< /TR>


Chapter Four

It was huge, it was enormous, it looked like a F'narl demon on steroids.

"Quick, you distract him," the Doctor muttered.

"Who? Me?" Tara squeaked as the Doctor hared off into the smoke.

"Just wave your hands at him or something. I'll be right back!"

The villagers scattered, leaving Tara and the Demon alone. "YOU DEFY ME, PUNY MORTAL?" Small puffs of smoke escaped his nostrils as he spoke. At least she now knew how he'd set fire to the village.

"Uh, h-h-hi," Tara stammered, as she frantically tried to think of a spell that would slow him down. Something told her a fireball wouldn't really cut it.

The demon took a step toward her and the ground shuddered. Tara instinctively stepped back and wondered how he'd managed to sneak up on them. Mr Lightfoot he definitely wasn't. "I ASK YOU AGAIN, MORTAL, DO YOU DEFY ME?" the creature asked, almost politely.

"Um, I suppose it depends on what you mean by defy," Tara prevaricated as her mind suddenly grasped onto a spell that might work.

"GOOD ENOUGH." The demon took a deep breath, and Tara caught a glimpse of flames in the back of his throat.

"Aqua Existus," she cried, gesturing at his head as she released the spell. Water leapt from her hands, hitting him in the face, and the demon fell to his knees and screamed before crumpling to the ground. Tara stared at the unconscious demon. "Wow, I didn't think it would work that well," she breathed.

"Neither did I, brilliant distraction!" Startled, Tara looked up to see the Doctor standing on the other side of the demon, holding a small metallic object, the shape of a pen, in his hand. Realisation dawned, and she took a closer look at the back of the Demon's head. A very large lump was already beginning to form.

"Oh," she said, with a mixture of relief and disappointment

"Sonic screwdriver," he said, by way of explanation, "Never leave home without it."

A thousand questions crowded her head and Tara sighed, settling for one. "So what do we do with him?"

"Not really sure," the Doctor admitted, nudging the unconscious demon with his foot. "Never met a fire demon before. Any suggestions?"

"Well, we could always chop him up," Tara suggested uneasily. "That usually works."

The Doctor paused. "Nah, too messy," he said at last. "Lets just find out where he came from and dump him there." The sonic screwdriver lit up and Tara watched, curious, as the Doctor waved it over the demon. "Huh, that's strange," he muttered distractedly, peering at the demon. "I wonder if I got the settings wrong." He tapped the screwdriver with his finger.

"What is it?" Tara asked worriedly.

"Well, apparently this creature comes from Earth, which sounds mighty unlikely to me - doesn't it sound unlikely to you?" he took a breath. "Hah, of course, he could come from the Hellmouth, which is a really big coincidence since that's where we were before we got here. I don't like those kind of coincidences, It usually means someone is plotting…and not the nice kind of plotting, which happens more often than you'd think. No, this kind of plotting usually ends up in death and destruction and burnt villages!" He waved his hand at the smouldering houses behind them. "Right then, back to Sunnydale we go."

Tara sighed as the Doctor stalked across the grass towards the villagers, who were slowly re-emerging. She knew it was selfish of her, but she couldn't help but feel a little disappointed they were returning to Sunnydale so soon.

She watched as the Doctor cornered the village's mayor and gestured wildly, pointing at the demon and in the direction of the TARDIS several times. The Minosians grouped around him, making him briefly the centre of attention, and Tara smiled as he pulled his hands through his hair, making it stand on end, before strolling back to her.

"Well then, that's settled," he said. "They agreed to haul the demon to the TARDIS for us. Glad to see the back of it, no doubt."

And the back of us, too, Tara silently added, as she caught the scowl the mayor threw at the Doctor's back. "What did you say to them?"

"Oh, you know, the usual," he said, shrugging. "Called them a shower of idiots for not trying to stop it sooner, and to hurry up or the bloody thing will wake up and start setting things on fire again."

Tara smirked. In many ways the Doctor reminded her of Anya; so very, very clever, and yet so amazingly stupid at the same time.

The Doctor looked at her suspiciously. "What are you smiling at?"

"You," she said, laughing. "You really are incredibly rude, you know."

A grin lit up his face. "That's me," he said. "Rude to a very sharp point. Come on, let's get back to the TARDIS."

"You still owe me dinner," she teased.

"I've got the makings of a really nice cheese sandwich in the fridge," he said, grabbing her hand. "Promise."

They trundled up the hill in companionable silence, and Tara risked a look at his face. He looked tired, even more tired than he had before. "You know," he said, out of the blue. "You humans never cease to amaze me. You find a great big portal, open to all sorts of nasty dimensions, and what do you do? You set up house on it. I mean, whose bright idea was it to build a town on top of a Hellmouth. What was going through their minds? 'Oh, look, here is this very dangerous looking portal, how darling, all we need now is a mall and a couple of white picket fences and we're all set.'"

"Actually, it was more along the lines of: 'Oh, look, here is a very nasty looking portal and I'm a power hungry soon-to-be-mayor set on immortality; let's build a town on it so I can use its citizens to fuel my demonic ascension and then dine on them when I get turned into a great big snake,'" Tara blurted out.

"How did that work out for him?"

"He got blown up."

"Really?" Grinning, he threw an arm around her shoulder. "Fantastic."

The TARDIS was exactly where they left it and, with a flourish, the Doctor opened the door. "Hello, old girl," he said to the room at large, as he darted up the runway. "Missed me?"

"You're very attached to her, aren't you," Tara observed as she followed him onto the platform.

"She's the last of her kind," he said. "There's nobody else like her - here, let me introduce you." He grabbed her hand and placed it, palm down, on one of the control panels. "There, can you feel her?"

Tara let her senses stretch down and her eyes widened as she felt the presence. "She's alive."

"Well, of course she is. You didn't think I just went around talking to inanimate objects, did you?" Tara blushed; that was exactly what she'd been thinking.

The Doctor gave her a knowing look. "I'm not that far gone," he said softly.

"What happened to you?" she asked cautiously, as his gaze became distant.

"Who, me?" he said, his eyes shifting away. "Don't know what you mean."

"You know exactly what I mean," Tara said. "But it's okay, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to."

He shrugged uncomfortably under her eyes. "I don't like talking about it," he admitted, his voice raw. "It hurts too much."

Tara nodded silently and pushed her hair back. "Yes," she murmured. "I know how that goes."

The Doctor threw her a searching look. "And why are you here, Tara…you know, I never did get the rest of your name?"

"Maclay," Tara supplied. "Tara Maclay."

"Tara Maclay," he echoed. "I like it, has a nice ring to it; much better than 'the Doctor'. So tell me, Tara Maclay, why did you say yes? I know I'm a charming fellow, and all, but something tells me you don't swing that way."

"E-e-excuse me?"

The Doctor sighed. "You meet a stranger on a sunny street, and he asks you to come away with him, and what do you say? You say yes," he said. "Why?"

"Because you seemed so lonely," she said, deciding to be honest. "And so was I"

"Oh, Tara Maclay," he said, at last. "Who hurt so badly?"

Tara was saved from answering by a thump on the door, and she leaned against the rails in relief as the doctor flew down the ramp and threw open the door. "Come in, come in," he said. "Oh bugger, this is going to be a tight squeeze, isn't it?"