Giles stood on the lawn, feeling out of place among the vintage clothing hunters and newlyweds scouting for furniture. The California yard sale seemed as foreign to him as a Tibetan monastery, if not more so. Still, he had been sent to America on very little notice, and he had to furnish his new home on a budget. After miles of peeling off-white bookshelves set out on street corners and neglected dressers reeking of mothballs, Giles was not feeling optimistic.
That was when he saw the wardrobe.
It was old and hand-carved from strong dark wood. The spicy smell of it took him back to England and the sunlit libraries of Cambridge. As he reached out to touch one of the smooth-worn edges, he felt an intense gaze fall upon him. There was an elegant woman, perhaps twenty years his senior, standing nearby. She wore a black pillbox hat atop her iron grey curls, and a keen expression.
"Ah, good morning," said Giles. "Is this yours?" He gestured vaguely at the tables heaped high with feather boas, antique mantelpieces, and tea services.
"Yes, it is," she said, in an English accent worn flat by long years across the ocean. The lines around her eyes creased. "I see I've encountered another expatriate."
"You brought this with you from England." It wasn't a question. The wardrobe was deeply British, with a hint of - something else. His eyes hooded as he took another deep inhale of that aged wood smell.
"I did. But I've decided to spend my retirement back in the countryside I knew, and bringing it with me would be…" Her face darkened. "Too much trouble."
"It's beautiful," Giles said. "It's got … a story."
The lady gave a wan smile - genuine, but very weary. "It's yours, then." She named a price half that on the tag.
Giles offered his hand to shake. "Thank you very much, Ms. …"
"Pevensie," said the lady, taking his hand with surprising force. "Susan Pevensie."
In retrospect, Giles ought to have guessed that the wardrobe would turn out to be an interdimensional portal.
Giles tried not to flinch as Buffy brushed snow off her jacket sleeve onto his carpet. "You were right, Will. I walked through the back of the wardrobe and poof! Definitely not in Kansas anymore."
"What was it like?" said Willow, her face alight with curiosity. "Did you find out what it's called?"
"Or why it's in Giles' wardrobe?" Xander added.
"I talked to someone - or something - there. At first I thought it was a demon, but it just looked like a really big squirrel. I asked where I was, and it told me I was in Narnia. Then it got really scared and said I'd better be quiet and hide, because 'they're always watching,'" said Buffy, making air quotes. "Very George Orwell."
The look of hunger that flashed briefly in Oz's eyes at the words "really big squirrel" may have been just a little disturbing.
"Narnia," Giles murmured. "I'll start researching."
Giles double-checked his translation, then began to read. "Aslan the lion demon reigns supreme in Narnia. His power also extends to other worlds; it knows no bounds."
"'Reigns supreme,' huh? Sounds like our 'always watching' guy," said Buffy.
"And if his power isn't limited to just one dimension, we could be next," Willow pointed out.
Buffy went for the weapons chest and drew a sword. "So, who wants to help me slay a lion?"
"I'll come!" Willow said, bouncing out of her seat. Oz was instantly at her side.
Xander gave a few weak coughs. "Say, guys, I'd love to come, but I think I'm, uh, coming down with something." Another cough, for emphasis. "How about I stay and hold down the fort with the G-man?"
"Great," said Buffy. "If you and Giles find any info on how to kill him, come in and let us know." With varying degrees of determination on their faces, Buffy, Willow, and Oz marched into the wardrobe. Giles tried not to think about the state of his good shirts.
He closed the book he'd been translating and caught a glimpse of the author's name: Jadis of Charn.
"Oh, bugger," said Giles, with feeling.
After a long journey through Narnia, which involved riding through melting snow on a sleigh pulled by talking dogs (whom Xander got along with perhaps too well) Giles and Xander finally found Buffy and Aslan. They looked on from the shadow of a tree as they faced one another. She was not trying to kill him.
She was braiding his mane.
"…and then he just left. Why doesn't anyone think I can decide these things for myself?"
Aslan watched her, his eyes old and gold and kind. "When we make decisions, we must also face the consequences, and sometimes they are terrible beyond our imagining. Your loved ones think they can spare you that." Suddenly, that wise gaze was fixed on Giles, veiled though he was in shadow. "They cannot."
Giles' mouth went dry. Once upon a time, he would have done most anything for the chance to be face to face with such great power. Now that it was happening, he would have rather been anywhere else in the universe.
A beat of silence passed, rasping against his senses like sandpaper. Then he heard Willow come up beside them, all a-flutter with glee. "Hey, Giles! Hey, Xander! Wanna come meet a centaur?"
Giles dusted the china for the tenth time, and stared unseeingly into the knot of people who picked up his possessions and peered at the price stickers. All of them seemed to have the same face and walk along the same paths, like a parade of wind-up dolls.
He turned his head, and saw a young woman with bleach blonde hair standing next to the wardrobe. His blood sang, then ached, at the sight. The girl peered at him sidelong. Now that he could see her face, she clearly wasn't Buffy at all. She wore too much mascara, and her clothes, though deceptively simple, were much finer than Buffy could ever have afforded.
"I love this wardrobe," said the girl in a London accent that wasn't nearly as posh as her outfit. "Seen a lot of nice furniture, but nothing quite like this. Shame you've got to sell it."
"I can't take it with me to England," said Giles, unable to stop the pain from flashing across his face. "It would be … too much trouble."
She looked at him, and somewhere in her brown eyes, there was understanding. Perhaps she really did know how he felt; after all, he'd seen just how much loss one woman could endure in the span of twenty years. "Here," she said, and as she opened her wallet to pay him for the wardrobe, Giles caught a glimpse of the name on her driver's license: Rose.
Giles flinched on the inside, but this time he was able to keep the pain from showing. He helped Rose carry the wardrobe back to her car; on the way, he almost dropped it on her foot. "Sorry," he said reflexively.
They hoisted the wardrobe into the back of her car. Rose looked at him again, her eyes soft, and clasped his hand for a moment. "I'm sorry too," she said.
That day, for the first time since her death, Giles laid roses at Jenny's grave - and at Buffy's.