The Doctor sighed and looked at the starfield stretching out to infinity. He could visit the planets that orbited any one of those stars.
But on his own, with nobody to share the experience, he wasn’t sure he wanted to. He really did feel as if he had been there, done it, seen it, all.
“Are you going to go back and see her?” Nine had asked him.
“I’m glad you’ve got somebody special in your life.”
“Dominique,” he whispered and smiled. And he set the co-ordinate.
“Perfect landing,” he said smugly as he stepped out of the TARDIS onto the platform high in the trees where he had spent some of the rare few hours of perfect happiness he had known in his life.
“Who are you?” A voice asked him. He looked at the teenage boy who stood and stared at him and at the TARDIS.
“I’m The Doctor,” he said. “I’m here to see Dominique. Is she around?”
“She’s in the Hall of Devotions,” the boy said. “She will be here soon.”
“Good,” The Doctor said. “So… who are you then?”
“I’m Dominic,” the boy told him. “I’m….” But his words were cut off by an excited cry from the platform across the clearing and The Doctor watched joyfully as Dominique ran across the walkway from the Hall of Devotions. She flung herself into his arms and kissed him with the sweet, loving passion that he had longed for when he set this co-ordinate.
“Oh mon amour,” she said. “It has been so long, but I knew you at once. You and your strange box.”
“How long has it been?” he asked. He looked at her carefully. Yes, she did look older now. Still beautiful, but with a maturity and strength to her features.
“Fifteen years,” she said.
“Oh.” That shook him. He hadn’t meant it to be THAT long.
“Dominic.” She turned and reached out her hand to the boy. He came to her side and she put her arm about his shoulders. “My son, I want you to meet… my husband who lives beyond the stars. My Doctor.”
“Husband?” The boy looked at her and him in turn with puzzled eyes. “Mother….”
“He’s your boy?” The Doctor looked at them both. Yes, how could he be any other? Eyes of emerald green and though his hair was brown it had a hint of red in it. And of course he was called Dominic - after her twin brother who died at the hands of the Daleks.
“He is mine,” she said simply.
“Then I am very glad to meet him,” The Doctor said. “Dominic, don’t be afraid of me. I love your mother deeply. I should like to call you a friend, at least.”
The boy smiled at him and reached out his hand to shake. Yes, friends. No problem there. Just….
There was a shout from one of the higher levels. Dominic looked up and smiled and waved to his friends and dashed off without another word. The Doctor watched as he ignored all the walkways and ladders that connected the sections of the aerial village and shimmied up liana ropes and swung across from one platform to another on them. Strength, agility, and the fearlessness of youth.
“Come, my husband,” Dominique said to him and he followed her to the platform outside her sleeping hut. She brought food and wine and they sat on a swing seat together eating and drinking in celebration of his return to her. She did not ask where he had been, or why he had stayed away so long. She just smiled as if him being here now was the sweetest joy.
And it felt like it.
“They scare me when they do that,” she said as she looked up and watched the boys in the very highest part of the trees swinging back and forwards.
“And aren’t you the girl who swept me off my feet on a thirty foot bungee line?” he said. “I remember red hair and green eyes and long, long legs.” His hand reached as he spoke and caressed her thigh through the long skirt of soft fabric she wore. The day they met her skirt had been little more than a wide belt. She had smashed through the ice of his frigid Time Lord reserve. But she was a mother now and it had been fifteen years. He supposed even women who lived in treetops had a sense of what was appropriate.
“Dominic….” The Doctor looked up and picked out her boy from the crowd. “Is he… he’s not.…” There was a question he knew had to be asked. He wasn’t sure how to phrase it. “How old is he?”
“Thirteen,” Dominique replied. She knew what he was thinking. She answered the next part for him. “You’ve been gone for fifteen years.”
But it might just have been possible, he thought. Gallifreyan babies take sixteen months to mature in the womb. Nearly twice as long as a Human baby. If he had fathered a child when he last lay in her arms, it would be thirteen now.
“No,” she told him. “His father was a villager.”
“Oh.” He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or sorry.
Relieved, he told himself firmly. It was one thing to be an absent husband. They had agreed that between them as adults who understood that he could not stay in her world and she could not be part of his universe. But an absent father. He wasn’t THAT sort of man.
But for a brief moment he HAD harboured a tiny hope. It would have been nice to think that he wasn’t the last Time Lord in this universe, that his genes had been passed on.
“I took a husband, like you said,” she told him. “It was better that way. I WAS lonely after you left. I didn’t know if you would or could come back. And some of the other communities we trade with did not like the idea of an unmarried woman as village leader.” She paused. “You knew him. Jareth - the chief carpenter after Dominic was taken from us. He was a good man. Though he always knew I could never love him as much as I loved you.”
“He died two years ago. An accident.”
“I am sorry,” The Doctor said. He reached his arm around her shoulders and held her. “My poor Dominique.”
“He fell.” She glanced at the boys at their dangerous play as she said that. “It is one of the perils of our lifestyle. He was fixing a platform and slipped. I mourned him in the proper way. I treasure his memory, as I treasure my memories of you, my first love.” She reached and touched his face. “The years have been kinder to you than to me,” she said. “You are just as I remember you.”
“There is a reason for that,” he told her. “But I won’t trouble your heart with it. Dominique, I am sorry I did not come back to you sooner. Although….” He wondered if he could have stood it, coming here to see her married to another man, lying in that man’s arms at night, while he slept in the guest quarters.
Maybe not. And he wondered if his TARDIS knew that. Was that why it had brought him back now that he was needed by her.
“You would have been an honoured guest in our home,” she assured him. “But as it is, you ARE still my husband, my Doctor.”
“And you are my wife,” he told her. “I have never stopped loving you.”
“There has been no other?”
“I couldn’t love anybody as much as I love you, my Dominique.” He told her. He could never explain, of course, that to him it had been no more than a few months since he had been here last and that he had not had any opportunity to find any other love interest in his life.
Though he doubted he would have even if it H AD been fifteen years.
It was early evening on what felt like a late spring day, though he knew they didn’t use the same terms for the seasons. Even when the sun began to set it was still pleasantly warm for two people sitting on a swing seat together, holding hands and kissing and talking quietly. Dominic came down from the high platform, flushed with exercise and enjoyment with his friends. Dominique prepared a simple supper and they ate together - a little family unit that seemed more complete this night.
“Goodnight, mama,” Dominic said as the darkness began to deepen and lamps were lit around the village. He kissed her cheek and shook hands with The Doctor and climbed up to his own sleeping place, a smaller hut on a platform directly above his mother’s.
They sat a little longer, and then Dominique stood and reached out her hand. The Doctor’s hearts thudded out of control.
“Come,” she said, leading him by the hand. “My husband.” She brought him to her sleeping quarters. The room seemed to have changed little over the years except for two friezes of pale blue silk painted upon them in natural colours. Leaves and flowers formed the backdrop of all artwork in Dominique’s world, but these were portraits. One was of her late husband who had made some of the intervening years less lonely for her, the other was of himself. The two portraits hung either side of the dresser opposite the bed.
“I thought I was doubly alone,” she said. “But you are returned to me.” She kissed him again and reached to slide his big coat off his shoulders, then the jacket and tie. “Your people wear so many layers of clothes,” she told him. “Is it always cold where you come from?”
“It can be,” he said, as, finally unencumbered by clothes he willingly sank down onto the bed, embraced by his lover. “But I’m not cold now.”
The early morning light woke him. He sat up in the bed and looked at the woman sleeping by his side. His hearts sang with love for her. But they were sad, too. His problem with women had always been a simple one. They got old and died and left him alone. Most of the 1,000 years he had lived were without such close, physical relationships.
But now and again he let his hearts take the risk.
This is just an interlude, he told himself – a holiday from reality. He wasn’t going to stay long enough to watch her grow old. She never expected him to.
He was glad she hadn’t missed him so much in the time he had been away from her. She had a lover, another husband who had cared for her. But he was glad, too, that she had never forgotten him and that their reunion had sparked the flame again for both of them. Last night had been all he had hoped it would be.
“My love,” she whispered as she stirred beside him and reached out her arms. He lay back and allowed himself to be enfolded by her again.
When they woke again the sun was higher. They washed and dressed and emerged from the sleeping hut to find Dominic sitting on the platform working on a piece of artwork at an easel. He watched the boy working as he ate a breakfast of the bread made from ground-up nuts that was a staple food of the community.
“It is an almanac of our seasons,” Dominic explained to him. “There are six of them in our year. We are in warm-sun now, when the days are bright and long and the leaves and blossoms are new. Then it is hot-sun, when we have no moisture in the air and water is precious. Then warm-sun again when the days are less long. That is when the trees bear fruit and we harvest them. Then cold-rain, snow-wind, hard-rain, and back to warm-sun again. Snow-wind is hard. The cold bites and it is dark. Sometimes there isn’t enough food. That makes the cold bite harder.”
“I wish.…” The Doctor touched the half finished painting on a sort of home-made papyrus. “I wish I could see all of those seasons,” he said.
“Why can’t you?” Dominic asked. “Do you have to be somewhere else?
“No, I don’t HAVE to be somewhere. But.…”
“Then stay,” the boy said. “Stay with us until warm-sun comes around again.”
“I can’t. I don’t belong here.”
“Where do you belong?”
“Nowhere,” he answered. “Anywhere, everywhere.”
“This place is anywhere,” Dominic said. “Mother would like it. She is happy today such as I have not seen her since… before my father died.” They both glanced at Dominique. She was dressed differently today. Yesterday she had worn a long skirt of a dull brown colour and a jerkin belted at the waist. Today she was in an outfit not unlike the one she wore when he first met her. The chamois skirt was short, revealing well toned thighs and long legs, smooth ankles. The Doctor’s eyes drifting upwards again from her delicate feet in soft moccasin shoes saw a bare expanse of midriff and a cropped top of the same chamois. She looked….
Sexy. There was no other word for it. She stretched her body and shook out her red hair and the years since he had first set his eyes upon her disappeared. She looked fantastic, and he loved her with every fibre of his being.
He looked up at the blue sky. The sun was warm like a perfect Earth spring, without being uncomfortably hot. That came in the next season. And he DID long to see that season. He wanted to be a part of this little family, living in their Eden where nature provided all they needed.
Was there anything stopping him? He looked around to where his TARDIS stood, by the entrance to the hut where Dominique and her son kept their tools and where they worked during the cold season Dominic had spoken of.
The TARDIS had stayed in one place before. For many years it had stayed in the corner of an old junk yard in London. He and his granddaughter had lived something approximating normal HUMAN life.
Granddaughter. Family. A small family, a strange one by any standards. But the two of them had been a family just as Dominique and Dominic were.
Why not, he thought.
“Dominique,” he called, and she came to him. “Dominique, my love.” He reached out his hand and touched her cheek. She blushed sweetly and smiled with her green eyes and with her soft mouth. “Dominic asked me how long I might be staying here.”
“I did not dare to ask that question. I know I cannot ask you to stay more than a few days. You must return to the stars.”
“I was thinking I might stay a little longer.” He looked at the almanac Dominic was painting. “I thought I might take a gap year. If you will permit me to remain with you, I should like to see each of your seasons – until the warm-sun returns again.”
Dominique’s eyes lit with joy. She put her arms about his neck lovingly and kissed him. “It is more than I could have hoped. I thought to have a few blissful days… and nights… to remember after you went away again.”
“We’ll both have many blissful days,” he said. “And nights. Let me make some preparations. Then I will be ready to live as one among your people.”
He stood and went to his TARDIS. Dominique and her son both came to the door but he told them to wait outside its threshold. They came from a world without technology. The TARDIS was the most advanced piece of technology possible. He felt very strongly that the two should not cross paths any more than they had to.
He went to the wardrobe first. He took off his coat and his suit that had become so much a part of him over the years since he first chose it to define the personality of his tenth incarnation. He found instead an outfit that closely resembled the clothes Dominique’s people wore - a simple pair of leggings in homespun cloth and a jerkin of soft leather, fastened with a belt at the waist. The belt had a buckle with the seal of Rassilon on it, but that was the only thing that marked him as different from the other men of the tree-top village when he added a pair of soft leather sandals in place of the white canvas shoes he was used to wearing.
He walked back to the console room. He looked at the central time rotor in ‘parked’ mode. Still and quiet.
“Take a long rest, old girl,” he whispered, touching the console gently. “You deserve it as much as I do.”
He wasn’t sure, but he thought the faint vibration that was always there got a little fainter still, as if the TARDIS had relaxed and stretched itself for a nice lie in.
He stepped out, closed the door and went into the work hut. He hung the TARDIS key on a nail above the place where the silk loom was kept. Then he picked up the loom and a skein of silk thread and brought it out onto the platform in the sunshine. He sat and threaded the warp and took up the shuttle and began to weave a piece of fine fabric. Dominic went on with his painting. Dominique went to the room and came out with a spinning wheel and a bag of raw silk and began to spin the thread ready for him to weave. They smiled at each other as they worked and he felt more relaxed than he had for a long, long time.
Not that life in the treetops was a picnic. It was a society where everyone had to do their bit, and do it for long hours every day. And he had to admit he had led a pretty soft life up till then. He had been an academic, a politician, a diplomat. He had never done manual labour in his life, discounting a certain amount of work with spanners and screwdrivers underneath the TARDIS console. But he was not afraid of work. He was not afraid of getting his hands dirty, his nails split, callouses and blisters in places he never thought you could GET them. And he had the strength and agility and stamina of his race to make up for lack of experience in such work. He quickly found that he earned the respect of the men of the village for his willingness to learn and to acquire those skills they learnt from the cradle.
There were jobs he disliked. He found the hunting unpleasant, though he knew it was a practical necessity. The people needed the protein in their diet and they needed able-bodied men to trap and kill. He learnt how to skin the carcasses, to cut them into joints of meat, to salt and preserve it for the cold season to come.
He worked hard, ate well, and at night he and Dominique were man and wife in each other’s arms. He knew perfect contentment. He felt as if he belonged somewhere and with someone for the first time in a VERY long time.
The warm-sun season was the easy time. The weather was gentle. The work was a pleasure. When that gave way to the hot-sun season it was harder. There was less than three hours of darkness every night and that stiflingly warm. By day the sun beat down even through the trees and tasks that were enjoyable before were chores to be endured. The hardest of those chores was digging deeper into the wells that they drew water from in the dry season when it couldn’t be collected as rainwater.
But those hot nights had the one compensation of being filled with love. He and Dominique lay together when it was too hot to sleep, looking up at the starlit sky through the window and cherishing each other’s company.
And then came the cooler season again, a second warm-sun season when the weather was pleasant and the tasks became pleasurable again. This time the work was the work of preparation – for the cold seasons to come. Food to be harvested and stored, warm woollen cloth to be woven, no time now for delicate silk. Furs were sewn into winter coats, roofs and walls were repaired ready to withstand the storms to come.
The cold-rain season had its compensations, too. It was pleasant enough in the lamplit work room, he, Dominique and Dominic, all at their daily tasks, talking together, singing songs. Sometimes he would tell Dominic about his adventures under other skies and other suns, but he knew Dominique didn’t want her boy to get too much of an interest in that kind of thing. He tried to make sure his wandering life of adventure did not sound more attractive than the idyll they had here in their treetop world.
Then the snow-wind season came with a vengeance. The windows that had been left open even in the rainy season, when they had loved to lie together and watch the rain falling outside, now had to be battened down firmly, and he was glad of the fur coat that Dominique made for him, in the style of his old coat, but thicker and warmer. They lay together at night listening fearfully to storms that swayed the trees and heard the platform beneath them creaking. But they had faith in the workmanship that had kept the village safe for generations. They lay close together, huddled under the fur blankets, keeping warm.
He thought about the TARDIS. He could take her and Dominic in there. It was always warm. He could take them for a beach holiday in the sun until the freezing season was over if he chose.
But that would be cheating.
He almost broke his resolve when Dominique and her son both got sick. He put them both in the big bed together and sat with them, day and night. He fed them broth made from the salted meat and preserved vegetables stored before the onset of the cold. He treated their fever with medicines made with herbs and the bark of a particular tree that contained a strong analgesic. When it was boiled up, it made a bitter liquid that nevertheless broke the fever and eased the headache and the pains in their bones. He knew it would have been much easier to take them both to the medical room in the TARDIS and treat them with the modern medicines he had there.
But that would be cheating.
They got better with the remedies that had always worked for their people, and the cold season began to ease back into rain. Life was pleasant again. Cosy was the word for it.
They cherished those rainy days because they knew that when the warm days came around again, when the trees were in leaf and blossom, the year would be over and he would be leaving. They pushed the thought away and made the best of every day and every night. But they knew it would come.
Something else came with the lengthening days and the milder weather. On the nights when it wasn’t raining, they lay snuggled in the bed and watched a comet slowly cross the sky, coming closer every night they looked.
“It appears in the sky every fifty years,” Dominique said. “Our historical records are kept in the Hall of Devotion. It is a regular phenomenon.”
“It must have a long elliptical orbit through your solar system,” The Doctor said. “My TARDIS will have data on it, I suppose.” Then he laughed softly. “Never mind, we don’t need to know the data. It’s a beautiful sight.” He turned and looked at her in the lamplight. “So are you,” he added. “I will miss you so much when I go away.”
“I will miss you,” she said. “But you said you would go in the warm-sun season. It has been a wonderful time. I have loved every moment.”
“Me too. I have loved it all. So many things I never did before in my whole life – salting meat, peeling nuts, making bread, digging wells, breaking ice off the top of the water just to get a drink.”
“Oh, I did that before,” he assured her. “But not so wonderfully.”
“Dominic will miss you, too,” she told him. “You’ve been like a father to him.”
“He is a fine boy. I would be proud to call him son. Any man would.”
“I wish.…” She sighed and stopped. “No, I must not wish that. You promised a year. It has been a good one. I cannot ask for more.”
“I don’t have to go for a few more weeks,” he said. “Until the warm-sun season is really upon us.”
“Good,” she said, snuggling close to him. “I have plenty more time to love you as my husband.”
He wasn’t arguing.
There was still a week to go before the day he had made up his mind he MUST leave. He and Dominic and Dominique were up on one of the high platforms together, lying back on a soft rug they brought with them, and watching the comet blazing its cold light across the sky.
“On some planets they talk of comets as omens of great events,” The Doctor said. “I remember being on Earth in 1910. In England. It was May – warm-sun season there. Halley’s comet was in the sky. And even though they considered themselves a modern, forward thinking, civilised people, with science and logic and reasoning, who knew that superstition and omens were for primitive and childlike people, they still got excited about what the comet might presage.”
“And what did it presage?” Dominic asked.
“Oh, not much,” he said. “King Edward VII died. But it wasn’t the comet that killed him. He went to bed with a bout of bronchitis - smoked one last cigar – his doctors told him they were good for the lungs – and then had a heart attack and died. No comet could ever be charged with his death!”
“They’re not dangerous?” Dominique asked. “I look at it, and it makes me shiver. It feels.…” She shook her head. “I don’t know. We DON’T have any stories about them. But I feel….”
“That if you had a king you’d want to make sure he was tucked up warm in bed?” The Doctor smiled and kissed her. “They’re just huge, dirty snowballs, mostly frozen carbon dioxide, methane and water with dust and rocks mixed in. I could take you for a close look at it in the TARDIS if you wanted. But really, they’re nothing that special. Although it has to be said, that’s a big one. I’m just guessing, of course, but I’d say the nucleus of that one is about twenty or twenty-five miles in diameter. Puts it in the record books, something for your solar system to be proud of. But it's STILL just a big snowball.”
“I’d like to see it,” Dominic said. “I’d like to see our world from space the way you do, just once. It would be something to remember- something none of the other boys have ever done.”
The Doctor looked at him warily. He wished he hadn’t mentioned the TARDIS. When he left, he didn’t want either of them feeling restless or dissatisfied with the life they led here on their world. It was a beautiful life, even with the hardships of the extreme seasons. If he was a different sort of man he would be glad to live it forever. He wasn’t, and he would be leaving soon, but those who belonged to this beautiful life ought to be happy with it.
“I think I would like to do that, too,” Dominique said. “Just once. You’ve shared our life, my Doctor. It would be nice just to glimpse yours.”
“All right,” he said. “Just this once. One quick orbit of the planet and home.” He jumped up and was already halfway down the ladder when they followed him. He ran into the workroom and found the key. It was dusty and undisturbed where he had left it a year ago. Dominic and his mother were waiting when he came out of the workroom and stepped up to the blue door.
“Oh my goodness,” Dominic whispered. His brief glimpses from the threshold had been nothing to actually crossing that threshold and standing within the dimensionally relative console room.
“My Doctor’s wonderful ship,” Dominique said, proudly.
“It’s fantastic,” Dominic agreed. The Doctor glanced warily at him again. He WAS just a bit too excited. He hoped this wasn’t going to be a mistake.
Then he heard a sound that froze his hearts.
“What is it?” Dominique asked, seeing his expression.
“The Cloister Bell,” he said. “It sounds when there is danger. And I don’t know how long it has been sounding. We only heard it in here when I fired up the console to full power. It might have been sending out the warning for days, weeks.…”
“What danger?” Dominique asked, reaching her arm out to her son, who came to her side as they stood anxiously, watching The Doctor move around his strange, green glowing machine.
“The comet!” he said. “Let’s take a closer look.”
They felt only a slight increase in the vibration of the floor. Nothing more. Dominique knew enough about the time when her ancestors were space colonists to know about things like escape velocity and g-forces, but the TARDIS seemed to have no trouble with such things. When she looked up at the viewscreen they were in space.
“We’re in orbit. It will take twenty minutes to go around the planet once and come back into view of the comet. The trip I promised you. Come on, we’ll go and look at it from a better observation point.”
He took them both by the shoulders as they walked through the corridors and down a staircase that brought them to the Cloister Room, the heart of the TARDIS, or more correctly the place where the heart of the TARDIS was kept, nestled beneath an elaborately carved well cover in the middle of the room. He looked up at the high, vaulted ceiling, supported by two great pillars shaped like silver trees whose branches met in the middle.
“Trees?” Dominique queried.
“Symbol of my family,” he said. “Not sure why, to be honest.”
“Perhaps that’s why you are so at home with us?”
“Perhaps.” He reached out to the elaborately carved mooring staff on one corner of the well cover and turned it. At once, the vaulted ceiling seemed to turn to glass. An illusion, of course. The ceiling was a massive panoramic viewscreen. But it was a hell of a view. Dominique and Dominic stared with wide eyes at a view of the starfield that revolved slowly until they could see the planet below, its landmass almost entirely forest and its ocean covering almost all of one hemisphere.
“Lie down and look up at it,” The Doctor told them. They did. He lay beside them at first, trying to ignore the deep, mournful sound of the cloister bell. Though he knew he did so at his peril.
As the TARDIS completed its orbit and came in sight of the comet he first sat, then stood. He knew what he was seeing, and it wasn’t good.
“Let’s go back to the console room,” he said quietly, and calmly, though it took an effort.
“What is it, Doctor,” Dominique asked him as he became busy once more in front of a screen.
I was wrong. The comet is not as big as I thought. An average one is about twelve miles across. THIS is about fifteen miles. Still a record breaker. But when I thought it was bigger… I didn’t realise it was CLOSER. It’s on a collision course with Forêt.”
“What would that mean?” Dominique asked. She stood close to The Doctor and he put his arm around her waist gently.
“It would mean the end of Forêt,” The Doctor told her. “All life on your world would be destroyed. If it hit the ocean, the landmasses would be drowned. If it hit the land, there would be fire, dust obscuring the sun for decades, death and destruction.”
“Not long,” he said. “Not long enough for me to help. Your planet has a population of half a million people. Even if there was somewhere I could take you all, even if evacuation could be organised on that scale, even this ship couldn’t do it. Not that many. She’s amazing, but she HAS limitations.”
“You could take us?” Dominique asked. “You would take me and Dominic.”
“Of course I would,” he said. “But.…” He could see her thoughts. And he nodded with a grim smile. “No, I know you wouldn’t,” he said. “You would NEVER leave your people. Not even if it meant dying with them.”
“Take Dominic,” she said. “Let my son live. But, no, I shall be with my people.”
“Mother, no!” Dominic cried. “No, I would not go. The Doctor’s universe is wonderful. But I don’t want to live in it without you.”
“I don’t want to live in it without you,” The Doctor said, echoing his words. “I’ve never… never tried to wrestle a comet before, but.…” His fingers moved over the keyboard with the same speed Dominique had seen him pass a shuttle back and forward through the warp of the silk loom. Only this, she thought, was the tool he was more used to. This strangely organic machine was his loom on which he wove miracles.
She hoped he had one for them.
“I might,” he said. She opened her mouth in astonishment. She always did when he read her thoughts, no matter how often he did it. It always took her by surprise.
“You can save our world?” Dominic asked.
“I can try.” He looked at them both. They were terrified. This was so far outside the world they knew. The chief cause of unforeseen death in their community was falling from a height like Dominic’s father. Their hardest trials were extremes of weather. Those they knew how to deal with. But this was something else, and their minds were having trouble containing it.
“You can help me,” he said. “Dominic, you stand there, by that console. Read the numbers that appear on the screen in a few minutes. Dominique, I want you to keep an eye on that screen on the next console. That one mustn’t go over 150 or we might tear the ship apart. And both of you hold onto the handholds. It could get bumpy.”
“What are you actually doing?” Dominic asked him as the central time rotor began to rise and fall rhythmically and the ship emitted a groaning, mechanical, yet animal sound. He looked up at the viewscreen where they had first seen the stars that lay beyond their world. The stars were still there, but they looked strange, blurred, as if they were only half there. And then there were no stars, but a red, swirling tunnel. As he looked at it he felt as if he was moving along it, or it was rushing towards him. He couldn’t work out which.
“I’m never quite sure of that, either,” The Doctor told him, and it was Dominic’s turn to be surprised to find his mind being read. “What I’m trying to do….” His voice suddenly stalled. His hands felt like lead and they moved in slow motion. He heard Dominique’s voice as if coming from an old fashioned gramophone that needed winding up. It was telling him that the numbers were reading 146… 147… 148…. 149…”
It was risky putting himself into a personal time fold while they were being affected by the vortex in such a way, but it was the only way he could make his hand reach the compensator in time to prevent the critical threshold being reached. As he let time snap back around him he heard her voice, normal now, reading the figures as they dropped down into the low one hundred and thirties. Dominic was reading out the time co-ordinates. He didn’t know it. They were just numbers to him, but The Doctor knew and understood them.
“Now, hold tight!” he shouted and grabbed for a handhold over Dominique’s hand. She smiled at him, despite her fear. He grinned reassuringly back at her, though if truth be told he wasn’t sure he could do what he was trying to do. He could almost imagine his tutors at the Prydonian Academy telling him it was impossible and that he was being over-ambitious even to contemplate it.
But he had proved his tutors wrong many times over before he was two hundred, and kept on proving them wrong ever since.
The re-entry into ordinary space was when he knew it was going to get tricky. As the TARDIS bucked and reared and span like a fun fair ride gone insane he abandoned the handholds and told his two passengers to lie face down on the floor. He lay between them, his arms across their backs, clinging to the grilled floor. When the worst came to the worst it was safer already to be on the floor.
There was a crunching sound and the time rotor ground to a halt. He looked up, smiled, then jumped to his feet. He ran to the console and checked the readings. Slowly, Dominique and Dominic got up and came either side of him. They looked at the screen he was reading but it meant nothing to either of them.
“I did it,” he said very quietly, slightly out of breath.
“I landed the TARDIS on the comet and extended her temporal field before sending us forward in time three months. We went forward in time and the comet came with us. Your planet is in a different part of its orbit around your sun and the comet can keep on going where it was going.”
“Oh!” They hugged each other for joy, and then hugged him. “Oh, my Doctor! My hero.”
“Wait,” he said. “We’re not entirely out of the woods.” He looked at their puzzled faces. “Bad analogy. I suppose this is the first time in your lives either of you HAVE been out of the woods! I mean that when we get back to when we left, there will be some residual problems. We will have left debris. Yanking something that size out of time was bound to be a tad messy. There’ll be bits of it in the vortex for months, dropping out all over the place as unexpected meteor showers over unsuspecting worlds. But the bits left back in real time might be big enough to cause problems.”
“What sort of problems?” Dominique asked.
“Really BIG meteor showers,” he said. Neither of them had noticed the jump back through the vortex. But when he turned on the viewscreen again they saw masses of rocks and debris caught in the gravitational pull of their planet. “Some of that is big enough to hard land on the surface. Be ready for forest fires, like you are in the hot-sun season. Send runners to other villages to warn them. Make preparations for evacuation or to take in evacuees from other places.”
Dominique nodded. That sounded like something she COULD handle. But he was STILL a hero to her. This was the third time he had saved her people from annihilation. She felt so lucky to be the one he smiled at in that so special way.
“Oh no!” Dominic gave a distressed groan as they landed on the platform by their work hut once more. The viewscreen showed a scene of devastation outside the TARDIS.
“The Hall of Devotion,” Dominique cried as she ran out of the TARDIS. Dominic followed. The two stared at first at the sight of the largest building in their village half collapsed in on itself. The roof was smashed through by the wreckage from the platform immediately above it. It looked as if a meteorite the size of a beach ball had fallen straight down, leaving a seared hole in everything it had passed through. They looked down. Where it had landed, at the base of the tree, there was a fire, but the men of the village were dealing with that.
“There are people trapped,” The Doctor said. He could feel their panic telepathically even as their screams reached him audibly. He ran for the walkway but Dominic called him back, pointing to where, at the other end, it was partially severed. It would not take any weight at all.
“Here,” Dominic said, grabbing one of his liana ropes and testing it. The Doctor looked dubiously at him. “Grab hold. I’ll swing you.” He still looked doubtful. “Doctor, I trust you. Will you trust me now?” He nodded and took a hold of the rope. The boy pushed off from the platform and swung out. The next moment they had landed safely by the stricken hall. Dominic swung the rope back and Dominique caught it and made ready to swing herself over. He and The Doctor were already at work lifting spars of wood to reach the injured people who were at their late night devotions when the meteorite struck.
The Doctor was impressed by how strong and agile the boy was as he worked alongside him. The two of them held up one heavy cross beam from the once proud ceiling while Dominique and two other villagers who had managed to climb up from below pulled out a man with badly crushed legs. The Forêt people were descended from Earth Humans, of course, but their lifestyle made them strong. Their lungs were clear from breathing good, clean air. Their bodies were lean and fit. Even a thirteen year old like Dominic was stronger than most Earth adults. He was an able and willing helper. For a brief moment The Doctor wondered if Dominic WOULD enjoy the challenge of his TARDIS life. But he threw that idea away. He couldn’t take Dominique’s child from her.
That’s everyone, I think,” somebody said. But Dominic was crawling into the narrow space they had cleared. On the edge of his hearing The Doctor heard what the boy had picked up first - the sound of a child crying. Carefully he crawled after him, warning the others to keep the way clear. He felt the planks under him creak ominously and if he had a god he believed in other than himself he might have prayed that the floor would hold just a little while longer. He put his faith in the skill of those carpenters like Dominic’s father and uncle who had built and maintained these platforms.
Dominic had reached the child. She had fallen partway through the hole the meteorite had made, but slowly Dominic pulled her up and passed her to The Doctor, who in turn passed her to hands that reached through the entrance to the crawl space to take her.
“Come on now,” he told the boy. “This isn’t going to hold much longer. Let’s get out of here.” He turned and edged himself back towards the entrance where lamps were lit and anxious faces watched and arms reached out once more to help him to safety.
As soon as he was clear he turned and reached his own arms out to pull Dominic from the wrecked building. He had him by the shoulders when there was a jolt and them a crash as the wreckage shifted and fell. A spar of wood, broken into a vicious, splintered spear, sheared downwards. Dominic gave a scream and there was a sickening sound as it went through his back. He looked at The Doctor with a shocked expression on his face. His mother’s anguished cries filled the air as people held her back.
“Lift that damn thing!” The Doctor cried and he passed his hand over the boy’s forehead, shutting down his pain receptors before gripping his arms tightly. Two men raised the beam that the spar was attached too. Slowly the blood-stained splinter was pulled out of his body. The Doctor pulled him free of the wreckage and scooped him up in his arms. He looked across at the TARDIS. He looked at the walkway. It was hanging by only one thin plank of wood. He looked at the two villagers who had just raised the beam. “Hold this end of the walkway until I’m across,” he said.
If he was an ordinary Human he couldn’t have done it. He would have been too slow. The walkway would have collapsed before he was halfway across. But he was a Time Lord and he made time work for him. They saw him step onto the walkway as the two strongest men in the village held it up. Then he was a blur until they saw him step off on the other side. Dominique saw the two men relax and let go before the walkway partially collapsed. She turned and grabbed the liana they had come across on and swung herself over to join her lover and her injured son.
“Doctor,” she said as she ran after him into the TARDIS, through the console room and down the corridors beyond. “Where are you taking my child?”
“Medical room,” he said. He reached the door and pushed it open. He put Dominic on the examination table and reached for the overhead scanner, watching the screen hopefully.
He saw exactly the sort of damage to his body he expected.
And he saw something he didn’t expect, something that shocked him to the core, but which was the only reason the boy was even alive.
He looked at Dominique, but she wasn’t looking at him. She was stroking her son’s face and trying not to cry. His eyes were wet with tears of shock and agony.
“Help him, if you can,” she said to him. “Doctor… I don’t even know if you’re that sort of doctor. Can you….”
“I’m whatever sort of Doctor you need me to be,” he said. “But I’ll need your help. He’s very badly hurt. I have to operate. I think….” He was trying not to think of the most obvious thing he had to say to her. This was not the time. Saving the boy’s life was what mattered now. He got into a surgical gown and mask and sterile gloves and helped her into the same. He prepared to do major surgery. He was nervous about it. He was not a professional surgeon. The idea of an amateur one was ludicrous, but it was what he was.
A GOOD amateur, mind you.
And he had the most advanced equipment possible in the TARDIS medical room. When he cracked the boy’s chest it was with a laser scalpel that would leave only the slightest of scars afterwards. When he examined the damage to his internal organs it was with scanners and micro-scanners that showed him the smallest detail. His hands worked faster than the eye could see. Dominique monitored the anaesthetic, kept watch on his blood pressure, on his heart rate….
He repaired the damage and then he closed the wound He sutured his chest and he covered the wound with bandages. He looked at the life support monitor. He was weak still from major surgery but he was getting stronger.
“He IS going to live,” The Doctor said to Dominique. He went to remove the blood-stained surgical gloves and gown and wash his hands and then he lifted the boy from the operating table and put him into a warm bed in the corner of the medical room. He sat with him. His mother sat there, too. They both watched the boy’s chest rise and fall as he slept, still under the influence of the anaesthetic yet, but otherwise just sleeping. They looked at each other. They both knew there was something important to be said. The Doctor decided he had to make the first move.
“Did you know he had two hearts?” he asked her.
“Yes,” she said. “The midwife who delivered him said it was strange, but she could see no reason why it would harm him.”
“Oh, it would not harm him at all,” The Doctor said. “But Dominique, in the whole vast universe there is only one species, one race of people, with two hearts.” He paused and looked at her. “Mine.”
She broke eye contact with him and looked at her son.
“Last year when I first set eyes on him, you told me Jareth was his father. I accepted that as the easy truth. But….”
“It is the only lie I ever told you, my love,” she said. “You understand the reason why.…”
“Because if I had known….”
“You’re an honourable man. You would have felt guilty about being absent so long, for not being here for us both. But, my love, there is nothing for you to be guilty about. The first time you went away, I felt so empty and alone. I missed you dreadfully. But the second time… you left me with the most precious reminder of the love we shared. Your child.”
“THAT’S what I would never have done if I had known. I would not have let you go through that on your own. You could have died. Humans and Gallifreyans… it is not an easy mating…”
“I was very ill. And I was frightened. I didn’t know how long it would be before my child would be born - if at all. It was so much longer than normal. Jareth was a great help to me. He took me as his wife and cared for me and when Dominic was born he called him his son. He loved him as a son. And but for his hearts he seemed a normal boy.”
“Yes, he would be. But, my love. I am so sorry. I wish.…” He shook his head and smiled.
“No. No wishes, no regrets. There is no need for them. I… I’m a DAD. It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful. The most beautiful thing in the universe. I’m a DAD.” He turned to the bed where the child lay. “Dominic, you’re my son,” he whispered. He took his hand and kissed it. “If you weren’t, you’d be dead. Your mother would be mourning you now. And that’s just one reason why I am so very glad that I AM your dad.”
He knew why it was. Dominic was what they called a hybrid on his planet. He himself was a half-blood, the product of a union between a Gallifreyan and a Human. In his case his father’s DNA had prevailed and he was at least ninety-nine per cent Gallifreyan. But it didn’t always happen that way. Sometimes the Human DNA prevailed. And they called that a hybrid. Dominic was Human in every way. His DNA was his mother’s. But he had two hearts. Or he had. One - the normal Human heart on the left side - was gone now, broken to pieces. All he could do was take out the pulped fragments and reconnect the arteries. But his other heart would work just as well. He would be unusual among his kind. His working heart was on the other side of his body to every other Human. But he would live. He would grow to manhood amongst his people here, grow to be leader of his people in turn after his mother.
“He believes that Jareth is his father?” The Doctor asked as he held the boy’s hand tightly.
“Yes. Most of the people of the village accept that as the truth, even some who knew that I was with child before he and I….”
“Let that be the truth, then. Don’t trouble his mind with any other story.” He leaned over and kissed the boy on the cheek. “To have called him my son, just once, was nice. But when he wakes, I will be your husband, and his friend, and that’s all.”
“I always meant to tell him,” she said. “I wanted him to know about his father who is the most wonderful man in the universe.”
“No,” The Doctor insisted. “He is your child. He belongs with you. Here in your world. If he knew…. When I talked to him, as a friend, of the wonders of the universe they were just fascinating stories. A diversion from the wind and rain in those long dark months. But if I talk of those things as his father, he will see them as his birthright. He will want to see them for himself. He’s yours, Dominique. I won’t take him from you.”
“I had not thought of that,” she said. “Of course you will be gone soon and we must go on as we were.”
“Not quite as we were,” he said. “None of us will be quite the same. But we’re not so hurt by it as we might have been.”
He couldn’t go quite as soon as he had planned. Dominic needed his medical knowledge as he recovered from the drastic operation he had gone through. The village, all the villages that had suffered similar disasters in the three days it took for the debris of the comet to finish falling through the atmosphere, needed his help and advice as they rebuilt their world. He stayed through the warm-sun season and the hot-sun, and into the second warm-sun. By then Dominic was recovered. Their world was recovered. He helped with the harvest. He made sure their living quarters were warm and secure for the cold season to come. He made sure they had food and medicine and everything they needed. But when he had done that he knew, they knew, it was time.
“You WILL be back?” Dominique asked him as she held him in her arms one last time. He was dressed in his own clothes again. The clothes she had made for him were put away in a box - for when he returned.
“Yes, I will,” he promised. “I’m a very bad person when it comes to going back and visiting people. There are many people out there I ought to visit. But Dominique, mon amour, you and Dominic, you will be the two people in the universe I will ALWAYS come back to. That is my promise, on my honour as a Time Lord of Gallifrey.”
He kissed her. He hugged Dominic fondly. He reached once more, one last time, and held and kissed Dominique, and then he stepped into the TARDIS. He went to the console. He gazed once at the viewscreen where he saw mother and son arm in arm, waiting together. Then he initiated the dematerialisation. He looked at the starcharts on the navigation console. There was a plasma storm brewing in the horsehead nebula. There was an interstellar battle between the Sontarans and the Rutans – though that was nothing new. There was… what was it he said once, long ago….
Somewhere there was danger, somewhere injustice.
Somewhere else the tea was getting cold.
Somewhere the universe needed The Doctor - whether for injustice, or danger, or tea. He smiled. He was ready to be needed. He was ready to fight the fight, knowing there was a little place in it that felt like home, where love and family waited for him when he needed them.