< /TR>


Chapter Two

A smile lit up his face, and he gave her hand a squeeze as he tugged her towards the box, his other hand fumbling inside his coat. “Brilliant,” he said, “I know just the place. Lovely food, friendly people, and the moons…” he took a deep breath, grinning widely. “No, I think I’ll leave that part as a surprise.”

Tara found herself smiling in response to his sudden glee. “Sounds lovely,” she said. “How are we going to get there?”

He winked as his hand withdrew a yale key, dangling from a long chain, from his coat. “Ah, that’s the easy part. We’re going to use my ship!”

“Your…ship?” Tara frowned as he slotted the key into the blue box, and twiddled at the lock. Now that she was standing right beside it, it looked even more innocuous that before…even if it did look a bit out of place. “What’s a police box?” she asked aloud as she read the notice on the door.

“Oh, just a place that the old British Bobbies used to stuff criminals into when they didn’t have any transport at hand,” he said offhandedly. “Kinda went out of fashion a few decades ago.”

“So, it’s a prison cell?” Tara asked, suddenly uncertain.

The Doctor went still and looked at her. “Tara,” he said, his voice suddenly gentle. “If you aren’t completely certain, you shouldn’t come with me.”

Tara examined his face. He was completely in earnest, she knew that instinctively. “You’re very intense, aren’t you?” she observed.

“Yes.” The grin reappeared. “But I’m also a lot of fun.” He waggled his eyebrows, and Tara laughed, despite herself.

“Good food, you said?”

“Lovely people,” he answered promptly.

“And the moons are a surprise…” Briefly, Tara wondered what she’d agreed to. He was a complete stranger and he wasn’t human. This wasn’t usually a good combination, especially in Sunnydale; and yet, she found herself trusting him implicitly. It was a strange feeling and Tara, usually so cautious, found she rather liked it. “Okay, I’m in,” she said, with a determined nod. “Take me to your ship!”

He smirked. “Already have,” he told her, nudging the box’s door open with his shoulder. “Ladies first.”

Warily, Tara threw the Doctor a sideways glance before steeling herself and stepping over the threshold. “Oh…” she uttered, her wide eyes taking in the large chamber, bathed in a golden light. She eyed the raised platform in the centre of the room, and wondered why it was humming.

“Larger on the inside than the outside. Roomier than you thought, eh?”

Tara turned to see the Doctor leaning against the doorway, a large, toothy grin on his face. “Glamour spell?” she guessed.

“Nope,” he said, stepping inside.

Tara frowned thoughtfully. “Pocket Dimension?”

The Doctor raised an eyebrow. “Good guess! Still wrong, of course, but all the same…used to thinking outside of the box, aren’t you?”

“And inside it too, apparently.”

“Hah, yes, good one!” He laughed, getting the joke. She felt absurdly pleased about that; a lot of people didn’t get her sense of humour. “She’s called the TARDIS.” He said eventually, patting the wall as if to reassure it. “Stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space.”

Willow would love this, Tara reflected, with a pang of regret. She’d be poking into the corners and babbling excitedly, asking all sorts of questions. “She’s lovely,” she said aloud, pushing the thought away.

“Isn’t she?” he said, delight evident in his voice. “Shall we take her for a little spin?” he slammed the door shut and sprinted past her, practically leaping onto the platform. “Come on, don’t be shy,” he said over his shoulder, pulling several levers in quick succession. The hum got louder, and began to pulse, and Tara watched as a large column in the middle of the platform began to move. What was it? How did it work?

Tara climbed the steps and watched with amusement as the Doctor fiddled with several buttons and wrenched a flat screen monitor around so that she could look at it. “See that?” he declared, practically bouncing on his feet. “That’s the vortex. Beautiful, isn’t it?”

Tara looked at the strange shapes that glowed and swerved across the screen. They seemed to be constantly on the verge of forming a pattern that never appeared. It was beautiful, in a hypnotic sort of way. She smiled up at his expectant face. “You’re right,” she said, “It’s very beautiful.”

“Ah Tara, you always know the right thing to say, don’t you?” he said with a half sigh, and Tara blushed at the compliment, letting her hair fall to cover her face.

“What does it mean?” she asked, to cover her embarrassment.

“Hard to explain, really,” he said. “It’s time and space, and all the spectacular possibilities in between. The universe in all its glory…ah, we’re nearly there.”

The TARDIS shuddered, and Tara uneasily held onto the rail. “Is it supposed to do that?”

“Oh yes, most definitely” he said, nodding furiously as he grabbed her hand from the rail. “Coming?” He had already pulled her halfway down the platforms steps, so Tara assumed the question was rhetorical. Smiling, she gave into the whirlwind that was the Doctor and let him drag her to the door. With a flourish, he threw open the door, and Tara gasped in delight as she took in the view.

“Where are we?” she asked as she looked up at the pale, purple sky, her eyes taking in the three moons that hung there, before they dropped to the shoreline in the distance.

“Abera Amin,” he said, bumping shoulders with her as they stood in the doorway. “Has a population of…oh, one billion or so? There are two sentient species, the Beran are aquatic and the Minos are land dwellers. A perfect partnership - no squabbling over space.”

“The tides must be phenomenal,” she said. “I mean, three moons…”

“Yes,” he said, sighing contentedly. “They are. The great high tide occurs once every three months. It’s quite a sight. All the house within a ten miles of the shore line have hulls and are anchored so that they don’t drift too far…which reminds me, I promised you a meal. Come on, there’s a village over the next hill.” He tugged on her hand, and Tara stepped onto the springy turf grass. It’s colour reminded slightly of heather, a soft mauve purple.

It suddenly struck her that she was another planet. “How far?”

“About three hundred light years,” he said, understanding her question.

“Wow,” she said breathlessly. “Oh wow.”

“Wow indeed,” he said, grinning widely as he rolled onto the balls of his feet. “Shall we?” They strolled down the hill, the doctor bobbing excitedly as he pointed out a new plant or a strange bird. Tara listened intently as he started to explain the migratory habits of the G’rabi, and then veered off into an elaborate description of Abera Aminan cuisine. “Wait ‘til you taste it,” he gabbled excitably. “Lovely, glorious, fantastic foo…oh.”

Frowning, Tara followed his gaze, and spotted the large cloud of smoke that rose from beyond the next hill. “What is it?”

“Trouble,” he said flatly, his grasp becoming firm as he stalked across the grass.

“B-b-but how can you be sure?” she asked, as she trotted to keep up.

His face became grim, all his good humour falling away. “Because I’m here,” he said. “Because that’s what I am…trouble.” And there it was again, the dark loneliness welling up inside him.

Tara sighed. “You shouldn’t say that things like that,” she pointed out as their pace sped up. “People might believe you.”

“Say what?” he asked, momentarily puzzled.

“That you’re trouble.”

His eyes darkened as he looked down at her. “But they should believe me, Tara,” he said coldly. “Otherwise, what’s the whole point.”