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Othermass at Home

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Narvin coughs and splutters his way to wakefulness. His arms seem to be rather trapped under the cover, but he manages to extricate a hand to brush away whatever it is over his face.

There seems to be no end to the stuff. It is soft yet prickly, many-stranded like fur but definitely not fur, cool on his skin. Narvin opens his eyes and immediately shuts them again.

“I can see you are awake, Narvin. Your breathing has changed.”

It is impossible to glare properly with his eyes shut, Narvin discovers, so he capitulates. “I thought it was dishonourable to attack when your opponent was weak.”

“Only when you are fighting an enemy.” She is smiling at him, shamelessly innocent. “With friends, it is merely a tactical advantage.”

“Friends would not subject friends to - ” Narvin waves his free arm about, encompassing the revised decor of the hospital room - “this.”

“No, Narvin, friends see what is good for friends. And to celebrate is good. We have much to celebrate.”

“And you decided to start the festivities by suffocating me with tinsel?”

“I am sorry about that, Narvin.  We ran out of the tape we were using to fasten the decorations to the wall. Romana has gone to find more.”

“This was barely tolerable before. Now I find I’m trapped in a revoltingly gaudy room on a pitifully primitive planet, the population of which obviously lacks any taste whatsoever.” Narvin drops the tinsel over the side of the bed. “What precisely is there to celebrate?”

She answers him seriously. “We celebrate that you are recovering, that I have my sight back, that Romana has been smiling these past few days and we are still together. The people of this Gallifrey lost much but they have survived. They rebuild, they turn the meteor craters into lakes, they learn and move on. And we do the same.”

Narvin stares at the ceiling. Paper chains and tinsel hang in loops. As he watches, one detaches itself and floats gently down to drape itself across him. His effect of his glare, he feels, is somewhat diluted by this.

“I am sorry!” Leela giggles.

“Oh, very festive, Narvin,” Romana says, entering, her arms piled high with brightly coloured and glittering items. “Good to see you entering into the spirit. Leela, I couldn’t carry everything; there’s more out there.”

No,” Narvin says, as emphatically as possible while flat on his back. “No more.”

“I shall bring it,” Leela says, entirely ignoring his protests, and leaves the room.

“The people of this Gallifrey have a notion that a cheerful environment promotes healing. They were only too pleased to give me these.”

“If they knew anything about medicine, I wouldn’t still be stuck here.”

“For observation, which is their way of saying they won’t throw us out into the snow. They’ve been very kind to us, Narvin.”

“Besides which,” he continues, “if that theory has any basis in fact, it would be due to the fact that the patient found the environment soothing and strengthening, which I assure you I do not.”

“No?” Romana quirks her lips in a smile, and Narvin’s struck by how right Leela was: it is very good to see Romana smile.

“No,” he insists.

Romana sighs. “Well then, close your eyes and think of Gallifrey.”

He doesn’t need to follow her every order. He doesn’t. But with almost closed eyes, the silver shimmer of the tinsel does vaguely recall the cadenwood trees and the red the grass… he must have slipped into a brief doze because he wakes with a start when Romana slips into bed beside him, hooking her leg over his.

“Madam President!”

“Ssh,” she murmurs, and he feels her breath on his throat. “Is this better?”

“Your feet are cold,” he says inanely, because they are.

“Then it is a good thing I am here,” Leela says. The hound thing has given her back her natural stealth and grace and more besides: he did not hear her enter. She deposits something on the floor, and gets into the bed on his other side, hooking her leg over his in the same manner as Romana and tangling all their feet together. “Your bodies are liars. I know you are not as cold as you feel.”

“You are honest in every way, Leela.” Romana slides her hand across Narvin to find Leela’s. “How about this, Narvin?”

He cannot find words, nothing coherent, but the silver and the red are still catching the light and he can see Gallifrey in his mind - the three of them lying in the grass together - and he thinks maybe he doesn’t hate the decorations after all. Romana laughs, her body shaking next to his, and presses a kiss to his throat.

“Get well soon,” she says, and it’s more a promise than a wish.

 “Narvin,” Leela asks eventually, “do you give gifts at this time?”

“Traditionally.”

“You mean yes. I know you and your traditions.” He cannot see her smile, but it is in her voice. “Merry Othermass, Romana, Narvin.”

 She kisses him and leans over to kiss Romana, brief but meaningful.

“Merry Othermass, Leela,” Narvin says, echoing the odd phrase, once her weight is off his chest and she is curled by his side again, “Romana.”

“You might have just woken up, Narvin, but some of us have been busy.”

“Good night, Romana,” he says placatingly.

“Sleep well,” Leela adds.

“Good night,” Romana says then, almost inaudibly against his neck, “Merry Othermass.”

Narvin lies in warmth inside and out, squints at the tinsel, and thinks home.