Kristoph arrived home surprisingly early this Fris afternoon. He was happily looking forward to a long warm summer evening in company with his wife, and a peaceful weekend without the subject of politics ever coming up.

“Madam is in her garden, your Lordship,” Caolin said to him as he helped him into a rest robe after a day in formal regalia. “She... is not alone.”

He was slightly puzzled by his butler’s hesitation before saying that, but he didn’t worry. Marion often had company in the afternoon. He expected to see Lily or one of her other friends taking tea on the patio outside the white drawing room with the scent of roses filling the air from the beds laid out all around.

He was extremely surprised, not to say perplexed, when he saw Marion sitting in a wicker chair with a small child on her knee and a large picture book from which she was reading. He drew closer, recognising the story as one of the Beatrix Potter tales. But he didn’t recognise the little girl at all.

“Marion?” he touched her on the shoulder and she looked up. He bent to kiss her tenderly. “Who is this?” He gently brushed the child’s cheek. She was pale except for very small pink highlights on her cheeks. She was blonde with light blue eyes that were tragically sunken into her face. There were the tubes from an oxygen feed fixed into her nostrils, and the miniature portable tank was fixed to her thin chest with straps.

“Her name is Cally,” Marion answered. “Short for Callistra. She’s three years old next week.”

“Why is she here?” Kristoph asked. “You were visiting the hospital on Ventura this morning, of course. She must be a patient. But why did you bring her home, and how?”

“Remonte brought me in his own TARDIS. He said he was sorry he couldn’t stop to say hello to you. But he’s busy, as always. As for the rest... let me finish the story and let her drop off to sleep and then I’ll explain.”

Kristoph sat at the garden table under a parasol and Caolin brought refreshments. He had a cup of English tea and smoked salmon sandwiches and watched as Marion finished the story, lulling the little girl to sleep. Then she began her explanation.

“Don’t be cross with me,” she said. “I know I ought to have asked you. But there really wasn’t time. I had to make all the arrangements quickly.”

“I’m not cross,” he answered. “But... she’s obviously a very sick child. She must have come from the hospice?”

“The doctors think she has less than a month to live,” Marion said. “She has no parents that anyone knows of. She was abandoned in the hospice when she was only a few days old. She was born with a heart defect, and it has become worse with every passing day. The strain on her just getting through an ordinary day is terrible.”

“Poor child,” Kristoph commented sympathetically. “But how is it that you have her here with you?”

“There’s nothing more to be done for her medically. In cases like this, the children usually go home with their families, to live out their last days in familiar, loving surroundings. But Cally has no home, no family. I... I said that we... I... Kristoph... we can give her a home, and all the love she needs for the very short time she has...”

“Oh, my dear...” Kristoph sighed deeply. “Marion... it’s only been a few weeks since our own loss. Can you bear it... to keep her close... to give her love... and watch her fade away from you?”

“Can you?” Marion asked. “You’re much less experienced with this sort of thing than I am. Time Lords don’t die very often. But I’ve seen it. I know what to expect. Kristoph, every time I’ve visited the hospital there are children I got to know who aren’t there any more... who I will never see again. Brave little souls who’ve gone through so much. It’s heartbreaking every time. But I can cope with it. And if you have the strength for it... Cally needs our love. She needs us.”

“Then she’ll have us. Absolutely she will.” Kristoph wondered how he became the one whose strength of purpose was under question, but he let it pass. He reached and took the child from his wife’s arms. He cuddled her himself, taking care not to dislodge the oxygen canister. “Poor little mite.” He touched her chest carefully. He could feel her defective heart. The sound wasn’t right at all. He could see how it would so easily give out. But it was beating softly now. She had a very slight temperature that was causing those flushed spots on her otherwise white cheeks. He gently drew it off and felt her sleep more easily without the ache in her bones the fever would cause.

“You look so right like that,” Marion said. “With a child on your knee.”

“There I was thinking that I looked right sitting on the Throne of Rassilon in a high collar, presiding over the High Council.”

“You look magnificent like that,” Marion assured her. “And I always thought you were amazing in your Magister’s gown. And in your tweed suit as an English literature teacher, too. I’ve watched you as a diplomat holding the balance of war and peace in your hands and been so proud of you. And... I can only imagine how dashing you were as Gallifrey’s answer to 007 in your younger days. But right now... sitting there with a child snuggled up to you... that is a side of you that outdoes all of the rest. You look so full of compassion.”

“Who wouldn’t have compassion for a child like this?” Kristoph asked. “She feels so light. Not just her physical body, but her soul... there is nothing to her. She hasn’t had the chance to live. And she has such a short time left. I can feel it in her... like a clock winding down. You’re right, Marion. We should make the most of every day she has. Starting today. I came home early because I intended to take you to the Lodge tonight. There is a very strong southern aurora due an hour after sundown, coinciding with a splendid meteor shower. My plan was to take you to see it on the southern plain. But I think if we wrap her up warmly, this little one will enjoy the spectacle, too. And tomorrow and S?re she will surely enjoy playing some gentle games in the pool.”

“Oh, yes.” Marion smiled happily. “Yes, thank you, Kristoph.”

Caolin stepped quietly into the garden with a cold drink for Marion. Kristoph took the opportunity to ask the butler to inform cook that they needed a cold collation in a picnic hamper for this evening. That was all they needed to bring with them. The lodge had a Wardrobe with many of the properties of the one aboard the TARDIS. There would be clothes for Cally already there, everything she needed.

They travelled by chauffeured car with a presidential guard in the passenger seat and an escort car behind. They couldn’t even go to the Lodge on their own these days. But Marion was used to that, now. And Kristoph was happy enough since it meant he could be next to Cally as they travelled. After her nap she was awake and alert now and had taken to him as much as he had taken to her. He kept his arm around her as she sat in the child seat they had originally fitted for Rodan. She didn’t talk very much, even for a three year old. Spending her life in hospital had held her back a little. But Kristoph seemed to understand her without words, and she understood him.

The presidential guard made themselves unobtrusive when they reached the Lodge. The ‘first family’ were only occasionally aware of their presence. They ate a pleasant evening meal by the side of the swimming pool built half in and half out of the building. Cally only had a very meagre appetite but she sat on Kristoph’s knee and he tempted her with the food from his own plate, sharing every morsel he ate with her.

By the time the meal was over, the sun was going down. Kristoph let Marion take the child and dress her warmly for an adventure after dark. When she was dressed in a hooded cloak that matched the one Marion wore over her dress, they joined him out on the plain beyond the pool. He had laid a blanket down among the thermally heated rocks that made that area warm even in winter. It was like being surrounded by natural radiators. Cally was in no danger of catching cold. She happily lay down on the blanket between her two new parents and watched the amazing things the sky began to do as the golden red, green and yellow lights of the aurora dancing against the burnt orange starfield were joined by a myriad of tiny sparkling meteors streaking down through the atmosphere.

Marion watched the display of nature’s wonders only part of the time. She turned and looked at the wide, excited eyes of the child she had adopted for a very short time and at Kristoph. He, too, found watching his little family more interesting than the meteors and aurora.

“I love you,” Marion told him. “Thank you.”

When it was over, they stood up, feeling a little stiff. Marion carried Cally. She was starting to get sleepy, now. Inside the lodge she let Kristoph hold her again while she made her a cup of warm, sweetened cúl nut milk in a special non-spill mug. She drank it before Kristoph carried her to the bedroom. Marion undressed her and put her into a cot with a special oxygen tent over it so that she didn’t have to have the portable tank attached at night. There was also a heart monitor with a small red LED display that Marion put on the bedside table. She looked at the figures on it for a full five minutes before Kristoph switched it off.

“Watch her, if you must watch anything. But not obsessively. She isn’t going to die in the night.”

“Is that a promise?” Marion asked.

“Yes,” Kristoph answered. “Marion... I’ve held her as much as you have today. I sensed her timeline. It was hard not to. I know... just how long she has... how many days.”

“How many?” Marion asked. “No... don’t tell me. I don’t think I want to know. It must be a terrible thing to have knowledge like that. I couldn’t bear it. Just... tell me she’ll still be with us tomorrow. I want her to eat moon fruits for breakfast and swim in the pool with me.”

“She’ll be able to do that tomorrow,” Kristoph promised. “Now, come to bed and go to sleep or you won’t be able to do any of that. You’ll be too tired.”

She reluctantly did as he said. She kept her eyes on the cot as she went to sleep, though. And she was awake before Kristoph in the morning, ready to tend to Cally’s needs. She dressed her and gave her breakfast by the poolside before taking her into the water, carefully supported by a fat inflatable ring shaped like a duck. The water was comfortably warm, heated by thermal energy from the rocks below the Lodge and they played for hours. Kristoph came into the water, too, dressed in a pair of swimming trunks. They had lunch by the pool, then Marion settled Cally down for an afternoon nap in a day crib with a sunshade over it while she enjoyed the sunshine. Kristoph stayed by her side and watched when she, too, slept for a little while.

She woke in time to play with Cally again before and after tea. When the sun went down on another beautiful day they dressed more fully and retreated to the cosy drawing room of the Lodge where Kristoph sat and read a bedtime story to Cally before taking her to her cot and kissing her goodnight.

“Kristoph,” Marion said when they lay together in the bed. “Last night, I said I didn’t want to know how long.”

“Yes, you did,” Kristoph acknowledged.

“I think... actually... I DO want to know. Because then... Tell me this much... will she make it to her birthday?”

“Yes, she will.”

“Good. Then I can plan something extra special for that day. But... how long after that? I want to know so that... so that I know how many other days I can make plans for. I don’t want to decide I’ll take her somewhere special... plan it in my mind... and then... if she didn’t get to do that, it would feel so bad. So tell me how many days, and I can make plans for every day.”

Kristoph told her. Marion took the news philosophically.

“More than I expected,” she said. “But not as many as I hoped.”

“But now you know,” Kristoph told her. “I’ll try to make them special days, too. We’ll do lots of things, together. The High Council can manage without me for a little while.”

Marion smiled and thanked him. Now she knew. She could make her plans.

“Goodnight, Cally, sweetheart,” she whispered. “Tomorrow, we’ll play again.”

Then she turned over and let her husband hold her in his arms as she went to sleep thinking of the too short number of days that were ahead of her.