It was a little after seven thirty in the morning. Marion had risen from her bed in the TARDIS and checked that Rodan was still sleeping soundly. She had looked and found Kristoph in the cloister room meditating, as he so often did first thing. Then she went for a walk. That was something she liked to do when she was home at Mount Lœng House. Before breakfast, while the house was quiet, her fosterling asleep and her husband performing those personal rituals that he found so refreshing to his mind and body, she liked to walk in the garden. It was always quiet early on, before the gardeners were at work and she liked to take off her shoes and walk in the cool, dew-laden grass.

There was no dew-laden grass here. There was a caravan park mostly full of sleeping holidaymakers. Close to the caravan that wasn’t a caravan there was a path across the sand dunes and she walked up there, the sea breeze ruffling her hair. She was wearing sandals as she crossed the dunes, because the sea grasses that bound them together could be sharp underfoot, but as soon as she reached the beach itself she took them off and let her feet sink into the cool wet sand.

She missed sand. She realised that as she walked along. Growing up in Birkenhead, she got to go to the seaside regularly. New Brighton, the nearest spot, of course, didn’t have any sand. But it was only a few miles further in her granddad’s car to Hoylake with its wide beach of fine brown sand. She used to enjoy almost every Saturday and Sunday afternoons there from spring to mid autumn. And their annual holidays would bring them here to north Wales - to Talacre and Tywyn and Rhyl and Prestatyn, or perhaps all the way to Llandudno for a few days. Staying in a caravan that was only a few sand dunes away from the beach, from the sand and the waves rolling in, from sea shells to collect and all the other pleasures a child could find on the beach, was the happiest and most contented time she remembered when she was a little girl. Simple pleasures that didn’t cost very much money. A day at the beach with a picnic and a stick of rock or one of those big red see-through toffee lollies with a cat’s face on it would be enough to satisfy Marion in those days.

She wondered if they still made those lollies with the cat’s faces these days. Rodan would love one. Or one of the big toffee dummies. Maybe she could buy sticks of rock for all the children in her classroom. They would love that. Sweet treats from planet Earth.

But mostly she thought of buying a big cat lolly for Rodan to eat while she sat in her pushchair or toddled along on her little legs along the sea front. If they didn’t find that sort of thing today, they certainly would tomorrow when they got to the really commercialised resorts further up the coast. And it was still an inexpensive kind of pleasure. She was used to being rich now, and not having to worry about those things. But it was nice to indulge in something simple like this.

Kristoph had actually laughed when he asked her if she would like a holiday offworld and she suggested coming here to North Wales. He had mentioned a whole lot of exotic places with singing mountains and all kinds of wonders. But she had held out for North Wales. The fact that Lily and Li could join them on this trip sealed it, of course. And Kristoph seemed to be enjoying himself even if this was a terribly unsophisticated kind of holiday for a man like him.

She walked right along the beach, past the lighthouse that used to fascinate her when she was a little girl. As she did so, she noticed Li sitting on a rock a little way ahead of her. She approached quietly. He might have been meditating, and she knew not to disturb a Time Lord when he was in a trance.

But as she came close to him, Li opened his eyes and smiled warmly at her. He reached out his hand and she took it. She wasn’t entirely surprised when he drew her down onto the rock beside him and held her lightly around the waist.

“We are both morning people,” he said. “Lily likes to sleep in. And I know Kristoph is in his cloister. I felt the aura of his meditations.”

“I thought perhaps you were doing the same thing,” she answered him.

“I was. But then I felt your presence near me and it was too much of a distraction.”

She laughed softly.

“Li, you rogue,” she said. “I’m a married woman and you’re spoken for. I’m not supposed to distract you.”

“You always did,” he admitted. “Remember when I was a much younger man than I am now, when we first met.”

“I prefer not to remember that,” she told him. “When you and Kristoph were enemies.”

“We were never enemies. We were just friends who had misunderstood each other in a terrible, almost tragic way. But you were neither. You were a thing of beauty to my eyes. When I snatched you away, as a hostage to lure Kristoph to the place of reckoning….” He sighed and tightened his hold around her waist. “I was young then. Now, I’m old. And if anyone saw us now, they might think I am your father or grandfather, perhaps.”

“There’s nobody else on the beach,” Marion answered him. “If there was, I think they might just think you’re far too old for me and we’re a rather odd couple, and I shouldn’t be sitting on a rock beside you. I probably shouldn’t be, for that matter. But Kristoph wouldn’t mind. Nor would Lily. They both understand about friendship.”

Li nodded and smiled wistfully.

“Lily was the first woman I fell in love with, when we were young and she had eyes only for the handsome Lœngbærrow heir. If we were not such good friends, jealousy could have torn us apart back then. Four of us courted her. My brother Laegen and myself, your Kristoph, and the man who eventually won her, Jules D’Alba. We all lost that race. And I lost the second woman I ever loved to Kristoph.”

“Me?” Marion knew, of course, that Li had affection for her. But she had never heard him express it that way, before. “But you hardly knew me.”

“That is so. And yet, in the short time that you were my hostage, I fell in love with you, Marion. You were terrified of me. Yet you stood up to me. You were not cowed by the fact that I could have killed you in an instant. You were afraid that I might dishonour you. And there was good reason for that fear. I was sorely tempted to make you mine in that way. But that would have been a terrible thing for me to do. And it would have made you hate me, when I wanted the very opposite thing.”

“Even though you scared me, I did come to like you, Li,” she said. “You know I did. That’s why I….”

“You held my hand as I went through my last regeneration. And when my life was returned, you stood between me and the sword wielded by the man you truly loved. In all my long years I never witnessed an act so selfless and so brave. That was when I loved you the most. But that was when I knew you could never be mine, when you saved my life by persuading The Executioner to put friendship before duty.”

“I couldn’t have let him kill you. I’m so glad he didn’t. I don’t think I could have gone on loving him if he had.”

“I think you would. But there would have been that small, hard knot within you both that would have darkened your relationship. But… Marion, my dear… when we parted, when I began my doubly exiled life, living in ancient China, I thought often of you. That young Chinaman… before the first of his string of lovers and courtesans and wives… he lay on his sleeping mat at night and dreamt of an unrequited love.”

“Li!” Now she did feel a little shocked. But he laughed softly and told her there was nothing to be afraid of.

“It would have been a pure love, Marion. If I could have persuaded you to love me instead of Kristoph, and stay in exile with me, it would have been the sweetest, purest love a man and a woman could ever know.”

He shifted his position on the rock and lifted Marion onto his knee. It didn’t feel like something she shouldn’t do. It felt comfortable and nice to be so close to one who was such a special friend as Li was to her.

“Let me share something with you, my dear,” he said. And he reached to touch her forehead. Marion gasped as she felt him reach into her mind and place something there. A bundle of memories that she knew couldn’t be true, because she knew what her life really was. She knew how happy she was as Kristoph’s wife, as Lady Marion de Lœngbærrow. But now she had an inkling of what it might have been like if she had, somehow, chosen that day to become the wife of a Chinaman called Mai Li Tuo. She saw a small but comfortable house halfway up a mountain in rural China where she would have been honoured by her husband and respected by his neighbours. They would have made love every night on a sleeping mat in the light of an open fire and spent simple days together, hunkering down under furs through the cold, snowbound winter, welcoming the spring sunshine and the hot summer and preparing for another winter. She would have grown to maturity and then to old age by his side, always loved, always cherished, never hurt or frightened, or allowed to cry from any thoughtlessness on his part. And when she died, he would have honoured her passing with deep, deep mourning.

“That was how it was with my first wife, who I lived with for so many good years,” he said. “But if you had been there, instead, it would have been just as beautiful.”

“Li, you sweet man,” she told him. “Please don’t regret that it never happened. It couldn’t. I was already too much in love with Kristoph. I don’t know… perhaps if you had been the first Time Lord I ever met… goodness knows you might have been. You lived in the same city as me. But I was destined to meet a literature professor in a tweed suit on Leeds railway station.

“And I was destined to love so many women it would take me all morning sitting here to tell you all their names. But I have never forgotten one of them, or how much she meant to me. And now, Lily is my lover again and you, my second love, are a dear friend. And… I think we are going to have breakfast on the beach this morning and speak of other things.”

Marion was surprised by that until she turned her head and saw Kristoph, carrying a picnic basket and a blanket, and Lily walking beside him, holding Rodan’s hand as she toddled along. Marion made as if to move from Li’s knee, but he held her there a little longer, at least until the little girl broke free of Lily’s grasp and hurried towards her, arms outstretched. Then she ran to hug her fosterling and Kristoph smiled and kissed her. Li rose from his perch and went to embrace Lily, who kissed him just as lovingly.

“Since the two of you were already enjoying the beach, I thought we might as well join you,” Kristoph said as he spread the blanket on the dry sand above the water line. “We can enjoy this rather lovely scene for a few hours before we drive on up the coast looking for a place where we can buy sticks of rock and ‘cat lollies’ and other such delicacies and introduce our little Rodan to the delights of carousels and Ferris wheels.”

“That child is going to find southern Gallifrey a very dull place to grow up in after her time with you is over,” Lily said when Ferris wheels were explained to her. “We have nothing like that, there.”

“Gallifrey has other compensations,” Marion admitted. “I have come to love it as home. But Rodan will have fond memories of running on a beach, splashing in the shallows, and eating ‘cat lollies’ to carry with her through her life.”

“She isn’t the only one who has fond memories to carry through her life,” Kristoph said, looking at Marion inscrutably. She blushed guiltily, but he smiled at her and at Li. And a little later, when Lily and Li, two dignified elders of Gallifrey, a people known for their stoicism, took Rodan for a splash in the shallows and then a hunt for pretty seashells to collect as a memento of her trip to the seaside, he had a quiet word to say to her.

“I know about Li’s feelings for you,” he said. “I know he shared them with you. Quite what put him in mind to do so on this beach on this morning, I don’t know. Perhaps there is something in this sea air. But I don’t mind. If I ever had cause to be jealous of Li it was centuries ago when Lily seemed, for a time, to favour him over me. Our friendship was not tested then. It wasn’t even tested by those years when I thought he was a traitor and I sought to kill him. He was always my dearest friend. It was only that I put national loyalty before all else that brought us to that near disaster. And we have you to thank for straightening us out. I can forgive him a certain fantasy about you. And I can forgive you for liking the idea as much as you do.” He touched her face and she felt him entering her mind the same way Li had. It felt as if he was rifling through her thoughts like they were pages from a book. He smiled as he touched on those false memories Li had planted.

“It’s a dangerous power, that. If he were a less honourable man he could have made you think you were his lover back then and you would never have questioned him. As it is… I don’t mind, I really don’t. Keep those memories as a sweet souvenir as Rodan is keeping her seashells. But remember the one whose love for you is enduring and real.”

“I will,” she promised.

“Good. Now… would you like to come for a paddle in the waters of Talacre bay before we hitch up our ‘caravan’ and head for the source of those ‘cat lollies’? Provided, that is, no word ever gets back to any member of the Gallifreyan aristocracy, that I was ever seen in a public place with my bare feet covered in sea water. I would be ruined.”