The Understanding

by Caroline Masters, April 2012

A slightly different view of the episode "Framed", establishing the relationship between Valerie and Mark.

Mark couldn't believe what he was hearing. Surely Steve wasn't seriously suggesting that he and Valerie should allow themselves to be locked inside the camera and be carried by the giant to his home? If Steve wanted to play the hero in a futile attempt to prevent the hobo from being convicted of murder, that was his choice, but he had no right to involve Valerie.

"It's insane!" Mark exclaimed, grabbing hold of Valerie's arm as she stepped into the camera. "You can't possibly risk…" The realization that all the others were staring at him in amazement interrupted his outburst. "Risk losing that lens. It could help us get back home," he finished lamely.

Valerie laughed. "For one moment there, I thought you were worried about Steve and me!"

He stared at her angrily, his eyes darkening in disbelief that she could be so flippant in such a situation. Her smile gradually faded as she stared back at him, for the first time understanding the depth of his feelings. He was still firmly holding her arm and for a split second she wanted him to pull her whole body towards him and to hold her so tightly that he would never let her go.

Steve broke the spell. "Come on, Mark. The giant will be back in a moment. Close the camera, and get out of sight!"

Mark released his grip on Valerie's arm and furiously turned to face Steve. Betty, who had been watching the scene with growing horror, realized that Mark was about to take a punch at Steve and forced her way between the two men to separate them.

"Always the peacemaker," Mark said sarcastically. "Always loyally backing your Captain."

Betty ignored the jibe. "Come on, Mark. It'll be all right. Valerie and Steve will be back with us in no time at all."

Mark laughed. "On what rational basis do you make that claim?"

Not waiting for an answer, he turned back to look at Valerie as Steve joined her inside the camera. She tried to smile encouragingly but, when Dan and Fitzhugh shut the camera case, Mark saw the fear in her eyes.

His outburst had surprised the others, he knew that, but it had surprised himself even more. Yet he hadn't been able to stop himself. The fear that had just engulfed him had been far worse than anything he had experienced before – even when they had crash-landed on this strange planet a few months earlier. Then it had been a selfish fear, concerned only for his own safety. Now, he was frightened for Valerie; and his fear was exacerbated because he was helpless to protect her from the danger that she was entering.

He did not understand when it had happened, and he certainly couldn't explain it rationally. All he knew was that when he had realized he might lose her, he had suddenly understood what she meant to him.

He loved her.

There, he had said it, not out loud, of course, but silently in his own mind.

He loved her.

As Valerie was tossed and jostled inside the camera while the giant carried her and Steve into town, all she could think about was Mark's outburst and the way he had held onto her and stared at her. When had it happened, she wondered? She hadn't seen it coming. He had never given an indication of feeling like that before. He had always been rather blunt and distant with her, believing her to be a spoilt young woman. She played that role well, she knew that. She had practiced for many years. It had been easier that way. Experience had taught her to be wary of fortune hunters, greedy for her money, so she had adopted that shallow, self-obsessed persona to protect herself. When had Mark first seen through the charade?

Later when she and Steve found themselves trapped in the camera, unable to escape while the giant developed the film from the other camera, she started to panic as the true danger of their predicament hit her. Mark had been right. They had been foolhardy to risk their lives to help that old drunk. What did they think they could achieve? They couldn't even get out of the camera!

In her panic she started to cry out in terror and Steve had to cover her mouth to quieten her. He felt her trembling beneath his hand, and suddenly he felt ashamed that he had involved her in this hopeless quest.

How could he have been so reckless? He who always insisted on the strictest of precautions to protect the safety of their camp, he had now not only risked his own life but that of one of his passengers, someone it was his duty to protect at all costs.

He always had to prove a point, to demonstrate to the others that he was their leader. He could never let Dan or, more particularly, Mark, make a decision or have the last word about anything. He was the captain and he was in charge. It irritated Mark greatly, he knew that, but he couldn't resist pulling rank. There was something about Mark's attitude to him, his frequent questioning and quarrelling that seemed to force Steve into a corner, and with his back against the wall he didn't always make the right decision. Just look where his stubbornness had led them this time!

In future, he vowed, he would listen more carefully to the others' warnings and think before he leapt into action – that is, if he and Valerie had a future. He might not get the chance to put his new resolution into action.

Mark hurtled up the rope as fast as he could. He knew that Steve and Valerie had at last managed to escape from the camera when Dan had distracted the giant into the other room, but he was desperate to make sure that Valerie was unharmed after her precarious journey.

Once on top of the table, he grabbed both of Valerie's hands in his own, and demanded, "Are you all right?"

She nodded, but he could see that the experience had drained the color from her face, making her red hair appear even more vibrant than usual in contrast to her ghost-like skin.

Steve interrupted them. "Mark, I was wrong. It was an unnecessary risk. I…"

Mark stopped him. "Later. Let's get the lens and get out of here."

Steve nodded and the two of them started to pull the lens away from its casing.

When they finally reached the safety of the camp, Betty immediately started to prepare a meal, knowing how hungry everyone was. "I'm afraid we've only got those roots we collected yesterday, but they will fill a hole," she said.

"Not very well," complained Fitzhugh.

"Well, they'll take an hour or so to cook, so if you're that hungry why don't you scout around and see if you can find something better," retorted Betty, her tiredness making her unusually curt.

"I may just do that," replied Fitzhugh. "Come on, Barry, bring Chipper with you."

"He must really be hungry to actually volunteer for work," said Steve, smiling.

"Yes," agreed Dan. "We must remember to starve him in the future when we want him to get off his backside and do something."

They all laughed, and the two pilots followed Betty into the spaceship, leaving Valerie and Mark standing outside in the fading sunshine.

"How are you feeling now?" asked Mark.

Valerie smiled. "I'm all right. A little tired, that's all. Being petrified can be strangely exhausting."

Mark tried to smile back but he couldn't forget how close she had come to being captured by the giant.

"Well, if you're tired, why don't you lie down until supper?"

"No way," she exclaimed. "I don't want to miss the food!"

"We'll save some for you, I promise."

"I might trust you, but I wouldn't trust Fitzhugh. I know he'd eat my portion if I wasn't there to protect it!"

This time Mark did smile.

Valerie sat down just as Dan appeared at the door of the spaceship, carrying a tray of drinks. "Betty thought you'd be thirsty."

Mark took the two glasses, thanked Dan, handed one to Valerie and then sat beside her. Valerie proved Betty right by emptying her glass quickly. Suddenly exhaustion overcame her as she found that her eyes just wouldn't stay open. She also couldn't keep her body upright but instead realized drowsily that her left shoulder was leaning against Mark's right arm. By the time he placed that arm around her other shoulder, she was fast asleep and had no idea that prior to that movement he had tenderly kissed the top of her head.

Late the next afternoon Valerie had just finished sorting out the supplies the others had brought in from their scavenging when Dan announced he was off to relieve Mark at the outpost.

"Do you want company?" she asked.

"If you like," he replied.

"I could do with the exercise. I've been cooped up here all day while everyone else has been out and about."

"We thought you needed the rest after yesterday's exertions."

"Well, I'm had my rest now. Can I come with you?"

"Sure," he said, smiling. "Betty," he shouted. "Valerie's coming with me to the outpost. She'll come back with Mark."

Betty appeared at the spaceship's entrance and waved them off. "See you later."

Valerie was unusually quiet during the ten-minute walk to the outpost and, as Dan wasn't one for meaningless chatter, the short journey passed with little conversation.

"Hi, Mark" said Dan on arrival. "I've come to relieve you."

"Thanks, I was hoping someone would come soon." He looked at Valerie inquisitively.

"I needed the exercise," she explained.

He nodded. "Well, in that case, why don't we take the scenic route home?"

"Why not indeed?"

"Have fun," Dan called after them as the couple walked away from the outpost.

"Don't I always?" replied Valerie.

A few yards along the trail, Mark led Valerie to a narrow path on the right which took them down towards a sheltered wooded area beside a small pool of water. The thick bushes surrounding it kept it well hidden from any giant intruders but the darkness was broken up by rays of sunlight which filtered down upon the water and onto some tiny pink and yellow primrose-like flowers growing at the water's edge.

"I found this place this morning when I was scouting around. It could be a safe hiding place if we need it. It's very secluded."

"It's lovely," said Valerie, bending down to inspect the delicate flowers. "These flowers are beautiful."

"Not as beautiful as you are," said Mark, gently pulling her up and turning her towards him.

Valerie smiled but didn't say anything as Mark started to kiss her.

Later they sat quietly beside the pool, listening to the wind rustling through the leaves.

"Valerie, I want you to promise me something."

"I'll try."

"Promise me that you'll never take another stupid risk like you did yesterday. Promise me that."

"On one condition."

"What's that?"

"That you promise me that you won't take any stupid risks."

"I don't take stupid risks."

"Not even if Steve or Dan ask you to? Not even if it's to protect one of us?"

"That's different. We all take risks every day just living on this planet and if one of us is in danger, then of course we have to take whatever action is necessary. But we don't need to take stupid risks – certainly not to help a giant."

She smiled. "I can promise you that after yesterday I won't be taking any 'stupid' risks as you call them. I found out yesterday that I'm not cut out to be the brave heroine. Does that satisfy you?"

"I mean it, Val. Think before you act in future. Be sensible."

"Now that's a word that has never been used to describe me."

"Be serious for once, please. It's important. I don't want to lose you – not now that I've found you."

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be flippant. I'll try to be careful in future, I promise."

"Thank you." He kissed her once more. "We'd better be getting back or they'll be sending out a search party."

The others back at camp had indeed started to get anxious about the whereabouts of Mark and Valerie, and Steve wasn't slow to show his displeasure the moment they returned.

"Where have you been? You know you shouldn't go wandering around the forest aimlessly!"

"We weren't wandering aimlessly," retorted Mark. "We were perfectly safe."

"Well, you were still taking an unnecessary risk. Why didn't you come straight back from the outpost?"

"Well, you're the one who knows all about taking unnecessary risks, aren't you? You showed us that yesterday!"

The truth of the accusation stung Steve and stopped him from defending himself straightaway.

Mark continued: "So don't lecture me when it was your actions that nearly cost Valerie her life!"

With that, he stormed over to the lean-to, with Valerie swiftly following.

"Mark, please, ignore Steve. He means well. It's just he can't stop playing the role of the captain. To him, we'll still his passengers."

Mark snorted. "He doesn't treat us like passengers. He treats us like children!"

"Mark, please." Valerie reached her hand out to him and touched him on the shoulder. "We've had a lovely evening. Please, don't spoil it by arguing with Steve."

The concern in her pleading eyes sparked his conscience. "I'm sorry. I've always had a quick temper, and Steve's self-righteousness really grates."

"I know. He irritates me too sometimes but forget about it and come and have some supper."

"In a minute. I've got to cool down first. You go ahead."

She nodded and walked over to the table where Betty was ladling out soup to the others. As she sat down she caught Steve's eye and said, "You really didn't need to shout like that, you know. We're not children."

Steve sighed and stood up. "I know. I guess I'd better have a word with him."

It was hard for Steve to swallow his pride and apologize to Mark, especially as it was for the second time in two days, but he knew that if he didn't do so their disagreement could build to a flashpoint which might jeopardise the safety of the whole group. Steve knew that the only solution was to deal with the problem immediately and repair his damaged relationship with Mark.

"Mark, I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lost my temper. It's just that I was worried when you and Valerie were late back. I feel responsible."

"Yeah, I know. We're still your passengers."

"You're not just that. You're my friends – my family. We've only got each other in this nightmare world. We need to stick together, to work together, to keep safe together. I know I overstepped the mark just now. And I know I was wrong yesterday in taking Valerie with me. I regret that. I really do. It won't happen again."

"You're darn right it won't happen again."

"But Mark someone has to be in command. In extreme circumstances, we have to act quickly and decisively, and someone needs to take the lead."

"It doesn't always have to be you, though – especially when most of the time you don't even listen to any suggestions the rest of us might make. As you say, we've got to work together. Well, to me that means we each take responsibility for our own lives and decide things democratically. That used to work pretty well for us when we were back on earth, didn't it?"

Steve ran his hands through his hair as he thought over what Mark had said. "I guess you're right," he said finally. "I guess I shouldn't always make the decisions without listening to what you and the others have to say. I'll try to do that in future. I really will."

Mark stared back thoughtfully. "Well, OK, then. For my part, I'll try not to fly off the handle so quickly – if only for Valerie's sake and that of the others."

Steve smiled. "That sounds good to me. Come on, let's join the others and have something to eat."

Mark smiled back at him. "Yeah, we ought to hurry. If I know Fitzhugh, he's already onto second helpings!"