Marion was late coming out to meet him at the gate, but Kristoph wasn’t overly worried this time. He knew she was signing up with some of her class mates for a theatre field trip to London next week. She had already seen the original opening night of the play in question, in 1925. But seeing the latest version with her own friends was important, too.

At last he saw her heading to the gate, in a crowd of young women her own age. She was talking cheerfully with them. When she saw him she waved and smiled especially for him. Her friends were suitably amused when she let him kiss her fondly in front of them.

“There was a time you would have died of embarrassment rather than kiss me in public,” he teased her as they stepped into the TARDIS together. “You’ve changed so much, yet you’re still my own Marion.”

“Always,” she answered. “So… are we still on for London in the 28th century this weekend?”

“No,” he said as he went to the console and set their course. “We have to postpone that trip. We’re going to Haolstrom IV.”

“Haolstrom…” Her eyes lit up in delight. “Hillary…”

“The baby is due soon. And she wants us to be there. Or more to the point, she wants YOU to be there. It is a great honour to be asked to be in attendance.”

“At the actual birth?”

“Yes, of course. There isn’t a problem with that?”

“No, I suppose not. Do… does Hillary’s people…”

“Do they give birth in the way you consider ‘normal’?” He smiled at her. “Yes, they do. Or very similar, anyway. Nothing to worry about there.”

“Well, then, let’s go. It will be lovely to see Hillary again. And her family. And her world.”

Hillary’s world was beautiful. Marion thought so even when they came out of the vortex in orbit over it and she viewed the continents and oceans, the plains and grasslands and the mountain ranges.

“Like Earth,” she said. “But without the huge cities and pollution.”

“Haolstrom’s industrial cities are below ground,” Kristoph explained. “The lands above ground are for leisure. There are great public parks and gardens where the city dwellers enjoy their leisure time in the sun, and of course the homes of the aristocracy. Haolstrom is a good society. The working classes are treated well, with good education facilities and medical services. They have good homes and free access to the public places. But they DO have a two tier society. The old aristocracy live well above ground in their demesnes.”

“Is Hillary one of the aristocracy?” Marion asked.

“Oh, yes,” Krisoph told her. “She is from one of the high ranking families of Haolstrom. As I am from a high Oldblood House of Gallifrey.”

“And yet both of you treat me as if I was equal to you,” Marion said. “And I am nobody, from nowhere.”

“You are my Lady Marion,” Kristoph told her. “You always will be.” He kissed her tenderly before turning to initiate the landing.

The TARDIS disguised itself as an ornamental arch in a beautiful formal garden of flower beds and sculpture. They stepped out into the glorious warmth of two suns at their zenith. Kristoph took Marion by the hand as a liveried servant came to greet them.

“Ambassador De Lœngb?rrow,” he said with a formal bow. “You and your Lady are expected. The reception is in the east garden.”

“Reception?” Marion queried. “I thought we were here for a birth?”

“That is correct, Ladyship,” the servant told her. “The reception is for the naming of the new child when it is born.”

Marion decided not to ask any more questions for now as they were brought to the east garden. It was also beautifully laid out, but with a much larger lawn area than the west garden. A canopy was set up to keep the sun off the elegantly dressed guests as they ate from a buffet and drank what looked like champagne and generally enjoyed themselves.

“Ambassador De Lœngb?rrow and Lady Marion,” said the liveried servant to a slim young woman in a white silk man’s suit who seemed to be the host of the party. She smiled and reached to shake hands with Kristoph.

“Ambassador, my parent has told me so much about you. I am the eldest, Brandon Barr Dey.”

“Ah, yes. I remember when you were a little girl,” Kristoph said. “That is to say, Hillary always preferred to raise you all as girls when you were very young.”

“Yes, my parent loved to dress us in frills. I prefer the female form but I like masculine attire,” Brandon answered. “My sibling Drew has chosen the male form for this reception. Only Kaye, the very youngest, still has clothes chosen by our parent.” She waved and a youth of what would be about sixteen in Earth years, and the little girl, Kaye came to greet them. Kaye reached for Marion’s arms and greeted her joyfully as the friend who had taken care of her when Hillary was hurt on Kallo V.

“It is wonderful to meet the rest of Hillary’s family,” Marion said. “But is she…”

“I am very well, all considered,” Hillary said. Marion turned to her and smiled joyfully. She was, very clearly, in the advanced stage of pregnancy, dressed in a silk robe that was tightly drawn around her extended stomach before falling to her sandaled feet. “Marion, my dear, so glad you could make it.” Kristoph took Kaye from her as she hugged and kissed her friend.

“I am glad to be here,” she answered. “But Hillary, shouldn’t you be lying down?”

“Soon I will,” she said. “But I wanted to enjoy the party for a little longer.”

“You are stubborn, Hillary,” Kristoph told her. “I am sure everyone has told you to lie down and that is why you insist on being up and around.”

“You know me well, Kristoph,” Hillary said with a laugh. “But come, you must both be ready to enjoy the refreshments after your journey.”

And Marion had to admit that she was hungry. She enjoyed the buffet and the chance to look closely at the other Haolstromnian aristocrats. They were all, Kristoph assured her, gendermorphs like Hillary. Some of them had come to the reception in a female form wearing elegant dresses. Others had chosen male form and wore fine suits. Some chose to wear loose silk gowns and she noticed that they changed their form at will.

“I couldn’t get used to that,” Marion said. “How do you cope with being two people at once?”

“Well, we’re not,” Hillary told her. “I am one person with two faces. It is still me regardless. Besides, it is natural to us.” She began to say something else, but a pain enveloped her and she pressed her hand against her stomach and screwed up her face until it passed.

“You SHOULD go to the birthing room now,” Kristoph told her. “Marion, we will walk with her.” Hillary put up a feeble protest as Kristoph lifted her to her feet and took one arm as Marion came the other side of her. The guests at the reception all stepped aside as they passed. All wished her good luck for a swift and healthy birth.

Marion had expected something more like a hospital room for the birth. She was quite surprised when she stepped inside the open French doors from the reception garden and saw a wide, low bed covered in silk. Hillary lay down on the bed and Kristoph knelt and took her sandals off. That was the only preparation she seemed to need to make.

“What do I do?” Marion asked as Hillary made herself comfortable on the cushions.

“You will sit by me,” Hillary told her, reaching out her hand and pulling her down on the side of the bed. “You will be my comfort in these next hours. As will Kristoph.”

“The least I can do,” Marion told her. “But is there no medication, nothing to ease the pain?”

“Medication?” Hillary looked surprised. “Nobody uses such a thing. Childbirth is meant to be painful. I embrace the pain.”

“Your whole people are stubborn,” Kristoph told her. “You have the technology to develop a whole range of drugs that would make childbirth less of a trial. But you choose the trial. It is fortunate that your species generally give birth fairly quickly. A few short hours and it will be over.”

“Have you been at a birth here before?” Marion asked him.

“Kristoph was with me when my eldest was born,” Hillary explained. “He and I were still the talk of the diplomatic circles then. He was very affectionate towards me. And he insisted on being with me.”

“It was just as well,” Kristoph added. “It was a difficult birth. You could have died.”

“Not with you at my side,” Hillary answered. She reached and touched Kristoph’s face. He smiled gently at her. Marion saw the look that passed between them and felt momentarily as if she was an intruder upon their intimacy. But she knew she had no need to be jealous. Hillary was a friend to them both. She obviously had good reason to treasure her friendship with Kristoph.

Marion understood that well enough. He had changed HER life completely.

The next hour or so felt so strange to Marion. There was nothing for her to do except hold Hillary’s hand and talk to her and help her to bear the increasing birth pains. The doors remained open and music and chatter and laughter came from outside as the reception continued. Every so often people came in. All three of Hillary’s children came at different times. The eldest and middle one talked with her. The youngest she hugged close to her until she felt another pain coming and she sent the little girl outside so that she wouldn’t see her hurting. Other people came, too, clearly friends. There was a little surprise that Hillary had chosen two aliens as her birth friends on this occasion.

“Very few of our kind travel offworld,” Hillary said in explanation. “I am in a unique position in having friends among many different species. But don’t worry. Everyone is perfectly friendly.”

“I never imagined myself as an alien before,” Marion admitted. Then she gave her attention to Hillary as a much longer and deeper contraction overwhelmed her. Marion was startled to see her body shimmering and trying to morph into her male form. Kristoph reached out and touched her on the forehead gently.

“Concentrate,” he told her. “You mustn’t lose control at this time. If the baby is to be born safely and naturally you have to hold on in female form until it is over.”

Marion was on the point of asking what would happen if she couldn’t hold on.

“There have been rare occasions when a child has been born by what you know as caesarean section,” Kristoph answered. “In extreme cases where the morphic ability is impaired. But that’s not going to happen here.”

“It would spoil the party,” Hillary said with a laugh that covered the end of the contraction. “It won’t be long now.”

“No, it won’t,” Kristoph said, putting his hand on her stomach. “No time at all, now. Hush little one, there is nothing to be frightened of. Out here in the world there are only people who will love and cherish you your whole life long.”

“You can talk to the baby?” Marion wondered why that surprised her. Kristoph never failed to have something special he could do. She wondered what it would be like when they were expecting a child of their own. She could picture them sitting together, warm and cosy, his hand caressing her stomach and talking to their unborn child, reassuring it of their love.

She imagined him there beside her when it was her turn to give birth, not quite like this, she hoped. But she had little doubt that Kristoph would see her through it.

But now there was no time for thinking about other days, other things. What was happening now was too important. Hillary WAS struggling to hold onto her form. Twice more she morphed fully into her male form as the pain increased.

“Isn’t there a midwife?” Marion asked as the contractions increased and it was clear that the birth WAS going to be very soon. She had thought somebody would come before now.

“They never use midwives on Haolstrom,” Kristoph told her. “The parent only needs a friend to be there. She does the rest by herself.”

“Oh,” Marion said. “Not QUITE like on Earth then?”

“Not quite like on Gallifrey, either,” Kristoph noted. “But it’s how it is done here.”

Hillary screamed as the contractions wracked her body and this time she morphed completely for nearly half a minute, and it was clearly far more painful for her in that form. When she reverted, she was crying pitifully.

“This is not good, Hillary, my dear,” Kristoph insisted. “You MUST concentrate.”

“It hurts too much,” she cried. “More than before. I shouldn’t… They told me I was starting to be too old… I was vain. I didn’t want to believe I WAS too old. I let myself conceive out of vanity.”

“You let yourself conceive out of love for all your children, Hillary,” Kristoph assured her. “You are a wonderful parent to them all. This little one is going to be fine. And so are YOU. But I’m not going to let you bear the pain without some relief.” As Marion held one of her hands, Kristoph took the other and pressed it against his own left heart. His other hand he placed over her forehead and Marion saw him concentrate deeply. When Hillary’s next contraction came, she moaned with pain, but not so deeply as before. Kristoph screwed up his face as, somehow, he bore the worse of her pain himself.

“I can’t take it all,” he said as they both relaxed for a brief spell between the quickening and lengthening pains. “You need to feel some of it. But I can make it bearable.”

“Kristoph, THAT is why I loved you,” Hillary told him. “You are the kindest being I know in the entire universe. You let yourself suffer for me.” She turned her face towards Marion. “You are his lover, now. Make him as happy as he deserves to be.”

“I will,” Marion promised. “But right now we’re both here for you.”

“It won’t be long,” she said. “Kristoph knows. Don’t you?”

“I do,” Kristoph answered. “We’re nearly there. A few more of these hard pains and we’ll be there.” He felt it coming and he got ready. This one must have been bad. He gasped out loud as he bore the brunt of it and Hillary clung to both their hands tightly.

Twice, three times more Kristoph bore the worst of the agony. Then, finally, it was time. Hillary grasped both their arms and lifted herself up into a sitting position. Kristoph repositioned the cushions to give her support and he and Marion held her by the shoulders tightly as she pushed and strained and cried out with the effort. Little by little her baby was being born into her own hands as she reached. Marion watched in surprise as the head and then the tiny body was pushed out from her. It was in a sort of clear sac with what looked like an umbilicus attached to a darker part on the side of it. As Hillary lifted the child the sac slowly dissolved, and so did the umbilicus, leaving a navel just like in a Human child. She hugged it to her as it gave its first cry. Kristoph became busy finding a length of soft silk to wrap the child in as Hillary opened the front of the robe and fed it for the first time.

“She looks beautiful,” Marion said. She didn’t know what else to say. That was not quite the same sort of birth as humans have. But it was just as beautiful and wonderful and she was glad to have been there with her friend.

“She’s going to be called Camilla,” Hillary told them both as Kristoph took the baby and wrapped it. He gave it to Marion to hold while Hillary went to the ante room and emerged a few minutes later in a fresh, clean silk robe. Marion stood and gave her the baby back and they stepped out into the sunshine either side of her.

“This is Camilla Dey Greibella, my child,” Hillary announced to the expectantly waiting crowd. They had heard the cry of the newborn, of course. But there was an anxious few minutes before it was presented to them. With those few words, though, the baby was formally shown to all of the guests and formally named in the tradition of Haolstrom which gave the new generation a slightly different surname to the parent. There was a round of applause, and baby Camilla’s older siblings came to see her and pronounce her a worthy addition to their family. With the child in her arms Hillary rejoined the reception. She was smiling happily, overjoyed by the birth, a little tired around her eyes, but otherwise there was barely a sign that she had gone through several hours of agony.

“It won’t be so easy for me, will it?” Marion said to Kristoph as they watched her, both proud themselves to have played their part in Hillary’s special day.

“To give birth to a Gallifreyan child,” Kristoph said. “No, my love, it won’t be as easy. Haolstromnians have remarkable constitutions. She will probably insist on dancing with us both later at the Birth-Day ball. But no, when it IS our turn it will be harder.”

“Tell me how it will be harder,” she said. “Please.”

“Is now the time?” he asked.

“Yes,” Marion insisted. “I think it IS the time. When I am watching my friend with her beautiful baby, yes, I need to know. It is the one thing your mother was reluctant to talk to me about and there are no books about it in the library.”

“It takes sixteen months for the baby to reach full term,” he told her. “That alone will be hard for you to bear. Then the birth… I have never heard of one lasting less than two days. I am told, though of course I was not there, that my brother took four days to be safely delivered. And there is a far greater risk of stillbirth..”

“Because I am Human?”

“No, it is common on our world even among pureblood families. We have nothing like the ‘baby shower’ tradition of Earth and we would never have this sort of celebration until a child was at least four days old. We would not tempt fate by assuming a healthy birth in advance.”

Marion thought about it. A sixteen month pregnancy and as much as four days in labour, and even then not being certain of a healthy baby. That was hard. She looked around at Hillary, showing off her beautiful little baby to her friends, little Kaye pulling at her robe, begging to be allowed to hold her new sibling, the older two looking on proudly. The Haolstrom way, for all the pain Hillary had gone through for a relatively brief time, had a lot to commend it.

But she was going to marry a Time Lord, and it was a less happy prospect for her. She would have been frightened but for Li Tuo’s prophecy that she WOULD give Kristoph the heir he wanted and needed so much.

“For you, I will endure it,” Marion assured him. Kristoph smiled and kissed her tenderly.

“We will cross that bridge when we reach it,” he told her. “And we will do it together. I assure you of that.”