Three Years Ago

James McCrimmon propped in his bed with a rather large and battered volume of The Elegant Universe in his lap. Beside him, his wife sprawled on her stomach, thumbing through photos on a vidreader from their recent holiday to Barcelona. She hummed something off-tune and terrible as she flipped from one image to the next. Her hair, which had been blonde when they met, had grown long and had darkened several shades, but still she twirled the tip of one lock of it over her lips, like a child lost in daydream.

He smoothed his hand over her back and down the curve of her hip. She looked back at him, over her shoulder, and hit him with that dazzling smile of hers.

"What?" she said.

"You," he answered.

That smile again, and then she returned to her vidscreen.

Four years, they had been married now. Four years.

James returned to his reading, but the words on the page swirled and doubled. It had taken him a while to realize this meant his body was tired. Then came the pinch between his eyes. This was new.

He removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He felt the pressure behind his eyes, a fishhooking sensation not yet like pain, but like the first jabs of lightning that foretell of a storm.

"You okay?" his wife asked.

"Yeah," he answered softly. "Bit of a – sort of – jab – right here – behind my eyes."

She rolled to her side to stare at him. "Maybe it's your glasses? Are you due for a new prescription?"

He closed the book, set it aside on the endtable.

"You know, I really have no idea," he answered. "But doesn't this happen to humans? You get random, irrational pains now and again?"

"Sure," she said. "But you're only part human."

"I'm half human," he protested.

She grinned. "I still only see about one part out of twenty."

James balked, incredulous. "I have one human part I'll show you—"

He grabbed her up, pulled her into his arms, but she turned it on him and flipped him on his back. His glasses skittered across the marble floor.

"Fancy another go, eh?" he said, leering up at her.

She smacked his chest. "There you go, baiting me with seduction. It won't work—"

"Oh, it's working," he answered. "Definitely working."

"Oh yeah?" she said. "Show me."

But as she pulled him toward her, the pain in his head lashed out in a burst of fiery whiteness.

Then it was gone.

He came to on the floor with her beside him, cradling his head in her lap.

"That's it," she said. "I'm phoning a doctor."

"I am the Doctor!" he protested.

"You were the Doctor. Now you're my husband, and I'm entitled to concern."

She was fumbling blindly with her free hand for something on the endtable. He sat up, blinking, and took both of her hands in his.

"Rose," he said. "I'm fine. It's passed. Look. I'm fine now."

She studied his face. He could see that she was unconvinced.

"And nothing's happened like this before?" she asked. "Not in the lab? While you're working?"

"No. Never."

"B-but you were unconscious."

"Yes, I was," he said.

He got to his feet, and he could tell as she watched him stand that she fully expected him to totter over any second. To her great and continuing credit, Rose didn't hover but let him manage on his own, with his dignity in tact.

"There now," he said. "All better."

Rose got up and locked her arms around him. "Don't scare me like that," she said.

James brought his arms around her, buried his face in her hair. "I won't," he said. "I promise."

But he had seen something, in that searing flash. He'd seen it, and his heart trembled.

He'd seen himself in a blue corridor, bathed in blue light, and when he came to a door, he said, "I'll just be a minute" and stepped inside.

Just that. A simple memory. One among billions. Harmless.

Only he couldn't recall what was on the other side of that door. And that left him terrified.