< /TR>


Chapter Eight

Tara tried not to drag her feet as they climbed the steps, but she couldn’t keep the heavy knot in her stomach from pulling tighter. “How bad is she?” she murmured to Buffy as she put the key in the door.

Buffy shrugged uncomfortably. “She’s tired, distracted,” she said briefly. “Worried sick about you.” Tara nodded silently and smiled briefly at the Doctor as he squeezed her hand before letting it drop to her side.

“Don’t worry,” he said, out of the corner out of his mouth. “If she throws a fireball at us, I’ll pull us out – I hate domestics.”

Tara smiled wryly as she shook her head. “Not really Willow’s way,” she said. “She’s more into the passive aggressive method of dealing with conflict.”

The Doctor shuddered. “That’s even worse,” he said fervently, and Tara wondered what he was thinking about as he peered into the now open doorway.

“Do you have a family?” she asked, curious. It was funny, she felt like she’d known him all her life, but she knew so little about his past.

“No, no family,” he said quietly, as they stepped into the hallway.

A squeal came from the top of the stairs, and Tara looked up to see Dawn grinning widely as she took the steps two at a time. “Tara!” she said, as she pulled her into a tight hug. “Where were you? We were so worried!”

“Tara?” Willow’s voice sounded uncertain as she appeared in the middle of the living room floor.

“Willow,” Tara said, smiling uncertainly. She’d lost weight, she thought, with a sigh, as a silence fell in the house.

“Oh, for Rassilon’s sake,” the Doctor muttered under his breath, thrusting out his hand. “How do you do, I’m the Doctor – haven’t seem any fire-breathing Genies wandering around the place lately, have you?”

Willow blinked and stared at the hand. “Huh?”

“No, not you then,” he declared. “Nobody can fake that amount of bewilderment.”

A frown appeared on Willow’s face. “Can someone tell me what’s going on?” she asked. “And who is he?” The Doctor rolled his eyes at the question, and Tara poked him in the side.

“He’s the Doctor, a friend of mine,” Tara said, looking at him warningly. “Although that might change in the near future.”

“Doctor who?” Willow asked, and the Doctor groaned.

“Just call me Smith,” he said impatiently. “Can we get back to the Genie now? I don’t like the idea of him waking up in my TARDIS and wreaking havoc with her wiring!” Discreetly, Tara kicked him in the ankle and raised her eyebrows innocently as he glared at her. “What? What did I do now?”

“Deep breaths, I hear it helps,” Tara said dryly, and Buffy giggled as an affronted look crossed the Doctor’s face.

Willow crossed her arms, her resolve face clearing the puzzlement from her expression. “First, you disappear for two weeks, without telling anyone,” she said tersely. “Then, you turn up at the door with a guy called Smith, who obviously has some kind of weird obsession with Genies! What in Hades is going on here, Tara?”

Sighing, Buffy stepped forward. “Willow, somebody sent a fire breathing Genie after Tara,” Buffy said solemnly. “So far, the only name that has come up is Rack.”

“Rack?” Willow said, her face suddenly crumpling as she took a step towards Tara. “Oh Goddess, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Tara said reassuringly. “The Doctor managed to put him under before he could get to me, but…but people were killed, Willow.”

Willow nodded grimly. “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of…oh,” her face fell. “I’m sorry, Tara, I’m not sure I can handle Rack without losing control and—”

Instinctively, Tara put her arms around her and pulled her close. “Shhh, don’t worry,” she murmured into Willow’s hair. “Everything is going to be alright.”

“It is?” Willow asked softly, and Tara realised that Willow was not talking about the Genie.

“Yes, it is,” Tara said, smiling as she realised she spoke the truth. “Everything is going to be just fine.”

“Sorry to interrupt,” the Doctor said softly, and Tara glanced at him, noticing the sudden sadness in his eyes. “But we still need to track down the bottle before the Genie wakes up.”

“Yes,” Willow said, nodding. “But, the thing is, I’m not sure where he is at the moment. I broke all ties with the community…” Her voice trailed off as she frowned thoughtfully. “Amy will know,” she eventually said, her voice becoming firm.

“Rat girl?” the Doctor asked, his voice suddenly sharp. “She knows Rack?”

Buffy sighed. “I think you may be barking up the wrong tree, Doctor,” she said. “I’m not a exactly her biggest fan, but I don’t think she’s capable of murder.”

“I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” Willow said lowly. “Rack has got her pretty hooked…she was just here, trying to convince me to go with her to his place. I think he’s pressurising her…he likes me,” she added, with a shiver.

“Does he, indeed?” the Doctor said, his eyes narrowing, and Tara felt a shiver of foreboding.

“It’s too dangerous,” she said, shaking her head.

“Not as dangerous as it’s going to be when that Genie wakes up,” he countered. “In the vortex, the TARDIS’s shielding is unbeatable but, here, on top of the Hellmouth? I’d rather not risk the chance a teleporting demon could beat her.”

“Who’s this TARDIS you keep talking about?” Willow asked, puzzled.

“The Doctor’s ship,” Tara said, grinning suddenly. “Wait until you see her. You’re going to love it!” Her grin faltered as she saw a shadow pass across the Doctor’s eyes.

“Yes, that would be interesting,” he said, his voice suddenly muted. “But first we have to find Rack.”

“Right,” Willow said, drawing in a deep breath. “I’ll give Amy a ring.”

Tara frowned. “What if she suspects something?” she asked.

“She won’t,” Willow muttered. “She doesn’t believe I can beat this; she told me as much when she was here. All I need to do is convince her we’ve had an argument, or something, and I’ve had enough of being magic free. She’ll believe it. She doesn’t understand why someone would give up that much power.”

“Don’t worry,” the Doctor said, his voice unexpectedly gentle. “I’ll make sure she won’t spring any unexpected surprises on you.”

Willow threw him a curious look, before glancing at Tara’s face questioningly. “He’s pretty good at keeping his promises,” Tara said quietly.

“Okay, then,” Willow said slowly. “Let’s do this.”