STANDARD DISCLAIMERS: The Doctor Who characters belong to the BBC. I'm not making any money from this. God knows I could use some.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: You don't have to read all of my other fics for this one to make sense, but reading Never Gonna Dance Again would probably help – plus, this fic contains spoilers for that one. And I just took a look at my City of Death video; imagine my dismay when the Doctor clearly stated that the year was 1979. Um... [shrugging] oops! Hey, if he can mess around with time and continuity, so can I. So there!
ADDITIONAL: We've seen that Romana seems to have remarkable control over her regenerations; I've kind of stretched the rules a bit here… I hope no one minds. Um… actually, now that I think about it I don't remember any official rules regarding regeneration – so…
In an old house in Paris covered with vines
Lived twelve little girls in two straight lines
They left the house at half past nine
The smallest one was Madeline.
- Ludwig Bemelmans
The Time Lady Romana stood before da Vinci's Mona Lisa, regarding it soberly. It certainly didn't look any different than the postcards she'd seen for sale in the museum's lobby, but she couldn't help feeling a vague nagging sort of guilt as she watched eager tourists lining up to see the masterpiece; she wondered how they would feel knowing that beneath the Renaissance master's brushstrokes, the words "This is a fake" were written in black felt tip marker. We're not supposed to interfere, she reminded herself. But we always seem to do so everywhere we turn up. The High Council must be having a collective aneurysm by now. I hate to think what will happen if ever we do manage to get back home…
A hand tugged on her skirt.
Romana looked down to see a small blonde girl looking up at her with earnest blue eyes. Putting her hand to the back of her head to grasp her straw hat firmly in place, Romana knelt down to the child's level.
"Yes?" the Time Lady asked, smiling. The little girl's eyes were wide, awe-struck.
"Madeline?" she asked, her serious blue eyes wide with wonder. Romana looked down at her outfit, realizing that in her white blouse, blue skirt and matching jacket – not to mention the straw hat – she did indeed resemble the little heroine of a popular series of children's books. Before Romana could think of a reply, the child continued brightly. "You're all grown up now!" Suddenly, she frowned. "But your hair's not red." This last was said in the same tone as a child who's just discovered that there isn't really a Santa Claus. The Time Lady made an impulsive decision.
"Well," Romana said conspiratorially, glancing around to make sure no one was really paying attention, "Those books have made me quite famous, and it wouldn't do to have people making a scene wherever I go, so I've disguised myself." Satisfied that the humans around her were too absorbed in studying the works of art around them to pay any attention to anything she might do, she pulled off her straw hat. "You're a clever girl, though, and figured it out." She shook her head, and her long blonde hair deepened into darkest red. The child gasped, clapping her hands in delight. Romana smiled again, the smile lighting her eyes like sunshine. With the Time Lords' genetic engineering technology, children were a rare thing on Gallifrey; it was a small thing to use her extraordinary regenerative abilities to please this small human just for the sake of seeing her pleasure. Seeing the child's innocent delight brought up feelings that the Time Lady couldn't identify, but they felt right. She smiled again, putting a finger to her lips. "But you mustn't tell anyone," she continued. "It wouldn't do to make a scene in the middle of the Louvre!"
"It'll be our secret," the child promised soberly, her deep blue eyes large with wonder.
"Angelina!" a female voice called. It was Australian-accented and more than a little worried.
"Here, Mummy!" the blonde child called. Romana looked up from her kneeling position to see a dark-haired human woman approaching, looking relieved.
"Haven't I told you not to wander off?" the woman admonished, a mixture of annoyance and relief in her voice.
"But Mummy," the child protested. "Look, it's Madeline!" The child's mother glanced at Romana, suddenly smiling.
"Sorry," she told the Time Lady ruefully. "She does tend to get carried away sometimes."
"It's quite all right," Romana assured her. "She's quite a charming little one." She absently brushed a hand against the child's cheek, expecting the burning feel of human body heat – "Oh!" she exclaimed, surprised.
"You've changed your hair!" a booming voice observed. Romana quickly came to her feet.
"Doctor – " she began, turning to the voice's owner. Then she noticed that the child's mother was staring at them… well, at him, mostly, she realized. Staring at his curly hair and his long coat and his silly scarf, absorbing the images that her eyes were transmitting to her brain with an obvious disbelief that rapidly changed to an expression that didn't promise a happy encounter.
"I – " the child's mother began. The Doctor fished around in his pockets, coming up with a crumpled paper bag.
"Care for a jellybaby?" he asked her, grinning hugely. She looked like she wasn't sure if she wanted to hug him or slap him.
"Her hair was blonde," the child suddenly announced, pointing at Romana. Her mother's expression hardened.
"Was it?" she asked, her voice brittle. "Well, now it's red. These things happen, don't they? Come along, Angelina," she said, tugging at the child's hand. She began to lead the child away, but suddenly turned back, as though remembering something. She released the little girl's hand and leaned close to the Time Lady, whispering one word in her ear. Romana swallowed convulsively, her face growing pale. She watched the woman recapture the child's hand and lead her away, calling a false, overly cheerful "Goodbye, Madeline, and thank you very much!" over her shoulder. The two Gallifreyans watched the mother and daughter disappear into the museum's crowd.
"What did she say to you?" the Doctor finally asked, curious. Romana shook her head.
"Nothing important," she said lightly. "Forget about it," she continued, laying a hand on his arm and steering him towards the Mona Lisa. "Tell me again what will happen if the humans decide to x-ray their masterpiece and see "This is a fake" written underneath in felt pen." As the Doctor obligingly launched into a long diatribe about humans needing to appreciate art for art's sake, Romana's thoughts turned inward.
She thought about the child's skin, so cold for a human.
She thought about the way the child's mother had looked at the Doctor.
And she thought about the one word the child's mother had whispered in her ear.
The High Council would indeed have a collective aneurysm.