Mind Your Elders
Banner made by the lovely ChrissyM
Series Title: Bear It Well
Title: Once And Always
Disclaimer: Joss owns BTVS, Lewis owns Narnia.
Spoilers: Pre-BTVS; The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Summary: "Once a king or queen in Narnia, always a king or queen. Bear it well, Sons of Adam! Bear it well, Daughters of Eve!" Willow’s aunt always scolded her about wandering around the old house by herself. She said that a child could get lost easily. And while Willow should have listened, she felt the need to point out that there was nothing easy about how lost she ended up being . . .
Notes: Start of an AU series, in which a fifteen year old Willow stumbles into Narnia before Buffy’s arrival in Sunnydale and the consequences of that trip. The first story in the series deals with Willow’s reluctant adventures in Narnia.
~Mind Your Elders~
The portrait of the old man had scared her when she first saw it, over ten years ago. She had been four at the time and very skittish (Aunt Evelyn’s words, not hers). Being confronted with the huge image of the infamous Professor Digory Kirke (shaggy white hair on his head and face, piercing blue eyes hidden behind his round spectacles, and slightly bemused smirk on his face) had not done wonders for her skittish state. He was a very odd looking sort of man. And the way the portrait had been done, it seemed as those he was looking down at her, watching her every movement. The image had scared her so thoroughly that she immediately ran to hide behind her mother. The adults had scolded her, Aunt Evelyn bending down and pulling Willow’s face out from where it had been hiding, buried in her mother’s knees. She was told not to be so childish, and that a painting couldn’t harm her. Besides, this wasn’t a man to be afraid of. Professor Digory Kirke had been a well respected scholar who lived a quiet life alone in his estate in the English countryside. He had also been a very kind and generous man, for instead bequeathing his vast estate and fortune to some far distant relative he had never met, Professor Kirke had bestowed his entire estate on the family of his diligent and faithful housekeeper. So when the great man did die, a few years after the end of the Second World War, the manor went to the one woman who had spent her life taking care of it.
Anne MacReady had considered it an honour to be given such an estate by a man she had so respected. She commissioned the portrait be done in memory of her former employer and his generosity and hung it in the entrance hall for all to see. Anne MacReady then spent the rest of her life working to preserve the history and heritage of the old country house, and charged her children with the same task after her own death in the late 1970s. Only Aunt Evelyn (Great Aunt Evelyn to be exact; she was Grandma Rosenberg’s older sister, but hated being reminded of her age, ergo only ‘Aunt’ Evelyn) had risen to the challenge. She maintained the manor estate with the same diligence as her mother before her. Only she and her husband lived there; visitors were rarely allowed, unless they were interested in taking an historical tour of the place or if they were family. But the family had grown big and spread out, so family visits had been rare until the tragic death of Aunt Evelyn’s husband.
After the poor man’s death (some sort of car accident) family visits increased in frequency, and continued to do so at Aunt Evelyn’s request. It was apparent she was lonely, and there wasn’t one person in her large extended family that was cold-hearted enough to leave her there by herself for too long. The visits were constant and regular. The family still in the United Kingdom was able to make a greater number of trips, but the family across the ocean also kept regular visitation schedules. Willow had been to this manor estate for every year since she was four, maybe even before that but she couldn’t really remember. And while she felt bad for Aunt Evelyn, she protested each and every trip since she was five. Her reasons were simplistic and reasonable. She was a child; she wanted to have fun on her vacation. The manor was interesting, at first, but when you weren’t allowed to touch anything, or get too close to all the cool stuff there, it quickly lost its appeal. It seemed insanely unfair for her to spend her summers sitting in the manor parlour room, sipping tea from a plastic cup (because she would only drop/chip/ruin the real ones) and keeping a respectable two foot distance from all artifacts and household items while every other kid in her class went to Disneyland.
Her parents failed to see the unfairness of her situation. All those other kids were engaging in mindless fun, they told her. Meanwhile, Willow was literally living inside an historical monument. Why, just look (but don’t touch; never touch) at all the artifacts that had been collected from all over the world. Priceless vases from china, paintings from Italy, historic relics from England, and loads of other stuff that got real boring after she turned six and had seen them all twice before. When she conveyed her disinterest to her parents all she received were lectures on the importance of knowing the past and having respect for that which came before. And besides, her parents enjoyed these yearly visits and had no intention of stopping them just because Willow failed to see the significance of what was around her. But of course, such a lack of perspective should be expected since the girl in question was six, and that she was well aware that her parents merely hoisted her off to Aunt Evelyn for the summer while they toured around London at their leisure.
And so, every summer played out just like the last. Willow finished school one day and spent the next day packing because on the third day she would be on an overseas flight to London. Her parents would, of course, be with her on that overseas flight. They would land at Heathrow Airport and spend just one day in London as a family (because who wants to waste time fighting your way around a crowded city when the beautiful and secluded English countryside awaits?) before shuttling off to the country manor. Sheila and Ira would sit and catch up with Aunt Evelyn for two days at the most, and then they would be called away for some business or the other. And of course, since it was business, it would be too boring for young Willow to come along with, so of course she would stay with Aunt Evelyn until both mother and father returned. Willow suspected Aunt Evelyn knew the real reason Sheila and Ira came every year was to get free babysitting for Willow while they had their summer vacation. But unlike Willow, Aunt Evelyn didn’t care. She didn’t want Willow wandering around on her own, touching anything, or getting too close to anything too interesting, but she also didn’t like being alone in that big country house. And while Willow could sympathize, she thought it absurd that she was the only fifteen-year-old Californian girl whose parents had never taken her to Disneyland (seriously, it was right there; they could go and come back in a couple of days).
Aunt Evelyn, though forever up in arms about her manor and its possessions, eventually clued into the fact that Willow detested being treated like a brain-dead child. And though she wasn’t used to accommodating for anyone her respect for Willow’s intelligence (meaning Willow’s compliance with the don’t-touch-anything-ever rule) pushed her to make an unprecedented decision. At the ripe age of thirteen, Willow was given a moderate amount of freedom during her summer visits. While she was still not allowed to touch any of the cool stuff, Aunt Evelyn did provide her with a list of sufficiently bare rooms that Willow was allowed to visit at her own pleasure. Willow wasn’t so sure she wanted to get all excited about being allowed entrance to a bunch of dusty, mostly empty rooms, but she would get excited about not having Aunt Evelyn hovering every second of the day.
However, just because Aunt Evelyn wasn’t hovering didn’t mean she wanted Willow wandering around the old place all by herself. A child could get lost quite easily, she warned the young girl. So if Willow was going to go explore the rooms she had been given access to, she was expected to inform Aunt Evelyn of just what rooms she would be touring for the day. And while it was almost as patronizing as the constant hovering, Willow could tolerate it for a few hours to herself a day. And when it became apparent that Willow could entertain herself quite capably (and quite quietly at that), Aunt Evelyn increased the number of manor tours she gave during the summer. Whenever a group would be arriving, Aunt Evelyn would suggest Willow go for one of her ‘explorations’ for about an hour or so, and Willow would agree if only to be left out of the whole tour experience. Over ten years of seeing the same tour every summer had not endeared Willow to the whole process. When the tour group came, Willow happily slipped off to the dusty old rooms, usually a book in hand. If nothing else, she could at least read in peace.
It was a sad waste of a summer vacation. While it would have been more entertaining to just stay at their house in Sunnydale, Willow found herself standing in that grand entrance hall year after year, the old professor’s smirk following her as she was shuffled off to her usual room. She would tune out the sounds of her parents fake celebration at reuniting with Aunt Evelyn (who always went along with it even though she knew they were pretending; she was paranoid and uptight, not stupid) and throw herself onto the single bed that had just been vacated by some other distant cousin of hers, doomed to these incessant visits same as her.
She wondered if any of her family members ever made it to Disneyland.
At fifteen, Willow could have thought of a million of things she would rather do than spend another day at Aunt Evelyn’s country manor. She could make a list and put in alphabetical order. And the sad thing was, she had actually done that, first week here. She left that list in one of the half-empty rooms she had been given access to and if she cared enough, she could have gone and retrieved it. But she didn’t care enough to go get it. Aunt Evelyn might squawk about her littering in the manor, but both knew that nothing would come of it. Willow was the best behaved relative that ever visited Aunt Evelyn (never, ever touched anything-too scared of Aunt Evelyn to even dream about touching anything) and such misdemeanours could be overlooked. After all, tour groups arrived every third day and she had much better things to do than clean up dusty old rooms that would never be seen by anyone other than Willow.
It was now her third week here (though she could barely tell-the days just melted into one another at the manor) and there was another tour group coming. Aunt Evelyn had primly reminded Willow of this fact (even though Willow knew the schedule better than she did) and calmly asked where Willow would spend her time. If nothing else, Aunt Evelyn took her seasonal custodianship of Willow seriously. She always knew where Willow was, which was more than her parents could say. But Sheila and Ira’s collective neglect is a story better left for another time. Right now it was time for another story; one that Willow didn’t even realize had started when she opened her eyes that morning.
Her hideout of the day was (surprise) another dusty old room hidden amongst the corners of the second floor. Willow had been in there a few times before. It wasn’t a spectacularly interesting room (but come on, were any of the approved rooms interesting?), but it did have a nice large window that let in the sunshine. If Willow squinted, ignored the covered furnishings and dust, and focused only on the sunlight, she could pretend that she was back in California. It only worked for a few seconds, but it was nice nonetheless. And when she took her regular spot on the floor by the window, mind more on her friends back home than on her book (more like mind on Xander and his absolute perfectness), she didn’t notice anything out of the ordinary in the old room.
It was only about an hour later, her mind laughing at her attempts at reading while shoving images of Xander as she last saw him at her (goofing off with Jesse and generally clowning around at the exciting prospect of no more school for two whole months), that Willow noticed that the room was colder than it had been when she first arrived. There were goose bumps starting to form along her bare arms (because hey, it’s summer and there’s no better time for a tank top-especially not in this musty old place with its distinct lack of a proper ventilation system) and Willow rubbed them quickly to get some warmth back. She glanced around the room in confusion, noting that the window was not open and the door was shut. So where was all the cold air coming from?
She felt a cold draft brush across her right side and her head immediately moved to look at that side of the room. She saw the same cloth-covered furniture pieces that had always been in this place, eyes stopping when she noticed the strangest thing. The cloth covering the big dresser in the back was swaying, as if caught in a breeze. Willow frowned and placed her book down on the floor beside her. Curious, watching the cloth flutter back and forth, she got to her feet and made her way to the back of the room.
As she approached the dresser, she could hear the sounds of Aunt Evelyn and the new tour group making their way through the house. She eyed the fluttering cloth once more, curiosity increasing as she felt more cold air breeze out from underneath it. Willow reached up slowly, hand fisting in the cloth covering before she was pulling it down and away from the dresser.
A shower of dust greeted her. Sneezing loudly and wiping dust away from her face and hair, Willow backed away from the dresser for a second to compose herself. When she turned back, she took a moment to take in the furniture piece. It was big and with no drawers, just a set of doors, kind of like a portable walk-in closet. It looked like an antique, but in a good way. She wondered why it was hidden away up here, in this room. Why hadn’t Aunt Evelyn taken this out, dusted it off, and put it in one of the guest rooms or something? It was too nice of a dresser to just be crammed back here with all the rest of the junk.
When the sneezing fit subsided, Willow ventured back over to the dresser again. The cold air was still drifting in, and she could see that the doors of the dresser hadn’t been properly shut. The cold air was coming from the gap in between the doors, though she wasn’t sure how that was possible. Willow frowned again, perplexed by the strangeness of the situation. She put her hand on one of the knobs and gently pulled it open, a watchful eye on the lookout for more dust showers. But once she opened the door, she found only a collection of fur coats and more cold air.
Willow grimaced at the sight of the coats, wondering exactly how many poor little woodland creatures had been slaughtered to stitch them together. She shook her head in disapproval and started to push the jackets aside. The cold air was definitely coming from the dresser, but she couldn’t see past the rows of fur coats. Determined by this point, Willow hoisted herself into the dresser, marvelling at how roomy the thing appeared to be. Using both arms, she pushed aside row after row of coats. It was dark, so she stumbled a few times, jostling the whole structure and (unbeknownst to her) causing the doors to start to close behind her. As her light source began to fade, Willow felt a moment of panic. There was no way she was risking being trapped in this dresser if the doors managed to shut behind her. She turned at the hip, leaning back to push on hand back towards the door while turning on her heels to change her direction.
It was then that her shoe slid across something cold and wet, causing her left foot to slip away from the rest of her body. Willow faltered and then fell onto her butt. Graceful she was not, but at least she hadn’t hit her head and knocked herself out. Her mind forgot all about the closing dresser doors and she spread her hands out on the ground to find what caused her to slip.
Her hands landed on something as cold as ice. She jerked back a little and then moved her hand further out. She found more moisture and more coldness. She felt the stuff underneath her fingertips and though logically she knew that it was impossible, she couldn’t help but think the stuff felt like snow.
Willow crawled further into the dresser, pushing her head through the sea of fur coats whilst her hands continued to explore the wooden floor for more of the icy stuff. And then, just like that, the wooden floor of the dresser disappeared and something rougher and wetter replaced it. She dropped her head down and saw dirt, rocks, and snow underneath her hands. Something sharp jabbed her in the side of the head and Willow jerked up to see a low hanging branch entangled in her hair.
Her mind was racing with thoughts, most of them centred on the impossibility of what she was seeing around her. Fear started to creep into her mind, but her curiosity kept it at bay. Slowly, Willow got to her feet and took five more steps into the back of the dresser. She followed the tree branch back to the actual tree, feet crunching in the snow all the while. Her eyes were wide and disbelieving as she looked around her and saw a Winter Wonderland hidden in the back of the dusty old dresser.
A blast of cold wind sent a bunch of snowflakes flying up into the air and in her direction. She was shivering fiercely, but barely acknowledged it. She was too shocked by the sight of the forest and the wet touch of the snow as it brushed up against her skin and then melted on the spot. Fear was still shouting in all corners of her mind, telling her to get the hell out of there as quickly as she could, but she ignored it. She was too stunned to do anything other than stand and stare at all of that around her.
Willow exhaled loudly, barely noticing as her breath created white puffs in the air around her. She shook her head once, and then twice, and still the sight remained.
And yet, as evidence by her standing right there, possible. All too possible by far.
Aunt Evelyn was going to freak.