He's never been the hero in the family, not even during those precious years when he enjoyed the status of an only child.
By rights, Braxiatel ought to have been the white sheep of the clan. A perfect student, top of his class, hard-working, careful enough never to be caught when his curiosity did lead him out of bounds–that ought to have been enough to endear him to any parent. To his eccentric father, however, Brax was only ever the far-too-Prydonian offspring of a loveless political union. His very existence was virtually forgotten come the advent of his father's whirlwind romance with the most unacceptable woman imaginable and the birth of the resulting half-human son.
Theta Sigma spent his Academy years failing his classes, perpetually flirting with expulsion, and publicly snogging oh-so-very-much the wrong boy. Braxiatel, the young tutor who spent every cent of his limited political capital preventing his brother being thrown out on his ear, gained an unsavory reputation among his fellow Academes. Theta became a legend among rebellious Academy youth.
The Doctor ran away from Gallifrey the day after gaining that title. Braxiatel, the young ambassador who devoted every ounce of his ingenuity to inconspicuously keeping the CIA off his renegade brother's tail, was passed over for promotion when it was noted that he ought to have been devoting more time to his duties. The Doctor became the lauded savior of a hundred races and a thousand worlds.
The Doctor arrived back on Gallifrey just in time to fail to prevent the assassination of President Loreangeranon. Braxiatel, who had devoted a century to working, fighting and scheming his way into the President's confidence, watched his nomination as Presidential successor vanish on the tip of Loreangeranon's tongue. The Doctor, after a brief trip off-world to find himself a half-naked savage girl, came home and became the President of Gallifrey.
Brax is long since resigned to his role in their fraternal double act. He knows precisely what the trouble is, the trait that marks the difference between himself and his sibling: Braxiatel could never quite imagine living outside the approval of his own society. He's never minded breaking Gallifrey's laws, much less her taboos. But the instincts at the core of his being–keep your secrets, hide your hand, don't ever, ever get caught–have kept him firmly on the right side of Gallifreyan good opinion for the past thousand years. And perversely, because Braxiatel will always be seen as respectable, he will never be seen as anything more.
Recognition of his talents isn't anything he ought to bother aspiring to. What he does is the work of midnight and shadow, and he does it better than anyone else. That in and of itself has to be enough. He saves what is beautiful, because he enjoys it, and protects what is good, because he is able, and nurtures potential where he finds it, because he can. And while his planet and everyone on it may treat him as a perpetual second fiddle, he hones the art of taking pleasure in their ignorance. It's petty of him, perhaps, to derive his satisfaction from the smug certainty of his own superior knowledge, but Brax has seen enough of the universe to know that there's no sense in depriving oneself of the finer things.
By the time he finds himself in the position of Chancellor (without yet having been informed why that rank is so significant by any of his older selves, but having been thoroughly self-assured that attaining it is crucial), Brax has long since grown contented with his lot. He's never had any trouble finding the humor in life, and there is enough humor for thirteen lives and then some to be found in Gallifreyan politics. Perhaps he'll be President one of these centuries, and perhaps he won't; wanting anything too much is a fatal error, he's learned, and it's not one he intends to make. Life is just as it should be. Nothing is going to shake his equilibrium. And then comes the day when he arrives at the Collection to find himself offering him a drink, and suddenly he isn't entirely certain of that anymore.
"Take it, and sit down," he says, pressing the glass into his hand. "You are about to perform the most difficult act I've ever had to accomplish."
Braxiatel sits. He listens. He drinks his brandy, and the next three.
"Disgraced," he says, finally. "Stripped of my position. And exiled."
"Yes," agrees his older self.
"It isn't me you want," he says, disbelieving his own words even as he speaks them.
"You're the only Time Lord for the job," he says. "This one time, there's only you. And you've never failed to see the virtue in doing what needs to be done."
Brax looks at himself, and thinks about his entire life, up to today. There's only one thing to do about it, really, and when there's only one thing to be done, it's fantastically easy to know what to do. And so he laughs, loud and long, while his other self studies him indulgently.
"Right," he says. "Well. Inconvenient, that he'll have such a head start on me in the renegade business, but I daresay I'll catch him up. What's one little monster living inside our brain?"
"That's the spirit," says his older self, standing, and patting him on the shoulder. "And Braxiatel?"
"I realize that losing everything you've worked for is somewhat...well, let's be honest with ourself, somewhat agonizing. But you'll get it back again. They'll all understand what you've done and why you've done it, eventually. And there will even be certain...unique perks." He doesn't quite smile at himself. "You know the look we've always hated? The one women give him?"
"The 'my hero' look?"
"Romana will look at you like that. For very nearly five whole nanospans."
Braxiatel looks at his own half-smile. "Is it worth it?"
"Now, Braxiatel, you know better than that," says his other self, already halfway to the door. "Heroism means being the man who never asks that question."
No one could possibly mistake him for the heroic type, and thank Rassilon for that.
Narvin has seen what the universe calls heroes. Occasionally. Mostly, what he sees are the messes they leave behind for him to clean up. Oh, liberating worlds from the tyrannical hold of a despotic overlord may sound well and good, but the next day what you've got is a planet with no infrastructure, no plan, and a lot of dirty, hungry peasants, all of them angry about the fact that now there's nobody around to keep bread on the table and water in the tap. Rewriting major chapters of history to ensure the triumph of doey-eyed romanticism over crass greed may seem like a fine idea at the time, until the entire web of time begins fraying at the seams. And swooping in on a white horse to slay the dragon and rescue the princess–then carrying the princess off to see the universe in an ancient, rusting bucket that has probably leaked stray bits of Vortex over half the cosmos–might have a certain naïve charm about it, but an hour afterwards there's a decaying dragon carcass littering up the countryside, and, on a particularly lucky day, the leavings of the aforementioned charger lying directly underfoot. Narvin has lost more pairs of metaphorical boots to more metaphorical horseshit than most Time Lords ever own in all their lives.
Distasteful though his job may seem to the rest of the universe, none of it has ever bothered Narvin in the slightest. Heroes get dead, and Narvin goes on. He goes on quietly, lurking in the background, and advancing, always advancing, and now he's finally found himself behind the desk he's always wanted and doesn't ever plan to leave. These days, he gets to sit quietly on Gallifrey himself, and send his Agents to painstakingly reweave the fabric of time, vaporize the dragon carcass, install a new dictator for the peasants and hunt down the renegade behind it all. Now all he has to do is survive the Lady President's temper long enough to see her quietly removed from office before she sees the planet overrun with aliens and the entire legacy of Rassilon lying in tatters at her feet. Once that's done, his next six lives should pass in a contented blur of power, prestige and security. Narvin intends to die behind the head desk of the CIA at the ripe old age of three thousand and twelve, leaving behind him a reputation as Gallifrey's most faithful defender gained without any need for inconvenient acts of valor. He has the whole thing perfectly worked out.
It ought to play out exactly to plan. The only trouble of it is that Narvin has been deceiving himself as to one fundamental fact of his own character. He's spent centuries attempting to convince himself that any semblance of a sense of altruism he may once have possessed had been long since cut out and the wound firmly cauterized. But when it all spirals out of control, when his neat little plot to dethrone President Romana becomes a deadly and uncontained turmoil, something in him can't accept the death of innocent children as acceptable collateral damage. When he finds out about Antimon's assassination plot, Narvin can't seem to stop and think that Romana's death would see him well clear of the very pressing danger to his reputation and his career, guaranteed of a future for all his lives as Darkel's CIA Coordinator. And when, in his rush to prevent that assassination, there comes a fraction of an instant when Narvin has to decide whether or not to stand between his Lady President and an explosive about to detonate, he can't prevent the the sour thought of a certain insufferable renegade from drifting inconveniently through his head.
Narvin knows that no one will mistake him for the heroic type even after he's gone. But as he holds his ground between the bomb and the Lady Romana, he thinks he'll die knowing that, just once, he's been the Time Lord who rescues the princess, and somebody else will get to be the lucky bastard who cleans up the mess.
The wisest man she has ever known taught her that a hero is not a killer, and so she knows that she cannot be a hero.
Except for three of their kind, Leela has never cared what the Time Lords think of her. She is a senseless savage to them, and that is good. They say things around her that they think she cannot understand, and they do not watch their backs when she is near. It amuses Leela that they treat her like an animal, when they are tame as beasts bred in cages, and she is the hunter set amongst them with her steel gleaming bright in her hand.
She did care what Andred thought of her, but she cared for him because he understood. He was a hunter, as she is, and sometimes she stopped to think how alone he must have been, before she came. He felt the call of the warrior in his blood. He loved her because she felt it too. And now he is dead, and she has learned exactly how alone this planet can make a hunter feel.
She cares now for Romana, but Romana does not want to see Leela's knife grow blunt in its sheath. Romana needs a sword with which to fight her enemies, and Leela is a sword that does not benefit by disuse. Some days, Romana forgets that Leela is meant to be her friend, and remembers only that Leela is a tool to be used, and that is not always easy for Leela to accept. But Leela only ever does for Romana the things that she is meant to do–hunt, and fight, and chase–and in that way, Leela knows that she gains as much from Romana as Romana does from her. Romana sees Leela for what she is, and wants her for just those things, and Leela respects the honesty of that. Romana is the only honest Time Lord on this world, and for that, she has Leela's loyalty.
But Leela will always care for the Doctor, too. And the Doctor does not kill, not if he can see any other hope, and he does not think Leela should kill, either. When she was a girl, and stupid, she would have called him a coward for that, but the Doctor is not a coward. He defends the innocent. He leaves his enemies broken and in his power. He does not let anyone cage him, or tell him who to be. And that he works his miracles with his quick hands and his clever brain, and not with knives or poisoned thorns, makes him the hero, and it makes her wish that, in his eyes, she would not be the savage, or the hunter, or the sword.
Leela cannot change everything that she is for the respect of one Time Lord. She does not want to change everything she is, and even the Doctor would not ask that of her. But she wants to be worthy of the wisdom he tried to teach her.
Sometimes, Leela thinks that she can learn to understand his way of thinking, here in the Citadel where there is so little place for the kind of fighting she knows. But then war comes to Gallifrey, and it is the most right Leela has ever felt on this world. She throws herself into the fighting as though she has nothing to lose, and only learns how much she did have after the colors of the world are gone from her forever.
The old world is new now, when she must learn all over again what it means to live. It is not only the lack of her eyes; everything is strange. The Citadel is in ruins, Narvin is almost a friend, Braxiatel is gone, K-9 and Andred are dead, and soon Romana is not even President any more. In another life, perhaps Leela could have grown into something new: a teacher, a wisewoman, a singer of tales. But with everything else gone away, the one thing Leela still knows is that she is a warrior. That is the only truth she can keep hold of, and she cannot let it go. Not now.
Or that is what she thinks, at first. It is what she thinks when she hunts out Arkadian, her mind full of the desire to gut him like the rat he is, and leave his carcass for the worms. This is good, this is what she is, and what she does. Even once he takes her knife, she knows that she can find a way to kill him, if she likes. He is weak and fat and slow, and all his cleverness will not make his neck any more difficult to snap. She is ready to do it, to kill from pure hatred this man who is so much that she knows is wrong.
And then he shows her one more moment in the light.
It does not change everything. It does not change anything. She knows that it is not real. But it is like being herself again, and it makes her remember. Leela remembers that, when she had eyes, she wanted to be more than a killer. And she remembers that there is something else she can be.
"You are nothing, Arkadian," she says, and if her voice shakes as the one flash of light in a life dark all these months fades from her eyes, she does not care about that, "and your blood is not worth staining my hands with. I may be a blind old huntress left to die by her tribe. But think of me, in the empty hours of your night when other men's consciences would trouble them, and know that even this blind old huntress is a hundred times too good for you."
If this is what the Doctor feels like all the time, Leela thinks as she is walking away, perhaps it will not be so hard to be a hero after all.
She wanted to be a hero, once, and found that her imitation wasn't nearly as good when she hadn't the real thing before her eyes.
Sometimes Romana wonders whether she ever was the Time Lady she still dreams about. She was a high-strung, self-important girl, and has become a high-strung self-important woman, and she knows that damn well without anyone having to tell her. But there was a time between, a neverland in the breach, when she was, wanted to be, aspired to something else.
She seems to recall smiling a great deal more often, during those years.
She hasn't done very well in living up to the self she was striving for. She knows that. She once knew a man who could look at a simple savage and see a blaze of potential like a hundred supernovas, and when Romana first met that same savage, knowing who it was brought her to Gallifrey, she had dismissed Leela as no one and nothing until circumstances forced her to reconsider. She once knew a man who ran from the presidency and threw away godhood with both hands, and Romana has been President, and Imperiatrix to boot. She once knew a man who rescued the downtrodden and would never touch a gun, and Romana has fought wars to keep her power, and her planet's power, and would do it again. She has failed him on so many counts, and each failure has stripped away something more from her, until she's left without power, without planet, without a future, nothing left to her name but two Time Lords, a metal dog, and the savage with the light of exploding suns trapped behind her unseeing eyes.
But there is something Romana has been forgetting. There was one other thing that the Doctor could do that other people couldn't. She didn't only admire him for his bravery, or his selflessness, or that unerring moral sense. She admired him most of all in the moments when everyone looked to him, when even his mad, brilliant brain had no idea where to turn, and, instead of giving up, he squared his shoulders, and carried on, and led. And if she finds herself smiling now, just a little, in spite of everything, then maybe that isn't a coincidence.
"Right," says Romana, looking around at her little band of heroes. "What we're going to do is..."