The Doctor smiled broadly as he stepped out of the TARDIS into the yard by the kitchen of the house he still thought of fondly as the Nut-hutch. Oh, it was a long time now since he had come here in the early 1970s with Jo.

“Jo?” He looked at the young woman who came to the door and for a moment he thought it WAS her, as she looked in those days. He wondered if he’d got the date wrong AGAIN. “No, it can’t be, can it?” Then he realised. “Stella? Oh, you’ve grown a lot since I saw you last.”

“Not THAT much, Doctor,” Stella answered in a pleasant Welsh Accent. “It was only five years. At least it WAS for us. I suppose you’ve been hopping around the universe for fifty years without thinking to drop in on us?”

“Something like that,” he said. But he was puzzled all the same. He hadn’t seen Stella since she was two and a half years old, when he brought Wyn home after their year of adventures. She shouldn’t even remember him.

She looked twenty or twenty-one now. So she would have been sixteen or thereabouts five years ago in her own personal time.

No. He hadn’t met her when she was that age. He would have remembered.

“Doctor!” Wyn appeared from the garage door. K9 Mk 4.5 whirred along beside her as she ran to hug him. “It’s great to see you. How have you been?”

“One of you make me a cup of tea, milk, two sugars, and I’ll tell you,” he answered her. “K9, have you been a good puppy?”

“Affirmative, Master,” he replied and his robot tail and ears wagged enthusiastically. The Doctor laughed as he stepped into the big kitchen that was the heart of the Nut-hutch. Wyn directed him to a battered but very comfortable sofa that rested against one wall. Stella sat beside him and K9 hovered by his feet while Wyn made the tea. The comfortable feeling of being among friends overwhelmed him. He sighed with something like happiness.

“Jasmin said you were coming,” Wyn said as she brought the tea and sat down with him. “But we didn’t know whether you WOULD make it here or not. I mean, you never just go from one place to the next. You take detours all over the place.”

“That I do,” he said. “I have to admit I did take rather a long one this time.”

“How long?” Wyn asked him.

“thirty three years,” he answered.

“Come again!” Wyn choked on her tea. “Seriously? You took thirty-three years to get from Manchester to Llanfairfach?”


“You REALLY should have taken the train.”

“Where did you go for all that time?” Wyn asked him. She looked closely at his face. He really didn’t look any different, as far as she could remember. It had been five years since she saw him last, but she was sure she remembered him just as he was now. Still looking about thirty five or so. YOUNGER than she was, now. In all the years, since she was a teenager, he hadn’t changed a bit. He was still a good looking bloke with soft brown eyes that twinkled with mischief, a mouth that smiled more easily than it frowned and a boundless energy about him, as if he ran on Duracells.

Not even a line under his eyes told of the lifetime he claimed to have had in the course of one day of HER life.

“I went to Forêt,” he said. “To see my family.”

“Oh.” Wyn did the maths. thirty-three years would make Dominique something like seventy-five years old by the time he left again. “Oh… Doctor… You mean…”

“I kept my promise to her. To love her all her life.”

He sipped his tea slowly as he thought back. The one thing about being a Time Lord, he could recall things easily. He recalled the couple of pleasant days he spent with Jasmin and Alec and Ali. He recalled the not so pleasant interlude in 1971 that had led to his decision to take that far longer detour.

He remembered with absolute clarity arriving on Forêt .

The TARDIS materialised on the platform outside the work-hut. It was dark and it was cold. There was a wind blowing freezing sleet through the trees and it was quite unpleasant climbing up the wooden ladder to the living quarters above.

The door to the bedroom was closed but he lifted the latch and pushed it open. He closed it again quickly and secured it against the wind. He used his sonic screwdriver in penlight mode to give him enough light to see by.

Dominique was asleep in the big bed covered in fur blankets. Angeletta’s crib was beside it, but empty. He was worried for a moment until he saw their six month old daughter snuggled beside her. He sat on the edge of the bed and reached to touch them both. Angeletta seemed hotter than she should be and she coughed worryingly as she stirred in her sleep. Dominique stirred too and gave a shocked gasp that turned to a cry of delight as she recognised the touch of her lover’s hand on her cheek.

“Doctor,” she whispered joyfully. “Oh, my love.” As he took the child in his arms she sat up and lit the lamp by her bedside. In its warm light he looked at her face, then he looked at the baby. She DID look feverish.

“She has a cold,” Dominique said. “That’s why I had her in the bed with me, keeping her warm. There’s some medicine here for her if she wakes.”

The Doctor touched the baby’s forehead. Yes, he thought, it was just a cold. He concentrated hard and drew off the heat from her body so that her temperature was closer to normal for a Human child. He took the herbal medicine and put a little into her mouth. She didn’t like the bitter taste, but she swallowed enough to help her sleep again untroubled.

“You lie down again with her,” he said. “I’ll join you in a moment.” Dominique did so as he slipped off his coat and jacket and tie and his shoes and then blew out the lamp before sliding under the covers beside his wife and baby. He closed his eyes and sighed happily as he let warm, peaceful sleep come upon him.

The next morning felt like the first day of a whole new life. And it WAS. He began by changing into the homespun clothes that Dominique kept in a linen box for his visits to her. He put on a thick fur coat against the winter weather then took his suit and coat and shoes and his sonic screwdriver, too, to the TARDIS. He put the console in low power stand by and left the clothes on the sofa. Then he turned and stepped out of it. He locked the door and took the key to the tool room, hanging it on a nail near the roof where nobody would touch it. He wasn’t going to need it for a long while.

Then he went back to the living quarters. Dominique was making breakfast. Angeletta was lying in her day crib, awake but quiet. Dominic was sitting by her.

“Father,” he said. “Mother told me you came to her in the night. I thought at first she meant in a dream.”

“Not this time,” The Doctor answered. “From now on, neither of us need dream. I will be here.”

“For how long?” Dominique asked. That was always the burning question whenever he visited.

“Forever,” he answered. “Or as near to it as matters to you. I promised I would be with you till your dying day and I am here to make good that promise.”

“You….” She was startled by that proposal. “You will give up the stars for me?”

“Yes,” he said. “For you, and Dominic and Angeletta.” He lifted the child in his arms. She looked at him with big brown eyes like his own. “I’m here for you, my little girl,” he said to her. “I’m here to see you grow up and never miss a moment of it.”

“You really mean it?” Dominic asked. “You really won’t go away again?”

“I mean it,” he promised. `

“Really?” Wyn said, surprised. “You really were prepared to give it all up? Travelling in the TARDIS, seeing different planets, different people?”

“For her, for them, yes I was,” he answered. “I was ready to live my life one day after the other like everyone else in the universe does. I wanted that.”

He had arrived only a month into a cold, hard, snow-rain season, one of the coldest in living memory, so the elders of the village said. The Doctor took their word for it. He could probably have verified the claim using the TARDIS computers. He could probably have got accurate predictions of how long it would be before the cold-rain season came around again, or the warm-rain that heralded spring. But he left the key on the hook in the workroom. He had made his mind up to live with Dominique and their children as a Forêtean. The TARDIS didn’t belong in that life. Its technology had no place here.

So he did as all the other men of the village did. He broke sticks to burn in the stove that warmed the room and cooked their food. He thawed his hands out over it after slicing up joints of frozen meat from the store of food the villagers all shared and bringing it home for Dominique to make into a nourishing stew. They all snuggled together under warm furs and waited out the cold weather. Angeletta recovered from her cold, but Dominique and Dominic both went down with fevers and The Doctor pounded up dried leaves and bark and boiled them together to make the bitter medicine until they got well again.

He got good at making the medicine. He examined the bark and the leaves and determined that they were a natural analgesic. He found a way of mixing it with boiled dried fruits and making a syrup that the children found more pleasant than the bitter brew. He became a doctor who made house calls as he brought the medicine to others who were brought down by the cold. They were a hardy race, used to the rigours of their climate, and there were few more serious illnesses. Some of the most vulnerable, the very old and the very young, suffered more severely than those in between, but that was only natural. He tried not to feel it too keenly when the very oldest of the village, an old woman of 96, passed away quietly despite his ministrations. That was natural to this world and these people.

The snow-rain gave way to the cold rain, a moderately milder time when the rain poured non-stop and the sound of it on the roof day and night became something he hardly noticed after the first few days. It became a part of the pattern of life. Braving the rain to go down to the workroom with Dominic and fetch up bags of raw silk and fresh paints so that they could work in the warmth of the living quarters was part of that pattern, too.

These were days when the drumming of the rain was the percussion section of the music of their lives. They sang as they worked and they worked through the hours of natural light. When it got dark they lit lamps and they ate their evening meal and they enjoyed each other’s company. At night Angeletta slept in her crib beside the bed where her parents renewed their passionate love for each other every time they blew out the lamp and reached to hold each other beneath the bedcovers.

Warm-rain came, and it was possible to throw open the shutters. They were able to move the spinning wheel and loom and silk painting frame back to the workroom and Dominique cleaned the living quarters and made them fresh and homely. The Doctor went over the floor of the room with a sanding tool and smoothed it carefully and then coated it with a natural resin that sealed the wood so that there was no chance of Angeletta picking up a splinter as she began to crawl and make her first attempts at walking. Dominique spread the floor with clean rag rugs that she had woven and Angeletta safely played on them.

In the glow of the warm sun season, with the trees budding green again, Angeletta said her first word. The Doctor grinned like an idiot and hugged her tight as she said it again to prove it wasn’t a fluke. He was proud that her first word had been ‘papa’. He hadn’t been there when Dominic was that age. He had called another man father for most of his childhood.

This time he got it exactly right.

“You big soppy article,” Wyn teased him as he grinned like an idiot remembering. “But I suppose I can understand. I remember mum with Stella when she started talking. Course, we spent the next fourteen years trying to shut her up….”

Stella gave her sister a scowl that rivalled Wyn’s best and proved that they most certainly WERE sisters.

“Ignore her, Doctor,” she said. “I think it’s sweet. I bet you were a great dad to her.”

“Well, I tried to be,” he said. “That’s all anyone can do, really.”

The warm-sun and the hot-sun seasons of that first year were punctuated by Angeletta’s baby milestones. She was just over a year old when she walked. From then on life in a tree top village became hazardous. She wanted to walk everywhere and there were so many places where she couldn’t. The Doctor and Dominic between them spent many hours making sure every balcony rail around their home was secure and impossible for a curious child to climb over with tragic results. The Doctor had never been worried about this lifestyle before he had a year old daughter who could walk into trouble. Even when Dominique pointed out that Dominic had been a year old once, and had walked safely on the same platforms he still worried for her.

“If anything happened to my Angel,” he said as he lay by Dominique’s side on a sultry hot-sun evening looking up at the stars from the high observation platform. “My hearts would break.”

“Nothing is going to happen to her,” Dominique assured him. “She’s curious, of course. She’s adventurous. She gets it from her father.”

“Not so adventurous now,” he said. “Given up adventure. Retired to spend more time with my family. That’s what they say on Earth. That’s what I’m doing.”

“I’m so glad,” Dominique said. “So very glad.”

“Do you regret that I didn’t do it sooner? I missed so much of Dominic’s life.”

“I DID love Jareth,” she told him of the man who had been Dominic’s stepfather and her comfort when The Doctor was not there. “I WAS happy. The only really sad time was after he died and I didn’t know if you were alive or dead. After that, after that wonderful year we had together, then I knew we never really would be apart, ever. I only missed being able to reach out and touch you when you were gone. I never missed your love. I would look up at the stars and know you were there among them. And I felt all your love. Then you were here for a while and you left me with my little Angel growing within me. And I was as happy as it was possible to be. I knew when you returned to me you would be delighted. Instead THEY came and I thought all was lost. That was the only time my faith ever wavered. When I was in pain and my son was taken. For one brief time I thought you would not come, and our son would be lost, and our daughter too. Oh, but forgive me, husband, for doubting you.”

“I’ll never leave you again,” he told her. “Never.”

And in token of that, the next day he began to cut planks of wood and he nailed them in place around the TARDIS, encasing it in a wooden sarcophagus. He didn’t need it. He wouldn’t need it for a very long time. He lived on Forêt now. He was a citizen of Forêt. He had no use for a time and space ship. As much as he loved the TARDIS, had called it home, had called it friend, for so long, he didn’t need it now.

So he made it safe, and he made it hidden. By the time the rains of the cold seasons had battered it and the warm seasons came around again, by the time Angeletta was two years old, the wood would be the same shade as the wood around it and they would all walk past it without thinking about what lay inside.

Angeletta would know her father wasn’t a native of this planet, of this village. He was too different in so many ways to disguise that fact. But she didn’t need to have dreams of what else there was out there. Let the stars be the lights that shine down on her at night, and no more.

“You hid your TARDIS?” Stella and Wyn were both astonished by that. They couldn’t quite believe it of him. “You hid it even from yourself?”

“Yes. I didn’t need the temptation there. I didn’t need to be reminded that I had any other life but the one I was living. Not that I WAS tempted. I was happy.”

“Weaving and spinning, and cutting wood?” Wyn looked at him curiously. “You really WERE happy, doing all those things? You, the most intelligent man in the universe, with so much knowledge of so many things? You really were happy doing manual labour?”

“Yes,” he assured her. “Well, apart from the hunting and the butchering. I could never really love the job of skinning a boar and slicing up its flesh. But I had to do that so that we could eat in the cold seasons. Besides, for all my knowledge of the universe, there is so much satisfaction in doing a practical job. Making silk, or wool clothes that would keep us warm, putting up a platform, building a walkway that will be used, salting the meat we will eat. These were the things that needed to be done every day. And I went to bed tired at night, knowing that a good day’s work was done.”

Wyn reached and touched his hands. They were different to when she first knew him. They were harder, with callouses and rough skin, toughened by working with them.

One of the biggest jobs was in the year Angeletta was four, when he had been there three full cold seasons. As soon as the warm rain dissipated he and Dominic and Marcas, and other men of the village set to work on building a new platform on a tree next to the one The Doctor and Dominique lived on. A strong platform and a new house of three rooms, one above the other, and a walkway across the top level that joined it to Dominique’s house. They worked through the warm sun season, and in the cooler parts of the day in the hot sun season, and again as the heat became less intense. Before the warm sun gave way to rain again it was finished and the rooms were furnished with rag rugs and a sturdy bed and silk hangings and a stove to warm it in winter. And on the appointed day Dominic and Thérèse, his sweetheart from his boyhood, were married. Angeletta was a charming flower girl. Dominique cried to see her son become a man at last. She cried more as he took his wife and went to live in that other tree house. The Doctor comforted her by reminding her that he was so close that they could still have a conversation if they just raised their voices slightly.

And anyway, both Dominic and his wife came every day to work at the silk spinning and weaving and painting in the workshop, first with the window shutters open and the warm rain a pleasant sound, and the smell of the wet leaves a pleasant scent, then with the shutters tightly shut against the cold rain that stung the face and soaked their clothes.

Then as the coldest weather set in the young couple abandoned their new home and as the blizzard’s battered the village they slept in Dominic’s old room and The Doctor and Dominique were snug and warm in the room below, with Angeletta in her own child bed in the corner of the room. The five of them saw the cold weather through and The Doctor was a doctor once more as he daily monitored Thérèse’s progress through her first pregnancy. It was the first time in many seasons that he had used any of those abilities he didn’t learn on Forêt. Now, his ability to touch her gently and reach in with his mind and see the growth and development of the child within her was useful.

He was disappointed at first that this child was far more Human than even Dominic and Angeletta both were. He had expected his own genes to be passed on more strongly to his grandchild. He had expected two hearts, and the longer gestation period of his own species. But his grandchild was Human, with one heart, with red blood. And it was right that it should be. The little boy that was born just before the hot sun season set in was destined to grow up on Forêt, to be a woodcutter or a joiner or a carpenter, or a spinner and weaver, or most probably all of those things in turn. He had no need for two hearts, no need to be different from the other children of the village, of the planet.

He wondered occasionally why his and Dominique’s offspring were more Human than Time Lord. After all, many centuries ago his first born child had been a Time Lord. His first grandchild, Susan, was of Gallifreyan blood. And his other incarnation, the one called Nine when the two of them were together, was the patriarch of a family of new Time Lords.

Just fate, he thought. The genetic lottery. And besides, he would not have changed one single cell that made up his grandson, named Philippe, in the simple but emotional Ceremony of Naming in the Hall of Devotions. He was just too proud to be a grandfather again, to hold the child in his arms as often as his mother would allow him, and for as long as his own little girl would allow him to give attention to another child.

“You’re a granddad!” Wyn exclaimed and Stella grinned widely.

“I’ve been a granddad before,” he reminded her. “But this time was different. Because I had nothing else to worry about except them. And all we had to worry about was the ordinary things any parent worried about.”

Some of those worries cast a shadow over their happiness in the snow season of that year. It was another very cold, bitter time, and with it came a sickness that swept through several of the villages at once. The Doctor identified it as a Human illness called Whooping Cough and he and those in the other villages skilled with the special leaves and tree bark worked hard to fight it, but there were inevitable failures. Again the oldest and the youngest were vulnerable. Several old people of their village succumbed and were buried in the forest below. They were mourned, but not so keenly as the four children, a boy and three girls, who died. And nobody mourned more than The Doctor, not even Dominic, when Thérèse, suffering from the same disease, lost the second child she was carrying. As that long, sad night passed and he comforted his daughter in law as best he could, he thought for the first time of the TARDIS and the fact that he COULD have fetched vaccinations against diseases like this, could have given them to all of the villages. He could have saved everyone.

That regret haunted him more when, with his mother still sick and grieving in bed, little Philippe became ill. He and Dominique and Dominic took turns caring for Thérèse and for Philippe in turn and they both pulled through, but Philippe had suffered brain damage. He would be retarded all his life. The extent of the damage would be impossible to gauge until he was older, but The Doctor guessed he might be blind, possibly unable to speak or walk properly.

As the news stunned the whole family he wandered to the platform where the weathered planks covered the TARDIS. He leaned his head against the rough wood, pressed his hands against it. He could feel the very faint vibration of the TARDIS in low power mode, still.

“Mon Père,” Dominic said, coming to him with a warm fur coat that he put around his shoulders. “Come inside. You will catch your death of cold, and none of us could bear that.”

“It would take a long time before I could die of cold,” he answered. “Why couldn’t little Philippe have my strength? Why did he have to… I could have… Dominic, I am sorry. I could have saved him. The TARDIS…. Modern drugs….”

“Nobody blames you, father.” Dominic assured him. “It has always been our choice to live without those things. We could have had trade with planets that have those drugs you speak of long ago. We preferred our simple lifestyle. You chose to live that life with us. We ALL made the choice. All of us who call ourselves Forêteans. Philippe is alive. We’re grateful for that. The rest we don’t know yet. Only time will tell. Perhaps we will be lucky.”

“Time.…” The Doctor smiled sadly. “But I’m a Time Lord. I should be able….”

“You can’t turn BACK time. You always said so. So don’t regret anything. You’re here. You are a comfort and source of strength for us all.”

“And you are mine, my son,” he answered, hugging him tightly. He let himself be led back to the living quarters. Nobody DID blame him. They all loved him too much for the thought to cross their minds. And if he was their strength, they were his as they came through that hard winter and took stock of it together.

“Was the little boy blind?” Stella asked as The Doctor looked around him and smiled through eyes that had become suddenly moist.

“Partially,” The Doctor answered as he accepted a fresh cup of tea and a plate of ginger nut biscuits. “His brain was damaged by the illness. He had sight in only one eye and he was ‘slow’ to do all of the things a child should. He walked late, he talked only after a long struggle. Teaching him to hold a spoon and feed himself was hard. It was difficult for us all. His parents never gave up on him, though. Thérèse loved him dearly. Dominic, too. And I….”

Everyone said The Doctor could not have loved his grandson more if he tried. He never neglected his own little girl. He always found time to be with her, watching her run and play and become a sturdy, active child who could soon climb trees like a monkey and take her first lessons on the baton haute arena by the time she was seven. But the little boy was always with him, too. And The Doctor discovered that Philippe was only quiet and withdrawn among those who communicated with the spoken word. With a paintbrush and a piece of cloth or wood or parchment he could tell a whole story. And the stories were ones he got from his grandfather without need of spoken words.

The boy was six when The Doctor first realised he was telepathic. He was sitting out on the balcony with Philippe by his side as always, when one of the youngsters, one of Angeletta’s friends, asked him about the ‘Robos’, the enemy that afflicted Forêt a long time before they were born and now lived on in legend. The Doctor had told them only the vaguest detail. He didn’t want them to think too much about such things. But when he looked at the parchment in front of him Philippe had painted a Dalek that was exact in detail. He had seen the picture in his grandpapa’s head, he explained slowly and with difficulty in spoken words but it was as if a floodgate had opened inside his head. The Doctor and Dominic both heard him clearly. The illness that affected his sight and his speech had not affected his power of thought and he had so much going on in his head.

The Doctor had many long conversations with him in his head. In Philippe he found a mind that needed stimulus from beyond the confines of his world, as beautiful as it was. He would tell him, in as much detail as a young boy could cope with, of his adventures fighting strange monsters and beings all over the universe. Philippe in turn painted great colourful montages that expressed what he understood of them.

It was Philippe, in fact, who was the one who asked the question he had expected one of the children to ask sooner or later. He was twelve, and Angeletta was sixteen and the youngest player on the village Baton Haute team that had won a hard played tournament against a league of neighbouring teams. Three of her male team-mates were vying for her affection as they celebrated on a warm, but autumnal evening with the scent of turning leaves on the air.

“Grand-père,” Philippe asked. “Why don’t you get old?”

“Because he promised me he never would,” Dominique told her only grandchild. “Long before you were born, ma cherie, he promised to stay by me till my dying day and never change so much as a freckle on his face. And he keeps his promises.”

“But does that mean he will go away after you die, grand-mère? Philippe asked with the honest simplicity of his soul.”

“I don’t know, cherie,” Dominique replied. She smiled at the boy, then her eyes turned to her husband. The Doctor smiled warmly at her. She was in her fifties now. Her face was not the same as the young girl who had swept him off his feet that first day he met her. But he still loved her just as much as he always did.

“Did I ever tell you how I first met your grand-mère?” he asked. His colourful description of that day when she stole his hearts made them all laugh and Dominique blush with pleasure as she remembered it so very well.

“I am too old for bungee jumping now,” she said. “I look almost old enough to be his mother. But he still tells me I am beautiful every night.”

“And so you are,” The Doctor told her. “You always will be.”

Later that evening he was alone with his son. Philippe was in bed and Dominique and Thérèse were preparing supper. Angeletta was on the high walkway with her choice of the young Baton Haute players. Dominic opened what he knew was an awkward line of conversation.

“You WILL leave after mama… when she is no longer with us?” he said.

“Yes,” The Doctor said. “I will. I promised her. But when the time comes, you will be head of the family. You will be head of the village, too. It’s your right to be both. If I was an ordinary man, I would die, and you would inherit. I will go, and life will go on here.”

“Will you come back?” Dominic asked.

“Perhaps,” he said. “When I really am ready to retire from saving the universe from itself. This has been an interlude. Just like when I have visited before. But a very much longer one.”

“We need not worry about it yet,” Dominic told him. “But the children should understand that there will come a time. Especially Philippe. He will miss you most, I think.”

“I will miss him. But not yet. We have many more years together. Many more adventures to share.”

There was a finite limit to the life they all enjoyed together. But he didn’t let it spoil his happiness. He and Dominique were still as much in love as they were when they first gave themselves to each other. When he looked at her he didn’t see the lines on her face, the grey in her hair. He saw the woman he loved and would always love. He saw the beauty in her soul that had never dimmed. He held her in his arms every night and they enjoyed every precious day together.

The years passed by. Philippe became a young man, and despite his physical problems he found work as a carpenter alongside a cousin on his mother’s side and still painted beautiful pictures in his spare time.

Angeletta became a young wife, and in her turn, a mother of two healthy children who delighted their grandparents. Dominique didn’t venture far from her own living quarters these days, so they came to visit her as often as possible. She and her mother and her sister-in-law Thérèse, sitting together in the quiet evenings with the children playing at their feet while The Doctor and Dominic and Philippe talked men’s talk in a separate huddle.

But last thing at night it was always The Doctor and Dominique sitting on the swing seat together, holding hands and looking at the stars and dreaming quiet dreams together, not so much of the future, now, than of the past. A lot of their conversations began with ‘Remember when….’

And that was all right. Because they had a lot of good times to remember. The Doctor was happy to remember them with her. Sometimes he would hold her very close and put his hand on her brow and he could take her back in her mind and recreate the memories so vividly that when she returned to the present she was surprised to find her children grown.

He did it more and more as the years began to take their toll on her and she found it easier some days to stay in bed. Then he was her constant companion, taking care of her every need, including the need to remember the sweet times when they were both young.

When she was young, anyway, The Doctor corrected her. He had always been far older than anyone else on the planet.

“You are still as handsome as you were the day I first met you,” she told him, reaching her hand out to touch his face. “My lover. My husband.”

“I’m not THAT handsome,” he replied. “Some people think I’m quite ugly, you know.”

“Not me,” Dominique assured him. “But I love you for more than your face. I love the soul within you that loved me from the first moment.”

“I was going to say that,” he said. “Now I look like a copy cat.”

“You could have found another woman, a younger one. You could have left me.”

“No, I couldn’t,” he insisted. “My hearts belong to you.”

“After I’m gone will you.…”

“No. Nobody could replace you, Dominique. You have fulfilled my need for that kind of love. I don’t need it any more.”

“You won’t be lonely? I know you mean to go away again, to the stars. I’ve always known. And I worry about you. The children will be fine. They have each other. But you… you will be alone again.”

“There’s an old friend I promised to visit thirty-three years ago,” he told her. “I’ll never be alone. I won’t be lonely. And I’ll always have your memory. I’ll have the knowledge that, when I’m ready, when I am ready to give up the universe completely, my family will be here. I’ll always have a home among them. But when you’re gone from me, it WILL be time.”

“As long as you’re happy, my Doctor.”

He wasn’t truly happy in those last days as he stayed by her side, day and night, not wanting to miss a moment of time with her. He tried to look happy for her. He smiled as he held her in his arms and sang softly to her. As he administered the medicine that dulled the ache in her bones he laughed and joked. But inside he was crying because he knew the end was close. He knew what it would be like. Because he had been here before. He had loved a woman to the end before. His first wife, mother of his first son, Susan’s grandmother, had been a Human who grew old and died, too. He had done the same things for her as the weeks became days, then days became hours as he knew they must.

Other members of the family came to see her. Dominic and Angeletta sat by her side for many long hours. Philippe showed her his latest paintings. Claude and Rémy, Angeletta’s boys, found it hard not to cry.

But in the end, The Doctor sat with her alone. He knew the family were outside, close by. But it was just the two of them. At her request he took her on one of those memory journeys. He put the visions in her mind of a warm evening just like this evening, when they walked high up in the trees and looked at the stars. He told her the names of many of them. He told her the planets that orbited them, and about the kinds of people who lived there. She had sighed and said it was wonderful to know, but she was happy to live on Forêt in peace. She had no need to meet those people from strange planets.

Seventy five years she had lived on Forêt. Except for the brief time when he took her away on honeymoon to the Eye of Orion she had not travelled more than twenty miles from her home village. But she didn’t feel short-changed. She had lived a full life and lived it well. And for thirty-three of those years the man she loved had been at her side.

“I am happy,” she told him. Then she closed her eyes and slowly he felt her slip away. He felt her heart stop and her breathing fail. She was dead in his arms. He cried inconsolably. He knew Dominic had felt it through him. Philippe, too. Outside, they were all grieving as well. Soon he would have to let them in. But he needed his own time with her, first.

“Goodbye, my Dominique,” he said as he laid her down in the bed and put her arms by her side and made her hair neat. “I will miss you.” Then he let the others come and say their goodbyes while he went and sat up on the high platform, quietly, alone, and cried.

He cried most of that day. He cried when she was buried in the ground beneath the trees of the village, somewhere quite close to where her brother had been buried may years before. Because they didn’t have gravestones or markers it was hard to be sure. Afterwards, he stopped crying. He let his hearts mend. He took consolation in the family they had made together.

But he stood by what he had said. One day he and Dominic pulled down the planks that for so long had hidden the TARDIS. It was strange to see it again. But it seemed like a familiar friend.

“Will it work still?” Dominic asked.

“Oh, yes,” The Doctor assured him. “She’s Time Lord technology. Thirty-three years is just a quiet nap for her.” He went to the workroom and found the key, still on the nail by the roof. He unlocked the door and went inside. The console was mostly dark, but there was a faint green light that proved it still had power. At a touch from him it came alive. The overhead lights came on. He saw his clothes that he hadn’t worn for so long. He took them and changed into them. Shirt and suit and tie and shoes and socks. Dominic looked surprised to see him dressed that way. He had almost forgotten. Angeletta and Phillippe, and the children had never seen him looking like that. It served as proof that he really did mean to leave them.

He stayed a few more days. He ran a diagnostic programme on the TARDIS, just to be sure it was working. He chided himself it WAS a delay tactic. Maybe it was. But he did need the delay. He needed to prepare to leave what had become familiar for the unfamiliar and uncertain and sometimes frightening.

“Goodbye, Grand-père,” said the two youngest sadly. He kissed them both and hugged them tightly. Philippe, next. He had prepared him for this parting for a long time, but it was still painful. Angeletta was sad to say goodbye to her father, but she, too, had known it was going to happen.

“Will you come back?” she asked. “Please say you will, papa.”

“I will visit from time to time,” he said. “To make sure you’re all safe and well. And if there is any trouble of the sort we had when your mother was younger, people trying to take away this precious world of yours, there is still the crystal. I will come if you need me.”

Dominic and Angeletta went with him to the platform. He told the others to stay away. By the TARDIS door he kissed both his children lovingly. Dominic was a fine, strong man. He would make a good village leader. Angeletta was going to have more babies yet and be a good mother. But it was time they both did it for themselves, without him.

“Goodbye,” he said at last and he stepped into the TARDIS. “No regrets, no anxieties. Just have a good life, my children. Have a fantastic life.”

The TARDIS dematerialised. Dominic had seen it before. Angeletta had only been told of it and was surprised and alarmed. But her brother held her by the shoulders and pointed up. He waved at the empty sky.

“Safe journey, father,” he said.

“Have a fantastic life,” he said again as he programmed the destination. Earth, 21st century, an hour after he left Manchester thirty-three years ago. He was a Time Lord. He had, for once, taken advantage of that fact. He had lived a life, a full life. And now he had all the time in the universe to go on living, doing what he had always done.

“Oh, Doctor.” Wyn held his hands tightly as he smiled through his tears. “Oh, I am so sorry.”

“Nothing to be sorry for,” he told her. “I’m the luckiest man in the universe. I had that wonderful life with the woman I loved. I had my beautiful children with me. I lived life one day after the other, like any ordinary man. And now I am ready to be a Time Lord again, living my life yesterday and tomorrow and last year.”

“So WHEN did you get around to visiting us?” Stella asked. “Five years ago, when I was sixteen, when mum and dad wanted to go to South Africa for twelve months and I didn’t want to go, and you suggested that me and Wyn could come and spend a year with you…. When you found out that Robin Meyerson was an android.”

“Who’s Robin Meyerson?” The Doctor asked.

“The horrible teen boy singer she had the hots for when she was sixteen,” Wyn reminded him with a disgusted tone. “You don’t remember us finding out that he was actually a prototype artificial life form?”

“No,” The Doctor said. “I haven’t….”

“Oh hell!” Wyn worked it out. “Doctor… that’s something you haven’t DONE yet. You’ve come to see us NOW, BEFORE you saw us then. You haven’t DONE those things.”

“Don’t say anything else for now, then,” he warned her. “Especially not about Robin Reliant or whatever his name was. Though the heads up about him might cut a few corners. Obviously I AM going to see you five years ago, and it looks like we’re going to have some fun, the three of us.” He looked at them both. Their faces were inscrutable. “It WAS fun, wasn’t it?”

“MOST of it was,” Wyn told him. “The slug guys were yukky. And Stella snivelling about Robin for hours was a pain. But yeah, it was fun.”

“Ok, I don’t need to know any more about the slug guys right now, either. Let’s try not to cause any more paradoxes. But apparently my future involves spending a year travelling the universe with you two. I can live with that.”

“Don’t go yet,” Stella protested. “We haven’t seen you in five years. If we don’t talk about that time, will you stay for a day or two?”

He smiled. Yes, he could do that.