Xander paused outside the Magic Box, looking in through the window. He'd been inside a few times with Willow, looking for herbs and crystals and whatever other kind of magical paraphernalia she needed at the time, but he didn't remember that much about it. He'd liked this place better than that magic shop she'd dragged him to in high school – what was it called? Dragon's Cove, or something like that. He was pretty sure that one had closed after Angelus killed the proprietor, way back when. Or was that Dru? Like it mattered. One insane vampire was much like the other, in Xander's book.
It seemed strange to him that this shop was still around after so many owners had died, but that hadn't really seemed to slow prospective buyers down. Someone always seemed willing to buy it, as soon as the old owner dropped dead. He wondered if the guy behind the register was the most recent owner – the guy Giles had warned him about. Xander was supposed to find the girl who worked here in the afternoons, but all he could see was that guy ringing up a sale to a rather elderly woman with blueish gray hair. What was up with that hair color? He never understood how little, old ladies got blue hair.
Whatever. He had a job to do, despite the fact that he'd rather stand here and enjoy the afternoon sun. He didn't get out in the sun as much these days, what with the whole vampire schedule he'd been keeping for the last week or two. The heat felt good. And since he wasn't bouncing maniacally, the way he'd done all yesterday, he could actually enjoy the day.
Those mood swings worried him, although he tried to hide it. Giles had suggested that they might be caused by a chemical imbalance, due to the fact that the Plautect sorcerer's potion had been intended for a demon, not a human. He had promised to look into it for Xander. Now that he knew what kind of demon it was intended for, there might be a way to balance out Xander's hormones and stop the wild fluctuations in his moods.
Poor Spike had been ready to club him into unconsciousness by the time they got back to the lair last night. He'd sparred with both Spike and Kendra yesterday, but even that hadn't been enough to wear him down. He'd impressed Giles, though, and that was always an exciting thing to do. It didn't happen that often, but yesterday, he had definitely been pleasantly surprised by Xander's fighting ability. And Kendra had loosened up enough to jokingly call him Hercules, which had both Spike and Xander laughing out loud.
He wished he could see Spike and Kendra spar, but without the potion and Buddy to keep the damage minimal, Spike would suffer blinding headaches every time he hit her, so that wasn't likely to happen. It cheered Xander to think that maybe Giles was losing that stick up his ass. He'd been shocked at the strength of Spike's pain when he'd accidentally knocked Xander over a planter and into a wall. Buddy hadn't been able to help shield him from the blow, and it had hurt enough for the chip to kick in hard. He thought that maybe Giles hadn't really believed in Spike's chip before that, but the way Spike had curled in on himself, the agony of the chip bringing tears to his eyes as he fought not to cry out, had made a profound impact on Giles.
Hopefully, now Giles would feel less uncomfortable about having Spike in his home. He'd had a lot of questions about the Initiative after that. He'd even suggested that Kendra ask around about soldiers or unusual happenings underground at UC Sunnydale while she was out on patrol. It did seem strange that there had been no indication at all of a military presence in this world, when it had played such a large part in Xander and Spike's universe this last year. Maybe he'd have an opportunity to ask here at the Magic Box, since he was here, anyway.
He held the door open for the little, old lady with blue hair, who sniffed condescendingly in his direction as she left. Well that was rude! He'd done his best to clean up before he left, but he was sure that after three days wearing them, his clothes weren't the freshest. He needed to get a shower hooked up to hot water soon, too. He didn't think he could handle a cold shower. Maybe he could get Giles to volunteer his. Although, since Kendra now lived in Giles' guestroom, she might object. Not likely, though – he really was getting ripe. If he was going to continue hanging out at Giles' apartment, they might gladly offer him a shower.
Too bad he wasn't any good at the spell casting thing – he was sure he could find a spell to keep him clean here. Xander looked around at the shelves of books and figurines and bottles of pre-made potions, displays of crystals and rocks and glass sculptures, and odd, unusually shaped boxes with strange labels. He felt totally out of place here, but the scent of patchouli incense helped a little, it reminded him of Willow. He missed her a lot. It would have been nice if she had survived in this strange new version of Sunnydale. It would have made it easier being stuck here.
“Can I help you find something?” The voice was soft and hesitant, but Xander recognized it instantly. He turned quickly to face her, her name springing to his lips in surprise.
Her large, beautiful eyes opened wide in shock and she took a step back from him, stumbling in her haste. “D-d-do I know you?”
Xander did his best to school his surprise, but it was difficult to get rid of the broad smile that had lit his face as soon as he heard her voice. “I'm sorry! I didn't mean to freak you out. I just – I mean...well, I thought...” He shook his head to clear it. “I mean Giles said to find the girl who works here in the afternoons, and I guessed that was you since you asked if you could help me, and...” He rambled to a stop, not sure if there was anything he could say to make this okay.
“Y-y-you mean Mr. Giles? He said to look for me?” She was looking calmer now, so that was a good thing. Xander was pretty sure that shocking the crap out of her was not a good introduction.
“Yeah. Giles said that I should look for you, 'cause the guy who owns the shop...”
“Is Mr. Bogarty, who's standing right behind you!” She exclaimed loudly, interrupting what could have been a major faux pas on Xander's part. Xander spun around to face Mr. Bogarty, who was a weaselly looking guy in his sixties, with a funny-looking half-ring of hair around his head like a friar or priest or something, and beady, little eyes.
“Mr. Bogarty, this is...” Tara paused, and Xander jumped in.
“Xander Harris. Nice to meet you, Mr. Bogarty.” He shook the man's slightly clammy hand. “I was just telling your employee what a great shop you have.” Xander said, turning to face Tara, so Mr. Bogarty couldn't see him wiping his hand on his thigh. “A friend of mine sent me here, he said you probably had just what I was looking for and I think he's going to be right – you have a great selection.”
Mr. Bogarty smiled, baring all his teeth in the process. “Good. Thank you, I'm glad you think so.” He suddenly switched his focus, his smile disappearing as he dismissed Xander in less than a blink. “Tara, I have a customer here who has questions about Skunk Cabbage root, and since you're so knowledgeable about the herbs and potions, I thought perhaps you could help her and I could take care of Mr....” he fumbled about for the name he'd just been given, and Tara helpfully supplied it.
“Harris. Yes, sir.” She gave Xander an apologetic smile and stepped over to the herbal section where the woman in question snagged her arm and started asking questions in a rapid-fire manner.
Mr. Bogarty smiled again, and Xander decided his teeth were too even and perfect to be real. They had to be dentures. “Now, Mr. Harris, what can I help you with?”
Fifteen minutes later, Xander announced that he needed time to decide what he wanted from the options presented to him, and left an annoyed Mr. Bogarty in the charms and prepared spells aisle while he wandered over to have a seat at the table in the middle of the floor. He set his basket down, and took out the various items Mr. Bogarty had stuck in it, arranging them on the table, determined that he wasn't making a decision until Tara could give him her opinion. That might take a while, but he would wait. He could hear her still talking to that same woman, in the aisle behind him.
“What about Guduchi ? I was told that a tincture of that would be a good blood purifier.”
“Yes, it is. But you have to be careful with it. It's a strange and bitter herb, and can be toxic if taken in the wrong dosage.”
He closed his eyes, listening to Tara's soft voice as she explained the uses of various herbs. Willow had told him that she was very knowledgeable about such things, but he'd never really thought that much about it. He'd taken them both for granted back home. They knew more about magic and herbs than he knew about everything he'd studied back in high school, all together . And they considered themselves amateurs – students with a long way, and years to go, before they could call themselves professionals. He missed them both. Wills had been his best friend for a long time, but Tara had slipped in almost unnoticed, making herself indispensable to him while his back was turned.
Willow had always seemed like a bright, flickering flame, but Tara shone with a golden glow that calmed and quieted like the steadiest of candles, calling you home. That was the problem, though. He wasn't sure he knew where home was, it felt so very far away. He told himself to stop being a baby, he and Spike had a job to do here, and when they were through, they would find a way home. He could feel Buddy's agreement. Buddy didn't have a single doubt that they'd get back to their own world. But he'd never been this far away from home, and he hadn't even left Sunnydale.
“Lost.” Xander opened his eyes, turning his head to see Tara seated beside him, her arms leaning on the tabletop as she smiled at him, sadly. “You're very far from home.”
“I am!” he replied, surprised. “How did you know?”
“I can see it in your aura.” She blushed, her head falling forward until her face was covered by the fall of her hair. “Sorry. I know I shouldn't l-l-look without asking; a person's aura is a very p-private thing, but some things come through to me w-without my even trying.”
“That's right. I forgot that you – I mean, I forget about auras sometimes.” He kept slipping around Tara. It was easy for him to forget that she didn't know him in this dimension. He searched to come up with something to distract her. “Crazy things, auras. You never know what they'll show you, do you?”
“Don't w-w-worry.” She raised her head, looking him in the eye. “I won't look.”
“It's okay. Really.” He paused, hesitating to say it, but despite the fact that he'd never met this version of her, he felt like her knew her, anyway. “I trust you.”
“You know me, don't you?” she asked quietly.
He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. He had no idea what to say.
“I thought you did, from the v-very beginning. I just can't tell how.”
Xander laughed. “I'm having trouble with that one myself.”
She smiled at him. “You'll figure it out,” she said shyly. “I trust you, too.”
“Yeah?” He grinned at her. “Well, when I do figure it out, you'll be the first to know.”
“Good, because I can't wait to find out.” She brushed her hands on her skirt, and picked up one of the talismans Xander had spread out across the table. “Now, let's see what Mr. Bogarty picked out for you.”
When he left the store, Xander practically hopped down the street, and this time his good mood didn't come from some strange chemical imbalance. He'd just spent an hour with one of his favorite witchy women, and Tara's gentle charm had gone a long way toward calming down his panic at this whole, weird ride. Between the two of them, he and Spike could do this. They could conquer this dimension – save the princess, find the sword and slay the dragon. And maybe, if they were lucky, they could leave this place a bit better off, when they went home.