Few people were aware of the existence of the tiny garden behind the Panopticon, tucked between the High Council's chambers and the main archives, and that was the way Romana liked it. It meant that when she was of a mind to, she could change from her formal robes into something simpler and slip away from her duties for a few moments of peace alone. It had been quite a long time since she stepped foot out of the Citadel, away from civilisation; the garden was the only glimpse of the natural splendour of Gallifrey that she managed to enjoy these days.
Cleverly situated among the soaring towers, the garden was illuminated by the twin suns for exactly fifty-three microspans in the late morning and thirty-seven microspans just before twilight every day. It was currently bright and warm, the silver leaves of the trees above shimmering in the light breeze from the dome's climate generators. Romana often considered adopting the tradition of afternoon tea that she had encountered on her travels to have an excuse for regular quiet contemplation here. She'd even selected a favorite spot where she could install a table and chair for just such a purpose, under a tree with deep purple leaves and fragrant green blossoms in the spring. However, like most of her personal projects, this idea suffered from the lack of time for execution; even now, she had little time to spend wandering, and she tucked her pet plan back into her dreams for now.
After all, she wasn't here this time to admire the flowers and clear her mind. She'd been called, and it was a summons she couldn't ignore. Not from him. He never contacted her simply to socialise anymore, and so any message from him was of the utmost importance. She had hurried here immediately and arrived two microspans early. Striding over to a low wall, she arranged her robes and sat down to wait.
At precisely the designated time, the groan of a time rotor rose from the silence, echoing off the granite walls encircling the garden, and a worn blue police box materialised on one of the walks. A moment after the final clunk of landing reverberated through the air, the door of the time travel capsule creaked open and the Doctor stepped out. Spying his friend, he flashed her a warm, boyish smile and, pulling the door shut behind him, approached her.
"Romana," he called, his voice caressing the name even as it communicated his respect.
"Doctor," she replied. "Your message was a surprise. It's been long since we last met, and certainly you're not one to come here on a whim."
"No, I suppose I'm not." Doffing his hat, he paused a moment to roll it up and drop it into his coat pocket. He then swept a coattail back to slip a hand into a trouser pocket, leaving his other free to gesture as he spoke. "I'd no idea there was such a lovely garden here in the Capitol." His eyes wandered, a smile playing at his lips as he surveyed flora he hadn't seen in a long time, possibly centuries. "I had wondered where the spatial coordinates you sent would land me."
"There aren't many places within the dome where we'd have privacy."
Reaching up, he fingered a silver leaf hanging from a tall tree and, bowing his head near, breathed in its scent. "I thank you for the selection. I've not seen any piece of natural Gallifrey for quite a long time."
"You are welcome. This is my favourite place within the Citadel."
"Really?" He cocked his head at her in surprise. "I should have thought the Academy library to be your choice."
"Perhaps when I was younger." Romana's eyes sparkled with nostalgia for a brief moment. "Now, however, I find myself seeking peace and solitude, as well as a reminder that we're more than just politicians."
"Cynicism doesn't become you." Stepping toward her, the Doctor held out his hand, beckoning as he gestured at the sky with the other. "Come out to the stars again, Romana. You've been there. You've seen it. From out there, all of the laws and the factions and the bickering on Gallifrey seem so petty."
Her calm, competent demeanour concealed any indication that his offer had tempted her. Instead, a sardonic smirk curved her lips. "I also said I was seeking peace, which is a rare commodity in your life."
He nodded, murmuring, "Fair point," as he turned away and wandered a few steps up the path.
Romana clasped her hands in her lap. "But you didn't come here to invite me to travel again, Doctor."
"No, I didn't." He studied an orange vine climbing up a nearby wall. "I had a most peculiar encounter. I have to admit it's left me a tad flustered."
Romana's brow furrowed as she cocked her head and looked the Doctor over, trying to glean any information from the nervous twitches of his hands and the uncharacteristic stiffness of his movements. "With whom? It must be someone particularly singular, to make you seek me out afterwards. If I had to guess, no one less than the Master."
"No, no one so interesting." Turning back, the Doctor seemed to be trying to convince himself to talk about what was bothering him, his step hesitant and his head held stiff and straight. He exhaled heavily before he began. "There was a temporal collision and I met myself, my future self in my future TARDIS."
"A future self? A violation of the First Law." Her frown deepened as the severity of the situation became clear.
"I'm well aware." The Doctor's hand snuck back into his pocket, and he paced about with his usual flippancy. "It was entirely his fault, mind you. It didn't seem to bother him at all, however."
"And you remember the encounter? That's highly unusual."
"Indeed. There are all sorts of temporal trickery that should have wiped the memory." He waved a hand indistinctly by his ear.
Leaning forward, Romana peered up at him with cautious inquiry. "What were you like?"
Stopping on the red grass, the Doctor gazed up at the towers overhead as he remembered. "To be truthful, quite a gobby idiot with a healthy serving of sarcasm." He glanced down at Romana. "A bit full of himself, if you ask me. And no dress sense whatsoever."
Romana rubbed her nose to hide her amusement. "That could be any one of you, really."
If the Doctor heard her, he gave no indication, continuing his description as he started to pace again. "He was wearing bright red plimsolls with a dark blue suit cut so tightly, it really left nothing to the imagination. And apparently, in the future, I will suffer some catastrophe which will destroy all of the combs in the TARDIS."
"If I ever need to buy you a present, now I know what to get you."
"Clever chap, though," he barrelled on. "Rectified the collision handily by remembering what I saw him do. A very tidy solution and we avoided blowing a hole in the universe, so I think it's best we ignore the implicit paradox, don't you think?"
Romana folded her hands back in her lap. "As nothing untoward has resulted from this, I think it highly advisable we don't let the inquisitors know what happened, yes."
Abruptly, the Doctor halted and turned to Romana, puzzled. "Then he had a bit of a funny turn, went on and on about how he enjoyed being me. It was all very flattering and endearing, certainly, and I quite liked meeting him, but it was also rather perplexing. I mean, who tells himself things like that?"
"You're the last person I'd think who would need to come back in time to stroke your own ego." Her lightly mocking smile vanished, turning into concern for her friend. "This has really bothered you, hasn't it, Doctor?"
Crossing his arms, the Doctor thumbed his chin a few times before replying. "Yes and no. It's made me think about my own mortality, more than I'd like. I don't usually give it any mind, but sometimes, I'm surprised that I make it back to the TARDIS at all. So I thought to myself, 'There now, there's proof that I successfully regenerate at least once more,' and I was relieved." Pausing, he made a visible effort to continue. "And then I grew frightened."
"Frightened?" That surprised her; the Doctor was never one to be frightened, or at least to admit to it.
"Yes. That I'm worrying at all about how or when I might die." Turning, he caught her gaze with his shadowed blue eyes. "How long do I have? Years? Decades? Centuries? Am I spending my life wisely? Will I have enough time to accomplish anything worthwhile?"
She replied with an air of simplicity and rationality. "Everyone wonders about that, Doctor. No one knows their own future, or what legacy they will leave behind. You're no different."
"Nonsense, Romana," he chided her immediately. "Not a single Time Lord on Gallifrey thinks about that. There is no need to, when you're living safe within the cities for tens of thousands of years. Well, unless you're prone to choking on a pilrefera pip, I suppose." He swept his arm around to indicate the entire world. "There's no change here, no danger. For me, the next time I step out of the TARDIS may be the last.” Gazing at the paving stones at his feet, he dropped to a murmur. “I wonder if I will make it to even a thousand years. I wonder how many stories I'll have to tell, in the end."
Romana resisted the urge to shiver. The Doctor talking like this was scaring her. "This isn't like you. You aren't fatalistic."
Swallowing his apprehension, he straightened and faced her with resolve. "No. No, I'm not, not normally. I thought it would pass away, that after a day I'd think no more about it, but I can't get it out of my head."
"Which is why you're here."
"Yes." With a long puff of breath, his shoulders slumped, his youthful features suddenly old, tired, and worried.
She finally knew what he was looking for. "You'd like to know just which future you that was."
Embarrassed, he grinned at her. "Is it that obvious?"
"Oh yes," she breathed as she peered up at him, a mischievous glint in her eyes, "considering you're here out of temporal sequence."
Shocked, he jerked straight. "Am I?"
"Yes," she nodded. "You've landed in our relative history quite far in the future of where you are now. Since you've already encountered your future self once, I can tell you that the Doctor I know now is not you."
Jamming his hands in his pockets, the Doctor spun away as he murmured, "Two violations of the First Law in as many days." He came to a stop staring at a wall. From the heaving of his shoulders, Romana could tell that he was battling to get his emotional disturbance under control. Presently, he turned back, finally calmed. "I thank you again for ensuring our privacy. I don't quite relish paying for those crimes. I assure you, I did not do this consciously."
Romana nodded. "Perhaps not, but certainly subconsciously. And the only reason to do this is that you were hoping I knew who that Doctor was."
He smiled. "I will admit, it is childish, but the curiosity is eating at me."
"I know. But I won't help you, Doctor. I won't tell you if I even know who he is."
"Because even that much information tells me something of my future. I didn't actually expect you to tell me." He flashed her an affectionate grin that told her that he knew his little trick had not been likely to succeed and that he respected that she chose to uphold the Laws. "Well, that is truly not what I came here for."
"You want to forget."
He puffed out a breath. "I need to forget. I can't have even this much foreknowledge of the future. Just knowing that I will successfully regenerate will affect my decisions and my actions." Thumbing his lapel, he gazed at Romana with troubled eyes. "You're the only one I trust to do this."
"Come sit by me, Doctor." She patted the section of wall beside her.
Striding over, he gave her instructions as he flipped his coattails up and sat down. "You'll need to block the memory, but have it restored when the event happens to me again in the future, because I'll need to remember what happened so that I can repair the collision. After the two TARDISes merged, we collided around the console, then blubbered a bit, shouting 'What?' at each other a few times. That's the trigger. That's what should restore the memory of the event when it happens to me, whenever it does." He closed his eyes and waited.
"All right. I can do that. I'll need to take the memory of today as well." Romana swept back a few flaxen strands that had fallen across his forehead and placed her fingers on his temples. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on entering the Doctor's memories. "Did you say a day back? Aha, I found it." She frowned. "There he is. Yes, it certainly was all his fault, I see. That would exonerate you for your first infraction of the First Law. Now, let me see how much I need to block." She fell silent.
Opening her eyes, she saw the barest hint of hope flicker across his face. "Yes?"
"I'm not to remember. Can you tell me who he is?"
Romana considered the request. Licking her lips, she shook her head though the Doctor could not see her. "No, I can't, because I don't know. I know your future well beyond your current self, and he is beyond my knowledge. You have many, many more stories to tell, Doctor." Reviewing the memory again, she smirked. "He is cheeky and impertinent. I see that you never truly change, now do you?"
An amused smile spread across his face. "No, I don't think I do. Thank you, Romana."
She straightened in mock pride. "'That's Madame President to you."
"Madame President?" Though he started back in surprise, she kept her hands in contact.
"Shush." She concentrated again, then removed her hands from his face. "It is done."
As the Doctor opened his eyes, Romana glimpsed a rare moment of innocence and peace in them, replaced quickly by confusion. "Romana? What are you doing here? I was -" The garden caught his attention and he glanced around, at the plants and at the walls surrounding them. "Where am I? Well, this is Gallifrey, to be sure, but not anywhere I recognise."
"You came to see me," she replied, keeping her expression carefully neutral and serene.
He thumbed his chin as he searched her face for clues. "Aha. There is no immediate crisis, or you should not be so calm, sitting here waiting for me to make connections. And I'm sitting next to you instead of standing, which I would be if I were blustering about as I normally do." That made her grin. "If indeed I initiated this meeting and I no longer remember it, then I can only conclude that I asked you to remove my memories of it and whatever it was that I came to talk to you about."
Romana nodded. "Very astute, Doctor."
"Ah." He seemed satisfied with his reasoning, though still perplexed with the situation. "I hope that it was pleasant, though considering the circumstance, I expect it was not."
Her hands returned to clasping in her lap. "'Pleasant' isn't the most apt word. 'Interesting', or more likely, 'instructive'. But you will remember this one day, Doctor."
"Ah!" Standing up, he pulled his hat from his pocket and unfurled it, holding it to his chest. "Then, when that happens, I will return to here and now to tell you about it. I look forward to seeing you again, Romana."
"And I you." She stood up. "Farewell, Doctor."
Placing his hat on his head, he nodded to her, then whirled toward the police box, his coattails flaring out behind him. In a moment, he disappeared inside, and the TARDIS soon dematerialised.
Romana sat back down and waited, but after five microspans, she knew that the Doctor was not coming back, and that puzzled her. She expected that the Doctor she saw in his memory would remember this promise, just as he remembered the exact steps he needed to execute to counteract the temporal collision, and certainly his TARDIS was skilled enough to bring him back to the correct time and place, even if her pilot might not be. What, then, prevented him from returning to Gallifrey? She shrugged, deciding to chalk it up to the Doctor's whimsical ways. Rising to her feet, she strode out of the garden toward the Panopticon, putting this meeting out of her mind as she turned her attention toward her duties.