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“I can’t take you anywhere, can I?”

The Doctor looks round and almost falls from his seat. Of course, he’s been here before, no wonder this pub looks so familiar. He’s here and more importantly she’s here, and now he’s here again.

The brunette crosses her arms, fixes him with a cool, disapproving look. “I leave you alone for half an hour and you regenerate. At this rate you’ll run out of lives before you reach a thousand.”

He feels the joy overtaking the shock, and the uncontrollable grin. “Romana!” He jumps to his feet. “It’s you!”

“Obviously.”

“No, I mean it’s you!” The words aren’t sufficient, so he gestures with his hands.

She frowns. “Please don’t tell me you have post-regenerative amnesia, it’s bad enough that you’re wearing trainers with a suit.” She reaches for his hand and when they touch their timelines grate against each other discordantly. She pulls her hand away. “Oh.”

He nods. “Yeah, not your one.”

“Which regeneration?”

“Best left a mystery, I’d think.”

She looks him up and down, peers at him closely, then says, “I’m not sure about the nose.”

He touches it automatically. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Oh, nothing really,” she says, airily, and he laughs. He’d let her insult him all day if he could, but he can’t.

Or can he? Suddenly reckless he checks the time. If he’s right, then yes, there’s an opportunity here. Aloud he says, “I think I’m about to get arrested and spend the night in a dungeon.”

“Should I run off to rescue you?” she asks, but she doesn’t move.

“I’ll be fine, I got out tomorrow morning when you and the rebels storm the prison. So,” he ventures, “would you like to get something to eat? With me? This me, I mean.”

“That’s rather unconventional.”

He grins. “I am, yeah. Isn’t that what you like about me?”

The corner of her mouth twitches upwards. “I shouldn’t encourage you.”

“Oh, go on, live dangerously.”

“I already do.”

“Then what’s stopping you?” he asks, provocative.

She links her arm with his. “I didn’t say ‘no,’ did I?”

- -

“This might be the stupidest thing I’ve ever done.”

Romana shakes her head. “I can think of at least a dozen stupider things you’ve done in the past week.” She lifts her glass to take a sip of wine. “Would you like a list?”

The Doctor smiles at the woman of his occasional dreams and regular nightmares. “The banter was always the best bit.”

“I take it we’re not still travelling together,” she says, reading between the lines. “So, who have you replaced me with?”

“I wouldn’t say replaced,” he protests. He misleads her by careful omission: “It’s been a long time, people move on.”

“Did I tell you I needed my own space?”

“Oh, lots of space.” He moves his cutlery a centimetre to the left to avoid looking her in the eye. “Can we talk about something else? I’m not supposed to be telling you about the future anyway.”

“You’re right, I shouldn’t have asked.” She sighs. “Perhaps this was a mistake after all.”

She moves to stand and he reaches across the table for her hand to stop her leaving. “Please,” he says, “I’ve missed you.”

Romana hesitates. “We can’t talk about the future, which means you can’t talk about the past. It could be a very awkward conversation.”

“I don’t mind. Really, I don’t.”

She sits back down. “You must miss me.”

“Oh, I did.” He changes the subject. “When you were at the Academy did they still have that fountain?”

“The one shaped like a big -”

“That’s the one!” He leans forwards, elbows on the table. “There was this one time, me and my best mate -”

“Anyone I know?”

“Oh, I hope not.”

“Go on...”

- -

He walks her back to where they met, offers a suggestion about how to rescue his earlier self which she politely declines as surplus to requirements.

Going to dinner with someone outside of the proper sequence of events is not a risk to be repeated, especially when the universe is still damaged by the Time War, but the Doctor is lonely and Romana doesn’t know how bad things really are. She’s alive and she’s beautiful and there’s nobody around to stop him.

So he asks her for time: “Can I see you again?”

“Is that a good idea?”

“Absolutely not, but we’d only be risking the very fabric of time itself.” He runs a hand through his hair. “I’m sure we can sort something out, we’ve got a time-machine. We’ve got two time-machines. We’ve got two of the same time-machine.”

“What about the randomiser?”

Ah, he’d forgotten about that. “I’ll come to you, just let me know where you’ve ended up.” He remembers the phone that Martha gave him, and scribbles the number onto a scrap of paper in shaky circular Gallifreyan. “You can call me, I’ve got a mobile now.”

Romana raises an eyebrow at his deteriorated handwriting and slips the note into her jacket pocket. “I’ll be in touch.”

He takes a step towards her. “Can I..?”

“Yes.”

He kisses her.

- -

It’s winter on this side of Persephone 6 and the Doctor’s past self is on another continent, fishing on a hot summery afternoon while a few centuries later he arrives on the same day to have a picnic with Romana in the snow.

“How do you put up with me?” he asks, handing her an apple.

“Which of you?”

“Either, really.”

Romana polishes the apple on the sleeve of her white fur coat and then slips it into a pocket unbitten. “You have a certain charisma, it’s hard to resist.”

“I’m charming,” he agrees. “Yeah, you’re right about that.”

“I didn’t come here to stroke your ego,” she warns.

“Sorry, I can pretend to be modest if you’d prefer.”

“I don’t think even you could carry off a lie of that magnitude.”

He grins and pops a grape into his mouth.

She rubs her hands together. “Aren’t you cold?”

“Not when I’m with you.”

“Flattering, but unlikely.”

“It’s true! Look, I’ll show you.” He takes one of her hands between his, lifts it to his mouth and breathes heat onto her skin.

“Sometimes it feels like adultery,” she says. “Not to mention crossing the timelines. It’s quite -”

“Disturbing?”

“Exciting.”

He kisses her palm and she shivers. There’s snow on her eyelashes and she’s never looked more alluring. He nods in the direction of the TARDIS. “Do you want to go back inside?”

She does.

- -

Whoever said you can’t cross the same bridge twice was wrong, he insists. You can cross the same bridge twice, it’s just a lot more dangerous the second time.

On Heliocyon he almost runs into himself while taking Romana back to the TARDIS (her TARDIS, or rather, his TARDIS but the first time round). They get close enough to each other that he hears his own voice and has to duck around a corner and leave Romana without a word of farewell. He makes it up to her the next time, and he’s a lot more careful after that.

More than once it occurs to him that he must have been incredibly self-absorbed not to wonder where Romana kept disappearing to back then. Why did I never notice she was missing? he asks, as though he has stopped taking people for granted in the centuries since.

How long did this go on for, anyway? How many times did she slip away before she’ll get tired of this latest version of him? She’s going to regenerate soon – if he’s got the dates right – and will she still be willing to risk causality for him when she does?

And how, exactly, is he ever going to get over losing her again?

- -

He takes her to the seaside in the middle of night when it’s afternoon outside. The TARDISes are parked a bit too close to each other, but nothing breaks and he’s too in love to worry that it might.

“I don’t think you really appreciate the complexities of time travel,” she says, eyeing the distance from one blue box to the next. She’s blonde now, less reserved and more sensible.

“They’ll be fine,” he says, waving a hand to dismiss her worries. “I’ve parked one TARDIS inside another one before. Not on purpose,” he adds, “but it wasn’t as terminal as I’d been led to believe,”

She stretches her arms upwards, takes a deep breath of sea air. “I’m missing my beauty sleep for this, you know.”

“You don’t need it.”

“Thank you.” She sets off along the promenade. “Do you want me to buy you an ice lolly?”

He falls into step at her side. “Only if they have the rocket ones. I love those.”

“Alright, can I borrow some money?”

“What for?”

“I’m trying to seduce an older man with flavoured ice.”

He pulls a few coins from his pocket and hands them over. “Can’t he buy his own ice?”

“I’m sure he’ll pay you back if you ask nicely.”

“He’d better, I’m saving up to give my girlfriend a loan so she can buy me frozen confectionery.”

- -

It ends abruptly.

They’re sitting next to each other on a park bench in Amsterdam, feeding the birds under an overcast sky despite all the signs warning them not to.

“Aren’t you going to tell me how I died?”

He’d swear that he forgets how to breathe, just for a moment. He tries to think of a quick and convincing denial but all he manages to say is, “What?”

She shrugs. “I assume that’s why you look at me that way when you think I’m not paying attention.”

“I don’t… I’m not… Don’t be ridiculous!”

I’m ridiculous? You’re in a relationship with the same woman twice simultaneously and you think she’s too stupid to work out why.”

“Romana -”

“No. Listen. This has all been very nice but we both know you wouldn’t be here if I was around in your present. So I’m dead. Was it your fault?”

He looks away.

“Thought so. How old was I?”

He finds his voice. “You know I’m not going to answer that.”

She pushes her hair behind her ear the way she does when she’s angry. “I’m going to make myself forget all this anyway, so you may as well tell me the truth.”

“I’d rather not,” he says, though even he can barely hear the words.

She stands up, wipes breadcrumbs from her coat. “Well then, not much point in me staying here, is there?

“Romana, I -”

She interrupts. “Doctor, this is the last thing you’re ever going to say to me, don’t waste it.”

He tells her the most important thing he can think of and she nods, says a polite goodbye, and walks away.

He sits alone on the bench until it starts to rain, replaying an old and brand new memory of a simmering anger that she never explained. It lasted a week and only lifted when they fell through a hole into E-Space. He puts the final piece into the jigsaw and hates the picture he’s left with.

Time doesn’t work like that, he protests, it’s not like the past waits around for the future to happen. But that was before the war, when reality hadn’t been cracked open repeatedly by uninvented weapons, and when Romana was still around to stop him getting careless.

Time works differently now, and will break your hearts if you try to cheat it. These days time bites back.

(Tick, tock.)

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