Word count: 2500
Summary: "Romana is stuck on Earth with a burned out Time Ring and running Torchwood while she waits for the Doctor to come rescue her."
Notes: For netgirl_y2k in the Doctor Who Cliché Swap Ficathon. Thanks to neadods for the excellent prompt and encouraging words and who_anon for suggesting the pairing and some of the technobabble. Eternal gratitude to a veritable army of betas: wishfulaces, livii, peeeeeeet, ravenskyewalker and silly_cleo.
Duggan looked down at the replicant lying on the tarmac with satisfaction. Its lifeless plastic face had come to rest several feet away from its head after he'd used his right hook on it. The wiring and circuitry thus exposed sputtered out a few sparks, and then was inert.
Romana tutted as she came up alongside him. "Do you have to be so violent?" she said, for what was ... oh, only about the third time that week.
"He was a duplicate!" Duggan protested.
"And did you know that when you hit him?" she asked.
"Well, I couldn't say I was one hundred per cent certain then, but I am now!" He gestured at the robot. "Real people don't have clockwork and cogs or whatever just below their skin."
She gave him a look, one of those cold, unreadable ones she got sometimes. Then her face softened, marginally. "We'll have to get him out of the way quickly. It makes me nervous being on One's patch."
"Well, it's not as though we've got a choice. They're not going to clear up this mess, are they?" Torchwood Three had, in fact, discussed at length how their London counterparts were probably trying to use the infiltration of the British government by alien androids for all sorts of nefarious ends. Romana was particularly concerned about mutterings about a new office building on the Isle of Dogs. He'd tried to explain to her how ridiculous that was, but it was another of those things she didn't really get.
Duggan's attention came back to the present when the commandeered ambulance screamed round the corner. Chris and Clare got out quickly, badly disguised as paramedics -- Chris's uniform was too short, while Clare's was too long, but the area was mercifully free of witnesses anyway. They fetched a stretcher from the back, while Harry bustled around them in his actual doctor's outfit. The Parsons loaded the duplicate onto the stretcher, while Harry went to fetch the robot's plastic face. When he smoothed it back over the metal skull and realised how high up in Mrs Thatcher's cabinet the duplicate had been, he let out a quiet "blimey".
The team exchanged looks with each other. "Let's get this thing back to Cardiff as soon as possible," Romana said. "I want to know exactly what we're dealing with here."
* * *
Duggan came into the lab carrying the tray of tea mugs carefully. The others were crowded round one of the many improbable bits of kit, waiting for who-knew-what to happen. He passed the drinks out wordlessly; Harry and Chris murmured something that might have been thanks, but Clare picked hers up and peeled herself away, joining him in the doorway as he took a long sip from his own mug. He'd have preferred coffee, but he'd never been able to persuade the others of its qualities.
Clare glanced upwards at the entrance to Romana's office. Duggan followed her eyes and saw Romana standing, stock still, staring into the nothingness at the heart of the Hub. "She's been like that for almost an hour," Clare said, conversationally.
Duggan drank some more of his tea.
"And she seemed quite withdrawn in the ambulance on the way back here," Clare went on.
Duggan made a noncommital noise.
"I just thought ... well, maybe you might understand her better."
Duggan laughed, a short, mirthless bark. "None of us understand her, Clare. I wouldn't pretend to have any special insight."
"Well, you know ..." She dropped her voice to a whisper so that her husband wouldn't be able to hear. "I mean, I'd like to think I know everything about Chris." She smiled. "Do you remember? Three years ago today?"
Duggan did remember. He remembered emptying rather more bullets than might reasonably be thought to be required into a water-golem, while Clare wrestled hand-to-hand with another made of grass, desperately trying to keep it from staining her wedding dress. "I think the constant improbable danger is about the only thing our two relationships have in common," he said.
"I found ..." Clare stopped, started again. "The other day, I was looking through some old files. I found a picture. She was working here during World War II. She didn't look any different to how she does now. Four decades and no change at all."
"1869," Duggan said quietly. It was strangely gratifying how wide Clare's eyes became.
Duggan remembered that feeling, the astonishment at each new revelation. Remembered the sense of accomplishment at finding another piece of the puzzle, whether through his own sly detective work or teasing it out of Romana herself. Not that she'd said much to him recently; Clare was right, she was more withdrawn than she'd once been. He tended to avoid thinking about it.
Clare finally found her voice again amidst her own amazement. "She was born in eighteen sixty nine?"
"Oh, no," Duggan said. "That's just the year she arrived here on Earth. I'm sure she's much older than that." Clare's eyes went wider still.
"I always thought ... I mean, we met her for the first time a few years ago, in Cambridge. And then a few months later she's back, recruiting us for Torchwood. I thought that first time had been me and Chris getting caught up in ... well, you know. Business as usual."
"It was Paris for me," Duggan said. "But that was a long time ago for her, and I imagine your time in Cambridge was the same. Was she with a curly-haired chap, called himself the Doctor?"
Clare nodded. "I ... well, actually I assumed he'd died. That he was a Torchwood operative and she needed to replace him."
Duggan smiled thinly. "When you were looking in the files, did you see him?"
Clare glanced at the ceiling, recalling what she'd seen. "No," she said, teasing the syllable out into an expression of something like wonder.
"I never have, and I suspect I've looked at a lot more files than you have. No, I think all of that happened to Romana a long time ago, from her point of view. But I think ..."
"What do you think?" Clare asked, when he hadn't spoken for a long moment.
Duggan went for another tack, trying to shed some light on why he thought what he did, as much for his own benefit as Clare's. "Back when she recruited you -- I'd been here less than a year myself, then, you realise -- she said something to me that I didn't really understand at the time. She told me that linearity was important. That there were places she shouldn't go, people she couldn't see, because she hadn't happened to them yet. And when she was going out to recruit you two, she told me that she'd had to be very strict with herself a few years earlier about not going to your graduation ceremonies."
Clare laughed. "Really? That's almost sweet."
"But of course you hadn't met her then. And even if she'd just been another face in the crowd, there's an outside chance you'd have noticed her, and recognised her again when you met her in Cambridge, even though you didn't when she experienced those events. I'm guessing at some of this, you realise," he said, when he saw her nodding a little too vigorously. "She didn't explain it quite like this."
"Maybe not, but it certainly makes sense with some of the higher dimensional geometries we've seen around here, if Novikov turns out to be wrong about this self-consistency thing of his."
"Well, I'll take your word for that," Duggan said. He coughed. "The thing is, I think it's the same with that Doctor bloke. I think he's still out there somewhere. But she can't meet him yet."
Clare was about to say something more, but Chris called, "Clare, come and see this! It's quite extraordinary!"
"I'd better get back," she said. Duggan nodded.
After Clare had gone, he looked back up at the office door. Romana had gone back inside, but somehow her absence was as tangible as her eerily still presence had been earlier.
Duggan took another sip of his tea. It had gone stone cold.
* * *
Duggan slipped into Romana's office clutching the manila folder. When she didn't respond to his entrance, he walked up to her desk and put it down. "Sullivan's report on the duplicate we recovered. The Parsons helped, it not being so much in the medical line."
Romana looked up. "They're not still here, are they? It's their anniversary tonight, I wouldn't want to think they were staying late."
"They went home an hour ago. You said goodbye to them. In fact, I think you told them to have fun."
"Did I really?" She smiled at him. "Still. Wedded bliss, eh?"
"It's not for all of us," Duggan said.
"Quite." She smiled again, this time with a twinkle in her eye that made his heart skip a beat. But then she looked down again, opening the folder. Duggan started to leave, but hovered in the doorway when he heard her breath catch.
"Sit down, Duggan," Romana said without looking up.
Duggan knew that tone in her voice, the one that said she wanted to talk. They'd had several such chats over the course of this strange relationship of theirs. Each time he came away more confused about her history, not less.
With a slight reluctance at getting dragged into this sort of thing again, he sat down on the sofa.
When Romana sat beside him, she put her hand on his knee for a moment, then withdrew it. Such indecisiveness was not common for Romana, but he'd come to recognise it as another sign associated with her opening up.
"I know where the duplicates came from," she said. "Oh, I had my suspicions, of course, but the report confirms it. Certain trace elements in their construction, non-terrestrial isotope balances, that sort of thing. Chris is very good at mass spectroscopy, isn't he?"
"Er, yes, I'm sure he is." Duggan cleared his throat slightly. "Does that help us in any way?"
"Oh, we can probably rig up some sort of detector based on it. You'll be able to be sure, next time." She looked up and smiled at him, a tiny moment before becoming lost in her own thoughts once more.
"And these ... non-terrestrials, are they a threat?"
She looked at him again, but now she wasn't smiling at all. She held his gaze, fixed him with those eyes that burned with an incomprehensible flame. "They're the worst creatures in the universe. Horrors beyond imagining. They live only to destroy everything not themselves. Once, long ago, they captured me, tortured me for decades." She looked away, hunching up on herself. "I remember the final battle. Everything burning, history itself turning to the memory of ash. And at the centre of the inferno, there he was, burning himself as he changed."
Duggan put his arm round her uncertainly. Her shoulders didn't relax a single iota, but nor did she flinch away. "The Doctor," he said. A statement, not a question.
Romana nodded minutely. "It was the right thing to do. I told him to do it, and I'd do it again."
Duggan wondered at that: the Doctor he'd met in Paris hadn't seemed the type to do that sort of thing, or to do Romana's dirty work in general. But time changed everyone, he supposed. Maybe it was even changing him.
Romana spoke again, very quietly. "I think ... He must have thought I'd died. My TARDIS had died, screaming with all the others as its origin was undone. Only his survived, its past obscure and convoluted enough to protect it. The last of Gallifrey, only able to survive by being so un-Gallifreyan." She shook her head. "He must have thought I'd died with it."
"But you hadn't," Duggan said. "You're still alive now. Here on Earth, still doing the right thing."
"Tossed by the Time Winds like a piece of flotsam ... Do you know how I ended up here?"
"The Rift. It did something to that bracelet of yours ..." He nodded over at the desk, the inert chunk of metal that she always kept there.
"Never mind its effect on the ring! I can feel it," she told him, clutching his hand in her own, gripping it hard until her knuckles went white. "Pulsing through my body, calling to me. Every second of every day. Time can be changed, Duggan. The Rift is many things, but most of all it's potential. The potential to change everything."
"Everything," she said quietly. "These androids, I don't just know where they're from, I know when. One of the opening skirmishes of the War, when the enemy's control over time was ridiculously crude. There were supposed to be duplicates of the High Council, never mind human politicians. A duplicate of me." She laughed hollowly. "But the Doctor nipped the whole thing in the bud. We're cleaning up his mess, that's all."
"But if this is all from before, then ... you could chase them back wherever they came from, stop the war at a point when it had barely started. Or warn the Doctor ..."
"I shouldn't be able to," she said. "What's done is done and can't be undone. Shouldn't be undone. This isn't just a question of preserving linearity. There ought to be an event horizon in relative time, locking off the entirety of the War from the rest of the timeline."
The puzzle was slotting together all too neatly in Duggan's mind. "But the Rift, its potential ..."
"Exactly. I could. There's a chink in the armour, a way to pick the lock."
Neither said anything for a while. "So?" Duggan prompted eventually.
"So nothing. I mustn't do it. But I have to actively make that choice. And the Rift sings the possibility of it to me every single moment."
He moved his hand down a fraction, resting it protectively on her shoulder blade. "I--"
She kissed him then, fiercely, climbing quickly on top of him. Did she want to drown out that Rift-song, however imperfectly, however briefly? Or were there more secrets yet unspoken, more layers of the onion left to unpeel? He didn't know, knew he could never know, and as his hands went instinctively to her sides, her back, nor did he care.
About ten minutes later, she whispered in his ear, "You can be more violent, you know."
Duggan allowed himself a smile. That made the fifth time in a week she'd said that.