Act Two


"Ghost? You can't be serious?" Willow said when she found her voice again. Dawn's statement about a ghost in the house had left her speechless. She stared at the road as she drove the short distance from the high school to the house. "Are you sure?" she demanded, glancing over at the teenager. Dawn nodded solemnly.

"I am. She said the house is haunted," Dawn repeated. "That's why the real estate agent was so eager to sell it to us. No body in town would buy it."

Willow took her eyes from the road long enough to stare at Dawn incredulously.

"I can't believe Miss Byrnes didn't tell us about it," she whispered in disbelief. Dawn snorted derisively.

"Oh I totally believe that," she said. "What I can't believe is that out of all the houses we could've bought, we picked the one that's haunted." She thought for a minute. "No, scratch that. It makes perfect sense that we'd pick a haunted house."

Gripping the steering wheel tightly, Willow made a swift decision. Checking her rearview mirror for oncoming traffic, she swung the Suburban around sharply. The SUV's tires squealed as she made the u-turn.

"We're going to get this straightened out right now," she said determinedly as she drove back towards the town.

Xander groaned painfully as Buffy carefully placed an ice pack on his head. She and Giles had carried his unconscious form down to the living room and had placed him on one of the air mattresses.

"I can't believe we've been in the house less than a day, and we've already broken in the first aid kit," she mumbled to herself, her eyes belying her flippant words. Giles could see the concern for her friend reflected in her blue eyes. He knelt down beside Buffy and ran his hands through Xander's hair, his fingers gently touching the lump on the younger man's head.

"I must say, it's a nice change that someone else has been knocked unconscious instead of me for once," he said softly, teasing a soft smile from Buffy. Xander groaned again.

"Have you no respect for the dead?" Xander demanded, his eye still tightly shut. Giles moved away and stood.

"I don't believe he has a concussion," he announced. "Although, we should probably keep an eye on him, just in case."

Buffy gave a sigh of relief at Giles' words.

"You'd be the expert, G-man," Xander muttered. Giles scowled at the nickname, but said nothing. Buffy leaned over Xander so she could look at his face.

"We were so worried," she told him. "Are you ok?"

Xander started to sit up, moaning as the room started to spin around him. She caught his shoulders as he began to fall back to the mattress. Buffy gently helped him lie back down. "Lie still," she ordered in a no nonsense tone of voice.

"Yes, ma'am," he said weakly, his pale face covered in a fine coating of sweat. Buffy took in Xander's pasty face and looked up at Giles for reassurance. He nodded at her, the look on his face saying that this was clearly to be expected. He crouched back down and rested his hand on Xander's forehead, holding the ice pack in place.

"Just close your eyes until the dizziness passes," he instructed. Buffy stared at Giles worriedly.

"Are you sure he doesn't have a concussion?" she whispered in concern. Giles shrugged.

"It's entirely possible," he admitted. "We can take him to the hospital if you'd like, but there's not much they can do for him that we can't do ourselves."

"I'm right here, you know," Xander complained, his eye still closed. Buffy immediately returned her attention to him.

"I'm sorry," she said, taking his hand in hers. "Why were up in the attic anyway?" she asked. He opened his eye to look at her.

"You screamed. I went up to help you," he told her simply. "As I got to the top of the stairs, it felt like someone pushed me."

Buffy wrinkled her brow in confusion.

"What are you talking about?" she asked, turning to Giles for clarification. "I wasn't in the attic. I was in my room painting." She looked back at Xander. "Giles was with me the whole time."

Giles nodded solemnly in agreement.

"I'm telling you, Buff, I heard a scream and someone pushed me," Xander insisted. She nodded determinedly.

"I believe you." She stood. "We'll go check it out. You rest, Xander," she instructed, reached out to tug on Giles' arm. "C'mon Giles," she ordered, dragging him up the stairs to the second floor.

Giles and Buffy moved cautiously down the empty hallway toward the attic entrance. She trailed her fingers along the wall idly, noting that the hallway needed a good coat of paint. Mentally, she reminded herself to ask Xander to take her down to the home improvement store when he was feeling better. Approaching the stairs with trepidation, they stopped a short distance away. The retractable steps were up in the ceiling, a rope dangling from one end. Silent, they stared at the rope as it swayed as if in an unseen breeze.

"Well," Buffy said finally. "I suppose we should get on with this." With sigh of resignation, she leapt into the air and grabbed at the rope. A jolt of pain sang through her shoulders and arms as the downward arc of the jump was halted suddenly. She dangled uselessly from the rope, her feet kicking wildly as she swung back and forth mid-air.

"Damn it," she cursed, jerking on the rope without success. Her present position gave her little leverage to use her Slayer strength. "The steps won't come down." Each word was punctuated by a tug on the rope. A noise below her that sounded suspiciously like a chuckle drew her attention.

Giles was staring at the floor, his shoulders shaking suspiciously. Buffy's eyes narrowed as she watched him look everywhere but up at her. Kicking her feet so that she swung towards him, she stretched out a foot and nudged his shoulder.

"I so know you're not laughing at me," she stated firmly. Giles cleared his throat and took a deep breath before looking up at her, his eyes suspiciously bright.

"No. No, of course not," he said, his face carefully blank. He watched as she swung gently to and fro on the rope, her eyes shooting daggers at him. Slowly the laughter inside him bubbled to the surface, and he began laughing out loud. Buffy glared at him as she dangled from the rope.

"Giles, this is so not funny," she snarled. He covered his mouth with his hand as he laughed. Taking a deep breath, he attempted to pull himself together. Wiping his eyes with his hand, he looked up at her and immediately started laughing again.

"Giles!" Buffy shouted in irritation, as he snickered helplessly. "Help me."

After a few gasping breaths, he was able to look at her again.

"I'm sorry," he said, still grinning. Buffy glared at him. She didn't think he looked very sorry. Reaching out, he caught Buffy by the waist and stilled her swinging movement. "Obviously, despite the fact you've gained back a good amount of the weight you've lost over the past two years, you're still just a slip of a girl."

Buffy sighed dramatically at this statement. She knew she was small, but really, this was just too much.

"Just help me please," she ordered. Giles nodded and wrapped his arm around her waist.

"Hold on to the rope," he instructed, gently pulling down on Buffy. The combined effort of Watcher and Slayer slowly brought the stairs down from the ceiling. As her toes touched the floor, Giles released her to grab at the steps, pushing them the rest of the way down. Flustered and embarrassed, Buffy stepped away and glared at him.

"You couldn't just say I was too light to pull them down, could you?" she demanded, her hands on her hips. Giles grinned at her.

"I thought I had," he said, tongue in cheek. Buffy's eyes narrowed.

"Ok, not going to miss the sarcasm," she said snidely, turning back to the stairs. She missed the flash of pain that flickered across his face at her words. Giles managed to erase all trace of hurt by the time she turned back to face him again. "I'll miss the rest, but not the sarcasm," she said softly. He ducked his head, unsure of how to answer her, the sting of her first statement replaced by soft warmth.

Buffy turned and began approaching the steps slowly, remembering how she'd seen them shake on Xander. Carefully, she climbed them, her body tense and ready for anything. She was about halfway up when the steps suddenly jerked upward, causing Giles to shout out a warning. He lunged forward, grabbing at the stairs, but was too late. His fingers slid uselessly over the wood. Buffy tried desperately to hold on as the steps swung upward, slamming back into the ceiling and tossing her through the door. Giles coughed as dust and dirt rained down on him from above.

"Buffy!" he shouted.

The SUV screeched to a halt as Willow pulled up outside the real estate office.

"Let's go," she said, throwing the car into park and shutting off the engine. Dawn shot a look over at her, profoundly grateful she wasn't the one about to get the brunt of Willow's anger. An angry Willow was not a fun Willow. Dawn slid out of the car and trailed behind the aggravated redhead as she marched toward the office. Willow shoved open the glass office door, and Dawn cringed as the bell above it jangled wildly.

Willow marched through the office, winding between the desks of other agents. A secretary offered to help them, but she brushed past her without a word. It didn't take her long to find Kylie at her desk.

"Miss Byrnes, it seems that you forgot to tell us a minor detail about the house," she said heatedly. Startled, the agent looked up from the paperwork she'd been filling out. She paled when she saw the two girls.

"Why, Miss, um, Rosenberg, I don't know what you're talking about," she said guiltily. Dawn rolled her eyes. This woman was so lying, she realized.

"We're talking about the ghost that evidently lives in Scobie Manor," Willow clarified shortly, crossing her arms over her chest. Kylie's eyes darted around the room, as if she was looking for an escape route. Finding none, her gaze returned to Willow and Dawn.

"So is it true?" Dawn demanded, crossing her arms like Willow. "Is the house haunted?"

Kylie sighed and nodded pathetically.

"Yes, it's true."

Buffy lay on the attic floor, winded. When the stairs had snapped back into place, she'd been hurled through the air like a rag doll. Her landing had lacked both grace and style. She grimaced as she lay in a motionless heap, groaning with pain.

"Buffy!" she heard Giles call from below. His voice held a note of panic. "Are you alright?" The stairs rattled as he tugged on the rope. "Damn it, the steps won't come down," he yelled up. Hissing with pain, she rolled onto her side.

"I'm ok," she yelled down to Giles. "Just dirty." She stood carefully, brushing off as much of the dirt and grime as possible. She looked around the dimly lit attic. "Geez, it doesn't look anyone's been up here in decades," she shouted down. She began to prowl cautiously around the room. Boxes and trunks that appeared to have been there for years littered the attic floor. "God, Giles," she shouted. "There's all sorts of stuff up here. Ow!" She howled in pain.

In the hallway, Giles' eyes widened with worry when Buffy yelped. He stared up at the ceiling.

"What happened? Are you ok?" he called up to her. Buffy scowled at the trunk she'd slammed her shin against.

"I'm fine," she reassured him, rubbing her leg to ease the pain. "I just banged into a trunk." She knelt down and pried open the lid. "Wow!" she whispered, pulling out a yellowing dress. Raising her voice, she called down to Giles. "You're not going to believe some of the stuff up here. " She dug further down into the trunk. "Oh my God!" she shouted.

"What?" Giles shouted back, concerned. Buffy pulled an ancient suit out of the trunk.

"There's a tweed suit in here. You can take it back to England with you! You wouldn't want to look cooler than the new Watchers," she teased.

"Very funny," Giles yelled back. Buffy smiled at the irritation in his voice. She loved teasing him about tweed. A noise from the corner of the room caught her attention. It sounded like someone crying. Standing slowly, she crept toward the noise, picking her way slowly through the abandoned boxes.

She froze, her feet rooted to the floor as she realized there was a translucent figure sitting on one of the boxes, weeping. Her eyes widened as she stared at what appeared to be a cowering young girl, dressed in dirty tattered clothing. If she wasn't mistaken, the girl's clothes were covered with what looked like blood stains.

"Oh my God," she whispered breathlessly. "We have a ghost."


Act One   Act Three

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