After they left Skaro, Romana took to wandering around the TARDIS. She wasn't quite sure what she was looking for, but she let the fingers of her left hand trail along the wall and the texture of the thing felt like it was scraping into her brain. When she couldn't fight them anymore, active thoughts rushed into her consciousness; something about an explosive charge ticking down from seventy, the Doctor reaching for her through an impenetrable wall of transparent polymers. Something about being dead and buried under piles of rock.
She memorized the route to the engineering lab (usually it was near the secondary control room, if she hung a left just past the boot cupboard and made sure to step no more than four feet beyond the wall with the hats). The Doctor could have gone any number of places in the time she spent there, snapping resistors into breadboard and resynchronizing timepieces and bombarding atoms with alpha particles just for the fun of it. She built four different kinds of vortex manipulator, then took the circuits apart and turned it all into a device for producing perfectly browned toast – which, if she thought about it, really seemed like something the Doctor might do.
Everything she built looked the tiniest bit diaphanous, as though it might blow away with one breath. No, not a breath – a word. Exterminate. A beam of light, a flash of bright green, and eleven or so regenerations.
"It turns out," said a voice behind her (and Romana had to catch her breath very quickly to avoid soldering her pliers to the work table), "that I've already got a coordinate interpreter. And a couple of particle accelerators, come to that. I can't think what you've been doing locked down here all this time."
"Getting accustomed," she answered. She wasn't turning around yet. "It's not every day one gets a new body."
"You had four, if I recall."
"Well, building, you know," she said. "Tinkering. Soothes the nerves."
It was strange, she thought, that his hands were now so noticeably on her shoulders, since he had placed them there with completely imperceptible gentleness.
"Why would your nerves need to be soothed, Romana?"
"No reason. Look, does the randomiser need an outside power source, or does it draw from the secondary magnetic generator? I've worked out a –"
"Romana," he repeated, and spun her around just as softly, so they were facing, now, and she was gazing into his eyes but mostly thinking about the soldering iron in her hands, which was still drawing a bit of current.
"I could have stopped him," the Doctor continued, in a rare moment of total solemnity. "I've met Davros, I've – looked at his life support systems, understood his inventions. It wasn't quite enough at the time. I could have refused. I could have exchanged two human lives for the whole of Dalek history, and what we just went through never would have happened."
"Yes, and instead of two robotic races deadlocked in an unwinnable war, you'd have one dominant robotic race doing as it pleased," Romana reminded him. "I would caution you against linear temporal thought."
"You would, wouldn't you?" he replied, but there was a bit of light in his blue eyes now, and the corners of his lips twitched upwards. He reached for the brown hat in his pocket, and plopped it on top of her head. In spite of herself, she winked at him.
"Now," he began, "what's got you hiding away in the engineering lab when we've got randomised time and space to explore?'
She said nothing for a moment, and he watched her turn the soldering iron over and over in her hands.
"Do you enjoy it?" she asked. "Exploring? All the time?"
"Even the bits with Daleks and nova devices and Guardians?"
"Perhaps not as much. But those bits aren't half-bad. Better to live danger than study it, eh? You learn more."
"Oh, I don't know," she sighed, and looked away, beyond him, behind him. "I liked school. It was – regulated. It seemed to make some sort of sense."
She had to glance up at him again when he touched her cheek.
"I don't think you'll ever have a problem making sense of things," he told her. His eyes held her there, under his hat, rooted to the ground, her fingers curled around the handle of a smoking electrical tool. She didn't know what he'd seen with those eyes (and a few previous pairs) that gave him such surety, but for the moment, she could almost understand it. His other hand reached up to cup her cheek as well, and she closed her eyes, listening to him breathe. It did make sense, she realised – just knowing he was there.
When his fingers moved away, she opened her eyes, but she wasn't sure how long it had been, and he hadn't left.
"Well," she whispered, and cleared her throat. "Now that's done, I might put this soldering iron down. It's ... you know ... it's still plugged in."
The Doctor grinned. "Well, yes, of course," he agreed. "Come on, Romana. Let's go see where we are."