It wasn’t that he didn’t like Leela. He’d never not liked Leela, he’d just been- indifferent. Ornorarily indifferent. Well- maybe he’d been more than indifferent, maybe he’d been- he hadn’t hated Leela. To his credit. What it was - he’d pinpointed it because it was almost all he could think of, a constant why did I do that - was that he wanted to hate what she represented to him. So he was cruel to her, so he started siding with Darkel over Romana, so mistake after mistake after mistake, so on.
Now, he spent almost every minute of every day with her. Begrudgingly, he had to concede that they made a brilliant team. Him with all his CIA knowledge, and her with her admittedly very impressive senses and skills. At first, they’d both protested extensively when Romana assigned them to carry out missions for her resistance together. They’d both accepted and gone along with it after not too much fuss out of love for Romana. And now they were stuck together, the result of which being Narvin feeling happier and more a part of something that mattered than he’d ever felt before, even though there was a war on. It terrified him, obviously, but so did everything.
He first noticed it when he laughed, completely accidentally, at one of Leela’s ever present sarcastic comments. Then when he tried to insult her and couldn’t, the words sitting sour on his tongue. Then he really realized it when she was twenty minutes late getting back from a solo mission and he’d been having a twenty minute panic attack, because what if something happened? What if one of Pandora’s weapons went off? What if a guard party found her? She was fine, of course, face a little sooty but not a scrape or bruise on her. That night he couldn’t get to sleep no matter how hard he tried.
He was hesitant to say ‘in love’. He was not in love. He did care for her, he did love her, and as was the case with anything he loved she was on his mind all the time. For someone so withdrawn and snippy he really did love fully and loyally, with everything in him. Fatal flaw, he figured.
He and Leela crept down an abandoned corridor beneath the Capitol, assigned to make sure the maps Romana had back at base were current enough to function. He couldn’t stop thinking about how perfectly they worked together. That had to mean something, didn’t it? It must. Leela could nod and he’d know what she was trying to signal.
“Wait,” Leela said sharply, a few paces ahead of him.
He froze. She sounded unsettled.
“There is- Narvin, get back!” she exclaimed.
“A wire, there was a wire across the ground.” She was almost shouting, running back up the corridor. She turned, dashed back to him, and gave his chest a hard shove, pushing him along, snapping him into motion.
He ran after her, hearts thundering in his chest.
Sure enough, a few moments later, an explosion filled the corridor, knocking them both over. Foundation blocks shook loose from the walls, metal sheeting peeling off like petals, following them down.
“Are you all right?” Leela’s voice, somewhere to the left.
“Yes, I’m- I’m fine,” he called, back, struggling to his feet. The air was too full of smoke and dust, the ground too covered with rubble, to make her out. “Leela?”
“I am here,” Leela replied, coughing. After a moment, she was standing by his side. “Will her guards be-?”
“Any minute, I’m sure,” Narvin breathed, just relieved to see her.
“Then let us not waste time.” With a quick, firm nod, Leela began to run again, easily navigating the new rubble that lined the corridor.
Narvin followed her, knowing he wouldn’t be able to catch her up but satisfied with keeping her in seeing range. He realized, as he ran, struggling to catch his breath, that when she pushed him away from the tripwire- no, it couldn’t be, all the time they’d known each other. But it was. It was the first time Leela’d ever touched him.
He felt stupidly warm, and put his hand on his chest over where she’d put hers.
“Narvin,” Leela called from up the corridor. “Were you injured in the explosion or are you just truly this slow?”
He realized that there was no malice in her voice. She was joking. With him. She was joking with him. “Which answer would get you to slow down?” he replied, and finally caught up to her.
She’d been waiting for him, and when he reached her she replied, “Probably neither.”
“Oh, ha ha.” He tried to sound annoyed. “After you, then.” He watched her take back off, and found his hand lingering again where hers had been.
He’d tried to get in between her and the bomb. It shouldn’t have gone off with them still here, let alone before they purposefully detonated it, but here they were. The ringing in his ears was brutal; he couldn’t feel half his body and the half he could feel felt like it was dying. He was dying. He hoped he’d been able to shield her from the worst of it.
“Narvin?” She sounded scared. “Narvin- my eyes- I cannot see-”
He tried to say something, and couldn’t. He couldn’t move, not even the raise of a hand. Pain shot through him.
“Where are you?”
“Here-” he managed, choking the word out. “I’m here.”
There were a few sounds as Leela moved over the pieces of what used to be a bit of Gallifrey’s history, and then she was right by him.
“Leela.” He looked up at her; disconcerted by how she was staring straight ahead. He was wet, that was something he couldn’t stop noticing. The fabric of his clothes was soaked and heavy with what he could only guess was his blood. But, Lord, that was a lot of blood.
“Narvin,” she whispered, kneeling beside him.
His eyes fell closed, and he couldn’t force them back open. He felt her hand brush his chest, or whatever used to be his chest, all torn up with shrapnel, and winced. It hurt worse than anything he’d ever felt before.
“It will be fine,” Leela assured him. “I will get my sight back in a moment, and then I will be able to get back to Romana and get you help.” It sounded like maybe she was saying it for her rather than for him. “You must stay awake. Narvin, stay awake.”
He realized that his head was in her lap, even though he couldn’t remember having been moved. And then it hit him that he really didn’t want to die. He really, really didn’t want to die. He could feel her hand on his face, not comforting, more just feeling him out. Oh, right. She couldn’t see. He tried to keep breathing.
He needed to rest. It had been so long since he had a rest. And Leela was alright. She was fine, she could speak, she could move. Her sight would come back in a minute. He figured it couldn’t hurt.
“Narvin? Narvin, please, please stay-”
He still felt like an idiot for promising his access codes. If he’d known the doctor was going to do pretty much the bare minimum, he would have offered something much less valuable, not that he was really in the best state for negotiations when he made the deal. Honestly, though. The state of medical care on this planet.
And then, of course, the makeshift hospital station had to be attacked. Cherry on top of an already absolutely perfect day.
They had escaped - by a stroke of luck, Romana’s K9 had been able to hold off Pandora’s programming, at least for a bit - and were now hurrying down the tunnels beneath the station, carrying that bit of weight that came with we’re the only ones who survived this .
As they entered a section of tunnels more crowded with debris, Leela held out her hand, let it collide with Narvin’s shoulder.
He hissed, pain gripping him. “You know, I’m not all healed yet, I’m still-”
“If I had known it was you, I would not have gone for help,” Leela cut him off. “Captain Henzel-
“Left above ground, remember?” Narvin finished, and his irritation wore off, giving way to worry. Leela seemed off. “And what do you need help with? Are you alright?”
“Alright?” Leela blinked.
He realized she wasn’t looking at him.
“Narvin, I am blind.”
“But- the doctor said- I-” Narvin spluttered, ice creeping through his veins.
“You were asleep. All the doctor said was that I could never get my sight back.” Leela drew a shaky breath. “The injury is permanent.”
“Leela, I…” He realized he didn’t have words.
“I do not need pity,” Leela spat. “My other senses can accommodate this, I will be able to function.”
“But-” Narvin stopped, and took her hand, guiding it to his shoulder. “Here.”
“I do not need-” Leela grit her teeth. It was obviously hard for her to admit weakness, to accept help, especially from him. “It was wrong of me to expect help. I am fine.”
“No, Leela- Leela,” he said quickly, putting a hand over hers and holding it there before she could remove it. “Listen. If I can guide you, you can let yourself focus on listening for anyone coming through the tunnels. Your hearing is better than mine.”
“Fine.” Leela sounded bitter, but she didn’t pull her hand away. They walked like that, silent, for a minute, and then she added, “I am not-”
“Weak, I know, and I never said that you were,” Narvin finished for her, casting a wary eye around the tunnels, which were too dark for him to feel any modicum of safety. “No one would think that.” He begrudgingly tacked on, “Especially not if it’s me you’re next to. Just comparatively.”
Leela didn’t laugh, but a little smile tugged at the corners of her mouth. She replied, almost disdainfully, but maybe that was just her tone for jokes, “Then I will be sure to keep next to you.”
Together, they kept on down the tunnel, and Narvin realized that he’d wasted those access codes. He hadn’t given them away so he’d be fixed up. Well, that was part of it, but a very small part. He’d given them in exchange to make sure Leela was healed and well, and he’d wasted them.
Chest tight with fear, Narvin stood by the stasis chamber beside Annos and Leela. He was trying to figure out the mechanics of it- Lord, he just had to think, if he could just think straight for a moment- but no, his mind was filled and clouded with worry for Romana.
Inside the chamber, she wouldn’t stop speaking, half coherently, in a voice that certainly wasn’t hers. Laughing. But she was in pain, she was being hurt, she could be lost forever.
“Talk to her,” he urged Leela again. “Listen, if anyone can get through to her it’s you, Leela, just-”
“But I do not know what to say,” Leela replied, panicked. “What do I-”
“Just- anything, just-” Narvin looked down at the technology in his hands and knew he had to be focusing on it if he wanted to get them out alive. “Just talk.”
After a moment's silence, Leela called, “Romana, please, can you hear me?” She put a hand to the glass of the stasis chamber. “I know you are strong enough to cast this creature out, Romana. You must listen to me.”
Annos, shellshocked, gestured towards the chamber. “Look, she’s…”
Indeed, Romana was shuddering. Perhaps trying to break the Matrix’s hold on her. “Leela, I think it’s working,” Narvin said, not wanting to worry her with a description of the terrifying convulsions passing through Romana, of how Romana’s skin looked too pale, like she’d been fished out of a river. “Keep trying.”
He turned his attention down to the transporter, and if only he could figure out a way to get what was left of the chronon energy from Wynter’s TARDIS to power it up, he could get them all out. He wasn’t sure how safely, but he was positive he could do it, and at this point that was the best he could hope for.
Leela continued her pleas towards the glass, and he continued his modification of the transporter. Annos continued shifting his attention, horrified, between Romana in the chamber and out towards the rest of the anomalies, doing his best to still function as a guard. Seconds passed, heavy and tense and terrifying.
“Romana, I-” Leela stopped, turning towards Narvin, panicked. “Narvin, this is not working.”
“It’ll work,” Narvin promised, utterly unsure. “You just have to keep trying-”
“That thing has emptied her out, she is not her anymore-” Leela’s voice was breaking.
“Leela- Leela, she’s still in there, she just has to hear you,” he insisted, but as time went on he felt more and more like he was lying.
“But she is not listening,” Leela yelled, a tear rolling down her cheek. “I cannot-”
“Keep trying,” Narvin snarled back, and immediately hated how harsh it sounded.
But Leela gritted her teeth, drew a breath, and - after fumbling for a second to find him - clamped a hand down on Narvin’s shoulder, so tight he was sure it would bruise. And she kept trying, repeating varied phrases, begging Romana to listen. It seemed that she was drawing the strength for it right from Narvin, through that contact, though where she found it in him he had no idea.
And it worked. Eventually, Romana got enough control. Narvin plugged the transporter into the port he’d modified it for; not his original plan but rather a last ditch effort, and he didn’t even feel the resulting power surge fly through him. He was already out cold.
Narvin couldn’t say he wasn’t happy that Romana had made the choice to move their base of operations to the Academy. Not only was it far more familiar ground, it was right in the Capitol. They’d be fighting Pandora from her own backyard, and it allowed for far greater strategic maneuvering, which he was particularly looking forward to.
After they’d made sure Romana was safe and secure - she was still woozy from being fractured in the Matrix, and needed rest - he and Leela were doing a slow sweep of the Academy’s perimeter, making sure they’d be able to fortify it. Annos had offered to come with them and cover them, but before he could say anything Leela had declined.
He figured she was still defiant about her disability. She continuously insisted that she didn’t need any help from anybody, and apparently turning away the help of a guard was included in that. He couldn’t blame her, even though he wouldn’t have said no to any extra protection.
They walked together, and he was describing passages to her as they went through them. Since the rebellion had begun, he’d discovered it was impossible to ignore her strategic prowess. Oftentimes, although he’d never say it out loud, she was coming up with better maneuvers than he was. If anyone could figure out the best way to place guards around their new base, it was her.
They were pointedly avoiding Romana as a topic of conversation, sticking strictly to business. Narvin was worried about her, despite her insistance that she was fine, and he could sense in Leela that it was bothering her too. Funny. The three of them all shared that, that never admit you’re not okay sensibility. He used to think he didn’t have anything in common with either of them. He knew better than to try and tell himself that now.
“Leela, heads up,” he said, as they turned into a new hallway absolutely cluttered with rubble. Probably left over from one of the terrorist attacks back when the school was still in operation. “There’s debris all over the ground up ahead, I’ll talk you around it.”
“Just give me your arm,” Leela replied.
He wanted to launch into some pathetic line of excuses: are you sure? don’t feel like you have to, I’m perfectly fine describing it. I don’t want to make you - but no, she’d asked, and it was fine. He shushed his anxieties and held out his arm.
Leela reached around for a moment, but soon found it, and got a good grip on his forearm.
His stomach, naturally, turned a summersault. He swallowed, cleared his throat, and kept describing the hallway, noting windows and doors.
They were both still coming down from the high of getting Romana out of the Matrix safe and alive, but this, the fact that Leela trusted him enough to ask him for help when she refused it from everyone else, seemed just as big a victory to him. She was letting herself be vulnerable. Only with him, aside from no doubt Romana. He wondered - no, he hoped - that one day he’d be able to be vulnerable with her as well.
Pandora was gone. The Matrix was gone as well, sacrificed to cancel Pandora out. Narvin wasn’t sure if he could ever say aloud that it was worth it, but he knew it was. More importantly - most importantly - Romana was safe. She was exhausted, physically and mentally, and her mind was pretty extensively hurt, but she’d be able to sleep it off and recover. And no more Pandora. Lord, no more Pandora. It was personal; she had taken advantage of him as well. For a spell, he’d been terrified of his own insomnia, as if he needed another thing to worry about, trying to force himself to sleep. It was a breath of fresh air to know she was never coming back.
And he knew it would be a weight off Leela’s shoulders, and that was what mattered. Having Romana in any kind of danger was the worst thing in the world for her, and to know that the threat of Pandora was gone would maybe rinse some of the stress off her.
They stood side by side now, looking through the window in the door to Romana’s little room in the medical ward.
Romana looked peaceful, at least. She was still asleep, or unconscious, as she’d been when they moved her from her room to the hospital bed.
Beside him, Leela said, “We did well.”
“You did more than me,” he replied. “You were actually in there with them.”
“Yes, but without your tech- technolical- your help through the computers,” Leela settled on, “it would not have worked. It was not just one of us, it was team work. All three of us.”
Narvin saw her hand up against the glass of the door, and sighed. “She’ll be fine, Leela, her mind just needs time to recover.”
“And we do make a bit of a team, eh?” He said it mostly to cheer her up, but it was true. When he worked with her, everything was perfectly timed. Everything just slotted into place. They did brilliantly.
Leela smiled slightly. “Does this mean you will admit you have picked a side?”
“Oh, never,” he said, fondly. “That was just strategic maneuvering. See, it only made sense to stick with who I knew was going to come out on-”
“Of course, Narvin, of course,” Leela interrupted, and she was laughing. “Whatever you must tell yourself, go right ahead.”
Narvin caught a chuckle in his throat, and smiled instead. Close shave. And then, carefully, even though most of his instincts were telling him not to, he laid a hand on Leela’s shoulder.
She gave a minute start when he first touched her; she hadn’t been expecting it, but soon she settled back. She was smiling. After a breath, she said, voice low, “We won.”
“We won,” Narvin repeated, trying not to get too caught up in the excitement of it, but they had won. Against pretty much every single odd, they’d actually done it.
Leela clapped him on the back so hard he stumbled a step forward, and then she was laughing again.
No one was watching, or listening. The Matrix was gone; it didn’t matter. He laughed as well, pressing his side to Leela’s when she put an arm around his waist.
“You have a good laugh,” Leela said, breathless, after they had let out all the compound stress of the past weeks through silly giggling. “You should use it more often, it makes you seem like a man I would trust.”
“Well, I don’t want to be misleading,” Narvin replied, snorting. He was red up to his ears, and was glad Leela couldn’t see it.
Leela’s smile was fading, and she said, “But will you have my back? I will need you, Narvin, especially while Romana is recovering. Darkel and the others will try to make a move against her while she is weak, I know it.”
“Naturally, it’s politics,” Narvin agreed quietly.
“We need not to abandon her, even if it looks like Darkel will come into power.” Leela sighed. “I know you are one to jump ship, and I do understand you are keeping yourself safe, but-”
“Leela, I- I’ll stick with Romana. I’ll do everything I can to make sure they’re not using legislature unfairly against her, I’ll try to keep her in office, I’ll- I’m not- I didn’t fight that whole rebellion for nothing.” His mouth was dry, and he sighed. “I promise.”
Leela looked too relieved, like she hadn’t expected him to want to stay with them.
There had been a time when, upon having convinced someone into thinking he was utterly unattached, and only acted for his own political gain, he would’ve been proud. Now it was making him feel sick. He didn’t like that he’d ever behaved in a way that would make Leela think he’d turn on her or Romana, but it was undeniable that he had. “I promise, Leela,” he repeated.
“Thank you, Narvin.” She rolled her shoulders and straightened her spine, getting some of the tension out. “I will not be able to sleep with Romana like this, so if you want to rest I will stay with her.”
“No,” Narvin answered quickly. “I’m staying too.” He leaned his back against the wall beside the door, as if to prove his point.
“Good,” Leela murmured, and did the same on the other side of the door, arms crossed. After a moment, she held out a hand in his general direction.
This was almost common practice for them now, especially when no one else was around to wound her pride. She’d take a hold of his arm or his sleeve just so she didn’t have to focus so hard on guiding herself. So he offered his arm, touching his wrist to her fingers so she’d know where he was.
She took his hand instead.
He cleared his throat, but couldn’t think of anything to say. He wasn’t going to start fussing about it, or making fun of her; he didn’t want to run the risk of her letting go. So he just… held her hand. He kept waiting for it to get weird, or sweaty, but it didn’t, and, as it turned out, rubbing his thumb back and forth over her knuckles was sort of keeping his anxiety at bay.
So they waited, comfortably, together, for Romana to wake up.