I'm hungryI'm dirty I'm losing my mind EVERYTHING'S FINE!!! I'm freezing I'm starving I'm bleeding to death EVERYTHING'S FINE!!! --Tracy Bonham: 'Mother, Mother'
The Doctor found her hanging entangled in a web of sticky strands, drugged to the gills with Criin venom.
"Oh, Sam..." the Doctor groaned.
Samantha Jones walked down a well-worn pathway and shivered with a combination of the creeps and excitement.
Criin promised to be the most bizarre planet she'd yet visited with her alien but human- looking friend, the Doctor. He was a centuries-old Time Lord who felt no compunction about scudding about time and space in a purloined type-40 time capsule while the majority of his colleagues remained on their home planet of Gallifrey, studying the universe from a safe remove.
Sam had chanced upon the Doctor as he'd wandered some of 1997 London's meaner streets, hunting for his identity. Sensing that the eccentric but kind amnesiac was much more than he seemed, she'd followed him and wrangled her way aboard his trans- dimensional traveling vehicle, the TARDIS. He had accepted her presence and aid with an easy grace, unsurprised to find her wandering the myriad corridors and rooms of his TARDIS. Almost as if this sort of thing had happened before...
A blue police call box on the outside, a mansion on the inside.
No, a Gothic castle, strewn with torches and candles that never seemed to burn out, over- stuffed Victorian furniture, mahogany drawers full of mysterious objects, huge dusty gilded mirrors, books, stone corridors winding away into the distance... It was huge; she hadn't even seen the whole thing yet.
She fancied that some of the corridors had moved around, walls appearing where there'd been none before. She might be imagining it. Maybe.
And in the middle of it all sat the Doctor, smart in a loden velvet frock coat, brown silk waistcoat, gray cravat, wing-tip collar shirt, tan trousers and black oxfords. Ensconced in an easy chair near the arching steel beams, polished mahogony and gleaming brass fittings of the ship's central control console, he would take tea from a bone china service. That was how she knew that he *had* to be an alien, like he said -- *no* one did that British aristocratic schtick any more.
The Doctor himself was the dotty uncle everybody talks about but invites to family events anyway because he's so sweet. She was traveling around with a bloke who looked about twenty years her senior but was old enough to be her Granddad, several times over, having thirteen lives to live and currently on number eight. Well weird, but it didn't worry her too much -- she was good at pegging people and she trusted him. For instance, he had never put the moves on her; he wasn't the type. Not that she'd put up with that sort of thing for a minute, of course, if she didn't want it.
There'd been no time to explain to her parents where she was going. They were so busy doctoring and social working in London's 'disadvantaged areas', they'd hardly notice she was gone. And they'd have approved, if she'd told them -- after all, she was just doing what they'd taught her by example -- making a difference -- and on a far grander scale than anyone could ever have imagined. And this was a time-capsule; couldn't she just return a minute after she'd left? Theoretically, anyways -- at times it was questionable just how well the Doctor could steer his time craft.
Her mind still shied away from the full implications of what she'd undertaken when she'd stepped over the TARDIS's threshhold.
Alice in Wonderland. Minus the drugs. Just as well; she had no use for them. Besides, her current reality was often so strange that to escape from it that way would be redundant. In any case, she'd had no real cause yet to regret her decision: By turns astonished, terrified, delighted, repulsed, and awed by what she'd seen, Sam had become rather well traveled, for a seventeen year-old. Or so she thought until the Doctor would take her someplace even more strange, and she'd realize to her delight that she hadn't seen *anything* yet.
Her friend had mentioned that the natives on Criin were a bit... different than any people she'd yet met, but hadn't volunteered any further information, and she hadn't requested any more -- he'd had that gleam in his eye that meant he was looking forward to throwing a bit of alien weirdness her way. Figuratively-speaking, of course. Usually. Sam, smirking, had decided not to spoil his fun. Whatever it was, she could handle it . She always had, so far.
She peered around at the surrounding vegetation. It dripped with moisture, and as she noticed that, a drop fell right on the top of her short-cropped blond hair. Miffed, she reached up and wiped at it. Good thing she'd passed on her jacket and just stuck with the jean cut-offs, her suede trainers and her current favorite t-shirt, the white one with the blue Amnesty International barbed wire-wrapped candle on it. The TARDIS wardrobe room was full of amazing stuff, but anything more than the bare minimum would be impossible here. How the Doctor could stand it in his ubiquitous frock coat, she didn't know.
The air was oppressive and hot. Tropical rain forest, she decided, thinking back to her biology class's ecology unit. Huge, towering trees, lush plants with huge blooms... Looked like the Criin people were smart enough not to tear all the forests down just to make a quick buck.
And the smells! The perfume all around her was heady, almost cloying. Criin's version of insects, little buzzy flying things, circled about the flowers. Sam took a deep breath and broke into a spasm of coughing. The air was really very thick.
The Doctor had told her that the natives were friendly. Meaning that they wouldn't attack her and her Time Lord friend. Normally, getting attacked, waylaid, set-up and ambushed happened with annoying regularity. Sometimes, all people had to do was just hear the Doctor's name, and BAM!
Sam grinned, her skin crawling pleasantly again at the thought of the notorious company she was keeping. The Doctor had managed to get himself in so much trouble, in so many places...
But all for helping people. Dictators, megalomaniacs and alien invaders didn't get on at all well with the Doctor. It must be the way he tended, almost by reflex, to stumble upon and thwart their plans. Sam smirked. You'd never find her wasting any tears on the likes of them.
Shortly after their arrival upon planet, spaceship or space station, Trouble would manifest itself, more often than not. It was as if the Doctor were a trouble-magnet. The angry storm troopers tended to show up soon afterwards.
But no matter how huge the dilemmna, the Doctor had a way of making the impossible look simple, as he attacked the problem with more enthusiasm than planning, it often seemed. There usually turned out to be method to his madness, but damned if she could tell at the time.
Yup; her new friend needed someone to watch his back.
At the moment, though, they were separated. They'd been walking from the TARDIS to the Criin settlement he'd told her was nearby. She'd stopped to examine a flower, and when she'd looked back up, the Doctor had disappeared. Figuring that he was just further up the trail -- he could be a little absent-minded at times -- she'd continued on her way.
And now here she was, stepping along the little rut. It was only really large enough for one person, and was not at all a road, and she found herself wondering if the natives even had land vehicles. Perhaps they flew...
Feeling spooked, she glanced up. Nothing.
So it was that she was shocked when she looked back down at the trail ahead, only to see a large creature blocking the trail ahead of her.
The surprise was like a blow to the solar plexus. She gasped and froze. It-it was-- Well, it wasn't attacking her or anything, just standing there. She took a deep breath and looked again.
She'd never seen anything like it; her gaze roved over the shape, searching almost desperately for something recognizable. Brown, legs, a back, a head, arms... With a feeling of relief, she finally labeled it. "Bug-horse". "Insect-centaur".
Except that instead of four legs, its body sat upon a tripod of segmented limbs. But it had a squat torso, a short but broad back, and three multi-segmented arms coming off the torso: two from the sides, and one from the lower middle. The head was wedge-shaped, with moving mouth parts in front, which added to the insect analogy. She couldn't see any obvious eyes, though there was a gently waving fringe on top of the head. It looked like the feeding fringe Earth barnacles extended to the daily tide.
Sam took another deep breath and spoke. "Hello?"
The bug-horse's fringe lashed wildly. The 'mouth parts' gnashed, and rasping sounds emerged, somewhat laboriously.
Well. That was not so bad. Considering. Thank goodness for the TARDIS's Translation Circuits... "Yes, hello," she said, smiling tentatively.
"You are lost?" "Well, yes, I suppose. I'm trying to find the village around here. And my friend, the Doctor."
The fringe paused. "You are ill?"
"Erm, no. I'm looking for my friend. Have you seen him? Looks kind of like me?"
"You are lost."
"Yes, I already said that," Sam said, annoyed. "I--"
"No smell-find? Lost."
Sam shook her head. "Look, I don't know what you mean. I suppose the village is nearby. The Doctor's probably there, wondering where I am, so--"
"You are lost. And ill," the creature said. It started toward her, stilting forward on its three legs.
Sam stared for a moment. Then she began to back away.
"J-just stay back," she advised the native. "I just want to know where the Doctor is."
The creature paused. "Doctor-friend?" it asked, tilting its head.
"Yeesss... I hope that's not a problem..." She continued to back up.
"Doctor-friend!" it exclaimed, fringe waving energetically. "Ill." It scuttled toward her with renewed purpose.
Sam stumbled back in fright and tripped over an exposed root snaking across the narrow path, sprawling backwards. Before she could get up again, the insect-creature loomed over her.
She froze, terrified. If there was ever a time to scream, this was it. Except she didn't seem to be getting quite enough air...
Then the creature reached toward her with its segmented arms with the little barbs on the ends--
Sam shrieked without coherent thought and scrambled desperately to get away.
The Criin flinched, then reached forward and flipped the spasming stranger over. Holding it down with two pinchers to the middle of the back, the native paused in momentary confusion, then came to a decision and plunged the poison-sac barbs of its free arm into the flesh slightly below and to the side of the creature's unusually small head.
The stranger arched its back and let out a strangled scream, which trailed away into silence as it went limp.
The Criin waited a few moments more. Then, seeing that the injection had taken effect, he lifted the supine stranger, deposited it on his back, and secured it in place with several strands of webbing from his arm spinnerets.
Turning, the native started back down the trail toward the settlement.
The Doctor, all wavy-haired exuberance, was crouched in front of a spray of foliage, examining an orange trumpet-flower, enthralled by its color and scent. That unfinished equation he needed in order to complete the TARDIS back-up coordinate-circuit repair reverberated at the back of his mind, caught in a mental holding pattern as the drone of a nearby buzz-bird became louder, impinging on his awareness in a pleasantly-distracting manner.
He let the three threads of sensation weave through his consciousness; balanced them against each other, then waited for a pattern to emerge. An observer would have said that the man's face had taken on a pleasant expression of abstraction.
Five point eight seconds later, he stood up with a happy sigh, the equation all sorted out, and realized that a fourth element was missing. He raised an eyebrow and looked around.
No Sam back down the trail as far as he could see. No Sam up ahead, where the trail took a sharp turn. Well, she must be just up ahead; she was never one to hang back. He smiled. Of his many traveling companions over the centuries, Sam, with her fire and drive, often reminded him of himself when he'd been her age.
Well, all right, at her age, he'd actually been trapped in a lecture hall, learning geometric polythemic regressions, being formed, along with his age-cohort, into a proper Time Lord. He grinned. He'd made up for it later -- he'd taken the knowledge, but had eschewed the usual stick-in-the-mud attitude, much to his people's dismay.
Sam would be fine -- it wasn't as if there was any danger to be had from the Criin, even if she did get to the settlement before he did. Though he had wanted to see how she reacted to her first glimpse of a Criin. A remarkable folk!
Brushing some trumpet-flower pollen from a sleeve of his velvet coat, he set off down the trail.
The Doctor, arms akimbo, stood in the midst of the Criin settlement and looked around. No Sam.
Several passing Criin gave him the traditional greeting. "Greetings, extra-far-stranger. Are you lost?"
The Doctor smiled. "Greetings. No, I have found my way." He held his hands upright above his tangle of chestnut locks, and waved his fingers to resemble a Criin head-fringe as best he could. Which wasn't really very much. Still, he knew they appreciated the sentiment, and it was the thought that counted in these kinds of situations.
The pair waved their fringes back at him and continued on their way, as he caught a hint of their scent. His Gallifreyan senses barely detected the aromas that were the Criin's preferred form of communication. But they were a polite species and didn't hold that lack against "scent-blind" visitors. Now to find Sam and see what she thought of all this...
A short time later, the Doctor paused in the center of the village and frowned, worried. He'd walked the length and breadth of the Criin town, and seen no sign of Sam wandering about. Where was she?!
Another passer-by said hi. The Doctor repeated his greeting performance of earlier almost without thought, and prepared to stride onwards, preoccupied with his search, then stopped as a sudden realization hit him. He hadn't taught Sam that greeting yet, had he? He'd assumed he'd be there as they met their first Criin, and that she'd learn it by watching him do it. If she'd already run into a native...
She wouldn't know the proper reply. And on Criin, the lack of a proper reply might be misinterpreted not as simple rudeness, but as a serious problem.
His face fell with dismay. "Oh, dear."
A few inquiries later, the Doctor hurried towards the local PathWalker's lodge. Pausing at the arched doorway, he called for the lodge's keeper. Receiving no reply, he ventured within.
The dim light thrown by the phosphorescent mosses growing up the interior wall was just enough for him to make out the storage webbing that cris-crossed the room's interior. One bundle hung suspended within it.
Sam blinked as a familiar voice came to her ears. She felt fuzzy. Cotton-wool in her head, in her mouth...
A blurred memory floated in her head. A friend... Carly, eyes rolling up in her head. At the rave. Her eyes up in her head, slumped against the wall. She watched. Disgusted, but she kept an eye on. What you did for a mate. But never catch her doin'... Ever. Why was... S'funny...
Sam told this to the world at large.
The Doctor looked up, his eyes wide with alarm as Sam muttered, her head lolling and eyelids drooping. He had no idea what effect Criin venom might be having on her physiology, beyond the obvious -- he had to get her down and some medical attention immediately!
He reached for one of the entangling strands, only to snatch his hand back a moment later with a hiss of frustration. Sticky as flypaper, elastic, and strong. He glanced around, but saw no obvious tools with which to tackle the webbing.
"Hang on, Sam," he said, wincing at his inadvertent pun. She didn't seem to have noticed. "I'll get you down from there. Somehow."
She blinked again, and seemed to be trying to focus on him as he stepped as close as he could without coming in contact with the webbing. Her mouth opened and a rattle came out. She twitched, her eyelids fluttering. As he stared, she closed her mouth, then tried again.
The noise that emerged this time was louder, if no more comprehensible. But drugged as she was, it was obvious that she was terrified, and making a supreme effort to tell him something.
He spun around to see two Criins blocking the lodge entrance.
Sam stared as the Doctor hurried forward, greeting the two bug-horses effusively. Giving upthe battle to comprehend, she slumped, slipping back into darkness.
The village Healer contemplated the unconscious human lying on the floor before him as the anxious Doctor hovered at his side.
"Antidote," he told the Doctor. "I have produced; will administer." He lifted a forelimb in illustration, flexing the barbs.
The Time Lord looked at him. "Even with her alien physiology? You have no idea what effect--"
The Doctor's eyebrows raised in surprise but he offered no further protest, watching as the Healer gently rolled Sam over. There was an ugly red weal near the base of her neck.
The Healer raised his arm and positioned the barb above her shoulder on the opposite side. "Another one. Apologies."
The Doctor winced as the barb flashed down.
PathWalker Toril looked crest-fallen, his fringe drooping in chagrin as the Doctor hoisted Sam's limp form. She was muttering again, drifting in and out of consciousness as the anti-venom searched out and neutralized the Criin toxins.
She was very lucky. Although there would be after-effects, she would recover.
The Doctor himself felt so lucky that he was almost weak with relief. He hastened to reassure Toril. Certain that the stranger was in distress, Toril, the Criin version of a beat- walking bobby, had treated her as he would have any disorientated Criin and hung her up for safe-keeping while he went for help.
The Doctor sighed. "It's my fault -- I should have been with her," he said. "I... assumed much too much." He looked down.
The PathWalker tilted his head and ruffled his fringe at the Time Lord. "I assumed also, lost to be ill; and so made ill. Many apologies."
The village Healer chose that moment to make a cogent observation. "Meant well; still fell into pitch-pit." The Doctor and Toril, humbled by the near disaster, accepted the Criin proverb in silence.
-- Sam came back to herself from a succession of strange, blurred visions, and realized that she was lying on her side upon a soft pad in a large, dimly-lit room. Her head swam, and there were two dully-throbbing points of pain on her shoulders. Focusing on the scene in front of her, she stifled a groan as one of the horrid bug-horses stalked through her field of vision. Then she heard the Doctor's voice off somewhere to her left, and shut her eyes, weakly curling a hand into a fist.
He'd come to help her, and he'd been caught. She'd told herself she'd never let this happen; never be bait. So much for *that* resolution.
She must have made some noise, or else the bug-horses had some other senses that told them she was awake. One of them appeared, scuttling towards her.
This time she did groan, and began to roll over. She couldn't just lie there; she had to do something...
The Doctor turned as a groan came from the corner of the Pathwalker's lodge, only to see Toril hurrying towards Sam, who was just sitting up, a look of horror on her face.
"Toril, no!" the Time Lord exclaimed. He sprang forward from where he'd been talking with Healer Yoce and intercepted the Criin. Toril juddered to a halt as the Doctor leaned forward to explain.
"It'd be best if I talked to her first," the Time Lord told him. "I know you mean well, but Sam's had a bit of a shock, you see, and she doesn't know you..."
Toril's fringe undulated, a measure of his confusion, but he stepped back and waited as the Doctor, sighing, turned towards his friend.
The Criins were a friendly people; they told interesting stories and had created a wonderful version of "cat's cradle". They also had about as much a grasp of human psychology as the average Dalek trooper had of the concept of compassion.
Sam blinked as the Doctor suddenly appeared, squatting down in front of her. "Doctor, I--" she began.
"Sshh, Sam, It's all right," he said. "We're among friends, really. It's all been a big misunderstanding."
"Big misunderstanding...?" Sam looked from him to the bug-horse peeking over his shoulder, and twitched as a chitinous arm came into view.
"Many, many apologies," the creature ground out. "Did not understand; made ill. Very, very sorry."
The Doctor nodded, his bright blue eyes begging her to understand. Just behind him, the bug-horse suddenly copied the motion, his wedge-shaped head bobbing up and down. Under normal circumstances, she would have found it funny. As it was, she relaxed somewhat and slumped back down, closing her eyes in relief. If they were still in danger, the Doctor would have made that clear somehow.
Sam's eyes snapped open. Another bug-horse had come over and was hovering behind the Doctor. God, they were creepy, poised there with their heads tilting to the side every so often...
"Sam, this is PathWalker Toril, who brought you here, and this is Healer Yoce," the Doctor explained, pointing to each Criin in turn.
"Not so ill?" the Healer rasped.
"Um, better I guess, thanks," Sam said, resisting the urge to reach behind for the welts at the base of her neck.
The Doctor beamed.
"Exactly...what happened?" she asked him.
They were all staring at her, and Sam felt a wave of keen embarrassment sweep over her as the Doctor explained, and she realized that she'd totally misinterpreted the situation.
There'd never been any danger. She'd freaked for no reason; she'd caused all of this. Everyone had had to go to all this trouble because she'd been too clueless to figure it out...
She stared back at them, stricken. "I'm sorry," she began, her chagrin a leaden lump in her stomach. "I'm sorry. I didn't--" To her horror, she felt tears springing to life in the corners of her eyes and squeezed them shut.
The Doctor stared at his friend in bewilderment as Sam turned her head away. Behind him Toril and Yoce turned back to their tasks.
"Sam!" he said, "You've nothing to apologize for -- I should have told you how to talk to the Criins before we left the TARDIS..."
No answer. He paused, stymied. All he could offer her was the truth: Today's close call need never have happened, had he not been so complacent. Deciding that she must be angry at him, he continued to apologize.
Sam stared at the wall, too wrapped up in her own discomfort to pay attention to the Doctor's reassurances, and wished he'd just go away. This whole situation was embarrassing enough; why did he have to be so damned understanding?
Finally, unable to stand it any longer, she blinked the tears away, then rolled over and sat up again. "Look, no permanent harm done, okay? I feel much better now," she said, pasting what she hoped was a convincing smile on her face.
The Time Lord looked at her for a few moments, then smiled and leapt up, sticking out a hand for her to help herself up with, only to find that she was already scrambling to her feet.
"Right; all sorted" Sam declared, swaying a little. "What about this village, then?"
"Waitwaitwait," the Doctor said, holding up his hands as if to avert a stampede. "Before we go another step, I've got to show you how to say hello in Criin." He showed her then, an almost painfully serious expression on his face as he waggled his fingers above his head. The juxtaposition surprised a chuckle out of her, and she felt the hard knot inside began to melt, just a little. Another relieved smile broke out over the Doctor's face.
Sam steeled herself as their Criin hosts, seeing her up and about, approached once more. "Not to do too much," the Healer advised, tilting a head in her direction, his fringe rippling, reminding her now of a sea anemone. "Rest much."
Sam tore her gaze away from his long brown segmented pinchers with an effort. "I'm fine, really," she said, turning away to look more closely at the glowing moss on the walls. It was not uniform in color, but contained white and yellow. There seemed to be a bulbous design of some sort. Living wallpaper...
The next instant she gasped, flinching as a pincher clamped onto each shoulder and gently but inexorably turned her around. The Healer's fringe was angled forward in what she could only interpret as an attitude of extreme attention. The Doctor and the other native were staring, but neither moved to interfere.
"Not fine," the Healer rasped. "Can tell. You must rest much; rest now."
Sam stared back, trembling at the barbs she could feel pricking her through her tee-shirt. "Or what? You'll sting me again?" How could the Doctor just let them push her around like this? "I can figure out when to rest on my own, thank you very much." Sam went to step back and away, expecting to slip out from under the Healer's grasp. Instead it tightened, holding her in place. Sam's face contorted. "Let go of me!"
The Doctor took a step forward. "Yoce..." he said.
"Not well. Still much venom. Can smell it. Is everywhere -- in brain also."
Well, the Healer should know... "Sam, listen to Yoce -- he knows the most about the effects of the venom. You need time to recover."
Sam stood, rigid with anger. "I said I'm fine." She turned her head to glare at her friend. "What, you saying I can't think straight? All in my head? Are you going to believe that...thing over me?"
The Doctor took another step forward, his face twisted in dismay at her paranoia. "Sam, none of us here is the enemy! You've been poisoned; you can't expect to recover right away!"
Sam stared at him, again close to dissolving into tears. Far, far better to be angry. "Okay, fine!" she snarled. "It's my fault that I got stung; I admit it! You happy now!?" Her head swung around as she glared at everybody present, hating them all in that instant.
Toril's fringe was completely slumped. "Very, very angry," he observed sadly.
"Yoce, please let her go."
"But still ill--"
"But you're making it worse," the Doctor explained. Criins didn't have a very good bedside manner when it came to Homo Sapiens. Probably explained why he'd never ever seen them employed in hospitals frequented by humans.
Yoce considered, then released Sam. Still glaring, she stumbled back a few paces, shrugging her shoulders, then turned and headed straight for the doorway.
The Doctor raised a hand as the Healer stepped forward in dismay. "Yoce. Don't worry -- I'll go with her." He hurried after his friend.
The first few times she ignored him. Then: "I think I've had enough of Criin "hospitality", Doctor; how about you?"
She didn't seem perturbed to get no answer but kept on, marching right through the village down its main path. The Doctor caught up with her, falling in companionably at her side.
She didn't seem to want any company, refusing to look at him. Too bad; she was going to get it whether she liked it or not.
She sped up her pace.
He matched it.
Her eyes narrowed in irritation.
He ignored her pointed glance; kept strolling along beside her.
Finally, a short distance into the surrounding forest, she stopped in a small clearing, fidgeting, then plunked herself down onto a log. There was barely enough room for him to do the same, but he followed suite.
Sam gritted her teeth as he settled down beside her, then favored him with eye contact. Would it be too much to ask for a person to be able to have a little time to themselves around here?" she grumbled, before looking away again.
"If they're still ridding themselves of Criin toxin, yes," he replied. "Especially as all of its effects on humans aren't known."
She sat still, staring straight ahead. "Oh. That again." There was a momentary silence, as they watched a large three-winged insect flutter by. Then she said in a low, angry voice, "I'm not a child; I don't need someone looking after me. Just because--"
"Sam! Even if you were ninety-nine and a half, or a Time Lord like me, I'd still make sure you weren't going to suffer from some sort of relapse. I--" The Doctor paused, resisting the urge to pull out some of his abundant hair. And he'd thought Freud had been exaggerating...
Midday in that restaurant in Vienna. Conversation over cream of leek soup (for him) and weinerschnitzel (for everybody else); Grace sending an amused look his way as the father of psychotherapy expounded somewhat complacently from across the table...
And that one particular saying of Freud's... "What do humans want?!" was how it went, as he recalled. Earnest Sam, it seemed to him, wanted experience equivalent to his after only a few weeks of travel.
"Sam, I'm not blaming you for what happened; if anything, it's my fault for not telling you enough about where we were going -- I just don't want anything to happen to you. I'm sorry if that offends your sensibilities," he said, his tone slightly waspish. "You've certainly done the same for me, watched over me when I needed it. Can't I return the favor?" he asked, his head tilted to the side as he peered at her, trying to see her face.
Miserable, Sam sat, her gaze fixed on the forest floor, her emotions a dark tangled knot deep in her stomach. Part of her could see what he was saying, see the reasonableness, the truth behind it, but the rest kept her frozen in place, a gnarled, mean-spirited thing, hunched over on the log like a vulture... At that mental image, the floodgates opened, and her eyes swam out of focus with tears. Moments later, her stomach twisted, and she realized that the aforementioned emotions were coming up for air. Sam's face contorted and she lurched forward, violently ill. The Doctor grabbed her shoulders, preventing her from falling face first off the log, then waited until the heaving had subsided.
"Here," he said then, offering a handkerchief.
"Thanks," she gasped, gone beyond mortification into the calm of exhaustion. Her eyes were streaming with tears. She wiped them away, and then her mouth, before jamming the crumpled square of fabric into a pocket, and found that she felt much better, like a well- wrung but clean dishcloth.
"You wanted to show me the planet, and here I am, getting sick all over it," she sighed, head hanging.
"Well, true, it's not quite what the tourist office had in mind, but..."
Sam smiled wanly at the sally and sat up. "I'm sorry."
"Sam." The underlying insistence in his voice pulled her attention over. "I've lost friends before," he said, looking out at the murmuring forest. "I've learned to focus on what's important. And here, it's that you're recovering from the venom, that you'll be all right."
His head swung around, and she stared back, caught in his gaze. Idiotically, the lyrics to Simon and Garfunkel's "The Rock" were running through her head.
She sneered at herself, at his earnestness, at the general situation for a few more moments, and then, finally, gave up.
Oh, toss it -- he was right. About what was important. She just wanted..
Not to make a fool of herself. And here she was, making it ten times worse than it had been.
Glancing away to the spot where the pool of vomit she'd brought up lay, she blinked. It had vanished. Gone. Nothing . Nada. The next moment, she blinked again. A slight furrow was moving through the dirt as something tunneled away from the freshly-churned earth that marked the spot.
A hand flew up to cover her mouth as she stared, not sure whether she was about to be sick again, or burst out laughing. The Doctor was peering at her, eyebrows raised in a wordless query, and she pointed out the furrow. "It--it aaate-"
It only took him a moment to realize what had happened, and his mouth twisted in amusement. Sam gave in and clung to her friend as she shook with laughter. "That is so unbelievably disgusting!"
"No," he corrected, "that is a perfect example of the recycling you're so fond of."
Sam groaned and sat up again, wiping new tears of laughter from her eyes. "Oh, you!" He was right, of course. "It's still well gross."
Another smile and handkerchief appeared. "Feeling better?"
She snatched it up and nodded as she blew her nose. "Yes. Thank you. I guess the venom was doing something to me..." She glanced at the handkerchief, then stuffed it into her other jeans pocket. "I'm using up all your hankies."
"Plenty more where that came from."
Sam looked with narrowed eyes at his coat pockets. He might be right, at that; he always seemed able to produce many more objects from his pockets than could ever have gotten in there in the first place. Maybe he was really just a traveling carny from Gallifrey...
She sighed and ran a hand through her rumpled hair, then stood up. "Ready to go? No, really," she said in response to his skeptical look. "I really do feel much better now. I ought to go apologize to those two bug-hor-- I mean, Criin. The Healer, and the other one."
The Doctor stood up, and Sam leaned closer. "Besides, our , erm, "visitor" has invited his friends."
He turned to look in the direction she was pointing. Five furrows were approaching them, traveling rapidly along the forest floor, and his mouth skewed open in a lop-sided grin. "I see what you mean. And they're bound to be disappointed, so..."
They made pretty good time back to the village.