They were in the TARDIS library.
In the middle of reading through Bill’s latest essay, the Doctor had somehow gotten on a tangent about convergent linguistic evolution on planets with sentient crabs. The whole lecture had involved the word carcinisation so many times Bill eventually had to ask what it meant, and that led to the Doctor dragging her into the TARDIS by the arm because apparently he didn’t feel right explaining without diagrams.
It turned out that there was a whole wing of the library devoted to crab-alien linguistics, which would have been more of a surprise if Bill hadn’t previously managed to stumble into a room specifically for academic studies of nursery rhymes, or the ten bookcases stuffed entirely with Agatha Christie novels. The Doctor filled her arms with books and then plonked them both at a table two rooms over. Two minutes later he’d covered the table with open books and then dragged two other tables over when he ran out of space, and was in full swing of a monologue all the while.
“…so your Earth scientists think this sort of thing just happens on Earth, short-sighted as they are, but you see them all over the universe, crabs. Pop ten galaxies over, three million years in the future, on a planet with more sulphur than oxygen, and bam! Crabs. They’re everywhere. Kinda like all you people shaped like Time Lords, all across the universe.”
Bill pointed at herself. “Excuse you, I am human shaped. I am a human, who is human shaped.”
The Doctor snorted. “No, you’re Time Lord shaped; we were wearing silly hats and Not Interfering—” Bill could hear the capital letters “—before your kind ever crawled out of the mud. Rassilon’s fault. Most things are.” He waved a hand. “Anyways, crabs.”
“Crabs,” agreed Bill, because she didn’t want to think about the implications of the Doctor blaming someone with a name for how her species looked. She could quiz him on it later, when she was feeling just a little more existential.
“Persistent creatures, crabs, you know. Even when they go and develop sapience, they still—” He stopped speaking abruptly and looked up, like some kind of weird alien dog that had just got the scent of chicken. “Someone’s calling.”
“What,” said Bill, “like in your heart or on the phone?”
“Personalized telepathic ringtone,” he explained absently, as he pushed in his chair and navigated out the door. Bill had to hurry to keep up. His legs were unfairly long. “The TARDIS set up a few of them for me at some point, although they don’t get used often enough for me to keep them straight. This one’s,” he paused mid-step and rocked back on his heel all in one movement, “competent and imperious and smells like stars.” Then he left the room.
“How can a ringtone be competent?" Bill shouted after him, pulling the library door shut behind her out of sheer habit. "Like, I get imperious, and I’m not even touching the fact that you apparently know what stars smell like, but how do you manage competent with a ringtone? Even a psychic one!”
The Doctor patted a wall fondly as they turned a corner. “She’s just that good,” he said, smugly, and then didn’t explain further. Typical.
“So you don’t actually know,” concluded Bill. “How is this call happening? Can you do holograms, or are they calling the phone in the outside of the police box? Does that phone even work?”
“It doesn’t,” said the Doctor. “Usually. The caller’s image will show up on the scanner and we’ll talk that way.”
“So it's alien Skype,” said Bill, unimpressed.
“It is not!” said the Doctor. “This technology is more advanced than your species will achieve in—" He paused. "What's Skype?”
“Oh my God, I thought you were old enough to know about Skype, are you too old?” said Bill, and then they arrived in the console room. The scanner was beeping impatiently. “You should probably get that. I’ll explain Skype later. I can’t believe I have to explain Skype.”
"Shut up," grumbled the Doctor. He pressed a few buttons and the scanner flickered to life.
Bill's first thought when she saw the woman in the call was wow pretty lady, courtesy of her gay lizard brain. She was white and blonde, with bright eyes and hair straighter than Bill’s middle school crush, and she was wearing stuffy robes and some kind of headdress that would have looked ridiculous on anyone else. There was a room that looked vaguely office-adjacent behind her, and her expression was a practiced sort of neutral. Altogether she totally looked like the kind of woman who would have a telepathic ringtone that sounded like competence and imperiousness. However that worked.
“Romana!” said the Doctor, delighted like Bill had hardly ever seen him. He was actually smiling. It completely changed his face. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”
The pretty lady — er, Romana — flicked her eyes over to Bill and shot her a smile, and then refocused on the Doctor and went all stony. She drew herself up imperiously and folded her hands over each other and just generally didn’t seem nearly as pleased to see the Doctor as he’d been to see her.
“I'm calling as a courtesy,” she said, voice icy, “my Lord President of Gallifrey.”
“Oh?” said the Doctor, while Bill's brain scrambled to realign itself with the information that the Doctor was apparently President of multiple planets, for some godforsaken reason. He didn’t seem concerned with the fact that a very scary, very pretty, very angry woman was threatening him very politely, but that was a lot more normal.
“Yes. If you don't get back here ten minutes ago and do your job, I'm staging a coup.”
For some reason, that sent the Doctor grinning. “Nobody better! I hope you have fun!”
“It's not about having fun, it's about giving this planet some sense of stability and good leadership in the wake of the War and Rassilon's reign.” Romana’s voice went acerbic. “Not that you’d know the meaning of either of those words.”
In lieu of rising to the bait, the Doctor pointed dramatically at the screen. "And that attitude is exactly why you're the best person to lead a coup against me!"
“I hate you,” said Romana.
“Perfect!” said the Doctor, still grinning like it was Christmas morning. “Never been a President of Gallifrey that didn’t!”
Bill poked him in the shoulder. “Um, didn’t you just say you’re the President of Gallifrey?”
“Yes, exactly!” said the Doctor, and it occurred to Bill that she might need to reclass his grin as ‘worrying’. In the sense that she should be worried about him, that is, not in the more usual sense that she should be worrying about dying in the next few minutes.
Romana just sighed. “Doctor, please. As much you enjoy a good coup d’etat, I think we can both agree that a peaceful transition of power is preferable.”
The Doctor pouted. Actually pouted, like he always did when Nardole managed to catch them before they could escape into the TARDIS for a field trip and ground them in the University. Bill poked him in the shoulder and did her best impression of Nardole’s face at him.
He stared at her for a second, incredulous, and then made a noise like a balloon deflating. “Oh, fine, alright, you have a point,” he whined. “Even though I’ve always dreamed of being ousted in a perfectly-orchestrated bloodless coup, I suppose Gallifrey could do with a legitimate transfer of power for once.”
“Thank you,” said Romana, shooting Bill a grateful look, which just about killed her on the spot due to her chronic condition of being a lesbian. Then Romana’s mouth curved into a wicked smile. “I hope you realize, Doctor, that you just agreed to wear ceremonial dress in the Panopticon, in front of the entire population of Gallifrey.”
The Doctor muttered something under his breath that was probably a string of alien curses. The TARDIS refused to translate, which Bill had decided ages ago was a great opportunity to learn how to curse in more languages instead of something to be annoyed at the TARDIS for. Finally, he looked back up at the screen and said, “Why are you wearing ceremonial dress? You’re calling me, not making a formal address to the President;” Romana raised an eyebrow, “and I can’t imagine you wear that horrible robe and collar around to go eat lunch or whatever it is you do in your spare time these days.”
He was frowning at the screen like he’d frowned when Bill had found that incredible rainbow coat in the wardrobe and tried to wear it to Pride, which was totally unfair, because she’d thought someone as obviously queer as him would be able to recognize gay fashion when it was staring him in the face.
“Doctor, you’re the President,” said Bill.
The Doctor opened his mouth, and then shut it. “I knew that.”
Romana laughed. “This call is, by the barest thread, official High Council business. Besides,” she swept a lock of hair over her shoulder, and Bill’s breath caught in her throat, “I think I look rather fetching, don’t you?”
“I wouldn’t know,” said the Doctor. He glanced over at Bill, and his eyes crinkled. “Bill, though—”
“Shut up,” said Bill, before he could embarrass her. “You’re one to talk, you think velvet’s the height of fashion and your taste in music is permanently stuck in the 80s.” She turned to Romana, because she was the only one in the room who hadn’t acted like the world’s most embarrassing relative this conversation. “I’ll admit the,” Bill made the vague shape of a Dracula collar above her neck, “is a bit ridiculous, but I think you look lovely.”
The Doctor groaned.
“You know, Doctor,” said Romana, “you haven’t introduced your young friend here properly.”
Okay, Bill was a bit thrown by the “young friend” bit, but she figured that the Doctor’s species were all unfathomably old or something and just looked how they looked. Or maybe Romana was younger, but the Doctor was talking to her like an equal. But Missy also looked younger, and Bill’d been under the impression that Missy and the Doctor were the same age, ish. “Oh my God, are you like that thing with actors in movies, where they cast men as the right age but all the women are twenty because men are idiots who don’t think older women can be pretty?”
“What,” said the Doctor, which Bill supposed was fair, but it’s not like she could follow his trains of thought most of the time so it served him right. Then he made a face at her like she’d just informed him that actually, he’d been pronouncing anxiety wrong for his whole life and nobody had ever bothered to correct him. He pointed at Romana. “Hey, we look the same age! What do you mean, I look old?”
“She means you look your age, old man,” said Romana. “Introductions, please?”
“Right, introductions!” The Doctor made a grand sweeping arc with his arm like he was trying to paper over the topic of his grey hair. “Bill, this is Romana, one of my best friends. She used to know how to have fun but now she’s a politician. Romana, this is my student Bill. She asks lots of questions and I think she has a crush on you.”
“Doctor!” hissed Bill. Her cheeks were actually on fire. “You can’t just say things like that!”
“I can say anything I like,” said the Doctor. “Where did your sense of fun go, Romana? Did Brax steal it for his Collection?”
“You took it with you when you left,” said Romana. Silence fell, hard and heavy. They stared at each other for a few seconds while Bill tried to get her cheeks to stop spontaneously combusting. Then Romana shook her whole body like a dog shaking off water and said, “Have you heard anything from Rassilon since you exiled him?”
The Doctor breathed out. “Nothing. You?”
“Not as far as I know, but I’m afraid you left my information network in a bit of a state.”
“Oops,” said the Doctor, but he didn’t sound very sorry. “Well, if we’re lucky, he’s laying low on some backwater planet.”
“If we’re lucky, he got stabbed in his sleep,” corrected Romana.
“Wait wait wait wait,” said Bill. “This is the same Rassilon you implied is the reason humans look like humans earlier.”
The Doctor nodded. “Same guy.”
“And you exiled him.”
Bill considered being terrified, and then decided against it. “Okay, sure.”
“Unfortunately I missed the majority of the fireworks,” said Romana, “but I’ve been informed that the Doctor was certainly… striking.”
The Doctor snorted. “That’s a word.”
Romana raised an eyebrow. “How would you describe yourself, then?”
“Distraught. Stupid? Very, very cross.”
Mentally, Bill marked answer D, all of the above.
“Actually, Romana, it just occurred to me. If you’re only just recovering from,” the Doctor swooshed his hands around, trying to decide on a word, “that, my personal timeline must really be out of synch with Gallifreyan time. I know Gallifreyan politics move slowly, but it’s been five or so centuries on my end. More than enough time to unceremoniously pretend I never exiled the High Council, wipe my little coup from the history books, and appoint a replacement President.”
Romana blinked. “That long? There were rumors, of course, that you’d split yourself from Gallifrey’s timeline before or during or after you ended the War. It never seemed like something you’d do, at least not without gloating about it.”
“Well, I didn’t,” said the Doctor shortly. “Or I didn’t notice, if I did.”
“You should have noticed, though,” said Romana. Before the Doctor could get insulted about her insulting his intelligence — or at least before Bill would have expected him to get insulted, because he seemed to be about to nod instead — she added, “And so should we. I mean the High Council, the CIA. Mostly the CIA.”
“So the real split must have been recent—”
“—and drowned out by something more alarming—”
“The Confession Dial,” they both said.
“When you broke out,” added Romana, at the same time as the Doctor said, “The resets.”
“Um,” said Bill, as they stared at each other some more. She waved her hands around a little for good measure. “Twenty-first century human here! Explanation please?”
The Doctor turned and looked at her, and there was something terrible in his gaze. Bill recognized it from walking in on him when he thought he was alone, sitting at his desk staring at the pictures he kept there. It was heavy, and older than the world, and Bill didn’t like it one bit because after all he’d done for her he deserved better than being sad, or heavy, or terribly weary, or whatever that face was supposed to be. Every time she learned something new about him, she thought about that face, and she added the fact that he’d committed genocide or the fact that he’d saved the universe or the fact that he liked hydrangeas, and every time she still couldn’t justify its existence.
“Later, Bill,” he said quietly, and Bill swallowed, and nodded. She didn’t like the fact that she usually couldn’t get him to stop making that face, either.
“Doctor,” said Romana. There was something on her face too, beneath the politician’s smooth mask. Bill thought it might be curiosity, but it could also have been guilt. “Explain what you mean by ‘the resets.’”
“When I was in the Dial,” said the Doctor, and Bill collected the words, stored them in her mind for when they would make sense, and then noted how horribly still the Doctor was as he spoke, “the terrain reset itself to its base state when my attention was otherwise occupied. But with enough time and effort I was able to make modifications to that base state. If that was possible, then, because all I wanted was to escape on my own terms, and because I was regularly resetting my body from backup, without realizing I may have gradually altered my own biodata enough to—”
“—sever your binding to Gallifrey’s timestream. Yes. Yes, that makes something adjacent to sense.” Romana shut her eyes and let out a long breath through her nose. “The first thing I’ll do as President,” she said, in a toneless and deliberate voice, “is issue an official apology regarding Gallifrey’s actions towards you.”
“Romana—” said the Doctor.
“No,” snapped Romana. She was that icy imperiousness again, and for the first time Bill could see how brittle it was. “I’m sorry, Doctor, but you don’t get a say in this: you too often forget to be horrified by what is done to you.” Anger had sharpened the lines of her into distant inhumanity, exactly like it did to the Doctor. The resemblance was unsettling. Bill felt her crush scuttle away and hide as her gay lizard brain turned itself off to make way for her oh-shit-a-predator lizard brain. “Rassilon would never have bothered with an apology. No Time Lord would. No Time Lord has; I’ve read the records. I never apologized for your exile to the Divergent univ—”
“I exiled myself,” countered the Doctor sharply.
Romana picked up her thread like she’d been expecting the interruption. “That may be, but I signed off on it. You shout and bluster your outrage, but you never demand an apology, and so the High Council has never given you one. I intend to rectify that.”
The Doctor didn’t say anything. Bill would have been taking in the moment with glee — had she ever seen the Doctor speechless before? — but he also looked like he would start crying if anyone even twitched. Bill didn’t know how to deal with crying people, it was one of those things she’d never figured out. You were probably supposed to give them a hug, but the Doctor hated hugs. Bill usually just tried to give them food, but she didn’t have any in her pockets. She settled for standing there helplessly and tried not to feel useless.
Romana said, her face shockingly, momentarily gentle: “You set aside your name for our people. You are owed more than four billion years of torture.”
The Doctor blinked and jerked backwards. He said, very, very quietly, “You know it was never for our people.”
Romana made a noise that would probably have been an irritated hiss on a less dignified person. “You are immensely frustrating,” she announced to the world at large. “I am trying to do a nice thing for you. You will accept it, or I will go back to planning that coup.”
The Doctor hadn’t actually started crying, which Bill was thankful for but probably wasn’t actually a good thing. Instead he made a face like trying to swallow a lemon. For someone with such a massive ego, he always seemed so surprised when people were nice to him. Not that he showed it like this normally, but Bill had been learning to read him over the past couple years, and he was such a mess of contradictions.
Bill thought about that, because she’d tried to think about the implication behind four billion years of torture and lost herself in the scope of it. Then she’d tried to think about the implications of four years of torture, and then four months, to try to put it in perspective for her puny human mind, and then she’d wanted to throw up. So instead she thought about the Doctor’s ego, and how he didn’t like hugs.
“Romana,” said the Doctor, “why now?”
There was a long pause while Romana rearranged her hands and the Doctor conspicuously stopped himself from fiddling with the console, so long that Bill almost stuck herself back in the conversation.
Finally, Romana said: “You want to know what I learned, travelling with you? Compassion.” The Doctor’s hand twitched. “It was a lesson too easily forgotten. And because you were gone, I had to relearn it on my own.”
The Doctor stopped moving for real. He picked up a hand like he wanted to touch the screen with it, and then put it back down. “You’re the reason I got a second regeneration cycle, aren’t you?”
Romana turned her head, like she was looking at something out of view. “Well, mostly, yes,” she said, still not quite looking at either of them. “Rassilon was… oddly agreeable to the whole idea. Nothing more than token resistance, really.”
“Too useful a pawn to let go?” suggested the Doctor, something bitter twisting at his voice.
“You’re nobody’s pawn; you’d think he would have figured that out before it got him exiled.” She sighed, and waved a hand like she was ushering the topic out the door. “That aside, yes. I had just enough political favors left in my pocket to get the High Council on my side.”
The Doctor blinked at her like he sometimes blinked at Bill, right before he called her human in a way she could never figure out was complimentary or derogatory. His voice was soft. “I ought to say thank you, then.”
This time Romana reached out a hand like she wanted to touch him through the screen, and then aborted the motion and looked the Doctor in the eye instead. “I may not be the same person who once travelled with you, Doctor,” she said. Her voice was steady in a way Bill couldn’t help but envy. “But I couldn’t just let my best friend die.”
The Doctor mumbled something under his breath. It didn’t sound like a curse, or a prayer. It mostly sounded like he was quoting someone.
“I thought you might like to know that the General doesn’t hold your actions against you,” continued Romana, once it was obvious the Doctor wasn’t going to be saying anything loud enough for the rest of them to hear. “She’s been working with me to keep Gallifrey from imploding, and she wishes you well.”
“She shouldn’t,” said the Doctor. He sounded disgusted by the mere notion. “I shot her.”
“Believe it or not, Doctor,” said Romana, “nobody else liked Rassilon either. And quite besides that, she looks up to you.”
“She shouldn’t,” said the Doctor again.
Bill stared at him, trying to picture him shooting someone. It didn’t work. For all that he could pull off that Scary Alien Force of Nature thing with alarming ease, he spent so much time shouting at people with guns that she couldn’t imagine him using one himself. But then that would explain the uncharacteristic plaintiveness in his voice this time. He would have hated that he’d shot someone.
As she thought about this, something she’d heard earlier finally connected with the part of her brain that did the thinking. “Wait a minute,” she said, and the Doctor and Romana turned their heads towards her like identical clockwork mechanisms. “Wait a minute. Romana, you guys are planning to just have the Doctor hand off the Presidency to you?”
“That does seem to be the plan,” said the Doctor, who had apparently recovered enough from his crisis to answer questions she’d asked someone else.
Romana, because the Doctor had gotten an answer in before she could speak, just nodded regally. Bill’s crush tentatively poked its head out. She considered it for a moment, and then thwapped it firmly back into hiding. She was open to dating pretty alien ladies, she decided, but not if they were infinitely-old presidents of planets who were too much like the Doctor for comfort and had neutron stars for eyes. That would just be weird.
“I’m pretty sure that’s nepotism,” she pointed out.
The Doctor paused for a moment. He looked very thoughtful. “You know, she’s right,” he said, pointedly. “I’m pretty sure that’s nepotism.”
“It’s Gallifrey,” countered Romana, deadpan. “We practically invented corruption.”
Bill didn’t think she should be laughing, but she couldn’t manage to turn a sudden burst of it into a cough fast enough.
“Fair enough,” said the Doctor. He looked exhausted. “Not like I trust anyone else on that miserable planet. Well, Leela, but she’d hardly want to be President.”
“Hardly,” said Romana. Her lip twitched. “She is well, incidentally. Because you didn’t ask.”
That set the Doctor smiling again. It was a smaller smile than he’d worn earlier, but still, Bill didn’t think she’d ever seen him smile this much in one day. She might even have to reevaluate her mental assessment of him as being permanently grumpy. “I’m glad to hear it. And you’ll be glad to know that Ace is doing well, although she is tragically uninterested in wearing the Sash of Rassilon.”
“I hardly know why you would nominate Ace to the Presidency,” said Romana. “The last thing we need these days is the Citadel in pieces. But yes,” and she smiled too, such a brilliant thing that Bill almost reconsidered her hasty stance about having crushes on Time Lords, “I am glad to hear she is well.”
“I said once that she’d either end up Lord President or a renegade,” said the Doctor. “That incarnation loved being right; I can hardly go back on the prediction if there’s still a chance.”
“Every incarnation of you loves being right,” said Romana, tucking some hair behind her ear imperiously, which Bill hadn’t realized was a descriptor you could even apply to fixing your hair until just now.
“Never a truer statement,” muttered Bill.
The Doctor coughed. “As I was saying,” he said, “Ace stopped by the University a few weeks ago. Stayed for one of my lectures, even, and we caught up afterwards.”
Bill remembered that day very distinctly, because Ace had taken her aside after the initial catching-up and given her a few explosives and her phone number in case of “intergalactic heartache, Earth jerks who need blowing up, or the Doctor being an insensitive toewipe.” Bill had mentally labelled her the queer aunt she’d never had, and had tried very hard to not be intimidated by how cool she was. Or to be terrified of the fact that she was holding explosives in her hands.
“I’ll pass on your regards next time I see her,” continued the Doctor, “although I can’t imagine she’ll be interested in seeing your associates, considering Braxiatel’s actions.”
“I suppose not,” said Romana, but whatever those actions were she hardly sounded regretful. Then she blinked, and said in the scandalized tones of a 50s housewife, “Wait, you’re teaching people?” She shut her eyes. “No, no, don’t tell me, I don’t want to know.”
The Doctor made his most incredulous sound and his most offended face. “I introduced Bill as my student. What did you think I was doing with her?”
“Travelling, maybe?” said Romana. She’d opened her eyes again, because the Doctor teaching was apparently not quite as horrible as she was insinuating. “You hardly have the patience to teach a gnat.”
“Everyone loves his lectures,” snapped Bill. She realized belatedly that the Doctor could take care of his own ego, but she’d spent so long defending him to Moira that it came out on instinct. “He’s the whole University’s favorite professor, I’ll have you know!”
The Doctor flicked a grateful glance at her. “Thank you, Bill! See, Romana, I’m a great teacher.”
“Congratulations on finding yourself a captive audience, then,” said Romana.
Bill snorted a laugh despite herself, which got a smile out of Romana and a frown out of the Doctor. Those two could probably sit in a cell for a hundred years and never get bored. They had both the lifespan and the banter required to pull it off.
Then the Doctor got all quiet and serious again out of nowhere. “Romana,” he said, “why are you calling me really?” He raised a hand when she opened her mouth. “It’s not because of your coup. Me handing off the Presidency to you is about as legitimate as my stealing it in the first place, for all it’s technically legal. Like Bill said, it’s nepotism, no matter how you look at it. So why?”
Romana stared at him. “I care about you,” she said, with the careful reluctance of someone who never talked about her feelings except under enormous duress. “I missed you last time you were on Gallifrey. I didn’t want to miss this face entirely.”
“Oh,” said the Doctor, as though he’d never thought Romana would want to see him again even though she’d called him her best friend not a quarter hour ago. “I missed you too.”
God, at least people on the internet knew how to say they wanted to see each other without needing a whole political drama as an excuse.
“You gave me my name, Doctor,” she continued, looking away from the screen again. “I made it my own, but you're the one who first called me Romana.”
“As I recall, you preferred Fred,” said the Doctor.
“And what kind of person does it make you, that you called me Romana anyways?”
“A very rude one,” said Bill, because someone named the Doctor really ought to be better about calling people what they wanted to be called. His avoidance issues were his own problem but she could at least call him on his hypocrisy. “I think Fred’s a wonderful name.”
“It is, isn’t it?” said Romana wistfully. “Better than Trey, certainly. But I’ve grown quite fond of Romana. Wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
There was silence for a few moments.
Then the Doctor clapped his hands. “Feelings!” he said, more energetically than he had any right to. “Why are we having feelings? We have a whole coup to plan, we don’t have time for feelings!”
“It’s not a coup if you’re in on it, Doctor,” said Romana. “But I suppose we do. I’ll announce and organize a Presidential Resignation Day ceremony.”
“The sooner the better, I think.” The Doctor tilted his head back. “I’ll need a speech, probably, and a resignation honors list… Ugh, I can’t believe I have to do this properly. ”
Bill reached up and patted him on the shoulder, because it seemed like the thing to do. “You’ll live,” she said.
“Who would I even honor? The General, for letting me shoot her? Rassilon, for being a genocidal self-obsessed despot? My TARDIS?” He paused. “Definitely my TARDIS.”
“Try not to irritate the audience too much,” was all Romana said to that. “When can you be here?”
“In fifteen minutes. Let’s get this over with,” said the Doctor. “Do you need anything else from me?”
“Will you need robes and a collar?” asked Romana. “I hardly presume you have anything official-looking lying around.”
“Don't worry about it,” said the Doctor. “The TARDIS will probably produce some if I ask her nicely. Won’t you, dear?” He patted the console fondly, and it beeped a little melody at him.
“PDA,” muttered Bill.
“Of course,” said Romana, almost as fondly as him. “We’ll let her take care of the wardrobe, then, and I’ll assemble the crowd. Meet me outside the Tower of Likelihood in an hour for last-minute preparations. And do try not to set off too many alarms.”
“You’re on!” said the Doctor, setting to work on the console. He looked up and met Bill’s eyes. “Change of lesson plans today, Bill. We’re going to Gallifrey!”
“More interesting than crab-alien linguistics,” noted Bill.
“That’s arguable,” said the Doctor. “The linguistics of carcinisation are fascinating. Gallifrey, meanwhile, is a stagnant cesspit of self-important—”
“Yes, yes,” said Romana. “You’re bringing your human friend along?” Bill decided not to be offended at being called “human friend” only because Romana wasn’t currently trying to kill her, and also because Romana was gorgeous and Bill’s gay lizard brain was back in full force.
“Why not?” shouted the Doctor from the opposite side of the console. “I’ve done it before. And the High Council already hates me! What do you say, Bill, want to see my home planet?”
“Sure, why not!” said Bill. She leaned forward towards the screen, trying to make out the background behind Romana. “You spend so much time on mine, it’s only fair.”
“I’m warning you now, it’s boring and full of elitist snobs.”
“So exactly like the University’s Board of Directors and every government on planet Earth,” said Bill.
“Exactly.” The Doctor swooshed back around the console to stare at Romana again. “We can make it a lesson on Gallifreyan politics!”
“You hate Gallifreyan politics,” said Romana, flatly.
“Yes, the lesson is that they’re awful,” said the Doctor.
Romana smiled fondly. She had something in her hand, and her gaze was soft in the way that meant a person was trying to focus on ten things at once. “I’ll see you soon, Doctor.”
“You too,” said the Doctor. His voice had gone all soft again too, the emotional kind of soft. “I’ll get you back someday for tricking me into formal dress, though.”
“It was nice to meet you!” added Bill, because otherwise the Doctor was going to keep going down that tangent and she’d never get a word in.
“And you, Bill,” said Romana. It was smug, like she was proving she could in fact remember human names.
Then she gave a little half-wave with her hand and switched off the call.
The Doctor stared for a long while at the darkened scanner, then threw a few more switches, then turned and stared at Bill. “You’ll hate Gallifreyan formal dress, so don’t bother,” he said, all gruff like he was trying to pretend he didn’t have emotions. “Just because I have to look like an idiot doesn’t mean you do too.”
Bill looked at him, tall and grumpy and rude, apparently President of two entire planets, the closest thing to a grandfather she’d ever had. He’d apparently been tortured for four billion years by his own people, and come out the other side whole. Or at least whole enough to be willing to go home if an old friend asked.
He had so much history, everywhere they went; so many stories, so many names, so many joys. And yet she hadn’t ever seen him smile as much as he had today. She’d hardly ever seen him this close to tears.
She said, “I can at least put on a nicer shirt. Are you sure I should be coming to this thing?”
He just grinned and pulled the taking-off lever with a magician’s flourish. “Who cares about should? Gallifrey can always use a little shaking-up, so let’s just get going before Nardole catches us!”
The console room shook, and they were on their way.