“What would you like to eat for supper?” Chrístõ asked Natalie once he had put the TARDIS into temporal orbit over the planet where they had just spent such a beautiful, mostly peaceful, mostly uneventful holiday. “You decide, anything you desire.”

Natalie and Julia both looked at him. They knew why he was asking. It would be their last meal together. This was going to be their last night. Tomorrow….

But it was still tonight and Natalie smiled. She told him what she would like to eat. They all felt a slight vibration in the TARDIS engines and they saw the green glow of the console change imperceptibly. And they all knew it had acquiesced to her request.

“Can it do that?” Julia asked as they went to the room where the TARDIS had once provided them a pleasant parkland to sit in while a quarantine field prevented them from leaving its confines for real. They were surprised to find that tonight it had created a beautiful dining room with a fine table laid for three people to eat. The meal Natalie had envisaged was waiting to be served.

Chrístõ sat her in a chair and Julia sat beside her while he served the meal. Tomato soup with delicate herbs, followed by a fresh salmon in béchamel sauce with the best new potatoes and vegetables, and a fruit sorbet with chocolate and mint ice cream to follow.

“Yes, it can,” Chrístõ said in answer to her question. “The TARDIS can create food as well as the scenery here in this room. And it IS real. It’s not just a hologram. For as long as we keep the room open it is real.”

“Why don’t we eat here all the time then?” Julia asked as she savoured the desert. “Instead of you cooking for us?”

“Because for one, creating an in potentia room takes a lot of TARDIS energy, so I restrict it to those rooms we REALLY need. And besides, that would be too easy. We would all become lazy if we let the TARDIS do everything. I cook for you because it teaches me and you not to think anything comes easy.”

“Quite right,” Natalie said. “Though this is a nice treat, just this once.”

“It was a lovely dinner,” Julia admitted as they moved from the table to a soft, comfortable sofa where they sat together, drinking coffee. Natalie leaned on Chrístõ’s shoulder and he held her there, glad that she was feeling a certain contentment.

“If I asked the TARDIS for something else in a little while, would it do it?” she asked.

“I think it would do anything for you, Natalie,” Chrístõ answered.

“Julia,” she continued. “Would YOU do something, when you have rested from your meal?”

“Anything,” she, too, promised.

Natalie closed her eyes and seemed to be thinking of something and around them the room changed from a private dining room to a small cabaret room, with just one sofalike seat on which they sat next to the dance floor.

“Julia, would you dance your Firebird for me,” she asked. “I love to watch you dance.”

“Yes,” Julia said. She went, presently, to change into the costume that went with that dance. She returned and spent a few minutes warming up and stretching her limbs before she stood in the centre of the floor and waited for the first bars of the music to fill the room. She danced her favourite dance, one full of life as Chrístõ always said. A colourful dance that drove away all the dark thoughts and worries. Natalie watched, entranced, as she always did. Julia danced just for her, to give her one more hour of happy thoughts.

As the dance ended, Natalie clapped for joy, but the energy that took was almost too much. She was almost fainting in Chrístõ’s arms as he lifted her.

“It has been a pleasant night,” he told her. “But now, I think we must be truthful. I need to take you to the medical room.”

She sighed and nodded and pressed her head against his shoulder. He carried her to the medical room. Julia slipped away to change from her ballet costume. Humphrey took her place beside him, making his soft, sad purr.

“Nat-al-ie,” he said mournfully.

“Don’t…” Chrístõ began, but Humphrey was as sad as any of them were. He couldn’t turn him away. He let him come into the medical room with them. The lights were too bright to see him, but they knew he was there from his low purr.

“Even Humphrey doesn’t want to leave me,” she said as Chrístõ made her comfortable after examining her carefully. “Even he knows it’s time.”

“Not yet,” he answered. “But it is time for you to lie quietly here where I have the equipment to keep you from pain and make it easier for you.” He sat beside her. So did Julia when she returned from changing from her bright dance costume to an ordinary skirt and t-shirt and sandals.

Julia sat with her for most of the early part of the night. She chatted to her about music and ballet, and Natalie seemed happy to hear her voice. Chrístõ did what he could to ensure she was not in pain but there was nothing he could do to prolong her life and he knew there was nothing he SHOULD do. She didn’t WANT him to do anything. She had resigned herself to the fact that her death was imminent. She asked for no respite, no staving off of the inevitable, only that it should be as peaceful and dignified as possible. And in that, Chrístõ was more than willing to acquiesce.

“Julia, my dear,” she said as the small hours went slowly by. “You should sleep.”

“Yes,” Chrístõ told her. “You should.”

“But I promised Natalie,” she began, though her eyes were heavy and she looked half asleep already.

“I will wake you,” Chrístõ assured her. He made up another bed in the medical room. “Come on, you sleep a few hours. I will look after Natalie now.” He kissed her gently as she dropped to sleep then returned to Natalie’s side. “YOU should sleep, too.”

“What for?” she asked. “Do I need my strength to do anything tomorrow?”

“No,” he conceded. “But…”

“While I have the strength, let me spend these hours with you, Chrístõ.”

“Of course,” he told her. For a little while she just held his hand and looked at him. Then she spoke again.

“You know,” she said. “I have sometimes pretended in these past few months, when we are among strangers, that you are my own son. It felt nice when people thought you were. I never even thought of having children of my own. But if I had a son like you, I would be so proud.” She paused and looked at him anxiously. “You don’t mind, do you?”

“Of course I don’t mind,” he told her. “I’m glad you felt that much for me.”

“I thought you might think I was being disrespectful to the memory of your real mother.”

“My memories of my mother are all safely locked in my mind. Nothing can take them from me. My memories of the wonderful times we have had in this past year are also safe. I will always remember them, Natalie. I will always love you as much as I loved my mother.”

“That is…” she sighed with something like relief. “I wanted you to know that, before...”

Chrístõ realised she was confessing a secret to him. Something she hadn’t wanted on her conscience at the end. He smiled warmly at her. What a blameless life she had led. The only thing she needed to confess at the end of her time was one harmless fantasy that he would willingly have indulged any time. Yes, she had been like a mother to him, and a friend, and somebody he loved dearly. And as all three he would grieve her death all too soon.

“Remember our dance,” Chrístõ said with a smile. “You weren’t thinking of me as a son then!”

She blushed slightly, as much as she could manage in her weakened condition and smiled.

“I wish we could dance again,” she told him.

“That’s a wish I can grant,” he said. He touched her forehead and closed his eyes. He imagined the scene perfectly. A beautiful ballroom with black and silver as the predominant colours, dark except for where a spotlight fell on two people. Natalie was dressed in silver and white, and looked beautiful in a way she had never been allowed to look beautiful. He was in black with silver trim. Soft music was playing and he took her in his arms and danced with her, slowly. A romantic waltz. The spotlight followed them around the floor. She was graceful. She didn’t fall over her hem or step on his feet as she always expected she would do in such a situation. She was happy. She smiled at him as he held her in his arms. Her young beau.

“A sweet dream,” Natalie sighed as she opened her eyes and found herself in his arms. “You made it feel so real. We danced the night away and then you kissed me under the moonlight.”

“Yes,” he said, kissing her now. “You should have had more kisses in your life, Natalie.”

“I feel as if I had. You make it feel so real.”

“I like dancing,” he said. “Always have. I was taught it by a very gracious lady many years ago. The Lady Lilianna D’Argenluna. Her name means ‘silver moon’. She was many thousands of years old. Her hair was silver and her face was lined, but she was beautiful all the same. She had a beautiful soul. In my vacation from school I worked as her Lady’s Companion, escorting her to parties. She taught me to dance, and she dressed me in black and silver because she said it suited me. I used to like bright colours. I thought black was only for mourning. But she told me I just looked like a peacock and had me dressed ‘like a gentleman of taste’ as she said.”

“She sounds a very sensible lady. What happened to her?”

“She died,” he said. “Of old age. It comes even to us Time Lords eventually. Then I DID wear the black of mourning for a long while. But one night I had a dream of her. I saw her as she was as a young woman, with bright red hair flowing loose down her back and her dress of silver. She told me not to be sad for her ever again. And I promised her I wouldn’t. I have always remembered the good times, the times when I danced with her and thought she was the most beautiful woman in the universe.”

“A young, handsome man like you thought an old lady with white hair and a lined face was the most beautiful woman in the universe?”

“Yes,” he said. “I did. As I think you are beautiful, Natalie.”

“You’re a very special man,” Natalie told him with a sad look in her eyes. “I was never beautiful. I never felt beautiful. Men ignored me or were just rude to me. Sometimes I didn’t even feel like a woman. But you took all that away. You made me feel beautiful. I wish I’d known you long ago.”

“So do I,” he told her “But we had a good year.”

Too many of the people he loved were taken from him, he thought. Li Tuo’s death was still a raw pain in his hearts. His mother’s death was so long ago that even his memories of her were fragmented and vague, but he felt the ache of grief from time to time. His Lady Lily. He had loved her so dearly. She had been an important part of his growing up. His mentor, The Maestro, and the Brotherhood of Mount Lœng had given him the skills of combat and contemplation and of learning. Lady Lily had given him the social skills. Between them they made him the man he was. Her death had almost undone the work, because his grief had been so overwhelming. But in the end he had found the courage to face up to living without her.

As he would face up to living without Natalie.

“You kept your promise to be here with me,” she said. “Bless you for that. Don’t forgot your other promise.”

He knew which one she meant. He looked at Julia as she slept on the other side of the room. His days with her company were numbered, too. She wasn’t going to die, but she would not be with him any more.

“It’s the right thing to do, Chrístõ,” she emphasised.

“I know,” he told her. “And I won’t let you down. I will take her to her aunt and uncle as soon as possible.”

“Good.” She breathed in deeply. “One regret. Just one. I shall never see your wedding. I would have liked…”

Chrístõ nodded. That was another wish he could make true if only in her mind. He touched her forehead again and reached into his own thoughts. He had seen it briefly the first time he read Julia’s timeline. He let his own imagination colour and expand the scene.

The Panopticon in Gallifrey’s Capitol was full to bursting with the cream of Gallifreyan society for the wedding of the decade. The heir of the House of Lœngbærrow was marrying his Earth Child, a love match that some thought inappropriate, but still more thought a beautiful and inspiring thing.

He was dressed in gold and scarlet. No black and silver today. This WAS a time for looking like a peacock. The full regalia of the Prydonian Chapter, gold robe and scarlet gown, with the Seal of Rassilon and the crest of the House of Lœngbærrow on the shoulders, the elaborate headdress of a high caste Gallifreyan, all the trappings of his birth.

By his side, his dearest friend in the universe, his doppelganger, King-Emperor of Adano-Ambrado, and patriarch of the youngest Gallifreyan House, the House of Dúre, almost matched him for grandeur. Nearby his father stood, smiling proudly at his first born son.

A few bars of the Gallifreyan anthem brought everyone to their feet for the arrival of the High Council. The Lord High President himself was to conduct the wedding. That was Chrístõ’s privilege as a high born Gallifreyan. He, too, was grandly dressed in the finest cloth and spun gold, though his gown was the deep purple of the Arcalian Chapter.

But Chrístõ, Penne, even the Lord High President, lost their shine in the presence of the bride. All turned as the beautiful young woman at last entered the Panopticon. She walked down the central aisle, escorted by her Human uncle who looked a little bemused by the grandeur of a High Gallifreyan wedding, but proud of his niece. She had a host of bridesmaids; her oldest friends, Cassie and Bo of Earth, and the Princess Cirena, and a gaggle of young women from Beta Delta, her friends from that part of her life. All looked lovely. But she outshone them all as a bride should do. Her snow white dress of lace was covered in diamonds that caught the light. Her wide train was also edged in diamonds and so was the veil that covered her face until she reached her husband to be’s side. He lifted the veil and looked at her face. Dark eyes, almost black, black hair with more diamonds shining in it, a fair complexion and red lips that parted slightly as she whispered ‘I love you.”

The little girl was now grown to a woman and ready to be his wife as they held hands and turned to face the Lord High President. He raised the staff of Rassilon and blessed them with it as he began the rite of Alliance of Unity.

“It’s just the wedding she deserves,” Natalie said as they came back to the present again. “And I know you’ll be very happy together.”

“Yes, we will.”

“I’m glad.”

“Can you see any further? Do you know if you and Julia will have children together?”

“It becomes more vague as it goes along. I know we WILL have a child. But it is not clear if we have a son or a daughter. Time will tell.”

“It is probably better not to know everything. You have a wonderful gift even so, in knowing that she will be yours in the future.”

And a curse, Chrístõ thought sadly. There was a codicil to that happy future. His Earth Child had only the lifespan of an ordinary Human. And it was so much shorter than his. One day, in the future, he would sit beside Julia on a long night like this and talk of anything but the inevitable. And then she would be one more woman he had loved and lost.

There were myths and legends about the ‘Curse’ of the Time Lords. Many people speculated that they had paid some kind of terrible price for their longevity, for their power of regeneration and all that set them apart from other beings of the universe. There were strange theories about their souls being damned to some kind of hell at the end of their thirteenth life – this supposedly being the origin of the superstition about that number throughout the universe. An even less likely one was that Time Lords were sterile and could not procreate. He often wondered where THAT idea came from, since it was so patently untrue. He stood as proof of that.

Every one of the theories was wrong. The curse WAS their longevity itself. At least it was for those Time Lords who moved beyond Gallifrey and mixed with and loved other beings. His own father knew that to his cost. So did he, already, at his young age. His mother, Lady Lily, and now Natalie. Julia in her turn, would be lost to him.

Would there ever come a time when he tired of it? When his hearts turned to stone and he would not feel love any more for fear of the grief it brings?

Or would he come, in the end, to the same conclusion as his father? Valena was his father’s comfort. One of their own kind. She would not fade and die so quickly.

Romana’s face came into his mind. He recalled her the last time he had seen her, in the veil of the Sisterhood, ready to devote herself to cloistered contemplation. He wondered if she was his later destiny? Would she leave the cloister to be his life companion? But even so, Julia would always be his first true love. She would be his first wife, the mother of his heir. Nobody, not even Romana, could take her place.

“Whatever that thought is, Chrístõ,” Natalie whispered. “Don’t dwell on it too much. It makes you frown too sadly.”

“You’re right,” he said. “We should think of happy things. Good memories.”

“Julia winning the gymnastics,” Natalie said. “That was a very good memory. She looked so beautiful.”

“I remember you standing up to those bullies on Monoria,” Chrístõ said. “A brave woman. I remember your kindness to Diane, my grandmother. For that you have the everlasting thanks of myself and my father.”

Your father is a very kind man. When you see him again, give him my best wishes.”

“I will.”

She seemed to have exhausted all the things she could say. She lay quietly for a long time. Chrístõ held her hand and watched her half sleeping, half awake. He felt gently, with his mind, to assure himself she was not in any discomfort and adjusted the intravenous supply of painkillers when he thought she needed it.

Julia woke at what would be about five o’clock by Earth time, though the days and nights were artificially created within the TARDIS to give structure to their lives.

“Don’t tell me to sleep any more,” she said. “I’ve slept enough. Is she…”

“I’m still here,” Natalie whispered and reached out to touch Julia’s face with her hand. “Still with you yet, though I think, not for very much longer now.”

She sighed as she finished speaking and Chrístõ felt her hand slacken its hold on his. Julia gave a sharp cry, but he assured her that Natalie had just fainted.

“She’s weak now,” he told her. “She can’t hold out much longer.”

She came around from the faint as Chrístõ adjusted the painkillers again, but she shook her head sadly.

“There is no need to do that,” she told him. “I don’t have long now.”

“However long, I don’t want you to feel any discomfort,” he told her.

“I’m not,” She assured him. “But this isn’t how I want to go. Wired up like this. Take me to the Cloister Room. I want to be there, where the TARDIS talks to me, not here. This is too clinical. The spirit can’t come through these walls.”

“Whatever you want,” Chrístõ told her. He disconnected the intravenous drip and the heart monitor that was bleeping away quietly and lifted her from the bed. By cruel irony the illness that ravaged her body had done what every diet in the universe couldn’t do. She felt as light as a feather in his arms. She put her arms about his neck and laid her head on his shoulder.

Julia ran ahead and opened the doors as he carried her. Humphrey span along behind them, still keening. The noise was irritating, but Chrístõ couldn’t have stopped him if he tried. Humphrey’s emotive cry reflected how they ALL felt.

They came to the cloister room. Across its threshold they all felt the difference in the atmosphere. It was as if the TARDIS knew that somebody was dying within it. It empathised.

Chrístõ laid her on the bed of cushions by the side of the Eye of Harmony and opened it for her. Her eyes shone in the reflected silver light and she smiled.

“Chrístõ,” she said. “I won’t REALLY be dead. I’ll always be with you. The TARDIS promised me that.”

“The TARDIS loves you as much as we do,” Chrístõ answered, kneeling by her side with her hand pressed against his lips. He knew she had minutes left. Her heart was so weakened by the biological battle going on within her body. He wanted them to be happy minutes. He half lifted her and kissed her on the lips. He felt her respond. “Dear Natalie, you ARE loved.”

“I know,” she said. “Julia, sweet child, think of me won’t you.”

“I always will,” she said, crying hot sad tears. “Every day.”

“Not every day,” Natalie told her. “I want you to be happy, not sad. But sometimes – remember me.”

“Chrístõ,” she looked at him as he knelt by her side. But she had no strength to speak again just yet. When she did, it was just more reminiscences about the time they had been together. They were increasingly disjointed, but he couldn’t bear to stop her from talking. He let her chatter away, as she always did, the bubbling chatterbox with her own secret heartaches, only some of which even he ever knew. She should have had more life. She should have had a better life. He wished it had been in his power to give her both. All he could do now was wait.

“Julia, dear,” Natalie said after a while. “I would like to see the candles lit around the room. Would you do that for me?” She nodded and ran to do as she was asked. Chrístõ thought it was because she wanted to say something more private to him. But she didn’t.

“Goodbye, Chrístõ,” was all she said. And then – he never knew where she got the strength in her dying moments – she suddenly rolled over towards the Eye of Harmony. Even his reflexes were taken by surprise. He launched himself forward from his kneeling position and tried to stop her. Julia looked around as he screamed out loud and saw him barely touch Natalie’s hand as the Eye engulfed her. She ran and Chrístõ caught her in his arms. They both cried hot tears of grief. And as they held each other the Eye closed. The lights dimmed and then brightened painfully and then returned to normal.

“She has become part of the TARDIS,” Chrístõ said. “She said it had spoken to her. She said it had promised to look after her. She said it had promised she would always be there.”

They sat together on the floor by the well for a long time. They both cried, holding each other tightly. Humphrey enveloped them both lovingly and they felt his grief as well as their own.

After a while, though, Chrístõ stood up. He lifted Julia with him.

“Come on, now. You’re very tired. Come on to your room and lie down for a while.”

“Not there,” she said. “Not yet. Natalie’s room is next door….Later… but not yet.”

“Come on to the console room then, and sleep on the cabin bed.”

He tucked her up there and she slept quicker than he expected. She clearly was tired. He went to the console. He brought a chair. Normally he would stand, but he felt weary himself. He had a duty to perform, though. Like the captain of any ship, of any kind, when a death occurred, he had to make a report in the log. He typed rapidly an account of the last hours. He included every medical report there was and filled in a death certificate noting the cause of death and the exact time.

He filed the report.

He sat there for a long time, just looking at the view of the starfield outside the TARDIS. He tried to calm his thoughts, tried not to cry again. He WAS captain of this ship. He had to be strong.

The viewscreen changed. The videophone connecting logo changed to the insignia of the Gallifreyan High Council and Chrístõ stood as he saw Chancellor Remonte De Lœngbærrow on the screen.

“Chancellor,” he said formally, bowing his head.

“Christo, I wanted to talk to you off record briefly. I have just been shown a report filed by you, registering a death on board your TARDIS. You know that, strictly speaking, I should order you to return to Gallifrey. There should be an inquest.”

“There is no need. Natalie died of natural causes. The medical records for the past year are attached to the report. There is nothing to question.”

“I agree,” Remonte said. “I see no cause. I will make a note on the record to that effect. The circumstances of this death are strange though, it must be said. The Eye of Harmony… Very unusual.”

“If I had known what was in her mind, I would have tried to stop her,” Chrístõ assured him. “But… but I’m not sure I wouldn’t be wrong in doing so. It was her wish.”

“She actually communicated with the Eye of Harmony? With the heart of your TARDIS?”

“She said she did. I never heard its voice. She could have been hallucinating.”

“We created machines that are semi-sentient, which form empathic links with those aboard. We do not know all that is possible. Your suffering lady found comfort in that empathy. I think we should not question it further. But what of you? Chrístõ, grief, even for us, is a very real thing.”

“I’m coping with it,” he assured his uncle. “I have had time to prepare in any case. I have known this night was coming.”

“If you need to talk, I AM your uncle, as well as Chancellor. You can confide in me, Chrístõ. I won’t think any less of you.”

“Will you do one thing for me, uncle? If you speak to my father before I do, will you tell him the news. Natalie spoke highly of him.”

“I will.”

"Thank you."

Chrístõ bowed again formally and cut the communication. The death of Natalie Beech is entered into the great archive of Time Lord records, he thought as he stood there watching the swirling vortex and letting himself be slightly hypnotised by it.

“Chrístõ!” Julia woke as he stood there. She came to his side. Her eyes were red from crying but they shone with a sort of joy.

“I can feel her,” she said. “Can’t you, Chrístõ?”


“I can feel her.”

But he understood what she meant now. He smiled, despite himself. He looked at the time rotor. He didn’t know why but his eyes were drawn to it.

“Yes, yes. I CAN feel her. She’s here. Natalie, how do you feel?” He almost hoped to hear her reply. He felt it in his head, not exactly in words, and translated it to Julia. “She doesn’t FEEL anything. She isn’t alive now. She’s not a ghost, either. She’s part of the heart and soul of the TARDIS. She… won’t always be able to communicate with us. This is just... her way of telling us it’s ok, and she made the right decision. And to tell us not to worry. But… she’ll always be here in the TARDIS. She… she says she’s going to look after me when you’ve gone to live with your aunt and uncle. Natalie, please, I’m 192 years old. I don’t need my own TARDIS baby-sitting me. Try to remember that.”

The central column of the console moved up and down for a fraction of a second and the sound was almost a laugh. Julia laughed, too, through her tears.

“Oh, and another thing, Natalie, PLEASE stay away from the navigation console. It’s hard enough finding our way around the universe without you getting us lost.”

Again the almost imperceptible movement. Again the sound that could have been a laugh. He smiled. Life was never going to be predictable around here, he thought.