The Doctor materialised the TARDIS on the workroom platform partway up the great, solid, centuries old trunk. Above were the living quarters where his daughter Angeletta and her husband and children lived - the treetop house where he and Dominique had shared a lifetime. He was back ‘home’ on Forêt and looking forward to spending time with his family and friends here. He felt a little guilty about not coming back sooner. A good six months had passed since he was here with Donna. Six months in their time and his. He knew they would have missed him a lot.

And he missed them, too. He should come more often. He should see the children while they were still children. They would be grown before he knew it.

Why didn’t he spend more time here? There was no reason why he couldn’t. There were plenty of good reasons to stay.

He had no pressing reasons to leave this time, at least. Ben and Donna were doing ok in their new life. Nobody needed him on planet Earth or anywhere else for a while. He could rest for a while with his family.

“Rest a while with my family.” The Doctor whispered the words aloud. “My family.” The words felt at once wonderful, and just a little bittersweet. ‘My family’ used to mean people who were dead and gone on Gallifrey and the phrase burned in his hearts.

Dominique wasn’t there any more, either. She was a beautiful memory, a quiet spirit that smiled on the treetop village where she lived her whole life.

But their children and grandchildren were here, still. His hearts beat softly as he thought about them and put the TARDIS into low power mode before stepping out onto the platform.

It was winter on Forêt. Snow-rain season as they called it. The coldest part of the year. So he was not entirely surprised that there was nobody around. The workshop was closed up tight. Everyone would be hunkered down in the living quarters where a fire would be burning night and day.

He climbed the ladder to the platform outside the living quarters. The two swing seats were still set there, with drifts of snow on them. He smiled as he thought about the warm time six months ago when he had sat there with Angeletta and the children… and with Louise. He looked across at another multi-level tree house where his old friend Marcas and his family lived. He would visit them later, too.

He opened the door to the living quarters and stepped inside. For a very brief moment nobody saw him. They were all busy and hadn’t seen the door open and close. Then his youngest grandson, Rémy, looked around and gave a shout of joy. The next moment he and his brother, Claude, ran to hug their grand-pére. When he extricated himself from them he greeted his daughter, Angeletta, sitting by the cook stove with her six month old baby in her arms. With her were Thérèse and Phillipe, while her husband was tending to the pot of stew on the stove.

“Where is Dominic?” he asked. His and Dominique’s eldest son was the only one of the family who wasn’t there. “Is everything all right?”

“Dominic is above in the bedroom,” Thérèse explained. “Inès is sick. Marcas brought her over before the snow started. He is tending to her. He has your gift for preparing medicines and it is to be hoped…”

There were looks passed between the women. The Doctor understood them at once.

“Are all of you well?” he asked. Of course, in winter, his son and daughter and their families always came together under the one roof to save fuel and be warm and cosy together. But the disadvantage of that arrangement would be apparent if one of them got sick.

“We’re all fine,” Angeletta assured him. “We are lucky. None of us get sick very often, even when others in the village, do. Dominic thinks that it’s because of you… your blood that runs in our veins.”

“There might be something in that. Time Lords aren’t affected by many diseases. And you all do share some of my DNA. I’m glad you’re all well. But I think I should go and see if I can help Inès.”

“Hurry back, mon pére,” Angeletta said. “Eat with us this night.”

He smiled at that idea and headed for the ladder that went from the big, cosy living space up through a trapdoor into the bedroom. It was just as warm there. With the shutters tight over the windows, the rising heat from the main room kept it comfortable. But it was lit only by two lamps by the bed and there was a quietness that chilled The Doctor’s hearts.

Marcas was sitting by the bed. So was Louise, his daughter. Dominic was leaning over the bed trying to get Inès to take some medicine.

“Is there any point?” Marcas asked despairingly. “The medicine isn’t working. She’s getting deeper and deeper into a coma and those grey patches on her face and arms… this is not something you know how to treat, Dominic.”

“Then it’s a good job I’m here,” The Doctor announced as he stepped forward from the shadows. Louise drew in breath sharply and there was a look in her eyes for a moment before she turned to look at her mother. Marcas and Dominic both looked relieved.

“Papa!” Dominic said. “Even for you it may be too late. But…”

The Doctor glanced at the sick woman. She desperately needed his help. But he spared a moment for her husband, first.

“You need to rest, my old friend,” he said. “Dominic, ask Thérèse to come and make up another bed so that Marcas can sleep. It will do him no good to try to keep vigil this way.”

“I won’t leave her side,” Marcas insisted. “If there’s a chance she could slip away… I must be by her side.”

The Doctor nodded in understanding. Inès had been a young woman when Marcas first came to Forêt and fell in love with her. Now, after a lifetime together, after raising six children together, this could be the end. He saw that fear in Marcas’s eyes. And those of his daughter.

“You may sleep on a palette at her side,” The Doctor said. “I will rouse you… either way. Dominic, when you’ve given the message to Thérèse go down to the TARDIS. Under the panel by the environmental monitor is a medical kit that I will need.”

He passed the key to the TARDIS to his son. As he did so he shared a quick telepathic image of just where the box he needed was. Dominic nodded and went to do as he asked. The Doctor turned to the patient.

“Mama,” Louise said, stroking her mother’s face tenderly. “Voici le Docteur.”

She stirred enough to look up at The Doctor’s face and recognise him. But she couldn’t speak. Her face was grey and strained even beneath the dark patches that gave him a clue to what was wrong with her. She was clearly in discomfort. Even his gentle touch on her skin hurt. He laid the palms of his hands lightly over her face, not quite touching, and drew off the pain and the heat of her body. She gave a soft sigh and breathed a little more easily. But she needed more help than that.

“She’s dying, isn’t she?” Louise murmured sadly.

“She was,” The Doctor answered. “Until I got here. Now, there’s a fighting chance.” He looked around as Thérèse came up to make the bed for Marcas, followed by Dominic with the medical equipment he needed. Louise looked with wide eyes at the things The Doctor pulled from the box. Medicines on Forêt were usually given orally or as poultices laid on the body. The sterile syringe that he took from a hermetically sealed packet was disturbingly alien.

She was even more disturbed when he promptly rolled up his sleeve and began to extract his own blood from his arm into the syringe. She stared as he immediately inserted the needle into her mother’s arm.

“But what…” she began. “Docteur…”

“Hush, child,” Marcas said to her from the bed where Dominic and Thérèse had persuaded him to lie. Dominic’s wife went below again and brought a hot mug of herbal infusion for him to drink before returning to her family duties. “The Doctor knows what he is doing. If anyone can save your mama, he can.”

“Yes, I can,” he assured them all with a bright smile that covered his own uncertainty. Inès was not strong. She had always been a slightly built, waif of a woman who the bitter winter wind ought to have blown away if Marcas had not been there with his strength and protection. Now, she was as weak as anyone could be and still hold on to life. He might be too late.

He desperately didn’t want to be. He looked at the expression in Louise’s eyes as she watched him. She believed he could save her mother. He didn’t want that faith shattered. He didn’t want to have to tell her that he did his best but his best wasn’t good enough.

Louise’s faith in him was important, for selfish reasons, he freely admitted to himself. When he decided he would come to Forêt for a while, the joy of seeing his children and grandchildren hadn’t been the only reason. He had also hoped to find out if the affection she had shown him the last time still had potential.

He had come with the intention of courting a woman. Yes, that was definitely a first for him. He had never actively sought out companionship in that way… at least not since he was an hundred and eighty and plucked up the courage to ask a fellow student to a college ball.

But since parting company with Ben and Donna his quiet thoughts had turned upon the half-promise that had been in her eyes the last time he was here on Forêt. He had liked the idea.

So for his own reasons, too, he wanted Inès to recover.

“We won’t know for a little while,” he said. “Meanwhile… both of you should receive the same medicine.” He broke open a new, sterile syringe and repeated the process with Marcas.

“Your blood gives them immunity from this disease?” Dominic asked. He had watched his father at work and done his best to assimilate the skills he had demonstrated.

“It’s possible Marcas already has some immunity,” The Doctor told him. “After all, in the fifty-first century they had invented vaccinations against just about everything. And Louise may have inherited some of it from him. But this is a precaution. You’re not as young as you used to be, Marcas. Let me give you all the help I can.”

Marcas accepted that. Louise was frightened of the needle, but at the same time awed by the prospect of The Doctor injecting his own blood into her veins.

“Mon docteur à moi,” she said, reaching out with her free arm to touch his face as he performed the simple procedure. “My Doctor.”

He smiled and his hearts fluttered hopefully. She still burned a candle for him in her young heart.

But now wasn’t the time. Her mother’s life was the only thing that mattered for the next few hours.

There was nothing to do but wait. The Doctor pulled up a soft chair by the bed and sat in it. He wasn’t too surprised when Louise sat beside him. He put his arm around her shoulders and she kept quiet vigil with him for an hour before Angeletta came up to them with some of the stew she had prepared. Despite their worry for Inès, she smiled to see Louise share The Doctor’s bowl of stew, an intimacy that wasn't missed by his son or his friend, either.

Angeletta tried to get Inès to take some of the broth from the stew, carefully cooled so as not to burn her throat, but she could barely rouse herself to swallow.

“She’ll be all right,” The Doctor assured them all. “I will give her more of my blood later. It will help strengthen her. But you go and eat, Angel. Look after the children. Kiss them goodnight for me and tell them I will have stories for them another night when I am not so busy.”

“I’ll bring you some cornbread, papa,” she answered. “To strengthen you. If you are to give of yourself so freely.”

They settled again into the quiet vigil. Marcas slept despite his own efforts. Dominic stayed by the bedside. Inès had been his patient before The Doctor arrived. He wouldn’t leave her any more than her husband would. Louise stayed close by The Doctor, watching in awe when he repeated the process of injecting his own blood into her mother’s veins.

“You give the most precious part of you to her,” she said, rubbing her hand over his arm where he had released the tourniquet. “Don’t lose your own strength for lack of blood, chéri.”

“I can manage,” he assured her. “My blood is different to ordinary humans. I am different.”

“I know that,” Louise said with a warm smile at him. “I remember… you were there all my life… Mama says you were there when I was born…”

“Yes, I was, come to think of it,” he answered. “Childbirth is usually the province of the womenfolk on Forêt, but Marcas had offworld ideas about these things. I helped your mother each time. Yes, after five strong sons, a little girl was a surprise to them both. But they loved you just as much.”

Louise smiled and turned her eyes away from him. Being reminded that he was there when she was a newborn baby probably didn’t advance the prospect of a relationship between them.

But it was a reminder that this was no whirlwind romance. He had known her a very long time. Images flashed through his mind of his friend’s little girl growing up. He wondered if she remembered him setting her arm in a cast when she was three and had tried too hard to keep up with the teenage Baton Haute players. She was a teenager when Dominique died. He remembered her with her family at the funeral, grieving with the whole village. But his own private grief had been so absolute he was unable to take in how anyone else felt.

Then he had returned when she was at her lowest ebb, used and abused by the creatures that invaded their world and made slaves of them all and giving birth to an alien child that had died without her ever seeing it.

He knew all there was to know about her, even her darkest shame. But what did she know about him? He knew the villagers all had some myths about the man from the stars who never grew old and who could do amazing things. Marcas had probably told her a more truthful version of things, if she’d ever asked him. But he wondered if she fully realised what it would mean to be close to him in the way she wanted to be close….

The way he knew he would like her to be close to him.

He turned from her now, though, and looked at Inès. She was still feverish, still very ill. His blood was helping her to create antibodies that would fight the infection but the fever was dangerous. He again laid his hands either side of her face and gently drew off the heat from her body.

“Docteur!” Louise whispered as he leaned back and swayed slightly. The fever he had drawn from Inès affected him briefly before his Time Lord constitution overcame it. When his vision cleared, Louise was leaning close to him in consternation.

“I’m all right,” he assured her. “So is your mum. She’s sleeping easily now. Look…”

Louise turned from looking at him and saw her mother’s face. She did look better. There was less strain in her features and her breathing was easier.

“She’s not dying?”

“She’s still very ill,” he answered. “But I think there’s room for hope, now.”

“Thank you, mon docteur á moi,” she said. Then she reached to kiss him. He knew she was going to do so sooner or later, but it took him slightly by surprise at that moment.

“Oh, my dear girl,” he whispered as she drew her head back and he held her tightly. “My dear Louise.”

There was a silence about the room that he had not been aware of before. He looked around. Marcas and Dominic were both watching them wordlessly. There was a ghost of a smile and a nod of approval from Marcas to his daughter. Dominic gave The Doctor a telepathic message giving his blessing upon what was slowly coming together. It was an unusual situation for him. He was head of the family, as well as a leader of the village. Watching his own father, who still looked younger than he was now, courting a girl who he had watched grow up was strange. But he wished them both well.

The Doctor looked around the room. His hearts lurched as he remembered this was the room where he and Dominique had first made love on a warm, summer night when he allowed himself to forget he was a stoic and reserved Time Lord. He made love to her many more times in that room. His son and daughter were both conceived here. He had known blissful contentment in this room.

Could he be lucky enough to know it again with Louise as his lover this time?

He looked at the patient in the bed and confirmed that the fever was broken and she was sleeping easily now. Her body was winning the fight against the virus that brought her so low. He told Marcas he could sleep in peace now. He told Dominic he could go to his own family below and care for them.

“We will be here if she needs anything,” he promised. “Louise and I will be watching through the night.

It was a strange kind of courtship, sitting by a sickbed. He had imagined walking with her on the high walkways under the stars or sitting on the swing in the light of the moon.

He picked the wrong season, anyway. The high walkways were too dangerous in winter. And the swing was probably frozen solid.

Besides, she looked just as lovely in the lamplight. He looked at her as she came back to his side after adjusting her mother’s pillows. He breathed slowly and took in her handmade dress dyed the same colour as the leaves of the trees she had grown up among. She had hair the colour of chestnuts and eyes like almonds. A child of the forest, a hamadryad enchanting him.

“You have never heard of pheromones, have you?” he said to her as she sat by his side and he slipped his arm around her waist.

“I… don’t even understand what the word means,” she answered. “Mon Docteur, there are many things I don’t understand that you know about. You are a very clever man.”

“Never mind,” he said. “Louise…. When I fell in love with Dominique, I thought I had been enchanted by her. I forgot myself. I forgot who I am, where I come from. I gave myself to her and I felt as if nothing else mattered as long as I was with her. I… am ready to forget myself in the same way again…. But… before I do… I need to remember myself. You need to know exactly who I am, Louise, beyond the stories told by the fireside.”

That was his courtship. In the soft lamplight, punctuated by taking care of Inès through the night, lulling sometimes as Louise drifted to sleep in his arms, he told her all about Gallifrey, about being a Time Lord, and what it meant to be a prince of the universe. He explained why it was that he would outlive her by as much as a thousand years.

“You will not grow old in my lifetime?” she asked, caressing his face. “You will always look like this?”

“Well… unless I fall out of the trees and regenerate. Then I could look completely different. But I still won’t age. And I won’t be any less in love with you, Louise.”

The concept of regeneration was puzzling and disturbing to her. He decided to leave it alone for now.

“I will give to you the same lifetime I gave to Dominique. You mean as much to me as she does. And I pledge my hearts to you as I pledged them to her. And I will try very hard not to fall out of the trees and regenerate.”

It wasn’t exactly the twelve hour Alliance of Unity that was his right as an Oldblood son of Gallifrey. It would hardly be recognised anywhere as marriage vows. But to Louise it was just as binding. In the quiet of the night she pledged herself to him. The Doctor smiled warmly as he held her in his arms and thought about the new future that had been so easily written. He kissed the woman he had so easily fallen in love with.

One day, he thought, he really ought to analyse the air on Forêt. Twice now he had found love here, and Marcas had barely known Inès a day before he knew she was the woman for him.

Or perhaps, even if they didn’t have a word for it, there was something in the Forêtean pheromones after all.

He didn’t care. Inès was getting stronger every time he examined her and Louise was there by his side. He was as near content as he ever allowed himself to be.

“I love you, Louise,” he whispered as the cold dawn lightened the room at last.

“I love you, chéri.” She replied.

The Doctor laughed softly and reached for her.

“My proper title is Prince of the Universe, Guardian of Causality, Lord of Time,” he said. “On Forêt, I get called a cherry.”

Louise laughed. The Doctor laughed with her. Then they heard a voice calling to them. They both looked around. The Doctor reached the bedside first, but it was a close call. He helped Inès to sit up and he took her pulse and her temperature solicitously.

“How do you feel?” he asked her. “Any pain at all?”

“No,” she replied. “Docteur, you did this. You made me well. Thank you.”

“I did what was needed,” he answered. “I’m glad to see you looking so chirpy.”

“Waking to find my daughter has chosen a good man to share her life was the best medicine,” she answered. “Doctor… I am glad. My blessings upon you.”

She clasped his hands in hers and smiled warmly at him. There was an interesting idea, too. He had never actually had a mother in law before. Inès was one who would not give him too much trouble, at least.

He looked around and noticed that Marcas was not in his bed. He tried to remember when he had left the room.

Then Marcas and Dominic came in through the outer door. They were both cloaked in furs against the cold that briefly invaded the room, and they looked grim.

“There… have been three deaths in the village overnight,” Dominic said. “Inès wasn’t the only one sick. It’s… it’s an epidemic. Almost every home… And…”

Dominic paused. The Doctor was already rising from his seat. Louise stood with him, prepared to stick by his side no matter what.

“Just this village or…”

“I don’t know,” Dominic admitted. “It’s winter. We have very little contact with other communities.”

That could be the one saving grace, The Doctor thought. A pandemic was unlikely on a planet where people were bound by the seasons that way.

“I’ll check, later,” he said. “But first….”

He turned back to Inès. She was distressed by the news, as they all were.

“Sorry, my dear,” The Doctor said to her. “But I’m going to have to stick another needle in you this morning.”

He produced another large, sterile syringe. Inès eyed it warily but didn’t make a sound as The Doctor drew her blood. He left Marcas to help her to eat a nourishing breakfast and donned his discarded fur before he headed to the TARDIS, still parked on the workroom platform. He wasn’t entirely surprised when Dominic and Louise both followed him down.

Neither had ever been with him in the medical room before. They watched in surprise as he began using a microscope and a spectral analyser among other equipment.

“What are you doing, papa?” Dominic asked.

“Developing a serum that I can synthesise in mass quantities and treat everyone in the village, those sick and those who aren’t yet. My blood, yours too, since you’re my son, has natural immunity. Inès now has the antibodies because I injected her with my blood. But I don’t have enough blood in my body to give to the whole village. Let alone if this thing has gone beyond here and other villages are affected. Besides, it takes time for the Human immune system to create the antibodies for itself. If I can replicate them first, it will be much easier.”

Louise looked at him in awe. She didn’t even recognise some of the words he was using. The machinery he was so adept with was beyond her. But she trusted him and she understood generally that he was making medicine for the sick people around the village.

“But you never used modern medical techniques on Forêt before,” Dominic said. “All those years you stayed with us, you pounded bark and made medicines from what we had. And we accepted that. Even when Phillipe was ill and Thérèse lost the baby, I never asked you for any scientific miracles. I didn’t ask you… and you never did. You chose to live as we live no matter what the consequences. And I thought you were right.”

“I treated Forêtean illnesses with Forêtean medicines,” The Doctor answered. “But Inès was suffering from something foreign. I recognised it as soon as I saw her symptoms. She has Bolles virus. That’s not indigenous to this planet.”

“How did a non-indigenous disease come here, then?” Dominic asked.

“I’ll try to find that out later, too,” The Doctor assured him. “First, medicine for the people. Louise, sweetheart, come and hold this for me.”

Louise moved forward tentatively. She held the test tube that The Doctor passed to her. He placed half of the sample of Inès’ blood in it. The other he placed into a much more complicated machine. The replicator that would mass produce the antibodies needed to treat those who were sick. The test tube contained the control sample so that he could be sure the replicator was producing good antibodies.

“If I had not distracted you,” she said in a mournful tone. “You might have made this medicine last night and people would not have died.”

The Doctor looked at her and reached to caress her soft hair.

“If that’s true, I’m just as much to blame,” he answered. “But last night nobody knew anyone else was ill other than your mother. Besides, I couldn’t. My own blood doesn’t carry the antibodies. It carries the natural immunity that allowed your mother’s blood to produce them. I couldn’t have done this any faster than it took her body to naturally resist the disease.”

Louise still didn’t quite understand. She wasn’t stupid. She simply came from a world where people didn’t use words like ‘antibodies’ and ‘immunity’. But she trusted him. Every crisis in her life he had been there for her, and she trusted him implicitly.

The replicator beeped and he extracted a sample and prepared a slide. He compared it with a sample from the untreated blood and was satisfied. The replicated antibodies would work. He immediately set to work producing sealed phials of the serum. Then he showed Dominic how to use the phials in an automatic injecting gun that would speed up the process of immunising the village.

“You want me to do this?” he asked.

“We have over a hundred people in this village. It’s important to get to them all as quickly as possible. They trust you as much as they trust me. And while you’re doing it, ask if anyone has seen a stranger in the area. Because that’s the next part of this to sort out. Somebody brought the virus here - the x-case, the carrier. Somebody who has had extra-terrestrial contact.”

“I will come with you,” Louise told him as he wrapped his long coat around himself, ready to step outside. He started to refuse, but knew there was no point in doing so. He made sure she was warmly covered in layers of fur then brought his share of the phials and an injector gun with him. Dominic set off down to reach the furthest reaches of the village through the snow-covered paths below. The Doctor and Louise crossed the rope bridges between the closest dwellings, entering each one quietly and assessing the need.

At the fourth house they visited, Louise had a shock. One of the sick people within was her brother, Patrice, named by his Irish father with the French spelling of Patrick. He was seriously ill and The Doctor tended to him at once.

“He works a mule team, doesn’t he?” The Doctor frowned as he considered the implications. Patrice must have been the one who brought the illness to the village from elsewhere. Which meant that it wasn’t contained. Other villages may be affected. “I’ll need to know where he’s been.”

And he needed to know quickly. He couldn’t wait for the young man to wake and talk to him. That could take hours yet even with the serum working in his bloodstream. He reached into Patrice’s mind and gently read his most immediate thoughts.

He saw the young man visiting his mother and father the day before yesterday before coming to the house of a friend – a female friend, Gabia, with whom he had stayed when the snow set in. Several of their young friends had come by and they had a party of sorts. Those friends had returned to their own homes and brought the infection. It was as simple as that.

But where had Patrice caught the disease? He looked further back and saw him coming from a village some twenty miles west of this one with his mule cart loaded with goods. He was closer to home than returning to the place he came from when somebody flagged him down. A tall, slender youth with blonde hair who was dressed inadequately for the winter weather.

The Doctor focussed on Patrice’s memories of the youth. And he knew at once that something was not right with him. He was not Forêtean for a start. Of course, the gene pool of the descendants of the French colonists didn’t rule out blonde hair, but there were plenty of other clues. His inadequate clothing was synthetic and machine made, and it had the look of something worn aboard space ships where temperature and humidity was always constant.

And he was obviously sick. Patrice, kind hearted as he was, helped the man up onto the mule cart and wrapped furs around him. He gave him food and drink and talked to him to try to help him remain awake. He promised him shelter in the village. The stranger spoke slowly, having trouble with the language, but seemed to understand.

Then, some five miles from home, the stranger collapsed. Patrice halted the mules and tried to help. The Doctor saw him attempting CPR, blowing air into the stranger’s lungs. Marcas must have taught him to do that, he thought. It was not a technique anyone else on Forêt knew about. But, of course, that sealed Patrice’s fate. The extra-terrestrial virus was transmitted to him in that act of kindness.

And it was a futile act. The stranger died. Patrice lifted him from the cart and laid him by the road side. It was snowing hard now. The ground was frozen. He couldn’t possibly have dug a grave. So he made a hollow in a snowdrift and covered the body up. He marked the place with a stout stick, obviously meaning to come back with help later. Then he continued on his way, first to his parent’s house and then to his girlfriend.

“Louise,” The Doctor said. “Stay here with your brother. Look after him. There is something I must do.”

“Come back soon, chéri,” she told him.

“I will,” he assured her. He kissed her cheek before he headed back out into the cold day. It was snowing hard and he would have had trouble finding his way back to the workshop platform if he didn’t have that innate instinct for where he was in relation to his TARDIS.

“Dominic,” he called telepathically. He and his son only very rarely used those skills. They preferred not to hide their conversations from their friends who were not telepathic. But he didn’t know where he was exactly and he needed to tell him what was happening.

“You’re going to have to deal with the rest of the village on your own. But the good news is I think the infection is confined to the one community. I think I know where the x-case is.”

“D'accord, papa,” Dominic said to him. “Bonne chance.”

The Doctor allowed himself a smile. He liked to hear his children talk to him in their inherited French language. He kept his son’s good wishes with him as he powered up the TARDIS and hovered over the treetops. He couldn’t pin point exactly where the stranger’s body had been buried in the snow, but he could follow the trail back from the one village to the other, looking for the other obvious sign that Patrice had missed.

Because if the stranger was not from Forêt, then he must have come to the planet in some kind of craft. And The Doctor knew he could find that with help from the TARDIS.

Yes. He homed in on the distress signal still being automatically sent out by the crashed ship. He landed the TARDIS and stepped out into the clearing. The cigar shaped craft was half buried in the ground, but it had not caught fire.

The Doctor opened the emergency hatch and stepped inside. It was a very small landing ship that came from a bigger, space-borne craft.

And the crash had been fatal. The Doctor had a terrible vision of what might have happened if it had landed on one of the villages and not one of the uninhabited parts of the forest.

As it was, there were three casualties aboard the craft. Two were obviously the pilot and co-pilot. A third was a woman in a light coloured all in one jumpsuit. They had died of the injuries sustained in the crash. But they were dying anyway. They were all in an advanced stage of Bolles Virus. It might very well have been the reason for the crash. The pilot must have had a raging fever.

So why set out in the first place?

The Doctor moved the pilot aside and examined the controls. The ship’s log was easy to find. He switched it on and listened.

And learnt that the two crew and three passengers were from a quarantined ship that lay just outside Forêt’s solar system. Almost everyone was dead from the plague that had begun when they were six months out from the Gannymede quadrant. The captain had ordered the quarantine, sending a signal for other ships to stay away and forbidding anyone to leave.

But these five had defied the captain’s order. They learnt that there was an inhabitable planet and had tried to reach it.

The Doctor didn’t blame them. They were scared to die in space. They wanted to reach a planet and get help. But by doing so when they were all infected had been foolhardy. Their deaths on impact prevented them from spreading the disease any further than it already was. Once he located the body of the one who had survived long enough to meet up with Patrice, he could see that ship and occupants were destroyed and it would be over.

No. Wait.


He checked the log again and then counted the bodies. Three plus the youth Patrice met made four.

He looked around. There were few places anyone else could be.


There was one narrow bulkhead door that led from the main room into what might have been a galley. The Doctor opened it.

There was a young woman there, no older than Louise. She was curled up on a collection of cushions and blankets and was wearing an oxygen mask. The Doctor approached carefully and noted that she was alive. She seemed to be asleep.

And she was only in the early stages of the disease that afflicted the others.

Was she the reason they tried to get away, he wondered? So that she would have a chance. Still foolhardy, and utterly fruitless.

He reached out and lifted her. She woke as he did so and cried out in shock.

“It’s all right,” he assured her. “You’re alive. I’m taking you out of here to a safe place.”

There was no avoiding the cockpit where the others were dead. She cried. The Doctor gleaned from what she had to say between sobs that the woman was her older sister. She had a brother, too.

“I’m sorry,” The Doctor told her. “He is dead, too. And you are ill. But I can fix that. Come with me, now.”

He brought her back to the TARDIS and laid her on the sofa in the console room. He treated her with a phial of the antibodies and sedated her. She slept again as he took the TARDIS back on a slightly slower journey along the mule pack route. This time he found the marker Patrice had left. He dug the body out of the snow and wrapped it in a tarpaulin. The young survivor slept through it all as he returned to the crashed ship and left her brother with the others. Then he returned to the TARDIS. The manoeuvre he did next was difficult, but not impossible. It would have been easier, of course, if the TARDIS had ever been fitted with anything like a tractor beam. But the same effect could be done with clever use of gravitational forces. He brought the broken ship with him into space and headed towards the Forêtean sun. When ship and TARDIS were close enough to fall into its huge gravitational pull he swung the TARDIS away and let the craft and its dead occupants carry on into the sun where it would burn up in seconds, a clean end to the tragedy, at least.

One more loose end. The young woman was still sleeping as he brought the TARDIS to the outer edge of Forêt’s solar system. He noted the debris that was drifting towards the frozen dwarf planet that was the last of the seven planet system. They would burn up even in its thin atmosphere. He made a guess that one of the last remaining living crew of the ship had initiated a self destruct. It was over for them, too.

He headed home. He smiled wryly to himself as he called it that in his own mind. Forêt was home. Yes, it was. And he still had some rather happier business to conclude there.

First, the young survivor. Her name, it turned out, was Helen. She was very distressed when she woke in angeletta’s tree-top dwelling and learnt the fate of her friends on the ship.

But time was a healer for her, as well as for the people of the village who had inadvertently suffered along with her. And a week later, it was becoming obvious how the future was going to be for everyone involved.

“Mother likes Helen very much,” Louise said as she sat with The Doctor by the fireside late in the evening. “So does papa. They’re going to ask her to come live here in this house with them. She’ll be safe and happy once she is over the shock of what happened to her. She will be like a new daughter to them. They won’t miss me so much when I am gone.”

“I am quite sure they WILL miss you,” The Doctor assured her. “But I would miss you more if you weren’t with me.”

“I am excited about travelling with you, mon Docteur à moi. Seeing the stars… all the wonders that you spoke of… that even Dominique never saw with you.”

“Dominique belonged to Forêt. The stars held no attraction for her. But you, my Louise… your father came from among those stars. He travelled for many years before he fell in love with your mother. It is natural that you should wish to see other places, and I shall love showing them to you.”

“Doctor, Louise…” They both turned to Marcas and Inès who smiled their blessing on their union. “Goodnight, both of you.”

Louise’s mother and father took their leave of them as they retired to bed. The Doctor smiled and took Louise by her hand into the room that they had shared for the past week. Tomorrow, who knows where they would be in the universe when they retired to bed. But tonight he was happy to lie in the arms of his hamadryad in a bed of furs and feather mattresses under a wooden roof.