Marion stepped up to the podium and received her degree certificate from the Chancellor of the University. She smiled proudly as she turned and looked at the applauding crowd. Near the front of the auditorium she could see Kristoph, applauding more enthusiastically than anyone else. Beside him was Li, and Hillary, dressed this afternoon as an elegant woman in maroon cashmere. All of her most special friends. Li had come from eighteenth century China where he was again enjoying wedded bliss with a lady of property in Bejing. Hillary had come from the other side of the galaxy.

Her foster parents hadn’t even bothered to come from the other side of the Mersey, she noted. But she didn’t care. She had a real family now. She belonged to the House of Lœngbærrow.

There was a garden party afterwards for the graduates and their relatives. Marion enjoyed herself with her friends and classmates, passing conversation with the teachers who had helped her through the examinations.

All the same, she was glad to go home. Li and Hillary came as well, to continue the celebration privately among themselves.

“What do you intend to do now, Marion?” Hillary asked as they ate their celebration meal and sipped champagne. “Will you marry Kristoph and make him a happy man or do you intend to make him wait a little longer?”

“That’s a very good question,” she answered. “I’ve been accepted to the teacher training school at Edge Hill, but I don’t know if I will take the place or not. I do like the idea of being a teacher. But if I intend to leave the job almost straight away to get married, then is it fair of me to take a place on the course. The teacher training college has limited places and perhaps I should give it to somebody who DOESN’T intend to give it up to have babies with a Time Lord.”

“Women have careers and children on Earth don’t they?” Hillary asked. “Surely you could do both?”

“I’m not sure I’d want to. When Kristoph and I have a baby, I think I shall want to look after him ALL the time. After all, he WILL be the heir of a great Gallifreyan family. So Kristoph’s mother keeps telling me. And Mrs Flannery keeps dropping big hints about motherhood and all that, too.”

“You do what YOU want to do, Marion,” Hillary told her. “Don’t let Mrs Flannery OR Kristoph’s mother tell you what to do. My opinion is that a woman CAN have a career AND children.”

“But Hillary, you’re a MAN in your career,” Kristoph teased her and they all laughed together as she conceded that point.

“Li,” Marion said quietly. “What do YOU think?”

“I think even those of us with the gift of sight don’t know everything the future holds,” he answered. “But I think you will be a teacher and a mother, though perhaps neither will come as easily or as soon as you would like.”

That wasn’t quite the answer she would have liked from Li, but it sufficed. She smiled as she sipped champagne and thought about the possibilities ahead of her. She had CHOICES. That was the important thing. One of those choices WAS to marry Kristoph and she was determined to do that no matter what else happened.

No matter what the future held, she knew nothing could spoil her happiness right now.

Or could it?

They all looked around in surprise at the sound of a TARDIS materialising. There was a shimmer and a door appeared in the wall next to the fireplace. Li stood up nervously. Marion ran to him, fearfully. Kristoph stood looking tense and annoyed and stepped towards the door as it opened.

Everyone was only slightly less tense and very surprised when Kristoph’s brother, Remonte, stepped out through the door. Marion kept hold of Li’s arm still. Remonte wasn’t another ‘TruthTaker’ come for Li. But he WAS a member of the government that still regarded Li as a wanted man, and Marion was sure he would not have travelled here just to join her graduation party.

Remonte looked at his brother, and then his eyes fell on the rest of the group. He seemed almost as if he was scanning them with his eyes, finding out who they were. His gaze fixed on Li. Hillary joined Marion in standing close to him, protectively.

“I’m not here for YOU,” Remonte said to him coldly. “Though I have many questions to ask about WHY a notorious Renegade whom I was told had left this planet is enjoying hospitality in my brother’s home.”

“Remonte,” Kristoph said with an imploring tone. “Will you listen to me? And trust me. Li is…”

“As I said,” Remonte answered, cutting him off. “I am not HERE for him. It is YOU I need to speak to. Privately.”

“Come to my study,” Kristoph decided. He turned to the others. “Li, if you choose to go while my brother and I are busy, you will not be hindered.”

Remonte looked as if he was about to object to that, but he went with Kristoph to the study, just off the drawing room. The door was closed behind them. Marion and Hillary both looked at Li.

“If you must flee,” Hillary said. “I will try to obtain asylum for you on my world. Any friend of Kristoph’s…”

“That is kind of you,” Li told her. “But I do not wish to flee from Remonte de Lœngbærrow. I knew him when he was a BOY. I do not believe he would betray me. Unless he has become too sure of himself to listen to his older brother’s word.”

Li sat down again on the sofa. Marion and Hillary both sat either side of him. Remonte HAD said that he was not there for Li, but they couldn’t think what ELSE would bring him here from Gallifrey.

It was a long, tense half hour before the two Time Lords emerged from the study. Kristoph looked gravely worried. Marion jumped up and ran to him. He reached out to her and hugged her close as if he needed to feel her nearness to him.

“Li,” he said. “My brother has given his word that he will do nothing to compromise you, for the time being, at least. He came here to tell me that my father is desperately ill.”

Li stood up. He stepped towards Kristoph and clasped him on his shoulder.

“When you see him, remember me to him as a friend of old,” he said. “And pass on my good wishes for his recovery.”

“That I will,” Kristoph answered. “For now, let you be on your way. And I will see you when this is resolved, one way or another.”

Li nodded and turned to hug Marion and Hillary and then he left the house. Marion watched him walk down the garden path slowly. He seemed as upset as Kristoph to hear this news.

“Li and I were like brothers when we were boys. He regarded my father with the same respect as his own.” Kristoph took Marion’s hand and brought her back to the sofa. “My dear, we must go to Gallifrey. Tonight.”

“For good?” she asked, startled.

“No,” he answered. “Only until my father is well. He has asked for me. And I could not refuse. Will you come with me?”

“We’ll have to tell Mrs Flannery,” she said. “And you will have to take Hillary home on the way…”

“Practical details,” he said. “The important thing is that you are with me. I cannot go through this without you near me.”

“I would not be anywhere else,” she assured him. “Remonte, sit down now. Marion, my dear, would you make tea for us all. I think that would be more appropriate than champagne now. And I will contact Mrs Flannery and make what arrangements must be made.”

Marion did so. Hillary helped her. She was grateful for her friend’s company in the kitchen. The enormity of it overwhelmed her.

“One moment we were having a party. The next, I am getting ready to go to GALLIFREY. Of all places. Where Kristoph’s father is dying…”

“He didn’t say DYING. He said very sick. They are Time Lords, don’t forget. But even a sick Time Lord needs his family around him. And you are a part of that family. Your place is with Kristoph.”

“Yes,” she said. “But I can’t help thinking this is the end of something.”

“If it is, it’s the beginning of something, too,” Hillary told her. “And no matter WHERE you are in the universe, I will always be your friend.”

“Both of you?” Marion laughed through the tears that she was holding back.

“Both of me,” Hillary assured her. She reached and hugged her tightly as a woman friend and morphed into the strong masculine form, albeit rather oddly dressed. Marion allowed him to hold her in his arms for a long minute before she shimmered back into her female form that fitted the evening gown much better. “I shall always be your friend, Marion. I promise you.”

They brought the tea back to the drawing room. Remonte eyed it warily.

“Don’t you have tea on Gallifrey?” Marion asked.

“No,” he answered. “We don’t. We have a caffeine based drink and one made from cúl nut essence. And my mother prepares infusions of herbs but they are mostly medicinal.” He laughed softly. “Though when I say medicinal, she prepares a herbal infusion several times a day anyway. She insists that we could ALL do with a tonic.”

“On Earth, we drink tea for the same reason,” Marion said. She watched as Remonte sipped his tea. “I am sorry that your father is ill. I have heard a great deal about him from Kristoph.”

“I am sure that is well meant,” he said a little stiffly. “Having his first born son and heir found giving succour to a traitor and Renegade would not help his condition. That is the main reason I have let the other matter alone for now. But I have to say I am disappointed. When father is recovered or… Rassilon forbid it… if this should be his end… AFTERWARDS this matter must be dealt with.”

“You don’t mean you would turn Kristoph in?” Marion was shocked. “Your own brother…”

“No, I don’t mean that. But he has put me in a difficult position. I aided and abetted this lie, unwittingly. And for that I am also angry. But mostly it concerns me that my own brother has made me choose between my family and the government I serve. I don’t expect you to understand that. You are not Gallifreyan. But honour counts for much there.”

“I may not be Gallifreyan,” Marion answered him. “But I understand more than you think. And I know more of Li’s story than you do. You should talk to Kristoph about it. Then you will understand why he did what he did. I think you will find that ‘honour’ had everything to do with it.”

“You do not understand,” he said again.

“Like I said, I understand more than you think. But… tell me one thing. How did you KNOW Li when you saw him? He has regenerated since you last saw him.”

“All Time Lords know each other by their telepathic identity. That does not change no matter how often they regenerate. I knew him at once. And he knew me. He has courage, I’ll own him that much. There was not a flicker of fear when he faced me.”

“Perhaps that should tell you something about him,” Marion replied. “Could it not mean that he is an innocent man with nothing to fear?”

“It could mean he has no shame for what he has done. It could mean many things. But enough. I will not speak of it again until my father’s health is assured.”

“Then put aside your resentment and remember that Kristoph is your brother and you are both your father’s sons.” Marion looked up as Kristoph returned to the room. He put his hand on her shoulder gently and looked at his brother. Marion thought they must be communicating telepathically.

Then he spoke to them all in words.

“I have made arrangements with Mrs Flannery. Chiefly to assure her that she will still be paid her full salary while I am away for an unspecified time. I made the house secure. I am ready to leave as soon as we have finished the tea and Hilary has collected her things from the guest room. Marion, we may be gone for a few weeks. If there are personal belongings you wish to bring with you, pack them in a bag. But we can arrange clothes suitable for a Gallifreyan lady when we arrive.”

Marion didn’t ask what clothes for a Gallifreyan lady would be. She and Hillary went to do as he said. There wasn’t much she thought she would need. She found a clean nightdress and dressing gown and slippers. She put her newly acquired degree certificate in a folder and packed it. It was one of the few things she had ever earned for herself. Even though it was probably meaningless on Gallifrey she wanted to keep it.

She remembered what Remonte had said before, and went to the kitchen. She added two unopened packets of tea and a packet of sugar. She trusted they had something like MILK on Gallifrey.

How little her life amounted to in terms of personal things, she thought. Her nightclothes, a certificate and two packets of tea.

But then it wasn’t because she had nothing. It was because she needed so little. What was the use of CDs or books or hairdryers and the like when she was going to another planet in a TARDIS?

She looked at herself in the hallway mirror as she waited for Kristoph to ‘remote couple Remonte’s TARDIS’ so that they could all travel together. She WAS a different woman to the shy, terrified one Kristoph had met a few years before in Leeds. That Marion could never have had the conversation she had with Remonte before.

But was THIS Marion ready to go to Gallifrey? She had travelled to many planets with Kristoph. But Gallifrey was the big one. The home of the Time Lords. Kristoph’s home. There was something about this trip that was going to be so very different to all the others.

Yes, she told herself firmly. She was ready.

She had to be.