A/N: Little things, like insects and fungi, and trust.
"Cliff, these bugs are driving me crazy." Jo flicked three extra-large ones off the side of the table and nudged them with her toes when they seemed inclined to promptly scurry right back.
One came back anyway and she started to squish it, then settled for catapulting it out the door with the end of her sandal, being mindful of her pacifist husband's presence. The longer she was in this god-forsaken overgrown jungle the less and less 'understanding and accepting of all forms of life' she was becoming. Some of them just deserved to be squished.
Cliff brushed his dark hair back with annoyance, glanced up and went back to his microscope. "I don't know why you keep talking about it. The Amazon has insects. More than any other part of Earth, in fact. What did you expect?"
She didn't reply; this exchange had gone around too many times already.
"Did you get those slides washed?" he asked, preoccupied with scribbling something down. "Pirawal brought in more of those tree fungi last night and I think they're a new mutation. The monkeys have been eating them, very promising."
"We're out of clean water filters," Jo said in a carefully neutral voice.
He didn't look up. "What about that new box?"
"It's at the bottom of the river." She had her back to him, looking out through the pink mosquito netting. A bug bounced off the netting right in front of her nose and she barely registered it.
"What? Jo, how could you? We needed those!"
She whirled on him. "How could I? How could I! Like I chose to have my canoe capsized!"
He blinked at her. "It overturned? Why didn't you say so?"
"I did! I told you all about it. You don't even remember!"
"I know. It didn't seem strange did it, that I was sopping wet, covered in mud and bug-bites and trying to dry out what I salvaged. It happens all the time in this…this…"
"Jo…" He got up and came over to her, belatedly trying to comfort. She allowed him to pull her within the curve of his arm, but she was tense. "I just… I'm so close, so very close to a breakthrough… can't you see how important this is to the future of the Earth?"
That wasn't what she'd been wanting to hear. She went very still and he held her for a moment but she knew his thoughts were already back at his microscope, his precious fungi. She waited a moment, but the only sound was the thumping of some large insect bumbling around up in the thatch.
"You're just like him," she said softly. "He could never say he was sorry either."
Cliff stiffened and held her away from him, frowning. "Look, all I did was ask if those slides were ready," he began defensively.
She looked up at him, her brown eyes frighteningly calm. "And all he cared about was his work."
"But at least he cared. At least he was my friend."
"Jo…" Cliff protested angrily, "Stop it!"
She pulled away from him and walked back to the netting, looking out at the slow brown river underneath the trees.
Cliff stood for a moment, seething. It wasn't the first time he'd found himself up against her old mentor, against her admiration of the man; he was the one always found wanting in the comparison. Going back to his slides he roughly pulled one out of the 'scope. "At least I'm truthful with you," he said bitterly.
"The Doctor never lied to me," Jo said softly, not turning.
"He hypnotized you or something! Look at you! You really believe all those fables he fed you, he even has you thinking you went into outer space and saw aliens for pity's sake."
She turned back. "We did!"
He jammed a new slide under the clips. "You just think you did."
"Cliff!" she cried, hugging herself against the unexpected hurt of betrayal. "You said you understood… you believed me… I trusted you….!"
"And look what it's gotten me," he said grimly. "You need to come back to the real world, Jo. Earth. Reality. Not drug-trips or hypno-dreams or whatever that was. Aliens and time-travel, it must have been pretty potent, probably injected since you don't remember. Who knows what else that man did to you that you don't even remember…"
"Cliff!" she protested again in horror. She put her hands up to her ears as if it would somehow help stop his words.
"Snap out of it, Jo!" Cliff said, viciously underlining something in his notes. "He wasn't what you thought he was. He's probably just a…"
"You have no idea!" she almost screamed back at him. "The Doctor is good and trustworthy, and I could always count on him, which is more than I can say for you right now!" She burst into tears, dashing them from her face angrily. Turning, she pulled open the rickety screen door.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"I don't know!" she snapped. A roach scuttled through; she kicked it inside with him, then slammed the door shut.
"It'll be dark soon."
"And it was dark on Skaro! It was dark on Peladon!" She spat at him and ran away from the hut, past the staring natives, out to the nearest thing to a clearing in the area, their rough air-strip and it's lone tattered windsock, the only place she might be able to see the unobstructed stars.
She picked her way thorough the grasses to the center and stared up at the sky, willing it to be dark enough to see them. It wasn't that she missed the stars, not really, not the exotic travels or the occasional excitements and dangers of their work; it was the little things she missed. Reading him the paper while he tinkered, bantering with him over who would make the tea.
He'd made her a fire and kept away the creatures of the night. He'd held her, kept her safe on a stormy mountainside. Where was he now? Did he ever even think of her?
Twilight was bleeding the colors from the forest around her and still she stood, her arms clutched tight around herself. Had he ever gotten her letter and that strange blue gemstone? She wish she'd heard. She wished he was there, someone she could always talk to about absolutely anything.
"Doctor" she would say, "Cliff and I just had the most awful row, he thinks all our travels were just you hypnotizing me!"
"I'm not the Master, Jo. Why would I do that?"
"Exactly. What do I do about it?"
She could just see him, leaning back from his own work at some microscope or something, fluffing his white hair thoughtfully, but she couldn't quite hear what he would say in reply. Something about proving she wasn't hypnotized, maybe. Or something else entirely, something like 'Well, since you and he aren't getting along today, how about coming with me to see this planet I've heard of, it's supposed to be positively lovely.'
There was a rustling in the grasses, something larger than the ongoing, unending parade of insects and then he was there. She knew he would be.
"Come back to camp, Jo," Cliff said softly. "It's not safe here."
"What do you care? I'm just a crazy victim of a mad scientist, remember?"
He didn't respond to the jibe, but came up and carefully took her under one arm. "I'm sorry," he whispered.
She looked up at him in the dimming light. "So am I."