It was Friday morning, an hour before most of the students got into the kitchen and started making their breakfasts. Marion was early because she wanted a quiet breakfast without having to queue for the kettle. She looked in her cupboard for a jar of instant coffee and long life milk and sugar. There was a grapefruit on her shelf of the fridge. Just the one. She had hardly made any meals for herself for a fortnight. Last week she was ill, this week she was away every evening with Kristoph. She hadn’t shopped. She wasn’t expecting to get around to shopping this weekend either.

It had been wonderful. New York, the Globe Theatre, Victorian London to see Charles Dickens recite from his greatest works, Leeds in 1910 for the opening night of the Sea Symphony, and yesterday evening, Kristoph had taken her to Trafalgar Square, London, on December 31st, 1999 to see the Millennium New Year in, eight years before it was going to happen in her natural lifetime.

She smiled as she remembered how he had kissed her in the midst of the firework display.

She sighed. It did seem too good to be true sometimes. And she had to stop taking it for granted that it would last forever. It couldn’t last. It was all TOO perfect for that.

But at least it was happening now. When he kissed her goodnight in the early hours of the morning, in the usual place by the residence gate, he told her he would see her in his study at four o’clock. Everything had fallen into a wonderful routine that she was glad to take for granted as long as it DID last.

“Hey!” She looked up as Sally Walker came into the kitchen and poured cornflakes into a plastic Tupperware bowl big enough to cook a Christmas pudding in. She poured a half pint of milk over them and sat down opposite Marion. “Where have you been hiding all week? You’re out early every morning and nobody sees you at night.”

“Nowhere special. Walking, stuff like that.”

“On your own?”

“Is that any of your business?” Marion asked warily.

“No, but come on. You went off for the weekend last week. Are you going to be away again this weekend?”

“It’s my life.”

“Is he good looking? Did he buy you that? The kimono. It looks nice on you. Expensive, isn’t it. Looks like real silk.”

Marion blushed. She liked the Kimono. She had got into the habit of changing into it in the TARDIS after their evenings in exotic places. It was especially pleasant after an evening in historical corsetry. Kristoph had told her to keep it. She laughed and asked if it wouldn’t disappear outside, since the TARDIS ‘created’ all the clothes. But he pointed out that the Elizabethan and the Victorian dress, and the outfit she wore to the Millennium all existed outside the TARDIS. It created things from energy and they existed. They couldn’t just cease to exist. A thing once made, stays made.

So she had a beautiful silk kimono to wear at breakfast. She felt nice in it. She almost felt as pretty as Kristoph made her feel.

“You’ve changed,” Sally observed. “You were a Miss Nobody when you got here three weeks ago. Now you look like…”

“Like what?” The ‘Miss Nobody’ epithet was true, but it was hardly a nice thing to say. Her reply was naturally defensive.

“I don’t know. You seem… There must be a man involved. Somebody who makes you glow like that. You are HAPPY.”

“What if I am?”

“Nothing, I mean… good for you. No, I mean it. Really. You’re the first on this landing to actually PULL. Most of the men here are a dead loss. Cath Benning reckoned she was going to get off with somebody, but she’s been acting funny all week. Like she isn’t on the same planet as the rest of us.”

Marion stifled a laugh at the idea of CATH being on another planet. She rather thought if anyone was taking bets SHE would be the first on this landing to do that, too.

“Seriously,” Sally added. “Whoever the guy is, enjoy yourself. Why not? We’re only young once.”

“Who did Cath want to ‘get off’ with?” Marion asked, mainly so that Sally would stop subtly trying to get her to reveal who her ‘guy’ is.

“Professor De Leon,” she answered to Marion’s astonishment. “Yeah, I know. When you look at him first he seems just a middle aged professor type. But then you look again he’s actually really hunky. And he really is quite nice. But I don’t think Cath’s his type. I think he gave her the brush off the other day. That’s why she’s away with the fairies. She thinks she’s god’s gift to all men, but he put her back in the box. But never mind Cath. So where’s lover boy taking you for the weekend? Anywhere nice?”

 

Well,” Kristoph laughed as he put the TARDIS into what Marion had learnt was called temporal orbit. She hadn’t had chance to talk to him all day until they had escaped finally into the stationery cupboard in his study. But she told him the whole tale then. “So Cath had her eye on me? It was just jealousy after all.”

“So it seems. Sally… I don’t know. I thought she was being nosy, digging for gossip, but even so, she seemed genuinely pleased for me.”

“Well, why shouldn’t she be? And she’s right. You DO glow now.”

“Radiation from the TARDIS?”

“No,” Kristoph laughed. “Love. It is bringing out the best in you. Making you smile more. Giving you a confidence you didn’t have when I first found you on that lonely railway station. If I say so myself, I think I’ve been good for you, Marion.”

“Maybe you have,” she laughed. “So where ARE you taking me? Somewhere nice?”

“Somewhere Nice,” he answered, grimacing at his own pun. “A very lovely bit of the Côte d'Azur.”

“Oh!” Marion’s face lit with joy. “Oh, I always wanted to go there. In school, in French class, we had to translate a booklet about Nice. All about the flower and spice market, and the perfume industry, and the Russian Cathedral and….” She looked at him. He was smiling inscrutably now. Of course, he knew. He had seen it in her mind. That old dream she had as a schoolgirl, of visiting that far off, wonderful place. A dream she had put away long ago, thinking it would never happen.

“If there is that much to see, it's just as well I’m bringing us back to lunchtime. I was thinking a nice restaurant overlooking the Mediterranean, then some shopping. You should have some clothes that don’t come from the wardrobe.”

“Clothes shopping in the south of France?” She frowned. “Kristoph, that would be so expensive.”

“I can afford it. I told you before, teaching English literature is not my only source of income. Let me indulge you, Marion.”

Her first instinct was to refuse. To tell him that she couldn’t accept so much from him. An old fashioned, working class reluctance to be thought of as a charity case, of being beholden to anybody, rose up in her.

Her second was to accept the offer, to enjoy his generosity.

She chose the second.

She enjoyed herself thoroughly, trying on clothes, choosing what she liked. Kristoph paid for everything without question. He seemed to get a pleasure out of her joy at the new things.

“You used to dream of that, too,” he said to her as they walked hand in hand along the Promenade des Anglais after the shopping had been left in the hotel they were spending the weekend in. “Of being able to buy all the clothes you want. You used to dream of a rich man taking you away from it all.”

“I never thought the rich man would be from another planet,” Marion said. “You’re a strange answer to my dreams, Kristoph.” She turned to him and kissed him. She blushed madly afterwards because she had done so in the middle of a crowded promenade with people watching.

“It’s all right,” he assured her. “You’re allowed to do that. I wish there weren’t so many people thinking that I’m your father or uncle or that I’m far too old for you, but nobody minds you kissing me.”

“You’re not too old for me,” she answered him. “You don’t feel it. You feel right.”

“Sweet girl,” he said with an enigmatic smile she couldn’t interpret. “You don’t even know how old I really am.”

“About forty-five,” she said. “It doesn’t matter. None of it does. I know you’re older than me. I knew that all along. I love you, Kristoph. No matter what.”

Kristoph smiled and squeezed her hand as they continued to promenade along the Promenade des Anglais, so called because well-to-do English of the Late Georgian era used to patronise that part of Nice in the summer season. In that last sentence was the crux of it all. She loved him, no matter what. And right now, she was content, just as he was, enjoying their weekend in a lovely place. But they would have to talk some day very soon about what lay beyond these easy pleasures.

 

It was on the Sunday afternoon, when they lay on the beach together under a big parasol, that some of the things they needed to talk about finally came out in the open.

“Hello,” Kristoph said with a warm smile when she opened her eyes after a sweet sleep in the sunshine. She looked up at him and smiled even more joyfully. She reached out and touched his chest as she so often did. She loved the feel of his hearts beating, and he loved to feel her do that. It was a special loving intimacy between them. The more so because, this time, she touched his bare flesh. On a Mediterranean beach, every last vestige of the tweed-clad professor was utterly stripped away and he was dressed only in a loose, open shirt and shorts, just like everyone else on the beach. She was wearing a new swimming costume she bought along with the other clothes his generosity afforded her, and a silk sarong that partially covered her legs and made her feel a little less self-consciously naked in front of him and the hundreds of people they shared the beach with.

“Cath really WOULD be jealous if she saw you now. And Sally was right. You ARE a handsome man.”

“And you are a very lovely, beautiful woman,” he told her in reply.

“Here, I am,” she said. “In this expensive costume on a beach in a romantic place. But when we go back to reality… maybe Sally is right. I’m not quite the same person I was when I started out to the summer school. I’m not so scared and I feel better about myself. But… in reality I am not a glamorous person. And I don’t think this is the real you, either. I think… I think The Professor IS much more who you really are.”

“Maybe,” he said.

“Well, that’s all right. But… This HAS been a wonderful weekend. Nice was everything I dreamt of.” She sighed as the colourful memories filtered through her mind. The flower market, the spices, the cathedral; the perfume industry tour from which she had the delightful souvenir of a large bottle of individually created perfume called ‘Marion’; dancing in the evening after sundown, walks under the stars by the Mediterranean, where Kristoph was at last able to locate that elusive constellation of Sagittarius low on the horizon and actually show her where his home was.

All of it was all she had always hoped. And exploring it with Kristoph was all the more wonderful. But there was something she had to say to him.

“There are three weeks more of the summer school,” she said. “That’s two more weekends we can do things like this. And thirteen evenings for exploring wonderful places in the past, present and future. Because we will have to go to the last night party. That’s expected of both of us. And then it is all over on the Friday morning. Everyone goes home.”

“Yes,” Kristoph said. He knew where she was going, of course. But she needed to say it without him jumping in.

“Well, it’s a summer holiday from real life. That’s ok. But after that… Kristoph, have you thought beyond that?”

“Yes,” he replied firmly. “Yes, I have. We both return to Liverpool. You return to your studies, I to my teaching, this time because I genuinely LOVE teaching, not because it is a cover for my investigation of an enemy of my world. And we shall be happy still. Marion and Kristoph, happily in love.”

“You really do want it to go on?”

“Yes, I do,” he assured her. “Did you think this was just a holiday romance that would be over when the summer was over?”

“No,” she answered. “But when I think about it, the future, I can’t see it.”

“You’re not supposed to see it. The gift of prophecy is rare in your species.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she answered. “I meant…”

“I know what you meant,” he told her gently. “MY species DO have the gift.” He reached and took her left hand in his right, and his left hand he put on her forehead. He closed his eyes and concentrated hard. An accurate reading was difficult because she had travelled in the vortex and that fractured timelines. But he didn’t want to see her future like a movie played in front of him. He didn’t want to show that to her. What he wanted, what he got, was enough brief glimpses of the future to know that they were destined to be together.

What she saw, to her utter amazement, was not exactly scenes of her future, rather emotions, feelings.

And what she felt, was that her life in the future would have it's highs and lows like any life. She would be very happy sometimes, very sad at others, and inbetween, she would know contentment.

And Kristoph, The Professor, one way or another, was in her life, the cause of that contentment, that happiness, and the rock she could lean on in the times of sadness.

“We’re really gong to be together?” she said when the vision was over.

“Yes,” he told her.

“Oh.” That was all she could manage to say, but he knew in her mind there was a huge sense of relief. She HAD been full of anxieties about when and where and how the bubble was going to burst. And now she knew there was nothing to worry about.

“So now will you relax and kiss me the way all the other couples on this beach are kissing?” he said.

“Some of the other couples on this beach are going to have to get married very soon if they don’t cool their passions,” she replied. “I could NEVER kiss like that in public.”

“Point taken,” he said. “But at least kiss me.” He drew her into his arms and his mouth closed over hers. She sighed peacefully and enjoyed it thoroughly. When he stopped kissing her and they sank down on the big, soft beach towel together and just hugged, she was still enjoying it. The feel of his sun-warmed body against her swimming costume was nice. His two hearts next to hers thrilled her as it always did. She rested her head on his shoulder and pressed her face against him. Slowly, as if she still wasn’t sure she dared to do anything so intimate, she kissed his chest, below the throat. Just a small kiss at first, then a more lingering one. Then she drew her head away and looked at his face in surprise.

“You taste… sweet. Like honey.”

“One more tiny difference. Gallifreyans secrete sugars as well as salts in the pores of our bodies. It is just a tiny biological difference.”

“Oh… I suppose you never hear of a Gallifreyan with diabetes, then?” she said. He smiled and put his hand on her head, ruffling her hair. She pressed her face against his body again and gently licked his flesh with the tip of her tongue, tasting the sweetness. His arms reached around and held her tightly. She had broken through her own inhibitions just enough to do something so daring and delightful and he wanted her to keep on doing it without remembering herself and becoming frightened by it.

For himself, if he was asked to name a moment of perfect joy and contentment in his long life, this would be it. Let the past be forgotten, he thought. Let the future wait. Just let me live in this perfect present.

And even for a Lord of Time that was an achievement.