Marion thought long and hard about what to do for Cally’s third birthday. She wanted it to be a special treat, something that would put a smile on her face. But it couldn’t be anything too energetic. She just wasn’t up to it.

A day in Blackpool, on Earth, was actually Kristoph’s idea. Marion was surprised. It seemed so ordinary a place for him to choose. But she knew it was a place where a little girl could have fun, even one who couldn’t do very much.

And she did enjoy it. They left the TARDIS safely parked beside the railway station and took a taxi to the hotel where they planned to stay the night, then out onto the promenade for a brisk walk in the sea air with the seagulls wheeling overhead and trams rattling past regularly. When they reached Central Pier they walked along it, all the way to the end. Kristoph carried Cally along the old boardwalk with the sea lapping below them. She even managed a few steps on her own, fascinated by the feel of the wooden planks beneath her feet and the sight of the sea below through the cracks.

They came off the noisy pier after a while, though, and sought the slightly more peaceful beach. The tide was starting to go out, leaving a larger and larger stretch of sand that quickly dried out in the sunshine. This was the early twenty-first century, and much had been done to clean up the water. It was safe for Cally to paddle in, holding onto Kristoph’s hand, laughing at the feel of the wet sand sliding between her toes.

When she tired of that Kristoph built a sandcastle with her. Marion sat under a parasol and watched him. It was one of those occasions when his fellow Time Lords would have been very surprised by his behaviour. He certainly didn’t look like the Lord High President in shorts and a t-shirt, digging sand with a small plastic spade. It was a far cry from his formal regalia and they were a very long way from the Panopticon now. She glanced at the other families around her, other men playing games with their children. None of them could guess in a million years that Kristoph was the ruler of a whole planet some two hundred and fifty million light years from Earth. And that made it all the sweeter to be here without the Presidential guard around them. Kristoph had hinted that there might be a Celestial Intervention Agency man keeping a low profile somewhere near them, just in case there WAS a problem, but Marion was quite certain they would be fine without him. This was Blackpool, after all. What could possibly happen?

They let Cally have all the treats it was possible for a little girl to enjoy. She had an ice cream from the van that came down onto the beach, and a gentle ride on a donkey, which she enjoyed a lot. The donkey man, realising that she was not a well girl, walked the animal slowly and commented afterwards that it was a shame. Marion agreed. It was a shame. But today, as far as possible, they were not going to worry.

After their morning on the beach, they ate lunch at a café on the promenade. Marion and Kristoph had fish and chips. Cally had fish fingers, which were a surprise and an amusement to her. She had never had food that was shaped that way before.

Then she rode in her pushchair for a while. The walk along the promenade was too much for her, and the morning had been busy enough. They came to the tower and Kristoph paid for the best seats in the circus. Cally had a seat to herself, but she sat on Kristoph’s knee all the way through the show. She wanted to be with him as much as possible. She had never known a mother or father in her short life, but she had taken to Kristoph as a substitute father and his knee was the best seat she could ask for as she watched the clowns and high wire acts, the jugglers and magicians, and the grand finale when the circus ring became a living water fountain with beautifully dressed dancing girls as the centre piece.

“I haven’t been to a circus for so long,” Marion said as they emerged into the sunlight again. “That was very enjoyable.”

“It certainly was,” Kristoph agreed. “Now, I think we shall buy Cally some candy floss. I think she should have some. You, too, my dear. I know you like sweet treats.”

“I was thinking of one of those big cat shaped lollies,” Marion answered. “Like we used to buy for Rodan. I think she would like one of those.”

“Candy floss would be less messy this afternoon,” Kristoph insisted. “Especially as she enjoys having me carry her. We’ll buy cat lollies to take home. We might buy one for Rodan, too. It would be nice to pay a visit at the weekend. She would enjoy meeting Cally.”

“I thought of that,” Marion said. “I wasn’t sure... I don’t want Rodan to think she has been replaced. She’s still special to us. But it might be the only chance we have to do that. Perhaps we should.”

“Rodan will understand. She’s a bright little girl. Ah... here we are. Everything for a sweet tooth.”

They bought sticks of candy floss. Cally ate hers messily and a lot of sugar stuck to her face and hands afterwards. But as Marion noted, that was what wet wipes were invented for. They bought cat lollies and big sticks of Blackpool rock, too. But those were for tomorrow.

“Let’s buy that,” Marion said as they passed a toy shop and she saw a doll that any child would love. “It looks like her, don’t you think?”

The doll was blonde with blue eyes, and there the resemblance ended, in truth. But Kristoph knew what she meant. He bought the doll. Cally clung to it happily as their thoughts turned towards tea.

They returned to their hotel at North Shore. Its restaurant with a promenade view served the kind of tea Marion was used to eating with her friends on Gallifrey – neatly cut sandwiches and silver plates full of cakes with a pot of tea. And afterwards they went up to the pleasant, airy room that Kristoph had booked them into earlier. Cally needed a nap. So did Marion, he decided. She protested that she didn’t, but he smiled and kissed her and practically ordered her to lie down on the comfortable bed. Cally lay beside her and slept hugging her doll. Marion put her arm around the child and let herself drop asleep.

Kristoph sat and watched them both. He was doing something that even a Time Lord very rarely did. He was living in the moment that was, and not worrying about the future. Ever since Cally had come into their lives he had taken care to do that. The very near future held only heartsbreak for him, and he clung to every precious moment of every day that he got to spend with the little girl who had worked her way into his hearts.

Cally was dying. He knew it for a fact. He knew exactly what day it would happen. And it was hard for him to know that, perhaps harder than living every day wondering if it was the last. But these days were still precious ones to him and he treasured them.

He looked at his wife and sighed. She wasn’t dying. But one day she would. Her life was always going to be so much shorter than his. One day, her life would be counted in mere days like this, and he would live each moment as if it was precious, holding onto them desperately. It was his curse, as a Time Lord who had chosen to marry a Human. He knew it would be the day he first knew he loved her and would rather face that heartsbreak than live without her at all.

He put the thought from his head and remembered to live for the moment again. He sat in an armchair by the window, looking out over the promenade. In another couple of hours the sun would set over that western horizon, and there was another treat planned for his precious child afterwards. They tried to make the most of every day, filling it from morning to night with joy. He was determined that Cally would not miss out on any experience it was in his power to give to her.

Marion woke before the sunset and came to join him. She sat on his knee and he held her close to him and watched the sun dropping lower and the sky turning a deep orange colour that was just like the Gallifreyan sky. As it did so, lights came on. These weren’t just the street lights and the headlamps of cars on the road, but the multicoloured lights of Blackpool’s famous illuminations. They looked pale at first, against the daylight, but when the sun finally dropped behind the horizon and it darkened visibly, they seemed brighter. Marion stood and found Cally’s warm coat to put on, and dressed herself warmly, too. Now the sun was down it would be chilly on the sea front.

They took a taxi to the South Shore and there transferred to what had to be the most romantic form of transport in Blackpool, an open topped landau pulled by two horses. It was certainly the best way to view the illuminations. Tucked under a plaid rug, and with a bucket of hot popcorn as a sweet treat, Cally sat between Marion and Kristoph and watched with wide eyes the illuminated pictures and scenes that hung from every lamppost and in arches across the wide road. She laughed softly and pointed to her favourites.

“They all seem to be her favourites,” Kristoph noted. “But that’s all right. I’m not sure I could make my mind up, either.”

“I like the ones that look like diamond jewels,” Marion said. “I remember those when I was a girl and we came on a day trip. I thought they were so beautiful. But I never expected to own a single diamond. Now... I have jewellery just like those. But I still think the illuminated ones are beautiful.”

“I think my favourites are the ones depicting the constellations,” Kristoph admitted. “Not exactly accurate astronomy, but delightful to look at.”

Cally agreed with them both, then pointed to a new set of illuminations that she liked just as much. She was enjoying every minute of it all. And that was the object of the exercise.

When they got to the end the landau turned back and brought them to their hotel. Kristoph paid the driver generously and they headed straight to their room. Sandwiches and hot chocolate were ordered from room service and Marion and Cally both ate their late supper under the blankets in bed. Kristoph put the plates and cups aside before he joined them. There was a cot for Cally, of course, but he agreed with his wife when she said she wanted to keep her close to them even at night. The little girl slept in the bed between them.

Kristoph lay awake for a long time, listening to the soft breathing and the beating of gentle hearts. He was content. He had made Cally’s third birthday a wonderful day for her. He wished as he had never wished for anything before that he could plan for her fourth birthday, but that was beyond the power even of a Time Lord, and he knew his hearts would have to come to terms with the inevitable.