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The Sanctity Of Ordinary Things
sleepless nights and spaghetti
by Raven

PG, gen. Jamie lived.

January 1942

The city stays lit up after dark. Scrambled fighters shine like close stars, Zeppelins drift through luminescent clouds, their searchlight beams dust-scattered over the blackout, and above them all is the dim, peaceful half-circle of the moon.

The sirens blare on, screech off. A mother drags a child towards the red and blue glow of an Underground station. There was an accident at Bethnal Green with scores of people killed and the government’s advice is not to use the stations as shelters, but no-one pays any attention. A hundred metres below the street the bombs are dull, faraway thuds and people feel safe.

But even in the smoky light, a man in a white coat shows up against a dark background. He stands, half-uncomfortable, half in his element. “You see,” a little girl tells him matter-of-factly, “Jamie’s dad ain’t here any more. He went off in the sky in a blue spaceship and he’s never coming back.”

“How interesting,” says Dr. Constantine delicately, and doesn’t look worriedly at the sky. “Who told you that, my dear?”

“The big girls,” says the child, lowering her voice to a confidential whisper. “It’s a secret. I’m not s’posed to tell you.”

“So why are you telling me?” asks Constantine. The girl merely fixes him with an unmistakable stare, and Constantine sighs and reaches into his pocket. One penny is in the child’s hand and secreted somewhere about her person quicker than blinking, but he holds onto to another, waving it before her eyes. “This one, too, if you tell me where I can find Jamie now.”

The girl points. “Down there, see the last house? He likes it there by himself.”

“Don’t you like playing with him?”

She shrugs. “Sometimes. When there’s no-one about. Penny, please, mister.”

Constantine duly gives it to her and she scampers off without a backward glance. He follows at a more sedate pace, sighing inwardly at the destruction all around. Children are running about, small shadows ducking into darkness, and Constantine wonders idly how many people will emerge to find their tables cleaned of food in their absence.

Down at the far end of the street, there are still some houses standing and it is correspondingly darker beneath the cold shade of intact walls. Constantine finds the small figure, playing with a handful of wooden soldiers. As far as he can make out, there is a siege being staged, with the toy soldiers all in red behind a carefully built stack of broken bricks.

Constantine sits down on another half-destroyed wall. “Hello, Jamie.”

Jamie glances up, but doesn’t say anything. A piece of rock falls off his tower and one of the soldiers goes flying; Constantine snatches it deftly and hands it back to its small owner.

“Thanks, mister,” Jamie mutters.

“You’re welcome. Jamie, it’s dangerous out here. The four-minute warning has gone. Don’t you have somewhere to go?”

Jamie looks up, but tiredly. “Nancy’s getting us dinner,” he says. “Said for me not to go nowhere.”

“What about the other children?” Constantine asks. “What do they do for food?”

“Nancy shares!” says Jamie, indignantly, and Constantine sees the fierce tilt of the head, the pride evident in the small frame. “Everyone shares!”

“But you don’t play with the other children, do you?” Constantine says. “When it’s not mealtime, you play by yourself.”

“Nancy’s with me,” Jamie reminds him, and Constantine frowns. A moving shadow crosses them, cold even in the existing twilight, and Constantine glances upwards.

“They’d like to play with you,” he persists, wanting to hurry the conversation along. He is afraid; more so than this solemn child and more so then he has any right to be, not without family, not with only his own old, miserable skin to cherish. “A little girl was just telling me a story about your dad, Jamie. About him being from outer space. Did you tell her that?”

Jamie shakes his head. “Nah.”

Constantine taps his foot with a studied carelessness he does not feel. “Then who did, I wonder?”

Jamie looks up with sudden light in his eyes, and Constantine is afraid again. “They get it wrong,” Jamie whispers furiously. “They don’t understand it and they get it wrong.”

“The other children get it wrong? About the man with the blue spaceship?”

“He wasn’t my dad,” Jamie says definitively, and picks up a toy soldier.

“Who was he?” asks Constantine.

“He was the Doctor,” Jamie says, simply, and Constantine stands up.

“Well, then,” he says, with that practised lightness. “I rather think that means we understand each other perfectly. When might we expect your mother?”

“You might expect me now,” says a girl’s voice, a woman’s voice, sharp and a force to be reckoned with.

Constantine nods. “Good evening.”

“And a fine evening it is, with the bombs falling on our heads!” Nancy marches across and the pack of children tailing her clear off into the night at the sight of Dr. Constantine; he hears their footsteps dissipate into the encroaching dark. “And what is it you want?”

“To help.” Constantine knows he will be made to regret this later, but he grabs Jamie’s hand, ignoring the child’s squeal of alarm, and before Nancy can complain he has hold of her hand too. He sets the fastest pace he can, walking with long strides, and then throws caution to the winds and breaks into his best old man’s run.

“Let go of us!” Nancy yells as she is dragged along. “What do you think you’re doing?”

But Constantine grips both hands tightly and doesn’t stop running until they have crashed through the blackout of the drapes of the nearest station at Stepney, and the dim electric lights of the ticket hall have lit up three startled faces. Even here, many feet above the subterranean levels, Constantine feels safer.

“Madam,” he says formally, “I don’t know if you’re aware, but there is a war on. I merely felt it might not be advisable to hold this conversation on a London street in the middle of an air raid.”

“And what conversation is it we’re holding?” demands Nancy, her face washed-out and angry in the harsh glare.

Constantine says nothing for a moment and paces up and down, hands in pockets. Despite his planning and forethought, he has not considered exactly how he will phrase this, how best to couch an idea such as this to a streetwise London girl. Finally he stops and looks at her. “It’s ridiculous, you know,” he says, voice low. “Entirely ridiculous. Here you are, running around the streets scavenging for food while I have a table full with no-one to eat it.”

Nancy stares at him. “What’re you saying?”

Constantine smiles a little. “I want you to come with me, you and Jamie. I don’t know how to put this to you, but I’m looking to adopt a family, and I’ve got it on good repute that you and the boy would be more deserving than most.”

“You’re having a laugh.” Her voice, too, is low, but perfectly audible; the ticket hall is deserted, the people having descended as quickly as possible. The cracked tiles reflect bleakly down and all is quiet for a while. Jamie is examining the leaflets and Tube maps in a rack on the edge of a counter.

“I’m not.” Constantine is certain of himself now. “I’m quite serious. Have dinner with my household tonight, at least. Consider it.”

“Look, Dr. Constantine...”

“You do know who I am, then. I wondered.”

Nancy holds up one hand. “Yeah, I know. I know you’re a good man who helps a lot of people. But you can’t mind me asking, what’s in it for you? You come down here, where it’s dirty and dark and the kids run around in rags, and you tell me you want to take me and Jamie out of here to come and live with you. My mum used to say, it sounds too good to be true, well, that’s ‘cause it probably is.”

Constantine thinks for a moment. “I won’t insult your intelligence, young woman. You know that I know your relationship to that child, there” – he points to where Jamie is quietly examining the counter – “and yet most people think he is your younger brother. And more than that, I’m sure there are some who would swear blind he was killed.”

“He was in an accident,” says Nancy carefully. “He’s not dead.”

“That’s right, he was. He was in a strange, inhuman accident that could have been fatal for all of us. People’s memories are short, but I have to say that I remember.” His voice is rising a little. “And so do the children who live round about. They tell stories about a man in a blue spaceship.”

Nancy says nothing, and Constantine continues, “I think, Nancy, that you, Jamie and I all have something in common. We all know that something very mysterious indeed happened at Limehouse Green, and we all know that most mysterious of all was a man who called himself the Doctor. Is this sounding familiar to you?”

Nancy nods.

“I’m glad to hear that. So when I ask you and your son if you will accept my assistance, trust me when I say that I am doing what the Doctor asked me to do. And I think you need my help.”

“Yeah, all right,” Nancy says.

Her voice could move mountains, thinks Constantine dazedly. “Excuse me?”.

“Yeah. I’ll come with you.” Nancy pauses a minute, frowning, before she blurts out, “The girl, Rose, she was from the future. I reckon if I come with you, maybe me and Jamie’ll have that future.”

Constantine gives her a wry smile. “You agree with me? I had no idea I was so persuasive.”

“Not like some.” Nancy grins at him. “The Doctor, he was dead persuasive.”

“To my sorrow I know it.” Constantine grins back. He moves to take her hand again, to help her down the long stairwells that lead to the station platform, but a long, distant wail makes them both pause.

“All clear,” says Jamie, looking up.

The three of them leave the station together, and the night has lost some of its bleakness.

Later, much later, Jamie will be asked if he remembers that night, and he will say he doesn’t, but in a way he does. He remembers it as the break between the old life and the new; he remembers it like a traveller would, coming to the end of the desert to find clear water, like opening a cupboard and finding a beach.

January 1952

“Sir! Sir, sir, Mr. Slemen, sir, it were him!” Peggy twists in her seat, pointing a frantic finger behind her. “It were Jamie, sir, it weren’t me!”

Mr. Slemen, a maths teacher who would rather be doing anything other than teaching maths, reaches deliberately to the floor and picks up the fallen paper aeroplane. As he holds it distastefully between thumb and index finger, the nose begins to droop. “It was Jamie, please, Peggy. Not ‘were.’”

Jamie looks up. He has been daydreaming, doodling small stars on the corner of his paper, first with five points, then with six. He has just finished a pencil rendering of a long, three-dimensional oblong when he is jerked out of the daze by the sound of his name. “Sir,” he begins, with difficulty, “Sir, I didn’t… um, I didn’t…”

“I am not suggesting for a moment that you did, James.” Mr. Slemen fixes him with his small, beady eyes that remind Jamie of green marbles. “I am suggesting, however, that you were not paying attention to this lesson and had not been for some time. Kindly attend.”

Jamie breathes an inaudible sigh. For the moment, he gives up the search for the blue crayon he would have used to finish the drawing; instead, he copies down the problem of fifty men digging a hole and how long a hundred men would take, and the daydreams are shelved for now.

It seems like hours later that the bell rings, and the class gather their pens, pencils and bags and run out into the cold outside. Jamie moves slower than most, still thinking deeply as he crosses the icy playground. Peggy tries to catch his attention, yelling something about being sorry, really sorry, and they’re still mates, right, but he ignores her.

Crunch, crunch, go his boots in the ice and gravel. But there are still boys playing five-a-side in the last of the wintry daylight, and a voice calls out, “Hey, Jamie! Come and play!”

“Not tonight, lads!” Jamie calls back, but he doesn’t hide his pleasure at the invitation. For a few strides he kicks an imaginary ball, forwards, sideways, and then he gets bored and boots it into the street. Hands in his pockets, he keeps on going.

It is beginning to snow, but by the time the white flakes hit London streets they become a sort of treacherous black mush. Dr. Constantine takes the Tube to Albion on those days, griping all the way about incompetent civil authorities and hazardous roads, but Jamie doesn’t mind the slush. It, too, makes interesting noises beneath his boots.

He’s getting chilly as he rounds the last corner along the way. The old bombsite where he used to play is still there, although the borough council are supposed to be doing something about it. The rubble is just a dim mass in the fading light, and Jamie shivers from cold. Peggy, the girl who makes the paper aeroplanes, tells him ghost stories about a child who was killed by the bomb and now lurks in the darkness, an endlessly roaming spirit searching for its family. People hear him on dark nights, she says. They hear his voice at the window, begging to be let in.

Jamie doesn’t believe her.

He reaches home just as darkness has fallen. Nancy lets him in, clucking at the weather – “You’ll catch your death!” – and tells him to run and get out of his wet clothes.

Nancy,” he protests, weakly, but he goes. She watches him stamp up the stairs and taps her foot.

“You behave yourself,” she calls after him, and Jamie doubles his pace. Once in the small room he calls his own – and even now, he can remember a life left behind and scarcely believes the luxury – he empties his satchel out, adding the half-finished drawing to a stack under his bed. His mother wishes he would draw something else, perhaps portraits (Dr. Constantine invariably suggests anatomical diagrams, much to her displeasure), but Jamie knows what he likes. He draws perfect, ellipsoid renderings of the solar system, with the bands on Jupiter elegantly smudged in, and then he moves on to stars, to comets, to the sweep of the Milky Way across the page.

When he re-emerges, warm and dry, he hears voices from downstairs. Dr. Constantine is back, and he can hear Nancy talking quickly to him. She sounds worried, and Jamie withdraws a little, hiding behind the pillars of the banister, and listens. He knows it’s wrong. He listens anyway.

“He’s not himself,” says Nancy, and Jamie knows who ‘he’ is. “He didn’t say a word to me when he came in. He’s been quiet for days.”

“Deep in thought, you said,” replies Dr. Constantine, and he does not sound worried; his voice is as warm and wryly amused as ever. “I wonder.”

“Maybe it’s a girl,” says Nancy hopefully. “That Peggy girl, maybe.”

Above them, Jamie grimaces. He does not want Nancy to start drawing unwelcome conclusions, but despite everything, he likes Peggy. He has been to her house for tea more than once, and been amazed by her family, her parents and siblings, riotous and numerous. His own family attracts gossip – the mother and illegitimate child provided for by the elderly doctor – but he learned long ago to ignore that, and appreciate it on its own merits. He is extremely fond of Dr. Constantine, but never addresses him by anything other than the full title and name; the one time he tried to call him just “Doctor”, all three of them twitched.

“Maybe,” says Dr. Constantine, but he sounds dubious. “I wouldn’t worry. If the boy’s growing up to be a thinker, I’m all in favour. We need more of them in the world.”

Jamie smiles and goes back to his room. For a few minutes, he stands at the window – he wants them to move away from the bottom of the stairs so they won’t know he was eavesdropping – and looks out over the city. The gas and electric lights are familiar, and he can now barely remember the days when the streets below this window were carefully blacked out, even the small candle night-light by his bed carefully extinguished.

When he’s nearly asleep, in that strange place between waking and sleeping, he can remember it far more clearly; the strange lights and weapons and power, and the phrase that rang through his every thought and dream. Dr. Constantine has explained what happened to him, and Nancy has told him time after time what the Doctor said. It can all be scientifically explained, like the moving shadows in the bomb-destroyed houses, but still, you don’t play in them at night, and he doesn’t call Nancy “Mummy”.

Finally, he walks downstairs, still taking each step slowly, and into the small living-room. Nancy is trying to tune the wireless and Dr. Constantine is sitting in an armchair, reading the collected works of Conan Doyle. He looks up as Jamie enters. “A very good evening to you, young man,” he says, smiling. “And what did you learn at school today?”

“Not very much,” says Jamie, frankly. “If a hundred men take two weeks to dig a hole then fifty men take a month.”

“A self-evident fact, surely.” Dr. Constantine frowns and lays down his book. “And your drawings? Did you draw another magnum opus today?”

“We didn’t have Art today.”

“So why the pensive mood? Not a studied meditation on the men and their hole, I presume?”

“No.” Jamie thinks about it. “I’m just remembering, that’s all.”

Dr. Constantine nods. “Remembering. Yes. Something we should all make time for.”

In the background, the wireless suddenly finds the station. Music drifts out, slow and serene, which segues into drums, husky liquid vocals and the rasp of a guitar.

Pop music, thinks Jamie, and grins.

January 1962

Jamie is late. He is also hungry and more tired than he has ever been in his life, but he manages to drag himself off the table he had hoped to fall asleep on, rubbing his eyes with one hand and persuading his hair to lie flat with the other. The world swims as he gets to his feet, and he has to catch at the table-edge to keep himself upright. Staggering into the corridor, he nods and smiles as a consultant goes by and then scurries haphazardly off to the house officers’ mess. Once there, he makes straight for the kettle and puts it on the boil.

Only then does he look around him properly and notice that as usual, the room is cramped and dirty, smells of overcooked cabbage and is horribly stuffy. He moves towards the window, but is brought up short by the sound of someone snoring. One of his colleagues is lying back in a chair, mouth gaping, with the Oxford Handbook open on his chest. Jamie gently closes the book and puts it on one side, and then goes to lift the window sash.

Outside, it is a bright crisp morning and the cold air floods his lungs, waking him up. He breathes in luxuriously until the kettle whistles, and then feels obliged to shut the window again because the slumped figure in the chair is muttering in his sleep about pneumonia. He finds a mug that isn’t harbouring life forms unknown to science and then swills it out with boiling water, just to be sure.

He is well-practised at this, he reminds himself. He makes a strong cup of coffee, drinks it fast enough to scald his tongue, and feels more or less human as he heads down the corridor accepts the duty roster from the first of the day nurses. Then, he takes a deep breath and walks through the next door.

“Oh, no,” says the elderly woman in the consulting room. “You are not my doctor. Put a school uniform on you and I’d say you were sixteen.”

“I’m sorry, madam,” says Jamie, amused, and sits down in the chair opposite her. “I qualified six months ago. I’ve been assigned to your case.”

“So I see.” She nods and leans back in her chair. “Well, it can’t be helped. What can I do for you, young man?”

“I’m here to obtain your consent for the procedure.” He slaps a clipboard and pen on the table.

“You’ll have to do it for me, I’m afraid.” She looks amused. “I’m blind as a bat.”

Jamie suddenly realises the consent form is for cataract surgery and feels idiotic. “Of course.” He takes the form and begins to fill in the details from the patient’s notes. While he scribbles, doing his best to keep his handwriting legible, he becomes aware that the patient – Mrs. Robinson, say the notes – is staring at him with interest. He looks up.

“Oh, I am sorry,” she says, and Jamie decides he likes her; not many of his patients have this much to say for themselves. “I’ve distracted you. You look so young to be a doctor, you see, and I can’t help but wonder. Did you always want to be one?”

“It’s my fresh and handsome features,” he quips. “Yes, I did. I never knew my father, but my guardian was a doctor.”


“Yes. He died a few years ago. He worked here at Albion all his life,” Jamie says, and is amazed his voice is so steady. He’s in that in-between place where talking about emotional events is not a good idea, particularly when he knows he could go to sleep right here on this table. It would be so easy. He resists the urge.

“I’m sorry to bring it up.” She does look genuinely contrite.

“That’s all right, Mrs. Robinson.” He nods solemnly at her and goes back to the form. The small print is becoming a fuzzy, black mess, and he isn’t exactly sure what it is he’s writing down. After a moment he realises he’s put “Female” in the name and address box, and folds the form deliberately over before taking another one from the clipboard.

But the old woman is too sharp. “You’re asleep on your feet, young man,” she says severely. “What are they playing at, letting you work when you’re feeling as bad as that?”

This is the hard part, says a cynical voice inside Jamie’s head. Explaining it to laypeople. “I’m doing one in two,” he says weakly.

“Dear me, that sounds rude.”

Jamie laughs, startled. “It means I work a full day, nine in the morning to five o’clock the next day, and then I get a night off, and then I have to do it again.”

“And what does your wife think of that?”

“Oh, I’m not married.” Jamie sighs. “Actually, at the moment I’m married to my job.”

“Don’t lie, young man, there’s a girl in your life. Your shirt is clean and your shoes have been shined, and I doubt you’ve had time to do that lately.”

“She’s my fiancée,” Jamie explains, impressed at her perspicuity. “Her name is Peggy.” Although right at this second, he can barely remember what she looks like. He used to think of her in his every spare moment, but lately he’s been spending his time fantasising about sheets and pillows and beds with mattresses.

Suddenly aware he is wasting valuable NHS time, he makes another start on the form. This time he makes it all the way to the bottom without a major mistake, and hands it to the lady to sign.

Which she does, with a flourish. “There you go. Oh, I do look forward to having this all over and done with. I’m getting tired of seeing everything all fuzzy.”

“Do you have any questions about the procedure?” Jamie asks, feeling idiotic for the second time in a few minutes. That was the question he was supposed to ask to begin with.

“Not at all,” she informs him genially. “Except I wonder if they could do it even earlier than next week.”

“I’m sorry I can’t oblige.” He smiles at her and stands up. “I’m sure everything will go well. Let me get the door for you.”

As she stands in the corridor and he retreats, waiting for the next patient, she turns to look at him. “Doctor, you’re very young, and you work a one-hundred-and-twenty-hour week. No, don’t try to correct me, I’m excellent at arithmetic. You’re deathly tired and you probably never see your family and you’re always hard at work. Is it worth it?”

“Yes,” he says instantly. “I’m lucky to be here.”

When she leaves, he thinks: she called me Doctor, and grins about it for the rest of the day, or at least until he passes out into his lunch.

January 1992

“Goodnight, Doctor,” calls the ward sister. Jamie smiles, strides up and leaves a clear plastic box of Marks & Spencer cream scones on the reception counter. “For the nurses,” he whispers.

“He,” she says, as he runs off again down the corridor, “is a charmer.”

Jamie has already gone. He throws his white coat into the laundry, grabs his own overcoat and hurries out into the night with scarf flapping. He walks quickly, hands stuffed deeply in his pockets, and heads for the station.

Descending the escalator, he feels the warmth wash through his bones; for the first time since he left the hospital, he lifts his head and pulls his scarf from over his mouth. No-one talks on Tube trains, but that suits him; he perches on one of the pseudo-seats by the doors and sinks back against the window as the train rattles through the dark. He is going back to Limehouse Green, to find Nancy.

She comes to meet him, and they walk together out into the street. In the shop windows, Christmas decorations are being taken down. The post-Christmas lassitude has given way to people are rushing to the January sales; Jamie wonders where they find the energy, and shivers. “How are you?” he asks as they walk.

“I’m not bad.” She smiles. “How are you? Working hard?”

“Yes, Mum.”

She nudges his shoulder. “I’m seventy years old and now you call me Mum? Nancy, please.”

“Yes, Nancy,” Jamie says obediently.

“If you’ve come to ask me to go into a home…”

“I wouldn’t dare,” says Jamie, and means it. “I just came to see how you were. Like I do.”

“Like you do,” she agrees. “You’re a good boy.”

They carry on walking in silence. It will be dark soon, but the streets are well-lit by the sequence of sodium streetlights. They make all colours but yellow look black. Jamie isn’t sure he likes them, but he never liked the darkness much, either.

“What do you want for tea?” Nancy asks after a while.

“Nancy, I came to see you, not eat your food.”

“Rubbish. You don’t come all this way and not have your tea.” She glares at him, then grins and Jamie gives in, as he always does. He hasn’t come far, just across London, and he’s got his own family to get back to, but he’ll stay for a little while. Long ago, he learned to value the time he can give.

“Spaghetti,” he says after a pause. “If you haven’t lost your touch.”

“Cheeky monkey, ain’t you?”

He smiles, puts his arm around her shoulders. He is, of course, much taller than she is, so they go back to walking side by side, but he knows she appreciates the gesture.

“Are you keeping up with your drawing?” she asks him.

“When I find the time.” He so rarely does find the time, but he hasn’t lost the knack for it, and sometimes he does do portraits, now. The last one was of Nancy herself, from an old photograph of her in the Blitz, back when she had the pigtails. He plans to finish it and send it to her in the post, as a surprise.

There is one thing he’s always wanted to draw – the three strangers, the night sky with the golden lights, the gas masks – but he doesn’t think he’ll ever find the right time for that. Perhaps he missed his chance.

In the meantime, there are always the stars, smudgy twinkles in the background of all his drawings. He can see them now, emerging even in the smoggy London sky, and to his tired eyes, they seem cold and inhuman and very far away. Jamie prefers it where he is.

Out of the silence, Nancy says, “This is our future.”

Jamie frowns. “What do you mean?”

“You know.” She gives him a small, sad smile. “You should have died when you were five years old, Jamie.”

Jamie doesn’t say anything.

“But this is why you were saved, why I lived through the war. This” – she waves an arm at the busy, modern street with its cars, people and gleaming glass shop windows – “is the future we were meant to live to see. Like the Doctor said.”

It has been many years since Jamie heard her mention the Doctor. He is surprised, momentarily, at how vivid the association is, the memory of being swung in strong arms below the suddenly clear night sky.

“And Rose,” Nancy goes on, still with that strange half-smile. “Rose, the time-travelling girl from the future. She’s been born. Our London is her London, now.”

“How do you know?” Jamie asks. He doesn’t tell her, but he has been checking the maternity ward records at Albion Hospital for the last five years, and chiding himself every day for his own childish whimsy.

“I just do.” Nancy breathes in, breathes out. “I know. It’s right, somehow.”

Jamie laughs suddenly. “If she appeared now,” he says, “if she came running across at the traffic lights now, what would you say to her?”

Nancy considers. “I’d introduce us,” she says, after a while, “because she wouldn’t recognise us now, and I’d ask her how the Doctor is, and then I’d ask her if she wanted any tea. And then I’d let her go on her way.”

“Do you think the Doctor is still alive?” Jamie is as startled to hear the question as Nancy is; he knows as he says it that neither of them has ever considered this possibility before now.

Finally, Nancy sighs. “We are,” she says. “Everybody lives, remember?”

“I remember.” Everybody lives, he thinks; everybody lives, and then to live, they have to have lives. He’s proud of his. Like the Doctor, he’s saved people’s lives for the entirety of his own.

“Enough!” says Nancy finally, and the mood lifts. “Enough of all that. Spaghetti for tea, and you can take some in a box for your lunch tomorrow. How’s Peggy, how are the little ones? I meant to ask you before.”

“They’re fine. They were asking after you this morning. I said I’d convey their love,” Jamie tells her. They’re not so little; his eldest graduates from the Royal Free medical school in the autumn, and even the younger ones have outgrown Brer Rabbit and the Doctor.

But Jamie still believes. “Time to go home,” he says, and has another try at taking Nancy’s arm.

In his head, he thanks the Doctor. For five-a-side football, for the solar system in pastel crayons, for an old man with a family in his final years, for paper aeroplanes and pop music, for sleepless nights and spaghetti, for a life well-lived, for the sanctity of ordinary things.

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