< /TR>


Chapter Ten

“Ooooh wow,” Willow said, her voice hushed. “Oh wow, oh wow, oh…is this what I think it is?” She whirled on her feet and stared at the Doctor, her eyes widened in disbelief.

“Depends. What do you think it is?” he asked, his tone curious as he closed the door behind him.

“Well, at first I though it was an alternate dimension, but it isn’t, is it?” she said softly, gingerly reaching out to stroke the curve of the wall. “At least, not the quantum physics version of alternate worlds. It’s still in this reality, or at least connected it…”

“And?” the Doctor prompted, a touch of excitement in his tone.

“The fourth dimension,” she breathed. “That’s it, isn’t it? It’s not supposed to be possible, humans are not supposed to be able to perceive it. It’s way too outside our biological brain’s capacity…?” She threw him a questioning look.

“You’re right, it is,” he said, with soft smile. “The TARDIS is altering you perceptions so your mind can process it. Not bad, most humans don’t get much beyond ‘bigger on the inside’.”

“So I’m right?”

“Partly,” the Doctor admitted, his voice deceptively casual. “And partly not.”

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?”

A grin suddenly appeared on the Doctor’s face. “And deny you the fun of trying to figure it out for yourself?” he asked as he bounded up to the controls.

“But how am I going to figure it out by myself?” Willow demanded.

“Oh, something tells me you’ll manage!” the Doctor said, a knowing look in his eyes.

Tara’s eye’s narrowed as she remembered the TARDIS’s ability to travel in time. Her mind flitted back to his earlier reaction to the thought of Willow seeing the TARDIS’s interior. Could it be…? She shook her head; best not to think about it, it would only give her a headache.

“So, how does this work?” Buffy asked, curious, as she leaned against the control’s guardrail. “And before you mention quantum thing-gummies, may I point out I was a humanities major? Buffy and theorems, not mixy!”

The Doctor hesitated. "Well, basically, I’m going to materialise the TARDIS around Rack and use her shields to cut him off from his power source. Not very fancy, as plans go, but…” he shrugged, as if embarrassed his plan wasn’t more complicated.

“Sound’s good to me,” Buffy said, matter-of-factly. “I’m a kick the door down kinda gal myself.”

“Yes, you are, aren’t you?” the Doctor said, a smirk developing on his face.

Buffy smirked back. “Me muscle, me don’t think,” she joked. “But seriously, any ideas about how to get the Genii’s lamp out of him?”

“Oh, I’m sure something will turn up.”

“Ah, the old ‘make it up as we go along’ plan,” Buffy said dryly. “My personal favourite.”

Tara felt a nudge against her arm, and caught the grin on Willow’s face as she rolled her eyes in Buffy’s and the Doctor’s direction. Tara repressed a wistful sigh, and shook her head in response. Willow raised her eyebrows, but Tara kept her thoughts to herself; she had promised Buffy to keep her not-relationship with a certain blond vampire a secret and somehow she didn’t think the Doctor would appreciate her discussing Rose and his broken heart.

The TARDIS began to hum expectantly as the Doctor adjusted a few levers, a crease of concentration forming on his brow. “Better hold on,” he said. “These short trips can be a bit dodgy sometimes.” Taking him at his word, Tara grabbed onto the railing and Willow followed suit.

The Doctor grinned fiercely as he swivelled a knob and wound up a gear, his eyes glued to the monitor. “Oh, nearly forgot!” he suddenly said, slapping his forehead. “The address?”

Willow leaned away from the rail and handed him the slip of paper, and he muttered under his breath for a moment before twiddling a few dials that seemed to be haphazardly attached to the console with a few loose wires. “Here we go!”

The column in the centre of the console began to move, and the Doctor laughed with glee as he watched its pulsating glow. Buffy’s mouth formed into a silent ‘oh’ as the TARDIS began to shiver and throb gently, the engine’s hum rising to a deep, rhythmic pounding.

“Does it always do this?” Willow asked, a quiver of fear in her voice.

“Completely normal,” Tara reassured her.

The Doctor hummed tunelessly under his breath as he studied the monitor, his hands hovering over the console. “That should do it,” he eventually pronounced as he stabbed a button and pulled a lever, “Hold on, this is the tricky part!”

For a split second, the TARDIS’s walls became transparent, and Willow let out a cheep of surprise. “That’s Rack’s place.”

The Doctor nodded. “Yup, but I think I may have to fast forward us a bit, he doesn’t seem to be in.” The TARDIS’s engines screeched, and Tara automatically felt for Willow’s hand, who took it gratefully. Once again, the TARDIS’s walls faded but, this time, a ghostly figure appeared on the ramp, a look of shock plastered on his face.

“That him?” the Doctor asked, and Willow nodded, speechless. The walls became solid, as did the ghostly figure on the ramp. Tara eyed him; she’d never met Rack in person before and only knew him by reputation. He looked every bit as sleazy as she’d imagined him.

“Hallo there, I’m the Doctor! ” the Doctor said breezily as Rack looked around wildly, spotted Buffy, and then ran for the door. “That really won’t do you much good, I’m afraid, deadlock seal.” The Doctor gave him a commiserating smile as Rack wrenched at the handle.

“You can’t touch me, Slayer, I’m human,” Rack eventually rasped out, unable to keep the waver out of his voice as he pressed his back up against the wall, his eyes darting around the control room.”

“Really?” the Doctor asked, looking at Buffy. “A bit limiting, don’t you think?”

Buffy shrugged. “I’m a Slayer, not a judge,” she said. “Not my place to punish him. Of course, that doesn’t prevent me from making a citizen’s arrest and handing him over to the human authorities,” she added, with a drawl.

Rack laughed. “And how long, exactly, do you think a set a bars will keep me locked up, Slayer?”

“He has a point,” the Doctor mused.

“Which is why I haven’t gone after him before now,” Buffy said flatly. “No matter how tempted I might have been.”

“Know the feeling,” the Doctor sighed. “You know it isn’t going to end well, you know you could stop it, and yet you find wondering ‘Do I have the right…?’”

A flash of surprise showed in Buffy’s eyes. “Yeah,” she said softly. “Kinda sums it up.”

Suddenly more confident, Rack straightened and smoothed his jacket. “So what do you want, Slayer – no, let me guess,” his eyes slid towards Willow and Tara felt her grip tighten. “Hello, Strawberries, need a hit, do we?”

The Doctor sighed. “They never listen,” he murmured, before taking a deep breath. “Let’s try this again, shall we,” he said, with forced cheeriness. “I’m the Doctor, this is the TARDIS, and the way out-” He waved an arm at the door. “Is locked. I’ll give you three guesses why. Here’s a hint: it’s got nothing to do with strawberries.”

A knowing leer appeared on Rack’s face as he circled around the console. “Who’s she?” he asked, suddenly pointing at Tara. “I don’t recognise her, but she’s got a smell of power around her—”

“Leave her alone!” Willow said, her voice full of stone.

“Ah!” Rack said smoothly. “Let me guess, the lovely Tara Maclay – pity you never brought her with you, strawberries, we could have had such fun—”

“I said,” Willow snarled dangerously. “Leave her alone.

For a moment, the TARDIS’s light dimmed and, realising what was happening, Tara squeezed Willow’s hand. “Willow, honey, he’s trying to provoke you,” she said urgently. “Don’t give him the satisfaction.” Willow shuddered, then gave an abrupt nod. The TARDIS’s light brightened.

“Well, that was interesting,” the Doctor said, giving Willow a piercing look. “But let’s get back to the subject at hand, shall we? Three guesses, not to be mistaken for that other old chestnut, three wishes – ah, which reminds me, I don’t suppose you’re missing a genie, by any chance? It’s just that I seem to have a spare and I can’t figure out where it might have come from – Oi! Where do you think you’re going?”

Suddenly, Rack darted for the door – the other door – and Buffy leaped over the rail, her fingers brushing the edges of his jacket a moment too late as he slammed through it.

“Bugger!” The Doctor declared, jumping over the railing himself as Buffy gave chase. “Buffy! Slayer! Don’t—”

“What the hell?” the door swung open once more, to reveal an astonished Slayer. “How big is this place? I lost him in the first corridor.”

The Doctor sighed a breath of relief. “Lucky for you,” he said. “The TARDIS has very distinct opinions on unwelcome guests. Follow me.”

Tara tugged gently at Willow’s hand and they both followed the Doctor into the hallway. “Tara, you’re with me. Buffy, you go with Willow down…” he pointed at a seemingly random corridor. “That way.”

“What about the whole ‘unwelcome guest’ thing,” Willow piped up uncertainly.

“Taken care of,” the Doctor said brusquely. “If you find him, give out a shout. I’ll hear you.”

Buffy nodded and strode down the corridor, Willow following reluctantly behind her after throwing a last look at Tara over her shoulder. Tara sighed.

“They’ll be okay; right as rain, in fact,” the Doctor said abruptly.

“You can’t be certain of that,” Tara said.

“Hmm,” the Doctor said. “Kind of can, actually, Rack’s this way.”

“Then why—”

“For the best, don’t you think?” the Doctor interrupted gently. “Buffy said it herself: he’s human, out of her jurisdiction, and Willow…” he shrugged. “Best not to tempt her, eh?”

Tara frowned at him. “What are you going to do to him, Doctor?”

“Who? Me?” the Doctor said, looking momentarily nonplussed. “I’m not going to do anything to him! Just need to get that genie back in the bottle.”

“Uhuh,” Tara drawled. “So you’re no longer angry about the Minosians? You no longer think Rack should be taught a lesson?”

“Oh, I never said that,” the Doctor said grimly. “Come on.”

Silently, Tara followed him through the TARDIS and ruefully watched him navigate the maze of never ending corridors. He never hesitated, never paused before he turned; he was completely at home in this world of twists and turns. “Do they ever end?” Tara asked softly. “The corridors, I mean.”

The Doctor looked down at her and grinned. “It’s fluid,” he said. “The TARDIS is as big as she needs to be.”

Tara nodded; in a weird way, it made a sort of sense. Of course, it also made the Doctor’s unerring sense of direction even more baffling – unless he was bluffing it, she realised suddenly. “How do you know?” she asked suddenly. “If the TARDIS is always changing, how do you know which corridor to take?”

The Doctor grinned. “I don’t,” he said cheerfully. “But it doesn’t matter. All I need is a destination.”

Tara rolled her eyes. “You and Confucius would make a great double act,” she said dryly.

“Yes, we did, actually – how did you know?” he shot back with a cheeky smile.

“You’re impossible,” she said, a smile tugging at her lips.

“Best way to be,” he said agreeably. “Ooh, wait, we’re here!”

Tara looked at the door they’d halted at and her eyes widened. “Hey, isn’t that—”

The Doctor laughed. “Yes, I know, it has a certain symmetry, don’t you think?”

Tara glared at him accusingly. “You set this up!” she said. “You knew he’d run for the other door once he knew he was trapped inside. You knew it and you made certain he’s end up here, imprisoned in the same room as the Genie!”

“Did I? Brilliant! I’m a regular mastermind!” he declared. “Of course, to do that, I’d have to know exactly which corridors he’d run down—”

“No, you bloody well wouldn’t—”

“Bloody? Where did you pick that word up?”

“You said it yourself, remember?” she said, ignoring him. “The corridors don’t matter, all that matters is the destination – and you rigged it! I don’t know how you did it, but you did!”

“Yes, well…” he shrugged.

“He could have been hurt. He could be dead!”

“True, that kind of thing tends to happen when you find an unexpected fire breathing genie on your travels.”

“You said you weren’t going to do anything to him!”

“And I didn’t,” the Doctor said hotly. “I didn’t lay one bloody finger on him! I didn’t force him to make a run for it instead of coming clean. I didn’t force him to run through that door! He did it to himself!”

“Keep telling yourself that, Doctor,” Tara retorted. “But you and I know the truth.”

The Doctor fell silent. “You may be right,” he said reluctantly. “Mercy isn’t my strongest trait, not anymore. There’s only so much death you can see before…” He sighed. “The Genie hasn’t awoken yet.”


“The Genie hasn’t awoken yet,” the Doctor repeated stiffly. “I always give them a chance. One chance. He hasn’t had his yet.”

Tara shivered as she saw the ice in his eyes. She didn’t care how alien he was; nobody should have that expression on their face, feel that amount of despair. “Doctor,” she said quietly. “You do realise, don’t you, that…” She took a deep breath, willing herself to say the right words. “It’s not your fault. You’re not responsible and…and…it doesn’t matter how powerful you are, how strong you are, you can’t save everyone. You can’t make everything right… or…or safe. As much as you may try, as much as may push and prod and hope, it’s not going to happen. People are going to die, people are going to be lost. All you can do is your best. Buffy… Buffy learned that the hard way, don’t do that to yourself.”

“You don’t understand,” he said flatly.

“Then show me,” Tara pleaded. “Show me what I don’t understand.” And, for a brief moment, she thought he would.

“The Genie is about to wake up,” he said, shaking his head.

Tara sighed. “You’d better open it up, then.”

He pushed at the door and it swung open silently. The Genie was a large, slumbering pile in the middle of the room, and Rack had squeezed himself into the furthest corner. “The door wouldn’t open,” he said hoarsely. “And my magic doesn’t work.”

“No,” the Doctor said, standing in the Doorway. “You were where you were supposed to be.”

The genie snorted in his sleep and Rack whimpered. “I want to get out.”

The doctor tilted his head and examined him. “That can be arranged,” he said. “Once you give me the lamp.”

“I…I don’t have it.”

“But you did.”

Rack nodded. “I gave it to Amy.”

“Just like that,” the Doctor said flatly. “You just gave it to her, no strings attached.”

“She owes me.”

The Doctor’s eyes narrowed. “Owes you what, exactly?”

“Strawberries,” Rack rasped. “She promised me strawberries.”