'Fair and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul,' I cried.
'My friends are gone, but that's a truth
Nor grave nor bed denied,
Learned in bodily lowliness
And in the heart's pride.
"Crazy Jane Talks With The Bishop", William Butler Yeats
Romana opened her eyes to darkness, and panic.
Imprisonment or rescue: she had no way of knowing which had been the dream. She might close her eyes again, and wake to find herself in her old cell, still a slave cringing in the dark, awaiting her masters' orders--
Her stomach heaved and her throat constricted. She forced herself out of bed and stumbled to the bathroom, where she poured herself a glass of water and waited for the nausea to pass. Her hands were shaking. A few drops spilled onto her feet. She sank down onto the edge of the bath and leaned her head on the cool tile wall beside her. She did not look in the mirror.
After a few seconds of slow, heavy breathing, she perceived movement in the outer room. Footsteps, as careful and precise as a feline's. Not a fellow-slave, she tried to tell herself, certainly not an overseer. She knew perfectly well that the Daleks made no noise when they approached, but reason couldn't slow her hearts. There were only seconds left. She could panic, or she could fight, or both -- risk humiliating herself once more before a chancellery guard--
His appearance in the doorway was both gradual and abrupt, a graceful sidling into view. His face, pale and eerie in the dim light, shocked his name from her lips. Her voice was low and harsh. He leaned against the door-frame, looking down at her, his face unreadable. He had a new body -- new to her -- smaller, older, more intense.
"What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Visiting my dearest friend."
"Hell of a time to turn up uninvited." The reverberations of his arrival were passing off, and she was acutely aware of his scrutiny. "The chancellery guards--"
"Won't trouble me. Nor will Braxiatel," Romana heard the elaborate distaste in the Doctor's voice, "unless, of course, you wish to call them in--"
"And have you arrested?" Romana's lips twitched, not quite a smile. "It would be easier to ask you to leave."
"Or," he said, looking away from her at last, turning to take in her spartan room and tangled blankets, "you could offer me a cup of tea."
Romana said nothing.
"And a biscuit," he added.
He ended up leaving Romana in her room to dress, while he migrated to her spacious kitchen and brewed the tea himself.
"I can't offer you any biscuits," she said, as she emerged from the inner chamber. "I don't expect they're on my physician's list of approved nutritional supplements. Actually, I'm not sure she's ever heard of--"
The Doctor placed a plate of shortbread before her, and she fell abruptly silent.
"Forseeing the privations of your convalescence, I brought my own biscuits," he said. "As well as three kinds of tea. Also fresh oranges, red bean buns and that peculiar sweetmeat you liked so much on Tara." He poured her a cup of tea. "Lady Grey," he said, "with a slice of lemon. Just as you always liked it."
He added three sugars to his own while watching her cradle her cup in her hands, inhaling the vapours. Her grey dress highlighted the prominence of her collarbones. His gaze lighted upon the veins on the backs of her hands, and the streaks of silver in her hair. She was four hundred years old, and looked middle-aged.
When at last she lifted the cup to her lips he sensed some of the tension leave her. He hid his smile.
"You say you came to see me," said Romana. "What prompted the decision?"
"Apart from my abiding affection for you, you mean?" The Doctor favored her with his most charming smile, mostly to prompt her derisive snort, which followed immediately. "Your father is worried about you."
Romana's tea cup hit the sauce with a clatter.
"I beg your pardon?" she said, in a flat, disbelieving tone.
The Doctor selected a piece of shortbread, thinking of the surprise, the wariness in Romana's eyes, and choosing his words carefully. "We correspond, from time to time."
"He contacted me recently. He said you had become -- what was the word? Withdrawn."
"Touching," said Romana, in a skeptical drawl. "Though it seems rather late to take an interventionist approach to parenting. Did he read about it in a book and decide to put the theory into practice?"
"Brittle." He spoke his thoughts aloud. He was beginning to feel out of his depth. "That was another word Varisandros used."
"Oh, please." A new, defensively irritable note entered her voice. The Doctor congratulated himself on having hit a nerve. "I haven't spoken to him in months."
The Doctor raised his eyebrows and sipped his tea.
"We're hardly a tight-knit family unit," she snapped. The Doctor found it interesting that she interpreted his neutrality as disapproval. "That's not Hearts-haven's way."
"And yet, he worries for you." The Doctor gave a small shrug, resigning this fact to the status of a paradox. "I too am surprised whenever I'm reminded that not everyone is content to ignore their offspring as soon as it's detached from the Loom."
Romana fixed him with a steely eye and a grim smile. "You sound as though the subject of family were preying on your mind," she said. "Have you spoken with Braxiatel, since your return?
The Doctor heard a suppressed note of mischief mixed in with her casual tone, and acknowledged a touch to himself.
"We tend not to seek each other out," he said. "Rather the opposite, in fact. What do you suppose he would tell me, if I saw him?"
"That I work long hours and sleep poorly, eat only when reminded to, and reject all of his entirely selfless offers off assistance."
"Poor Romana." The Doctor sighed in genuine sympathy. "I, too, know what it is to be plagued by a well-meaning assistant, whose job it is to observe and report upon my every action, passing helpful little comments all the while."
"That was a long time ago," Romana murmured, the corner of her mouth quirking in an involuntary smile.
"'And besides, the wench is dead'."
A look of longing crossed Romana's face, quickly concealed.
"Well," she said, pouring more tea for herself, "now that you have discharged your obligations to Varisandros and inquired after my well-being, is there anything else you wish to discuss?"
She sounded so calm, so nearly at ease with him after their awkward beginning, that he was almost reluctant to steer the conversation down paths that were sure to trigger an even more formidable set of defenses. But he had come here for a reason.
He reached for an orange, drew a penknife from his pocket, and began to peel it. "How much sleep do you get at night," he said, "around the nightmares?"
She didn't answer, but the look she gave him, as she rose from the table, told him everything he needed to know.
When Romana began her residence in the presidential quarters, she'd landscaped the courtyard to mimic the gardens of Hearts-haven. Now it boasted a neat lawn trimmed by brown and red plants, with a fountain in the centre. During her absence, the gardeners had neglected it; now it was wilder than anything one would normally encounter in civilized Gallifrey, a little corner of the Outlands in the centre of the Capitol. She should have it cleared out -- Braxiatel had taken to making pointed remarks in that direction -- but Romana secretly preferred it this way.
"What a pretty little wilderness," said the Doctor, emerging. She didn't turn around. He had waited a decent interval before following her out of doors, enough time for her to wipe her eyes and school her expression, but she didn't trust herself yet.
"I give you credit for noble intentions, Doctor," she told him, pleased that her voice remained firm, "but you go too far."
"Nonsense, it's a lovely garden."
"Doctor," said Romana in a warning tone.
To her own secret amazement, he fell silent. She sat on an ornamental iron bench by the fountain, and the Doctor took a seat beside her, bending to pull a few fronds of red weedgrass from the ground. With an air of deliberate idleness, he began braiding, an amusement for children too young to begin preparatory work for the Academy. Gradually, she began to relax, concentrating on the steady rhythm of his hands at work.
"Here." The Doctor picked up Romana's hand, and tied the braided band around her wrist. He completed the makeshift bracelet with a bow, squeezed Romana's hand and released her. Warmth flooded her body, as though he had injected her with some restorative pharmaceutical.
"I believe you will understand," he said slowly, "when I tell you that Skaro weighs heavily on my mind of late."
"Yes," said Romana, "mine, too." She hesitated, but the words were spilling out uninvited: "Why did you change your mind?"
He gave her a penetrating look. "Are you asking if it had anything to do with you?"
Romana pulled her shawl tighter around her shoulders. "I...suppose I must be."
"Do you think it likely that I would slaughter them to avenge you?" The Doctor's voice sounded only mildly curious.
"You're not answering the question."
The Doctor's twisted a fragment of grass around his fingers, looking anywhere but at Romana.
"I ask myself -- having destroyed a world, would it be better or worse if I'd done it for personal motivations?" He met her eyes. "If you'd asked me to do it, I would have refused."
Her throat was suddenly tight, and his presence was unbearable -- he knew her too well, he saw too much. She couldn't bear the scrutiny. It demanded more of her than Braxiatel's expectations or her father's compassion, more than she had to give.
"Please leave," she said in a low voice, rising to her feet.
"I've had enough, Doctor. I'm tired. I can't do this anymore." She took a few steps away from him; he stayed where he was. "You may tell Braxiatel, and Varisandros, and anyone else who cares, that I thank them for their concern, but that I function as effectively as ever, and all the better for them minding their own business."
"Very well," said the Doctor. "I shall do so, if I happen to speak to them. Though I should clarify that I had no plans to report on our conversation. I came for my own sake."
She was effectively startled into meeting his glance, and there was no battle between them this time, only Romana offering herself to the Doctor's scrutiny. As if she were half her age again, an ingenue hiding behind a thin veneer of polished Academy mannerisms.
"Is there anything you need from me, before I go?" he said gently.
"It would lose half its value in being asked for," she said, seeking the nihilism of bitter honesty.
"If the cost came out of your pride, it would be no great loss," said the Doctor.
Romana blinked tears away irritably. She was a grown woman now, initiate of the Prydonian mysteries, inheritor of the legacy of Rassilon. What did he know about trampled pride -- vain, foolish old man--
"I want an end to this, this-- stagnation," she found herself saying, surprised by her passion. "To find my footing again, or else..."
The Doctor picked up the unspoken thread of her thoughts. "Do you want to die?" he said evenly.
"The slaves of Etra Prime," said Romana, "died. I left them to die." She folded her arms over her stomach, as though to protect herself from the cold she felt every night in her dreams. "My own survival was a matter of sheer luck."
"Or grace," the Doctor murmured.
He was beside her again; she hadn't seen him move. His hand closed firmly around her wrist.
Old instincts took over. She became instantly motionless, fighting not to flinch. He, of course, saw it all: the suppressed motion, the bitter tightness of her mouth, the way she kept her other arm close to her chest, as though to deflect a blow--
"And now," he said, "you must do more than survive."
"You owe it to those who died," he continued, relentless, "and to those who love you still."
"They are still dead, Doctor, and I can't repay them for that." Her voice grew higher in pitch as she became more and more frantic to make him understand, to hear him pronounce judgment once and for all. "I survived at their expense, and I can't even bring myself to feel sorry about it. There was no comradeship in the darkness -- had there been a way to save them, I might not have taken it." She paused to draw a shaky breath. "If that's what I've become, how am I any different from Davros? How long--" She hovered on the edge of laughter -- "how long until you lay a trap for me, and wonder about what might have been?"
"The day you stop asking that question," he promised, pulling her closer, touching the side of her face with the hand not holding her fast, "will be the day I'll come for you."
She retained no clear memory, afterwards, of how long she stood staring at him, or whether she fought to free herself from his grip before succumbing to a flood of tears, more angry than sorrowful. She remembered only the strength of his arms, closing around her, holding her up, gathering her in, and the flood of memory connecting her across time and the vortex to the person she had been a lifetime again, in this same place, with this same person.
"Thank you," she said.