Marion waited in the doctor’s surgery patiently. Beside her, Hillary sat, in a tweed suit that reminded her a lot of how Kristoph had dressed when she first knew him. The look was reassuring. She didn’t want Kristoph here right now. She didn’t want him to know that she was visiting a doctor. Hillary was an acceptable substitute. A friend she could trust and confide in.

“You will tell him when the results are known, won’t you?” Hillary said to her. “He should know if there is anything to worry about.”

“Yes, I will tell him when I know exactly what is wrong with me,” she promised. “But until then… he has a very difficult case load at the moment. And everyone on Gallifrey is anxious about the presidential retirement, even though that is still months away. And I don’t want to pile any more pressure on him.”

“He loves you, Marion,” Hillary reminded her. “He will want to know if you are ill in any way. Especially if it is something serious.”

“We don’t know if it is, yet. That’s why I’m here. To find out.”

Hillary knew there was no point in saying anything else. When Marion made up her mind about something it was usually impossible to change her mind. That was why she had gone along with this plan. She had at least been able to recommend a Haollstromnian physician who gave her a thorough examination. Her Human physiology was different in some respects. But the vital organs and the way they worked was largely the same and she found the female version of the physician easy to talk to.

And the results of the tests would be known within the hour.

She had been worried for nearly a week now. Ever since that day at the estate school.

It had begun as a pleasant day. It always was when she was teaching. She adored the youngsters in her class with their enthusiasm and their yearning to learn. She felt so fulfilled on these days, far more than the days of leisure when she entertained her socialite friends.

But in the middle of reading them one of their favourite stories from the Chronicles of Narnia, she found herself stalling in her words. She felt suddenly faint and gasped for breath as if she couldn’t get enough air in her lungs.

It was just a moment, and then it passed. She looked around. Her students were all looking back at her with concern on their young faces. She smiled brightly and told them it was all right. She had just lost her place in the text. And she carried on reading. She tried not to let it worry her. And by the time her morning lessons were over she had forgotten all about it.

But when she was driving home, the same thing began to happen again. She felt the same faintness and shortage of breath and for a few seconds she couldn’t even see clearly. She took her foot off the accelerator and the car slowly descended from the hover position above the ground and gently slowed to a stop on a grassy bank beside the B?rrow river. She sat quietly for a few minutes and breathed slowly and deeply and then looked around her. She was only a mile away from the Dower House. She could drive slowly and have lunch with Aineytta. She could call Gallis Limmon from there and tell him she felt tired. He would come out and drive her home. Nobody need know that she had been unwell.

And that was what she did. When she got home to Mount Lœng House she went to lie down for the afternoon. She slept a little and when she woke she felt well enough to spend the early evening playing with Rodan. When Kristoph got home and asked her how her day had been she didn’t tell him anything had been wrong. He talked to her about a new opera performance in the Capitol that he thought she might enjoy seeing. She told him that sounded like an exciting idea. And it was. She looked forward to it.

But even though she kept it from Kristoph, and from his mother, and from everyone around her, the experience had shaken her. She was worried.

What to do about it, though? Gallifreyan physicians really knew nothing about Human illnesses. There weren’t even very many of them. Gallifreyans didn’t have very many illnesses or diseases, and injuries were usually repaired by their own bodies. Childbirth was the most serious medical need for Gallifreyan women. And they mostly called upon women like Aineytta who were skilled in the use of herbs and experienced as midwives. It was not considered a matter for the – mostly male – doctors.

Besides, she felt sure a lot of them would just dismiss her problems as being a result of her weak Human biology.

So a few days after that upsetting experience she told Kristoph that she was going to use the portal to spend a day and night with Hillary on Haollstrom IV. She took Rodan with her. Hillary had three well paid nursemaids for Kaye and Cam. Rodan could be looked after along with those two. Indeed, she thoroughly enjoyed playing with Hillary’s youngest offspring. And that left her free to go to the city with Hillary and see the physician she recommended.

She had a complete set of tests, including a full body scan that was a little frightening when it was happening. But she told herself it was for the best. It would surely find anything that might be wrong with her.

Now she waited for the results and tried not to worry about it.

She reached out her hand and Hillary closed his around it. She turned and looked at him and smiled gratefully. She really couldn’t have done this on her own.

“Thank you,” she told him. “No matter what comes of this – thank you.”

“Any time, sweetheart,” he answered. “You can count on me any time.”

“Madam de Lœngbærrow, please come with me now.” Marion looked up in surprise to see the physician who had examined her standing there. Her first thought was that she had pronounced her surname remarkably well. She was used to non-Gallifreyans getting it wrong. But that was only a momentary thought. Then she realised that the physician would not have come out to her unless there was something wrong. She spoke very gently and quietly and reached out her hand to her. Marion found herself being taken very slowly and quietly back into the surgery. But instead of sitting by the desk as she expected, she was made to lie down on the examination table. Hillary was allowed to stay by her side and she gripped her hand as butterflies of apprehension gripped her.

“Marion,” the physician said to her, using her first name now. “I need you to remain very calm now. I am arranging for you to be moved to the operating theatre straight away. There is little time to lose.”

“What? But… I didn’t… I just felt a little dizzy and short of breath… and I’ve been fine since…”

“Marion, you have a very serious condition called an aortic dissection It is a wonder you didn’t have an immediate and fatal heart attack the first time you were ill. It could have killed you any moment.”

“A….” She didn’t understand what the word meant. Nor did Hillary, but he clung to her hand tightly as two people in white overalls began to transfer her to a moveable trolley.

“It is a tear in the wall of the aorta that causes blood to flow between the layers of the wall of the aorta and force the layers apart,” the physician explained. “At the moment it is very small. But like any tear, it could get bigger at any moment. We have to operate.”

“But… I can’t have heart surgery,” Marion protested. “Kristoph will…”

“Marion,” Hillary said to her. “Let the physician do what she must do. Lie still now, sweetheart. I’m sorry Kristoph isn’t here. He should have been. If I had known it was as urgent as this… But I will be here for you. I promise. I won’t leave you.”

The physician prepared an anaesthetic and injected it into her arm using an ultra-modern, pain free osmotic pressure syringe. Almost immediately she became drowsy. She managed to keep her eyes open long enough to see Hillary bend over her and kiss her on the lips gently. Then everything went black.

She woke slowly from the anaesthetic to find herself in a small, private hospital room. She looked around and saw a small, wall mounted bank of LED lights and digital readouts that seemed to be a monitoring system. One of the readouts was her own heart rate. She didn’t know how to read it, though. Was it normal? Was she still close to having a fatal heart attack?

“How long have I been here?” she asked as somebody passed her a cool drink that tasted of fruit.

“Three hours,” Hillary said, his arm supporting her back as she struggled to sit up. “Take it slowly. You’re still a bit drowsy.”

“Three hours? But…” She put her hand to her chest. She couldn’t feel anything. “What happened? The doctor wanted to operate. But…”

“She did. Laser scalpel, micro-surgical repair, and then a very skilled scar free tissue re-adhesion. It’s all done. The surgery was a complete success, Marion. You’re fine now.”

“You mean…” She was surprised. Open heart surgery in her day, on planet Earth, took something like twenty hours, and months afterwards to recover. But Hillary was telling her that this was still the same day that she went for a medical examination on Haollstrom, and the surgery was done. She didn’t even have a scar to show for it, and she felt fine.

“Kristoph always said that we had the best and most advanced medical care in the galaxy,” Hillary said.

“Yes, I have heard him say that,” Marion agreed. “He is quite scathing about Gallifreyan medicine… although not in his mother’s hearing, of course. But…” She caught Hillary’s hand and held it tightly. “You haven’t contacted him yet?”

“I’ve been right here for you, sweetheart,” Hillary answered. “I haven’t had the opportunity to make an offworld videophone call.”

“Don’t tell him,” Marion said. “I told him I might stay overnight with you. He doesn’t mind me doing that. He won’t worry. And if I’m all right, now, surely I can go home tomorrow?”

“The physician wants you to remain here overnight,” Hillary confirmed. “You can be home with me by lunchtime. But, my dear… do you mean… You won’t tell him that you were so close to death?”

“He has enough to think about just now. Besides, he would want me to stop driving for myself, or even give up teaching. He would want to wrap me up in cotton wool and protect me. And I would hate that. And… I know he is thinking that we should try for another baby, soon. He thinks I would be less upset about letting Rodan go if I had a child of my own to look forward to. And he’s right about that. I think I am ready. But if he knew about this… he would never….” She grasped both of Hillary’s hands in hers. “Please, Hillary, for friendship’s sake… for Kristoph’s sake… keep this secret with me.”

Hillary looked at her for a long moment. He was struggling with his own conscience, wondering if he should keep one friend’s secret from another.

“It is against my better judgement,” he told her. “But if it makes you happy, my dear, I will do that. At least as long as you are passed fit. If you ever feel ill like this again, tell him everything. Promise me that. Let him get you the best help possible. You know he will.”

“It probably will never happen again,” she said. “I’ve had the best possible surgery. The damage is repaired. I’m as good as new. He doesn’t ever have to know.”

Hillary smiled warmly at her and hoped she was right.