusting him implicitly. It never occurs to her that he might have missed something.
At that night’s banquet in the Longhouse Palace, seated by Lord Gylfi’s side and matching him drumstick-for-drumstick as they eat, the two of them hammer out the details of Gallifrey and Kelaugar’s diplomatic arrangement, bargaining over Time Lord technology in exchange for generational mining rights. As they talk, a steady stream of earls and common well-wishers make their way past the royal table, offering congratulations on the impending treaty.
“These terms are all acceptable, Lady Leela. Our agreement is made,” Gyl finally says. “Now that the deal is done, I don't mind admitting that I was so eager for this treaty that I have already ordered preparations made for the official festivities. By tomorrow evening, we’ll begin celebrating the union of our kingdoms. I even contacted Gallifrey, and asked them to send a holy shaman to stand alongside our vǫlva during the wedding ceremony, to make sure everything is proper and legal. Then the Time Lords may begin mining when they wish.” And with that, he reaches under the table and lays his large hand on her thigh.
It’s all Leela can do, to stop herself from instinctively stabbing him with her fork. But she learned her lesson from the Monan incident, and has finally embraced the fact that violence will not solve diplomatic tangles. At least not in a way that will win her any good graces with Romana.
How could Narvin possibly have been so foolish, to not know a detail as important as this? That all Kerlaugarian treaties are conducted by unmarried parties, the deals codified with a union between negotiators? Then it occurs to her that perhaps Narvin did know, and this was a plot between him and Romana, to permanently remove her from Gallifrey in the most useful way possible, so she could never embarrass them in front of the High Council again.
Later, when the crowd has thinned and no one can overhear, Leela tells her host in her firmest and most respectful tone of voice, “I cannot marry you, Lord Gylfi. I came here to negotiate a treaty, not find a husband. This is not the way of my people, or of the Time Lords.”
“Of course you can marry me,” Gyl replied with a wink. “Surely you do not find me lacking? We both proved our worthiness for this union, on the tournament field!”
“You are a just ruler, and a kind man,” Leela replies truthfully. She’s also seen over the last few days that his will is as indomitable as a hurricane, and he is not used to any sort of refusal. “But I do not wish to marry.”
“Then you do not wish to secure ipolyte mining rights for Gallifrey?” he asks, and the words feel like the first gust of a storm, that hurricane whipping up before it bends everything in its path.
Leela chews the inside of her cheek, surveying his face. She decides she won't return to Romana in failure; she cannot afford to disappoint her again, or damage their friendship further. “I must consult the President,” she finally says. “But do not doubt that I will find terms for this treaty that will satisfy us both.”
Retiring to her quarters, intent on calling Romana, she discovers that her time ring is broken – again, just like it was when she visited Jago and Litefoot on Earth. (Time rings are the worst, most unreliable technology the Time Lords ever created, she thinks as she flings her broken one across the room and it bounces into a corner with a sharp ping. The next time someone suggests she uses one, she'll smash it under her boot heel.) Stranded, cut off from Gallifrey, the only way she can call home will involve begging Lord Gylfi to borrow his communications array. This is the weakest, most maddening bargaining position she could possibly be in. It’s unacceptable. It’s so unacceptable, in fact, that she decides she can’t possibly admit she needs help. After all, Gylfi already contacted to Gallifrey to ask for someone to come and seal the treaty. Surely Romana will come herself, and help Leela to sort all of this out.
That is, of course, if Romana and Narvin haven’t engineered this situation in order to rid themselves of her altogether. If that’s the case, they might just send Valyes instead.
She lies awake all night, waiting for a solution to present itself. First thing in the morning, after a flock of ladies-in-waiting descend upon her rooms to pile her hair into elaborate braids and truss her in thick white furs, Leela finds herself seated upon the royal dais in the wood-paneled throne room beside Lord Gylfi. Above them, the enormous trusses of the ceiling have been carved into a horse-sized sculpture of the Kerlaugarian Raven God, and Leela wishes it would come to life and swallow her whole, to get her out of this mess.
“Has a night’s sleep cleared your head, and your judgment, Lady Leela?” Gyl asks, fiddling with the braids in his long beard. “Or do you still insist on sabotaging all of our hard negotiation by refusing to seal our treaty in marriage?”
Before she can open her mouth to reply, the grand doors of the Royal Longhouse are flung open, and Narvin strides in.
Plastering a smile on his face, Gyl rises to his feet and spreads his arms in welcome. It’s like watching a tree unfurl, his biceps as large as oak branches. “Aha! Gallifrey’s holy shaman, come to cement the union of our interstellar kingdoms! You see, Lady Leela, the Time Lords are as eager for this treaty as I am!”
The sight of Narvin, in particular, ignites a bevy of conflicted emotions. Leela is both relieved and disappointed to see him: she had been worried Romana might come in person and witness firsthand what a mess she’s made of these negotiations, and at the same time she knows that Romana is probably the only one with enough command and diplomatic aplomb to get her out of this mess without making a bigger one. Narvin, on the other hand, will inevitably blunder his way through this delicate cultural and political minefield.
He has no idea how to behave around large groups of humans, and she’s more than a little angry with him, since he failed to warn her about the marriage situation.
But at least he isn’t Valyes.
Narvin’s stride slows when he catches sight of Leela, wearing furs and jeweled necklaces, seated on the throne beside Gyl. She meets his stare, eyes boring into him as she silently wills him to just keep his mouth shut.
“My Lord Gylfi,” she says, rising beside him. “This is Narvin. Narvin, this is Warlord Gylfi, the Ruler of Kerlaugar and All Her Heavenly Realms by the grace of the Raven God.” Her gaze darts around the room, at the scattered nobles in attendance, and the line of supplicants who have come to ask favors from their ruler. Too many people, more of an audience than she wants for this discussion.
“Narvin, Coordinator of the Celestial Intervention Agency,” Narvin says, with a nod and a sharp glance, because he is of course affronted that she mentioned Gyl’s title but failed to mention his. “President Romanadvoratrelundar has sent me in response to your summons. I understand there are a few administrative details to take care of?”
“Lord Gylfi, we ought to receive the Coordinator in your private offices,” Leela says quickly, resting a hand on his forearm.
“I told you to call me Gyl,” he replies, affectionately patting her fingers. Narvin’s eyes widen a fraction, and Leela redoubles her shut up, Narvin stare. “I am certain we can welcome the Lord Coordinator here, in the sight of my people. After all, tonight’s festivities are for the whole of Kerlaugar, not just the two of us!”
“Right,” Leela says, in a tone of voice so flat you could spread a rug on it. She extracts her hand from his grip.
“Festivities?” Narvin pipes up, studying their body language as if he’s trying to work out a complicated maths formula. “Lord Gylfi, I assumed this was a matter of paperwork, to formalize the treaty Leela has made with you.”
Gyl is not an outwardly unkind man, but he is as solid and immoveable as a mountain when he sets his mind on something, and he has set his mind on Leela. He won’t take a simple refusal, not without ruining all of her hard work of negotiating mining rights, not if she doesn’t present an ironclad reason to refuse him. Even if she explains this situation to Narvin, Leela doesn’t imagine he’ll be of much use navigating the culture of this human colony world.
She’s going to have to fix this all by herself. She’s going to have to find an unimpeachable reason to refuse Gyl’s hand in marriage, and renegotiate the treaty. She's going to have to do all of that, while also positioning herself in such a way that Narvin has no excuse to leave her here on this human colony world, just in case that was Romana's intention in sending her here.
“Lord Gylfi,” she hisses, just loud enough for Narvin to hear but out of earshot of the rest of the room. “As I said last night, I am sorry but I cannot marry you.”
“Marry?” Narvin echoes, both eyebrows shooting up. He seems to have finally found the solution to that complicated maths problem he was dealing with earlier, regarding her braids and furs and position on the royal dais with mild alarm.
“Now you can see my reason for refusing your proposal – I am already married,” she continues, steeling her nerves. “To – to Narvin.”
Gyl’s expression darkens, a dangerous mix of confusion and anger. Narvin, on the other hand, is staring at them with his mouth open, as if they’ve both just sprouted a second head.
“As I suggested before, we should receive Narvin in your offices, where we can converse in private,” she continues, lifting her face and plastering on a smile as the people clustered around the room whisper and stare at the three of them.
“Indeed, no one should witness this,” Gyl says, voice and expression ominous. He stalks to the side of the royal dais and opens a door, without looking back to see if Leela and Narvin have followed. Steps slow with confusion and arms crossed, Narvin comes alongside her as they trail after him.
“Do as I say,” Leela mutters under her breath. “I will explain later.”
“What the hell kind of trouble have you gotten into, these last few days? I'm supposed to be here to finish off paperwork,” he snaps.
He's angry with her, when he's the one responsible for this ridiculous situation in the first place? "Keep your mouth closed and let me handle this, Time Lord, or I shall finish you off," Leela retorts.
They file past Gyl into the office and he closes the office door behind him, removing them from the eyes of the curious crowd, making sure there are no witnesses for what's about to happen.
Narvin decides that he must have landed in the midst of a circus performance, or maybe an elaborate prank. After all, humans are prone to confounding fits of whimsy and delusion. Although what sort of whimsy would prompt Leela to lie about being married to him, he can’t begin to imagine. Before he can turn around to face Lord Gylfi, Leela seizes his elbow and squeezes.
“Remember the vampires, and how you trusted me to keep you safe on that other Gallifrey?” she hisses between lips plastered into a smile, obviously intent on keeping him from ruining whatever act she’s got going on here. “Trust me again now.”
Over the years, and especially since their battle with the Daleks, Narvin has come to rely on Leela’s instincts and intentions, even if they’re maddeningly illogical most of the time. Whatever danger she’s gotten herself – and him – into, surely she has a plan to get them right back out again. Perhaps it is prudent to keep his mouth shut through this conversation, at least, allowing Leela to navigate until he gets a lay of the land and susses out exactly what she’s dragged him into, and exactly how angry he ought to feel about it.
He lifts his head a fraction, the barest hint of a nod.
Together, they turn to face Lord Gyl. He surveys them both as if they’re naughty children, his enormous arms crossed. “What is the meaning of this, Lady Leela? We negotiated in good faith, and I assumed Gallifrey had sent an unwed negotiator who could legally seal our treaty. You never spoke of your husband before now, much less mentioned that you prefer bare-cheeked boys instead of men.”
Narvin’s resolution to keep his mouth shut instantly flies out the window. Reaching for his beardless jaw, he repeats indignantly, “Bare-cheeked boy?! I’m easily a dozen times your senior, you enormous –”
“There has simply been a misunderstanding!” Leela interrupts loudly, shifting her weight and stepping on his foot with delicate precision. He makes a choked sound, his face reddening as he swallows the rest of his retort along with a yelp. “And Gallifrey is willing to renegotiate the terms of our deal, to make up for this situation. President Romana sent us to do whatever was necessary to finish our business here. Did she not, my husband?”
Preoccupied with the state of his potentially broken toes and nonexistent facial hair, Narvin doesn’t realize Leela has addressed him until she turns sternly in his direction, her mouth set in a judgmental grimace.
Husband. Right. His attention keeps sliding past all these marriage terms, as if incapable of properly grasping them. The concept of marriage in general is absurd, and marriage to Leela in particular something he’s never remotely entertained, and his Time Lord brain just keeps jettisoning every spousal reference like the rubbish it is.
“President Romana does get rather grumpy when confronted with failure,” he replies, grimacing back at her.
“We will offer one more cargo ship, in addition to the number already promised, and increase your share of the ipolyte to eight percent,” Leela says, turning toward the other human again. The dark cloud on Gyl’s face lifts a fraction, but doesn’t disappear entirely. He’s studying them intently, watching their body language as they stand next to each other. Narvin squares his shoulders and meets the other man’s gaze, even though he has to look upward to do it.
“Five more ships, and twenty-five percent,” Gyl retorts, lifting an eyebrow at Narvin in a sort of challenge, even as he speaks to Leela.
“Twenty-five percent? Preposterous,” Narvin blurts out, before he can stop himself. “Two ships, and ten percent.”
Gyl’s attention swings back toward Leela as he absently strokes his beard. “When you first arrived, my Earls met you in tournament, because I intended to give one of them the honor of your hand in marriage. But as the days wore on, my admiration for you grew to such a state that I decided I would take you as my own wife and make you co-ruler of Kerlaugar. I thought I had found my equal, on the tournament field and in wit and charm.”
Leela’s eyebrows have drawn together; Gyl's emotional dreck is affecting her. Whether she has any affection for this pigbear of a man, Narvin doesn’t know, but she clearly feels guilty about his current situation.
“And now you tell me that not only is our treaty in danger, but that I have made a fool of myself in front of my people by believing you to be a woman of honor who would fulfill the duty of a negotiator. I have lost face, and you are to blame. I cannot walk out of this room with anything less than four cargo ships and eighteen percent, and still call myself the Lord of Kerlaugar.”
Her cheeks pink, Leela pulls in a deep breath. “Lord Gylfi, I have seen the iron will and the generous nature with which you rule over your Earls, and I know your time as Warlord could no more be diminished by this incident than a single bad hunt might diminish the majesty of a lion’s life. Shall we say three ships, and twelve percent?”
Gyl puckers his lips contemplatively. It’s clear in his eyes that he finds these terms acceptable, but he still hesitates.
His voice low and conspiratorial, as if Narvin might not overhear even though he’s standing only a few paces away, he says, “Leela, I had heard that the Time Lords were cold and unfeeling creatures, and yet when you arrived I was surprised at your warmth and kindness. This marriage of yours” – he surveys Narvin critically, as one might evaluate a lame horse, deciding whether to put it down – “is it born out of love? Because over the last three days, I began to believe that our union would be one of genuine affection that would live long in the lore of my people.”
Leela shoots Narvin a glance, but he can’t read her expression. “Lord Gylfi, I cannot abandon Gallifrey or my … ties there. I told you when I arrived as a Gallifreyan representative, I am not a Time Lord, but human like yourself and your people. And as a fellow human, I have come to hold you in esteem and affection, the way a sister might feel toward her brother.”
“Ah.” Gylfi breaks eye contact for the first time since they began this conversation, genuine regret flashing across his features before he manages to snuff it out. Clearing his throat, he continues, “My people expect a celebration. Preparations are already underway for a feast, and two days’ worth of ceremonies. So let us agree upon this: three ships and twelve percent, and because you are human I shall legally adopt you into my household as a third-cousin. The marriage preparations will be used to celebrate your adoption and your union with this Time Lord who represents Gallifrey, instead. As my adopted cousin, you will represent Kerlaugar in marriage, and so the terms of treaty ratification will be met, and everyone saves face.”
Without sparing Narvin a glance to see if he approves, Leela replies, “We find this acceptable.”
Before Narvin can open his mouth to register an opinion on this state of affairs, Gyl says, “Very well. During the next few days you'll both be at my disposal for public events, until all of the ceremonies are complete and our deal is ratified.”
Leela gives a single nod and a satisfied grin. “Lord Gylfi, your strength is only outshone by your wisdom. I shall retire to my room and ready myself for this afternoon’s ceremony.”
“I would also like to refresh myself, after my journey,” Narvin says. “Is there someone who might escort me to my quarters, as well?”
Lord Gylfi turns his eyes on Narvin, eyebrows lifted incredulously, and gestures toward Leela. “Is it not the custom on Gallifrey for married couples to share quarters?”
“Of course it is,” Leela says from beside the door, not bothering to hide her exasperation with Narvin. “Come along, husband, and I will take you to our room.”
Gyl’s attention is a weight on his back, all the way out the office. As soon as they’re free from the man’s calculating gaze, Leela’s shoulders slump in relief. Whatever her gambit with Gyl, she obviously considers herself victorious. But as the two of them walk the meandering corridors of the Longhouse Palace, a single guard trailing a respectful distance behind, her relief seems to shift into anger toward Narvin. Her mouth stays shut, but she shoots him withering glances, her posture stiffening and hands spasmodically balling into fists.
He’s clearly done nothing wrong; he kept his mouth mostly shut and played along with her poppycock. What right does she have to be angry with him? This mood must be one of her inexplicable fits of pique, then, a product of her hair-trigger temper.
By the time they reach Leela’s quarters, Narvin’s jaw aches from grinding his teeth. Leela’s obviously building up for a spectacular row, when he hasn’t even received a reasonable explanation for the charade she forced him into in front of their host. He’s never been more ready to yell at anyone in all his lives – he won’t, he tells himself sternly, because obviously he’s the only rational creature on all of Kerlaugar. He’s above allowing Leela’s eccentric behavior to provoke him. He just needs to get a handle on the situation, figure out what’s going on and how to stop it, so they can finish filing treaty paperwork and get right back home to Gallifrey.
After all, as the rational one, it’s Narvin’s job to keep this situation from snowballing into complete nonsense.
The soldier takes up position in the corridor outside, a respectful distance away, but close enough to obviously serve as more of a monitor than an honor guard. Leela’s quarters are rather large: a sitting room with several couches and a fireplace, with an adjoining bedroom occupied by a comically enormous four-poster bed. Fur rugs cover the floor, with fine linen sprinkled across every raised surface, and carved ravens adorning the woodwork around the windows and all the way to the vaulted ceilings.
The instant the door closes behind Narvin with an automatic swish, Leela growls, “Did you send me here on purpose?”
He allows himself one deep breath before swiveling to face her, making sure his voice is calm and even: “What sort of question is that? Of course you were sent here on purpose; you’re a representative of the Gallifreyan government. I didn’t count on you engaging in insane human negotiating tactics, tricking the leader of Kerlaugar into marriage and then spurning him in the space of a week.”
Her hand strays to her hip, and for the first time he notices the new, strikingly large knife hanging there. She takes two steps toward him, eyes narrowing and fingers closing around the jeweled hilt. Without realizing it, he shuffles backward a corresponding measure.
“How dare you think that I would do such a thing? Even with his other faults, Lord Gylfi is an honorable man and I would never use him so cruelly.”
As Leela’s knuckles go white around the knife, Narvin realizes that he was a bit rude. Or perhaps, judging by the alarming shade of red in her cheeks, more than a bit. Braxiatel might not hesitate to use these kind of manipulation tactics, but Leela is right – she’s far too principled to do such a thing.
“All right then, explain what’s going on here. Claiming to be engaged to Lord Gylfi and then married to me in the space of five microspans? I’m sure this is another one of your baffling human customs, but it seems rather –”
“You are the one who tricked me into coming here like a lamb to slaughter, hoping to get rid of me for good!” she interrupts, throwing up her hands. At least she let go of the knife. “This was a plot between you and Romana, as punishment for what I did to the Monan ambassador. A neat trick, to exile me and make me useful as you swept me out the door, sending me to a planet where they require treaties to be sealed by marriage!” She blinks a few times, tears brimming in her eyes. Tears of rage, probably, but tears nonetheless. “I should have known to expect such Time Lord trickery, even after so many years.”
“Treaties sealed by marriage?” Narvin echoes. “What in Rassilon’s name are you talking about?”
“Do not pretend that you did not know!”
“I didn’t!” he shouts back, and then remembers the guard outside and the thin door between them. He sucks in another breath and forces his shoulders down from around his ears. “You think Romana and I would have sent you here, to marry you off to some – some human?”
“Yes!” She pauses, crossing her arms and huffing as she wrestles with her composure. Or maybe she’s trying to stop herself from seizing him by the robes and shaking him, in her frustration; he can’t quite tell. “Making this treaty, and getting rid of me because I am an embarrassment to you both, these are things you would do for Gallifrey.”
Frowning enormously, she whirls around and marches into the bedroom, tugging off her fur wrap as she goes. She heaves it onto the bed, and then starts reaching into her elaborate braids, extracting bobby pins with both hands and flinging them against the wall with little sharp pings. Each lands with frightening precision, like throwing knives. Pieces of her hair begin sticking out at odd angles as she unravels the braids willy-nilly.
As she reaches behind her back for the clasp on her finely-tailored green dress, Narvin throws his hands out in protest. “Wait, wait, what do you think you’re doing?”
“I am changing into my own clothes,” she huffs, yanking the sleeve down her right shoulder and wiggling her arm out, exposing her practically transparent underslip. “I am tired of being trussed like a pig for slaughter.”
Narvin whirls around, his cheeks turning warm, and shuffles sideways to the nearest couch. Resolutely planting himself there, he rivets his gaze on the fire. The sound of torn fabric drifts over behind him – or perhaps cut fabric, a knife slicing through linen as she shreds her dress in a tantrum.
He doesn’t realize there’s a mirror above the fireplace until she cries in frustration “Why are there so many pins in my hair?” and flings four more pieces of metal into the back of the sofa. His eyes dart to the motion in the mirror, and he catches sight of pink curves and auburn hair, and immediately sighs and tips his head into his hands.
“My intelligence on Kerlaugar must have been incomplete,” Narvin says, trying to distract himself and Leela from … whatever she’s doing without her clothes on. “On my word, neither Romana or I intended to marry you off, or to get rid of you. In fact, I have a feeling Romana would be rather put out if I returned home without you.”
“You think so, do you?” Leela says skeptically. Three more pings, and the rustle of leather. “Turn around Narvin, I am clothed. You will not be exposed to the horror of my naked form.”
“That’s not – I’m not –” he grumbles, and drops this particular line of protest in favor of a more pertinent one. Standing and turning around, he finds Leela wearing her usual leather dress with a pile of discarded clothes on the bed, her hair a wild thatch with strands jutting at every angle. She might as well have poked her finger into an electrical socket. “Even if there were gaps in my intelligence about Kerlaugar, why in the Seven Systems would you assume that Romana and I would want to rid ourselves of you?”
“Because of what happened with the Monan ambassador,” she says, her skepticism and irritation melting into something more contrite. She sucks worriedly on her bottom lip. “Because of what I did.”
“Romana might have been angry, but she—”
“You were not there for our conversations afterward. You did not see the disappointment in her eyes, when she regarded me; she wished to punish me somehow. There would be no better way to dispose of me than this treaty negotiation that benefits Gallifrey and exiles me forever to this world, away from the Time Lords.”
Narvin crosses his arms, surveying her miserable expression and slumped shoulders. Her conviction is enough to give him pause, so he skims through his memories of the incident and the days afterward. Perhaps he was too distracted by the Adherents of Om business and the mystery of Braxiatel’s reappearance; perhaps he really did miss signs of the extent of Romana’s temper, the same way he missed intelligence about treaty requirements on Kerlaugar.
He joins her in the bedroom, trying to keep the frown from his face. “I give you my word, I intended for you to return to Gallifrey. Even if Romana considered some kind of exile, you really think I would have let it happen?”
“Yes, I believe you would,” she replies, tilting her head as she studies him. “I think she is your President and your loyalty is to her above all.”
This brings Narvin up short, his mouth moving without sound as he contemplates Leela’s certainty. If this had been Romana’s plan and she confided in him, or ordered him to trick Leela into exiling herself via this treaty, they would have had a proper row over it. He would have dragged his heels in making it happen. He would have at least told Leela, even as he handed her the time-ring, so she didn’t walk into a blind ambush. He would have worked hard afterward to patch things up between the two women and bring Leela home, if it could be managed.
But she’s right: he would have sent her nonetheless, because Romana ordered it.
“I know Romana is angry with me, but what about you? Do you wish me to return to Gallifrey, where I embarrass you in front of the High Council?”
“Leela, I meant what I said after we took down the Dalek Controller on the Axis. I trust you, and I’d never want to lose someone I trust, especially not to a planet of …”
“Savages?” she offers, lifting an eyebrow.
“Aliens,” he replies diplomatically.
For the first time since he arrived on Kerlaugar, her face softens into something resembling amusement. She reminds him, “Humans. They are all humans, just like me.”
“You don’t belong here.”
Her face softens further. “You promise to help me seal this treaty and prove to Romana that I am worthy of returning to Gallifrey?”
“Thank you.” A pause, and with deliberate and knowing eye contact she adds, “Husband.”
Merciful Rassilon. During this discussion – or was it a squabble? – he’d forgotten about that bit. “I’ll help you, insofar as this is a matter of explaining the truth to—”
“I have come to know these humans, and Lord Gylfi,” Leela says forcefully. “They will not understand; they will interpret your stupidity as weakness. The quickest, surest way through this storm is to maintain this illusion for the next few days, and then we can return home.”
“You sent me to Kerlaugar as negotiator, without telling me that I would have to marry the ruler to seal this treaty. Who else’s stupidity has put us in this mess, Narvin?”
He meets her flinty stare, framed by wild hair and animal-skin clothing, and eventually admits, “Perhaps I was not fully informed.”
“I accept your apology, husband.”
His mouth dry, his feet restless, he replies, “But I haven’t ever been married to a Time Lord, much less an alien. How does a human marriage function, exactly?”
Leela lifts one corner of her mouth. “Fear not, I have enough experience for the both of us. If you can at least pretend you do not hate being in the same room with me, and all will be well.”
Before he can retort, a knock sounds at the door. Suddenly self-conscious, Narvin edges away from Leela and the bed as she calls, “You may enter!”
A trio of women spill through the door and come to a stop so suddenly they trip over each other, agog at the sight of Leela’s wild hair and simple leather dress.
“Lady Leela,” the foremost titters, eyes wide. “Lord Gylfi has sent us to help you prepare for this afternoon’s ceremony.”
“I do not need preparation. I am ready,” she snaps.
“Remember how I agreed to do what needs to be done, to get us through the next few days and back to Gallifrey?” Narvin says under his breath, fixing something like a smile to his face. At the sight of his expression, the women draw closer to each other in alarm. He adjusts his smile a little, trying for less teeth, but it doesn’t seem to ease their anxiety. “We both agreed to this arrangement. Let them dress you, so we can get this afternoon over with.”
She shoots him a look, and then rolls her eyes back to the ladies. “Very well. Do what you must.”
As they swarm around her, plucking at her hair and dress, it dawns on Narvin exactly what’s about to happen. Again.
“I – ah – I’ll wait in the corridor.”
“Do not be squeamish,” Leela replies as the women start pulling open the laces on her leather clothes. Her amusement returns, eyes glittering at his discomfort. “After all, we are married, are we not?”
“Fine,” he mutters through gritted teeth, “I’ll just pop into the lavatory and get myself ready for the ceremony, shall I?” He spends the rest of the hour locked in the bathroom, studying the Kerlaugarian soaps and tinctures on the counter, and staring at himself in the mirror, trying to imagine his face with a beard.
Bare-cheeked boy, indeed.
The afternoon ceremony – originally intended to announce Lord Gylfi’s engagement, but instead an announcement of Leela’s adoption into his family and her naturalization as a citizen of Kerlaugar – takes place in the main square of the capitol. Thousands throng the space and its surrounding side streets, countless others across the planet watching via the camera drones puttering around the large balcony of the Longhouse Palace.
His CIA robes stark against the riot of color and fur clothing of the humans around him, Narvin stands off to one side as Gylfi presents Leela front and center. The large man waxes poetic about Leela’s skills on the field of contest, her cleverness and bravery, how seamlessly fits into his household and with the people of Kerlaugar as a whole. The people shout as one in agreement, as unreserved as Gylfi in their obvious admiration for Leela. They’re far more enthusiastic than even the Time Lords are for Romana on Gallifrey, at these sorts of political events.
Not only do the people genuinely admire her, Narvin realizes, but the emotion glittering in Lord Gylfi’s eyes is more than a simple desire for political alliance. The big oaf actually has feelings for Leela. Leela beams at the crowd, occasionally turning her bright smile toward Gylfi as he sings her praises. All of the tension and frustration from their initial meeting in Gylfi’s office is gone, and she seems to be genuinely enjoying herself.
The more Narvin witnesses this display, the more creeping dismay settles inside his head and worms its way down his throat and into his chest.
Leela might actually belong here, in a way she’s never belonged on Gallifrey with the Time Lords. These are not only her species, but also a people who see and value her for who she is, in a way Narvin’s people have never seen or valued her. Sure, a handful have embraced her – Andred, Romana, Braxiatel and himself – but most hold her at arm’s length, and regard her with suspicion or disdain.
Why, then, would Leela not want to stay here? Why refuse Gylfi’s offers of power and adoration and family? Are her few friendships on Gallifrey enough to sustain her for the rest of her human life, living among the admittedly insular and prejudiced Time Lords?
Leela didn’t express a desire to stay on Kerlaugar – or even seem to seriously entertain the idea at all. But the decision would be quite logical, Narvin realizes with a cold dread. It would be the most rational thing in the universe, for her to change her mind and stay.
Swallowing bile, he firmly ignores the queasiness washing over him.
It isn’t as if his own day-to-day would change much if Leela left, he tells himself. He lived most of his lives without her, before the Doctor brought her to Gallifrey, and only spent a few years passing her in the corridors of the Panopticon before the Dogma crisis and their exile on the Axis. He and Leela were thrown together and got used to each other’s company, that’s all. Even on that other slaveholding Gallifrey, they lived apart for years and Narvin coped just fine.
Their teamwork during the Dalek incident and their mutual declaration of trust was a significant development, Narvin can’t deny that. After all, apart from himself he only trusts two people in the universe. It would be unfortunate, if one of them weren’t around anymore. It would be inconvenient, if she found reasons to stay on Kerlaugar.
Front and center on the balcony, Lord Gylfi takes Leela by her shoulders and she bows her head as he declares her a third-cousin in the royal house of Kerlaugar and All Her Heavenly Realms by the grace of the Raven God. Without so much as a glance or twitch in Narvin’s direction, Gyl leans down and plants an affectionate kiss on the crown of her head and then pulls her into an embrace. She wraps her arms around his impressive midsection – so thick with muscle her hands don’t even reach his spine – and accepts her new title.
This hug goes on a little longer than is warranted, Narvin thinks, given the fact that it’s a purely political gesture. Crossing his arms, he clears his throat disapprovingly, but the sound is drowned beneath the roar of the Kerlaugarian crowd.
After the adoption ceremony, Gylfi and Leela climb aboard the royal barge, followed by the royal retinue and, lastly, Narvin. They float down the wide river that splits Kerlaugar’s capital city, past citizens lining the shores and throwing flowers into the water like sentinels to guide them to the evening’s final event: a banquet at Kerlaugar’s largest feasting hall.
At the front of the barge, and in spite of Gylfi’s hand resting on her shoulder, Leela feels more relaxed than she has all week. Everything seems easier to tolerate this evening - the overwhelming attention, the requirement to smile, the silk dress and heavy white furs, and the pricking of pins in her elaborately braided hair. In fact, for the first time since she left Gallifrey, she doesn’t feel on edge.
She almost feels content.
As the barge lumbers along and she grows bored of waving at the cheering people, it occurs to her that the ongoing resolution of her diplomatic predicament isn’t what has her at ease. It’s Narvin’s presence only a few steps behind her, guarding her back. It’s the reassurance he gave, that he didn’t intend to strand her here, and his promise to do whatever was necessary to bring her back to Gallifrey and Romana’s good graces.
He had opportunities to abandon her in that slaveholding Gallifrey and then in the Matrix, not so long ago, but he risked his life twice to save her instead. And here on Kerlaugar, he’s proving his loyalty and bravery once again. He might not be facing off against a Dalek, but deceiving a planet full of humans is just as daunting a prospect, for a Time Lord – and most especially for Narvin.
Yet for her sake, he agreed to this marriage pretense.
As her cheeks ache from forcing herself to smile, Leela wishes for nothing more than a quiet moment at Narvin’s side. After all, one of their favorite pastimes on Gallifrey is trading sarcastic remarks during the Time Lords’ political spectacles, whispering commentary to each other as politicians strut and squawk like peacocks. The only way Leela bears these unbearably boring situations is in Narvin’s company.
Here in the midst of this human political spectacle, she still craves his sarcastic commentary and commiseration. Twisting around toward the back of the barge, she finds him standing in the midst of Gyl’s royal retinue. He stares back at her, arms crossed and a single eyebrow lifted, his lips pressed into a flat, wry line. He looks exactly as bored as she feels.
In spite of her tired cheeks, her grin widens into something genuine; when he lifts his second eyebrow in reply, as expressive as a sardonic remark on this ridiculous situation, she laughs and turns back to Gyl.
They debark at the banquet hall, Gyl proffering an elbow, one of a hundred touches they’ve shared over the last week, the currency of their competition and courtesy. Leela accepts his elbow with the fingertips of one hand, recognizing the importance of these physical gestures as diplomatic tools, but reluctant to encourage the already handsy chieftain.
A bonfire roars in the center of the space, surrounded by dozens of long tables. On an elevated dais in front of the room, the royal table sits slightly above everyone else, and as Gyl steps away to address a gaggle of Earls, Leela suppresses a sigh at the prospect of being on display through the whole meal.
One of Gyl’s advisors begins directing everyone in the retinue to their seats, and in the shuffle Narvin ends up halfway down the table, surrounded by strangers. He’s arguing in low tones with a woman holding a digital screen with a map of the room on it, little names hovering above each pixelated chair.
“Braeda, bring my husband here,” Leela calls to her. Braeda glances at Gylfi, still working his way through a gaggle of Earls, waiting for his nod of approval before she relents. The long row of royal guests all rise and shift down a seat, tutting like a row of ducks as they preen and re-settle.
Narvin takes the freshly emptied chair beside Leela, muttering, “Good evening, Cousin Leela.”
“Good evening, Coordinator Narvin,” she replies impishly. “It seems even a celebration of this size cannot lift your spirit out of its sour mood. Perhaps you would be happier, if you had been locked away in a broom cupboard with a stack of paperwork?”
“Peace and quiet and uninterrupted productivity? I’d have been thrilled.” A waiter stops by, tray laden with goblets splashing over with mead, and deposits drinks in front of Gylfi’s empty chair first, and everyone else afterward. Narvin picks his up and lifts it toward her. "A toast to your rowdy new human family."
“They are our family now, my pretend husband,” she whispers with a laugh, tipping her glass in his direction before taking a long gulp. His mouth hangs open, as if this technicality hadn’t occurred to him before. The idea of an extended alien family, even a fake one, has apparently shorted out his thoughts as surely as a datapad dunked in water. “Drink, Narvin! Try not to look like someone is pulling out your toenails under the table.”
"You know very well, fermented beverages don’t affect Time Lord physiology."
She rolls the thick stem of the goblet between her fingers and surveys his stiff posture and dour expression. "A true pity. I would enjoy seeing you drunk," she says, taking another long draught and savoring the way the liquid fizzes down her throat and turns warm in her stomach. She hadn’t realized how much she craved a drink until she had one, but now she decides she’s going to let herself enjoy tonight, including the alcohol. After all, Narvin is here to watch her back, and so she is safe.
When Lord Gylfi finishes ceremonially blessing the meal, he settles into the oversized carved chair beside Leela. Leaning forward to look across her, he pins Narvin with a sharp gaze. “I have a confession, Coordinator Narvin. I have spent all afternoon confounded at how someone from an aloof, separatist society such as the Time Lords managed to capture the heart of a woman like Leela. Are you very different from the rest of your kind?"
Narvin stares at Gyl for an eternal second of silence. Leela might feel like a dinghy caught between two icebergs, except she’s halfway through her second goblet of mead. Just when she's certain that Narvin has decided not to answer at all, he finally says, "It’s true, not many of my people venture past Gallifrey’s transduction barriers. But during my time at the Celestial Intervention Agency, and the years I’ve spent with Leela, I’ve found travel and good company does rather broaden the mind.”
"Narvin and I have had many adventures together," Leela agrees, warm enough with mead to be almost immune to the danger in this conversation. Out of idle curiosity she picks up a napkin-covered basket from nearby and peeks inside, discovering a heap of bite-sized bread rolls, steaming hot.
Someone calls Gylfi’s name and he waves them away without a glance, his attention still fixed on Narvin. “I would be honored to hear of your adventures, and the sorcery by which you convinced Leela to marry you.”
"On our first mission together, Leela was an exotic dan-" Before Narvin manages another syllable, Leela snatches a roll from the basket and pops it into his open mouth. His eyes bulge in shock and he seems to consider spitting it out, but manners overcome instinct and he closes his lips, glaring at her as he chews.
"Narvin and I met in service of President Romana," she says. "She sent us on a mission to stop terrorists intent on Gallifrey’s destruction. But we did not like each other then."
"Leela was impulsive in those days," Narvin mutters around the remnants of his roll. Before Leela can shove another into his mouth, he defiantly plucks one from the basket in her hands and eats it himself. Gylfi’s gaze moves between them, calculating.
“Side-by-side we fought Free Time terrorists, and then vampires, and slavers, and Daleks,” Leela says, after another long swig of mead. “Our feats on the battlefield are many. There are few I trust without hesitation, but Narvin is reliable and true. He was not always so, but he is …” she hums thoughtfully into her drink “... he is a very different man now, than he was when I first met him.”
Narvin swallows his second roll and reaches for a third, his blue eyes locked with hers. “Both of us are rather different than when we first met.”
“It took him many years, but Narvin finally grew a backbone.”
“And Leela finally figured out how to behave among civilized people.” They share faint grins at these familiar insults, exchanged like terms of endearment, as comfortable as a pair of well-worn shoes. Without looking away, Leela waves her empty mead goblet at a nearby server, who rushes over with a pitcher, and Narvin pulls the bread basket in front of himself, settling in for another serving.
“Ah! The food is ready! Let the feasting begin,” Gyl says too loudly, clapping his hands together with force and volume that makes Leela twitch. Something about her conversation with Narvin seems to have diverted Gyl’s curiosity, or satiated it, at least for the moment. Waiters descend upon the royal table with plates full of steaming food.
The meal proceeds apace, platters presented and removed by an army of servers with battlefield precision. The conversation proceeds along with it, Leela and Narvin volunteering to Gyl more details of their adventures, their shared recollections coming out in enthusiastic bursts as they tease each other, and wonder at their differences in perspective on the same events. Leela relishes the rich variety of food, but Narvin leaves most of his meal untouched, and instead stuffs his face with a never-ending supply of bite-sized bread rolls.
“Zey’re remarkaffly devicious,” he informs her around a mouthful, as the waiter delivers another basket.
Between the main course and dessert, the assembly pauses for a ceremonial dance. Lord Gylfi extends a hand and murmurs, “Cousin Leela, may I have the honor?”
“I do not know the steps,” she protests faintly, her knees numb and legs wobbly from mead. She’s had just enough to affect her coordination, and isn’t sure whether she can keep up without embarrassing herself.
“Fear not, I will lead. Tonight’s ceremony isn’t complete until you join our people in dance.”
She glances at Narvin, who is digging into the now empty bread basket with rodent-like intensity. He won’t miss her, she decides, and so she takes Gyl’s hand and rises to walk around the table into the center of the room, as drums begin beating somewhere in the shadows, a stringed instrument in accompaniment.
Gylfi draws the short sword at his waist and gestures for Leela to draw her knife, as well. A thread of concern trails through her buzz, quickly dispelled when he makes clear that the dance is a simulated duel. He patiently shows her the steps, as the rest of the banquet hall looks on, their blades clanging in rhythm with the drums as they move faster with the beat. By the end, delighted laughter bubbles out of her at each exchange, and she happily follows Gyl around the room afterward, speaking cordially with Earls and officials and wishing for another goblet of mead.
When Gyl finally releases her, she returns to her table to find Narvin slouched at an alarming angle in his chair. He regards her sullenly as she sits beside him and reaches for her drink.
He shifts closer, his slump taking on a distinctive slant, until his elbow pokes across her armrest. “He’s rather ridiculous, wouldn’t you say? All those … all those flashy moves with a sword, and those silly muscles. Silly beard, too. Very showy.”
“He’s a fine warrior and a good ruler of his people,” Leela replies, taking a long draught of mead as she watches Gyl work the room.
“Mmmhmm, fine and good,” he echoes, slumping closer, his eyes fixed across the room at Gyl’s imposing figure. He reaches for another roll, shoving it into his mouth and swallowing it whole. “Leela, I’ve been thinking - that is, I want you to know how important you are to - ah - to Gallifrey. Strategically speaking.”
She turns and is surprised to find him only a handsbreadth from her face. His forehead wrinkled in consternation, he hazards a glance at her and then pointedly turns his attention elsewhere, as if he can’t quite bring himself to meet her gaze. All the other people - humans - in this banquet hall are warm from alcohol and heavy furs, glistening with a light layer of sweat. Narvin is the only one immune to the heat, his skin clear even though his eyes seem cloudy. Leela smothers the impulse to touch his cool Time Lord cheek.
“The High Council does not share your opinion about my importance to Gallifrey,” she says. If she leans back, it would establish a professional distance between them, but the thought evaporates the moment it appears, because she doesn’t want to be professional right now. Instead, she angles her torso, her shoulder jostling his.
“Blind and short-sighted and incapable of seeing what matters, even when it’s in front of his face,” he says far too quickly – so quickly, his syllables slur. He pauses and blinks, waving a hand dismissively. “The High Council, that is. Seeing what matters for Gallifrey, I mean.”
Leela’s fingertips tingle, buzzing with the alcohol in her system. “Are you all right, Narvin?”
“Never better.” He crams two dinner rolls into his mouth and chews aggressively.
Leela’s dance and parade around the room with Gyl sobered her up a little, leaving her pleasantly fuzzy and relaxed, but clear-headed enough to read the signs of drunkenness in the Time Lord beside her. He hasn’t touched his mead all night, or his plates of food - in fact, all he seems to have eaten is bread. She plucks a roll from the basket in front of him and sniffs it, then nibbles. It practically melts on her tongue, leaving a delicious spiced aftertaste that she can’t quite place.
Narvin’s shifts closer, so his arm rests against hers from hand to shoulder. He stares at this extensive and brazen contact, as if his limb belongs to someone else and is behaving naughtily enough to deserve a stern talking-to. Instead of moving, however, he keeps staring until his cheeks darken and he clears his throat. “Gallifrey really should be better at expressing these sentiments, probably, while he has the opportunity.”
Leela nibbles the dinner roll again. “These are spiced with ginger.”
“Nothing wrong with ginger,” he murmurs, reaching across with his opposite hand to stroke the auburn braid resting over her shoulder. “Ginger’s a respectable color. Not true what people say about curses and demons. Superstitious nonsense.”
She catches his wrist, and he exhales deeply and sways closer, pulling his arm back and her along with it. Suddenly he’s holding her hand in both of his own, drawing it close to his face to study her palm, his cool breath tickling skin. In this warm banquet hall, the unexpectedly refreshing sensation sends goosebumps dancing up her arm and across her neck.
It would be so easy to touch his face right now. He’s so close, and he’d probably let her do it in his current state. The room is so stifling , and she could take off her fur cape, but instead she feels the sudden desire to drape herself across Narvin instead.
Shaking her head, she sucks in a deep breath and forces herself to focus. There is danger here, with both of them impaired, and for once Narvin isn’t capable of being the responsible one. “How many ginger rolls did you eat?”
“Only five rolls?”
“Great Xoanon, this is a disaster,” she mutters, gaze darting to Gylfi on the other side of the room. “You are drunk!”
“Time Lords don’t get drunk. And I certainly don’t get drunk, not even on Otherstide. Which is not today, by the way, so obviously I am perfectly sober. I’m so sober, I could execute a TARDIS, or fly a CIA mission,” he replies, his logic impenetrable. He massages her palm with his thumbs. It feels … nice. “Is this the sort of thing married humans do? Hold hands?”
“Yes.” Leela has to hide him from public view before he does anything more to embarrass himself, or her, or Gallifrey. She can’t afford another diplomatic disaster or give Romana anything else to be angry about.
“Tell me, Leela,” he hums, low and strangely seductive, even as she strategizes the most expedient exit from this banquet. “What else do human husbands do?”
“Marry for love, I suppose. Speak often and loudly of their feelings, perhaps.”
“Ah yes, talk about feelings . And touch in public, probably. Do they kiss in public?” Narvin adds, looking as though he’s just spotted a Dalek in the corner of the room. “Surely not even humans are so vulgar.”
“In truth, I would not know. I have never married a human.”
“That’s right,” he murmurs perkily, as if he’s just had a revelation. "I don't suppose you even want all those messy human feelings and whatnot, cluttering up a marriage. You prefer Time Lord efficiency! "
"Clutter is not so bad," she replies, gathering her self control so she can extract her hand from his grip, and rise to her feet. "Jamalan often spoke openly of his feelings."
Narvin straightens in his chair, tipping his head to look up at her. His face is twisted in concentration, as he forces himself to focus. "Jamalan? The boy from Mancipia?"
"He was younger than me, but no one would mistake him for a boy. I certainly did not."
"He - with you and - and Jamalan ? Both in Mancipia?"
"You also found ways to come to terms with your life on that other Gallifrey, I am sure."
Narvin sputters softly, words forming and dissolving as he fails to articulate that no indeed , he did not come to those sorts of terms at all, not even remotely. Very deliberately, he reaches into the bread basket for the last two rolls.
Leela leans down, her lips beside his ear. “Wait here, and do not speak to anyone. I will take my leave of Lord Gylfi, and guide you safely back to the palace so you can sober up in privacy.”
He doesn’t answer, instead waggling the empty bread basket at a waiter for a refill. No matter the excuses Leela makes, Lord Gylfi insists on escorting the two of them to a waiting hover-chariot and sending them off from the banquet himself. His inescapable retinue follows along, including six guards he personally assigns Leela as escort. He accepted her flimsy illness excuse with more grace than warranted, struggling to contain his glee at Narvin’s compromised state.
“I will summon my personal doctor, to see to your husband’s illness,” Gylfi says, his eyes twinkling as Narvin sways on his feet beside Leela. They’re outside of the banqueting hall and only two steps from the hover-chariot, maddeningly close to safety. Holding the Time Lord’s arm to steady him, she curls her fingernails into his bicep. His posture straightens and he stares down at her, eyebrows furrowed.
“Steady on,” Narvin mutters, the pain sharpening his attention. “No call for violence.”
“Your husband only took two sips of our infamous Kerlaugarian mead, but it seems to have disagreed with his delicate alien constitution.”
“Narvin does not cope well with unfamiliar food and drink,” she replies.
“S’not true. They don’t make you the head of the CIA if you’re bad at coping with unfamiliar things. S’my whole entire job , to protect Gallifrey from that sort of nonsense,” Narvin says. “I’m excellent at coping, for a Time Lord. Superior . I simply don’t like it.” He meets Gylfi’s judgmentally mirthful stare. “I don’t like lots of things. Take Kerlaugar, for instance, and Lord Pigb-”
There are no more ginger rolls within reach, so Leela resorts to the only thing she can think of to occupy Narvin’s mouth and shut him up. Seizing his head in both hands, she wrenches him down and smashes their lips together. The kiss is brief and inelegant, and when she releases him he wheezes in shock, like a deflating balloon. The diversion works; he doesn’t look at Gylfi or try to speak again, his attention riveted to her instead.
“Ah?” is all he manages, with a questioning lilt at the end.
Gylfi’s amusement has evaporated, his eyes round with surprise and a trace of displeasure. Leela shoves Narvin ahead of her into the hover-chariot and turns back to offer him a quick curtsy. “Thank you for your patience, Cousin Gylfi.”
The guards pile in after them, one taking the controls as the rest station themselves in sentinel positions, and Gylfi watches as they putter away from the banqueting facility.
As soon as Leela sits down beside him, Narvin blurts out an accusation, “You kissed me.”
“Only so you did not ruin our mission,” she whispers, unconsciously touching her tongue to her bottom lip and the traces of ginger that linger there, from the brief contact with his mouth. Now that they are mostly out of danger, she allows herself to relax a little, savoring the mead-induced buzz still flitting around her system.
Narvin tasted nice. Maybe she should have eaten more of those ginger rolls at dinner. Or maybe she should have kissed him a little longer. After a brief deliberation, she decides the kissing option would be preferable.
I kissed Narvin. I want to do it again, and more thoroughly. This unlikely, unexpected revelation lands on Leela like a vortisaur crashing out of the Time Vortex.
“You kissed me in public . In front of dozens of aliens.” His words are slurred again, his focus dissipating in a ginger-fuelled haze. He’s properly sloshed, and as her mind staggers back through their conversation at dinner, she belatedly realizes that he’s been flirting all night. With the skill and finesse of a Cyberman trying fingerpaints, but flirting nonetheless.
“I saved us both.” Gliding through the capital streets toward the Longhouse Palace, the hover-chariot hums around them, and Leela’s entire being hums along with it. “Now stop talking, Narvin. I am too tired to listen to your prattling.”
He blinks, sways, and does what he’s told. A moment later his head tips onto her shoulder and he strokes her fur cape, murmuring “What an excellent cat,” before letting out a soft snore.
She spends a good portion of the ride gazing at him as he dozes, trying to sort out whether or not to put her arm around him, and deciding it wouldn’t be appropriate given his ginger-compromised judgment. He isn’t himself now, not really. She certainly won’t take advantage, no matter how tempting another kiss might sound.
When the hover-chariot glides to a stop, she shrugs him off so he tips forward and rouses with a start. She helps him to his feet, turning down offers of help from the soldiers in the vehicle, and leads him through the Longhouse Palace to their room. As always, a single guard accompanies them, walking a respectful distance behind but observing nonetheless.
As he stumbles along at her side, Narvin stage-whispers, “Is it over? Are we finished? Did we succeed?”
“The banquet is over,” she replies.
“Oh, thank Rassilon. Back to Gallifrey, then!”
“No, foolish man! Today’s celebration is over. There will be more tomorrow.”
“More? More? I watched that pigbear Gylfi paw at you and parade you around like a trophy all afternoon, what else do these barbarians expect me to endure?”
“More feasting, I am sure, after the ceremony. And I forbid you to touch those ginger-rolls again!”
“But we already did the ceremony.”
Leela sighs. “Today’s ceremony was to make me Lord Gylfi’s cousin. Tomorrow is a wedding ceremony, to seal the treaty between Kerlaugar and Gallifrey.”
“A wedding ceremony.” Narvin blinks blearily, and she can practically see the effort it takes to piece together thoughts inside his head. “Our wedding ceremony?”
Leela glances behind them, to make sure their guard is out of earshot. “Do not be alarmed, this marriage is only for pretend. We agreed, remember?”
“This marriage, performed by a Kerlaugarian administrator with full legal authority to … to make people be married,” he finishes haltingly, fresh out of multisyllabic words. “Husband and wife, until regeneration or true death, etcetera?”
“It will only be legal on Kerlaugar, and we agreed it is only for pretend,” Leela repeats. “As soon as tomorrow is over, it will be as if none of it happened. No one on Gallifrey will ever know. It will mean nothing.” Even as she says the words, a strange reluctance settles beneath her sternum, pushing at her lungs and making her uncomfortable. Leela has never liked lying, even when it is necessary, but this lie feels more uncomfortable than it should. There’s the bigger lie, to Gylfi, and then this smaller lie that she didn’t realize was a lie until it slipped off her tongue: it will mean nothing .
“Leeeeegal. Contraaaaactually binding. Lawfully enfoooooorceable.” Narvin keeps spouting synonyms, stretching vowels, testing the words until they reach the their room. The door swishes open automatically, and she steers him inside with a sigh of relief. The door closes, cutting them off from the guard outside.
Finally, they’re safe and alone.
Belonging to a species as ancient as the Time Lords comes with plenty of benefits, what with all the eons of natural evolution and unnatural genetic tinkering involved. They have machine-like control over most aspects of their biology; with just a little concentration and willpower, they can deactivate and reactivate one or both hearts, adjust their body temperature, and partition off parts of the brain. They can regenerate, of course, but they can also heal from grave injury by just popping off for a nap. They can also handle infinite amounts of inebriant without effect, by simply choosing to increase the efficiency of their digestive and endocrine systems.
On this particular night, the failure in Narvin’s highly evolved biology isn’t down to any particular bodily system. It’s down to a failed mental state - initially a state of distraction, his attention occupied with the human next to him at dinner instead of the ingredients of his meal; and subsequently a state of compromised judgment, once he was twelve ginger rolls in and intoxication hit him like a freight train. At that point, his less evolved pleasure centers told his highly-evolved good sense to fuck right off for the evening, thank you kindly.
Now that he and Leela are alone in their private rooms, Narvin is vaguely aware that he could do something to sort himself out, but he doesn’t particularly want to. He enjoys being sloshed, where his toes are tingly and Leela keeps holding onto him as if he’s a toddler who might otherwise run off and do something ill-advised, like licking the power-pack on a staser, or giving Lord Gylfi the dressing-down he deserves.
“What are we doing now?” he asks brightly, his words perfectly enunciated and definitely not slurred. Leela leads him to the sitting area, to one of the oversized couches.
“You are going to sleep,” she replies, reaching to his throat. He stares down at her, enraptured as she fiddles with the gravitational hooks to remove his tabard. “Right here, on this couch.”
He lifts his head and squints at the other half of the suite. “Why would I sleep on the couch when there’s a bed?”
“That is my bed, and you are in no state to sleep there,” she says, the subtlety of her phrasing eluding him. She folds the tabard (sloppily - that should probably bother him? Ah well, he’ll allow it to bother him in the morning) and begins working at the gravitational hooks on his robe.
“And what’s all this?” he asks affably, gesturing toward the fact that she’s taking off his clothes.
“With your luck, if I let you sleep in your robe, you will strangle yourself by accident. Then I will be left to explain to Romana how you died in a drunken stupor. She would never believe it, and I will not have her think me a liar.” She pulls it off, quick and efficient, folding it even more sloppily than the tabard.
In his undershirt and trousers, he makes a humming noise. “Now what?”
“Lie down.” She nudges him, the mildest touch, and he collapses onto the couch.
“Shoes?” he asks, eyebrows furrowed as he lifts his feet into the air for inspection.
“Sleep in them or not, I do not care. But I am not your slave girl, and will not remove them for you.”
Leela begins to walk away, so he blurts out, “Lord Pigbear.”
She turns back around to face him. “Lord what?”
“Pigbear. Big hairy man. Lord Pigbear.” This was the phrase that inspired her to kiss him last time, and perhaps repeating it will produce the same result. It’s simple science: an hypothesis, subjected to testing.
“Time Lord Idiot,” Leela says, gesturing at him, sprawled as he is across the couch. “Or would you prefer Coordinator Numbskull?”
“Hypothesis rejected,” he mumbles in disappointment. If he was a certain sort of person he’d simply ask for what he wants, but he isn’t gauche enough to put his emotional needs on display like a beggared human. If he was in better cognitive shape, maybe he could puzzle out what exactly it was that prompted the kiss and reproduce those conditions. Was it the crowd of aliens? Is Leela an exhibitionist? Exhibitionism seems a very likely, and least desirable, scenario.
“Why I am even bothering to speak with you, in this state?” she sighs, even as her expression softens with affection. “Silly drunk Narvin will get us both in trouble; I need you to be practical, boring Narvin to help me finish this mission tomorrow. So you will go to sleep now.”
Pandak’s ghost, she’s bossy. She always acts as if she outranks him, which inevitably stirs up his argumentative side. He opens his mouth, realizes he has no idea what to say, and snaps it shut.
Sure, he enjoys surrounding himself with powerful women, as he told Romana on that other Gallifrey. But there’s a limit, right? A limit to how powerful or bossy he’ll tolerate before he puts his foot down? Suddenly he’s wandering through this complex topic, searching for a logical metric to apply to Leela, and the correlation between her strong personality and his feelings of attraction. There must be a number or an equation to apply to the problem. He frowns at her, calculating, as she reaches for a blanket.
His train of thought slides off the rails, onto a bumpier and more emotionally fraught track, as Leela lingers to tuck him in. She situates a pillow beneath his head and arranges the blanket, her movements thorough and businesslike. He strains to recall if anyone has ever done this for him, even in his childhood; he doesn’t remember it happening before. A heady mix of sensations wash over him: the sense of being wanted and chosen (which he’s only ever felt before when he was promoted within the CIA), and a softer and more hearts-stopping sense of being looked after without ulterior motive (which he’s never felt before at all). Usually he’s the one taking care of every detail, overseeing minutiae. On the receiving end of such attention, he’s enraptured to the point of incapacity.
His thoughts a hopeless, inebriated jumble, he sighs and closes his eyes. The room spins, along with the planet, and the universe itself. Not in a circular orbit, something more elliptical; pulled off-kilter as Leela walks into the bedroom and leaves him behind.
He’s just begun to doze off when he’s startled by a loud curse and a sharp ping. Sitting up to peer over the back of the couch, he discovers that Leela has gone into the ensuite and left the door open, the only source of light in the otherwise dark rooms. After a few more curses and a loud clattering noise, Narvin concludes she’s in trouble and needs rescuing. After all, who knows what nefarious things lurk on this backwater colony planet? Vicious five-headed rodents or fatal flesh-eating bacteria, that’s what.
Leela could be dying! He can’t, in good conscience, sit here and let it happen.
One hand out to guide his unsteady steps along the wall, he comes to a stop in the ensuite doorframe. Still wearing her long silk evening gown, she stands in front of the mirror, a few braids jutting from her head. She has obviously entered into another battle with the army of pins holding her hairstyle in place.
“You should be sleeping,” she barks, glaring at him in the mirror.
Her anger twigs something in Narvin’s gut, an instinct to fight and a desire to attend all at the same time. His lips hang open as he struggles to reconcile these impulses.
“Well? What are you looking at?” she demands. “Go lie down!”
“No. You sit,” he retorts, finally finding his literal and figurative footing as he stalks into the ensuite and pulls out the tuffet tucked into one side of the long marble vanity.
She turns to face him, crossing her arms. “Why would I do that?”
“Because I had top marks in structural engineering at the Academy - in both interstellar and temporal subtopics. And right now you need a structural engineer,” he says. “Now sit.”
“Why would I need a … structural en-gin-neer?” she says, wrestling with the unfamiliar Gallifreyan word even as she grudgingly obeys, coming to sit on the tuffet. “Much less a drunk one?”
Stepping up behind her, he avoids her eyes in the mirror, focusing instead on the intricately piled braids atop her head. “Certain points of stress and support exist in every form of architecture. Finding those points will expedate … expimate … expi … fix the problem faster,” he says, leaning this way and that as he analyzes the situation. Leela watches intently, ready to catch him if he tips onto the floor. “This won't hurt, by the way. In case you were worried. Because you look worried.”
“I am not worried, because I do not fear you,” she replies. “I have never feared you.”
He sniffs, unsure if he ought to be pleased at this insight into her emotional state. “Fine. Now be very still.”
First he takes a deep breath, collecting his concentration and steadying himself - a single stride on the road to Time Lord sobriety. With the precision of a snake striking prey, he reaches into the braids and effortlessly extracts two hairpins. Victoriously brandishing them, he deposits them onto the vanity and reaches into her hair again for a second pair. He repeats the process again and again, pulling one after the other, until two dozen pins lie in front of Leela and her shoulders have softened, her pinched expression relaxing into something closer to wonder.
As soon as he’s extracted all the metal from her hair, intent on finishing the job properly, Narvin begins unraveling the braids one at a time. If he had the courage to look in the mirror, he’d have found her mouth open in a surprised pout, and her eyes filled with wonder. Instead, he fixates on the task at hand as he pulls each braid apart.
“How did you know what to do?” she finally asks, mesmerized by his hands as he frees her.
“I told you, structural engineering,” he replies. “And I had cousins. Too many cousins. Some of them had hair, too.”
Comfortable silence settles between them. Although the hairpins are gone and her braids unraveled, he's reluctant to step away; instead he makes a pretense of arranging the crimped auburn waves, savoring the silky feel between his fingers and the heat radiating from her scalp.
Eventually he tells the crown of her head, “Gallifrey missed you, while you were away.” A pause. “That is to say, I missed you.”
Her eyes closed, she huffs a laugh and slumps back, resting against his stomach. “I was only gone a week, before you joined me here.”
“No.” He breathes shallowly, letting his vision blur, riding the current of inebriant in his blood into the next words. “On that other Gallifrey, for all those years.”
Her eyes open, and she regards him in the mirror. He keeps his head down, not daring to return her gaze. “You did?”
“I didn’t expect to miss you,” he elaborates, too far down this path to turn back now. His cheeks burn as hot as his ears. “Thought I wouldn’t care at all, about you living all the way out there in Mancipia. But I did.”
“I guessed as much, when you sent Maris to spy on me. But it is good you said it.” If he’d looked in the mirror, he’d have seen her crooked grin. Instead, he feels her squeeze his forearms. “I am glad you missed me.”
He longs to know whether she missed him in return, but she doesn’t offer this information, and he cannot bring himself to ask. It would feel like begging. "I should - ah - I should go back to the couch."
Narvin turns and stumbles into the dark rooms outside, and back to his makeshift bed. After several hours of heavy sleep, he wakes and shuffles into the lavatory to relieve himself. The ginger’s effect has worn off for the most part, but he can still taste it in the back of his throat if he breathes a certain way. Groggy in the dim moons-light, without any witnesses, he feels inclined to self-indulgence. He decides he isn’t sober yet.
Instead of shuffling all the way back to the couch, he stops at the first flat surface. As he slips into the empty side of the bed and settles on his back, Leela turns toward him.
"Narvin?" she whispers across the ample space between them.
"Mmm," he replies noncommittally, pulling the blanket to his chin, contemplating whether to hide beneath it entirely. Instead he breathes the last hint of ginger through the back of his throat, so he doesn’t lose his nerve and return to the couch. Not that it’s particularly uncomfortable – in fact it’s perfectly adequate – but it isn’t cozy. Not like this bed, with the alien occupying it.
Leela doesn’t order him to leave, so he lies awake for a long while, sternly telling himself how tired he is. His thoughts never quite coalesce around his cravings - a touch, of any kind at all; a second kiss, followed by a third, and a fourth, ad infinitum; a reassurance that he belongs here, beside her, that she wants him in some way. There’s so much, and he needs it all so desperately, but deep down believes he deserves so little. And because he can’t put words to these feelings, he keeps his mouth closed.
In the thick, dark silence, Leela falls asleep first. Her breathing turns steady, and eventually Narvin follows her into unconsciousness.
When he wakes up, the two of them are still on their respective sides of the bed. He’s scooched down entirely beneath the blanket, one arm flung to the side. On her stomach, Leela has rolled atop his hand, pinning it between her ribs and the mattress. She’s still wearing her evening gown for some reason, the silk hot against his fingertips.
In her sleep, she grips his bicep, a reciprocal gesture linking them.
Narvin pulls the duvet from his eyes with his free arm. Leela’s face is soft in sleep, her lips parted a fraction as she snores. Every now and then her fingers twitch around his arm as she dreams, and her unbraided hair cascades across her pillow in a glorious auburn riot.
He can’t extract his hand without disturbing her, so he stays still as a rabbit in a snare, waiting for the hunter to return. His stomach prickles as he considers the tantalizing possibilities when she wakes up: talking, touching, maybe a bit of shouting or kissing, he isn’t sure which is the appropriate response after he drunkenly fell into her bed. Both would be enjoyable, in their own way.
No matter how it goes, no one on Gallifrey will ever know.
It will mean nothing, she said to him last night, about the things happening between them on this backwater planet. Since they fought the Daleks together and she’s once again become a daily fixture in his life, he hasn’t been able to ignore these Leela-related cravings that have only grown over time. They’re novel and frightening in their intensity.
What if this absurd situation is actually a blessing, a way to indulge himself and be free of this longing?
Surely his curiosity would be satisfied with only a few more kisses. After all, that’s what his feelings must fundamentally boil down to. On Kerlaugar, he has the freedom to act like a man married to an alien, and then they’ll return home and never speak of it again. None of it is legally binding according to Gallifreyan law, so it will mean nothing, as Leela said. Once his curiosity is satisfied, surely he’ll revert right back to his normal self.
This logic feels staser-proof, and so Narvin leans into it when she wakes, flashing a cheeky grin. “Good morning.”
“You were supposed to sleep on the couch,” she says, eyes glinting in amusement.
“I got lost in the middle of the night,” he replies, hazarding a look at her mouth.
She notices, her fingertips digging playfully into his arm. “I thought you were afraid of so many humans and needed my protection.”
“I’m not afraid of aliens, no matter what you might think,” he says. Relaxed and groggy beside each other on this enormous bed, the air bright with sunlight filtering through the tall windows, they rest in laden silence.
“You never changed clothes,” she finally says, eyes wandering across the part of him not hidden by the blanket.
“My spare clothes are in my TARDIS, in the palace’s docking bay.” He pauses. “You don’t have the same excuse.”
She laughs and, in a surprising movement, rolls closer, from her stomach to her side. This puts her back to him, trapping his arm beneath her body. Her hair spills across his pillow as she twists her head, looking at him over her shoulder.
“Not for want of trying. Do you see the impossible buttons on this torture device?”
“A silk evening gown is not a torture device,” he replies, more breathily than he intends, overwhelmed by her closeness. They’re practically embracing. It’s like holding a petite sun in his arms, with her body heat and brassy hair and nuclear potential. In this moment she seems just as inclined to indulge her curiosity as he is, presenting herself on a platter - flirting far more effectively than he could ever manage. She does it so effortlessly, he can’t help but admire her for it.
“If you think it is not torture, you should wear this dress to the festivities today, and I will wear the CIA robe,” she replies.
With trembling fingers, he lifts her hair away from her neck and shoulders. Sure enough, the gown is held in place with at least three dozen very small, finely tailored buttons. The top four have been torn off, only a few strings left behind as evidence of their demise.
“Last night, I did not want to call Lord Gylfi’s ladies-in-waiting to help me out of the dress,” Leela says, somewhat softer. “I did not want them to …”
“To see me sleeping on the couch?”
“Something like that.”
“Hmm.” Narvin closes his eyes, dizzy with the scent of her human hormones, the fruity aroma of her shampoo, and the overwhelming desire to find out whether she tastes as incredible as she smells. Pressure builds beneath his breastbone, and an anticipatory tingle dances across his lips. He isn’t touching nearly enough of her bare skin, he decides, a problem that should be remedied immediately.
“You could have asked me for help.”
“You were far too drunk,” she retorts.
“I’m not drunk now,” he murmurs huskily, an offer and a reassurance.
Goosebumps rise on the back of her neck. What does that mean, for humans? Is it a sign of anger or excitement? Is she hungry, or bored? The brief silence that hangs between them feels dangerous, and he wonders where her knife is. The thought doesn’t damper his enthusiasm in the slightest.
“All right then.” Without flourish, Leela reaches over to pull all of her hair out of the way, elbow in the air, exposing her back to him. “Free me.”
He swallows, tries not to gulp. “I need both hands."
She sits up cross-legged on the bed, and he follows her example, situating himself behind her. As she holds her hair up, he tackles the delicate silk buttons down the back of her gown. He is entranced by the lines of her shoulderblades, the way she shifts her muscles as he works. His thumbs linger at each button along the subtle path of her spine, bewitched by the soft heat of her alien skin.
Leela is so difficult most of the time - difficult to understand, to reason with, to manage. Nothing in Narvin’s life has ever been easy, not his personal relationships or his professional career; at this point, if he was presented with a smooth path, he’d assume it was a trap. His emotional connection to Leela has been a rough, winding road; this soft, quiet moment feels hard-earned for both of them.
It feels right.
He reaches the last button, just above her tailbone. Fumbling longer than necessary, he surveys the freckles across her back, like constellations mapping the numerous suns she’s basked beneath, during her life of adventures.
As if reading his thoughts, she shrugs the straps off of her shoulders, exposing her full back. “Finally, I can breathe,” she says. “That dress was too tight.”
“Do you need help with … ah … with anything else?” he says, consumed with the hope that there might be more buttons on her undergarments.
She turns to look at him over her shoulder. “I thought perhaps I should help you, next.”
His hand seems to have developed a mind of its own, pressed flat against her ribs, his thumb tracing a triangle between three freckles. His actual brain is still trying to catch up, so far behind his body that it might as well have been time-scooped to last week. “I can reach the gravitational hooks on my clothes, they’re ergonomically designed.”
She puts a hand to her chest to keep her dress from falling off completely, and shifts around to face him. “That is not the point.”
“Oh.” Why is he blinking so much? Why is there a newborn kitten-shark stuck in his throat? “Right. Of course.”
She lifts an eyebrow and grins with a predatory self-assurance that sends both his hearts thumping, as if they’re in a competition to see which can shatter his breastbone first. Before he summons clever reply - or remembers any words at all, really - a chime sounds.
Apparently it’s the door chime, because with only a brief hesitation Leela calls, “You may enter!”
“What are you doing?” he hisses, scandalized. His self-preservation kicks in and he scrambles for the edge of the enormous bed. His panic makes it feel like crossing a snowfield, with banks of white linen and an ever-retreating horizon.
“It is only Lord Gylfi’s ladies-in-waiting, come to dress me just as they do every morning,” Leela whispers in reply, rolling her eyes at his prudishness. “If we wish to convince them of our pretend marriage, let them see us acting like man and wife, sharing a bed.”
“Hello? Leela? They told me to find you here. Am I intruding?”
“Bollocks!” Narvin reaches the edge of the bed at the exact moment that dreadfully familiar voice drifts in from the sitting room. His grip falters and he tumbles off the side, onto the fur rug, then scrambles onto his feet like a cat clawing its way out of a bathtub. His first instinct is to hide, but the only feasible cover is under the bed or inside a nearby wardrobe; while he isn’t keen on this particular visitor finding him in Leela’s room, he’s even less keen on being found hiding in her room.
Irving Braxiatel steps through the bedroom door, bedecked in the same thing he wears every time he leaves Gallifrey: a finely tailored Earth suit. He comes to a surprised halt, surveying the half-dressed Leela on the bed and Narvin glowering nearby, conspicuously out of uniform. A peculiar expression dawns across his face, like the glee of a boy finding unexpected presents under the Christmas tree.
“What the hell are you doing here?” Narvin says, his tone just north of shrill.
“Braxiatel, welcome,” Leela says at the same time, not flustered in the slightest. Which is just as well, because Narvin is flustered enough for the both of them. Actually, he’s flustered enough for a monastery full of holy men.
“Oh dear,” Braxiatel says, not bothering to hide his amusement. “Lord Gylfi’s secretary told me you were sharing a room, but I assured him he was mistaken. I was certain Narvin would be sleeping in his TARDIS. I cannot begin to express my delight, at being proven wrong.”
Narvin has never in all his lives said the word wanker before, but no label in any language in the universe suits Braxiatel more, especially when he’s so intolerably smug. Maybe hearing it would wipe that expression off the other Time Lord’s face.
Narvin opens his mouth and mutters, “Rassilon’s balls.”
ftr I imagine Leela's hair looking something like Lagertha's hair in Vikings, so a little more complicated than this: