Full of Grace
By: J. Lynn Stapleton

There are many evils in this world, particularly in Sunnydale, home to the Hellmouth, where vampires and other demons exist. Sunnydale was also the place where I had been teaching at Sunnydale High School. I say had, because until my untimely demise, I'd been teaching computer science classes there. I also had one of the most loving and unusual relationships with Rupert Giles, the school's librarian, the Slayer's watcher and local demonology expert. Unusual in that most school librarians do not have an extensive knowledge of vampires and how to bind witches that have extended their powers beyond the bounds of the reade to the hereafter.

Many things have happened in the past year that it would be kind of hard to know where to start. I suppose with the people this story affected. Buffy Summers, a sixteen year old vampire slayer, who also happened to be in love with a vampire. It hadn't been a choice for Buffy to be the Slayer, rather destiny intervened. She'd been expelled from her previous school as the school gym had caught fire as she was trying to kill vampires. However, since most schools are not fond of anything out of the ordinary, I suspect they didn't take it too well and got her to leave. Now she was in Sunnydale, and she still fought the demons and vampires. It was an odd combination for a sixteen year old girl - slayer and student. I came to this knowledge about a year or so ago when I first met her. She wasn't a great student, but as far as I knew, she at least made some effort. She was loyal to her friends and I liked that about her. She also didn't take any crap from anyone who annoyed her - that I learned from watching her at various times.

Buffy had a rather unusual relationship with a vampire, where he assisted in the slaying, which really put a damper on the other vampires that lived in town. Angel, also known as Angelus, was a vampire of Irish heritage. At present I hated him, with a passion. He'd come in to town several years before when word came to him that a new slayer was in town. He tried his damnedest to warn Buffy of the Master's plan to break the shield that held the Master in the Hellmouth. Not too long ago, Angelus, the soulless creap, broke my neck. If there was a way to return the favour, I'd welcome it in a heartbeat. Xander Harris, sometimes clueless but with a heart of gold, had an overprotective streak where his friends were concerned. He was an okay student, even if he did try to weasel out of helping out in the computer lab with Willow. I liked him. He was also dating Cordelia. Cordelia Chase unwittingly got involved with the Slayerettes out of unfortunate circumstances which usually involved vampires out to get her. Now the most popular girl at school quickly became part of the 'outcast' group. Despite having NO aptitude for computers, she was a good student. Having been among the last to "join" the Slayerettes, I suppose she and I had something in common in that we unwittingly got pulled into the various adventures of this group of friends. Then there's Oz. I don't know a whole lot about him, other than the fact that he's Willow's boyfriend. He seems nice enough and does quite well -though he's not really the studious type. Rupert Giles, whom I'd mentioned above, was a bit stuffy in that British sort of way - not that he's typical anything mind you. Giles has quite an interesting sence of humour and has a tendency to babble when nervous or excited. Finally in this gang of friends and allies there's Willow Rosenberg. She was my brightest student - well, when I taught her anyway. She'd taught some of my labs as part of an extra assignment. I had planned for her to take over one of my classes if I couldn't get back from a meeting in time. She'd been disappointed at the time that she didn't get to teach, but she would soon enough. If I had to have had a child , I would have wanted it to be Willow.

Recently Buffy and Angel had become physically intimate. I wouldn't have minded so much, might not even have noticed but I'd been sent to watch Angel (and by extension his relationship with Buffy). See, I'm a gypsy - Janna of the Kalderdash peoples, though I'd changed that to Jenny Calendar so I could at least pretend a certain degree of normalcy. About a couple hundred years ago my clan put a curse on Angelus to restore his soul as punishment for his deeds as a vampire and they've watched him ever since to make sure he was still suffering.

The kicker was that if he ever experienced a moment of true happiness he would lose his soul again. A stupid loophole, but there you have it. Since his encounter with Buffy, he'd reverted to Angelus, and as such was wreaking havoc in people's lives, particularly Buffy's. Not too long ago, I found a way to restore his soul using the original curse. I had been working on it at the school late one night. I'm not quite sure why right now, but there I was. I had just finished the translation and printed of a copy then popped the back-up disk out of the machine and put it on my desk. I had the Orb of Thesulah ready to perform the spell. When I looked up, Angelus was there. He was oddly amused that I'd gone through all the trouble to rescue him. I realised too late that I was in danger. He smashed the Orb against the chalkboard and remarked snidely about Gypsy craftsmanship. He knocked my computer monitor to the floor, which ignited first sparks and then flames. Then he burned the printout of the translation. I ran from the room and all through the school, but he'd caught up with me at the stairs. I'd tried to kick him away but as I reached the top, he was already there and he snapped my neck.

I remember waking up, well, how would I describe it? I didn't have a body to wake upin. I don't even remember if it hurt, it was so quick. It was rather disorienting. I don't remember much. It kind of felt like I was floating around but not knowing how or where I was headed. It was weird and unlike anything I'd ever been prepared for. Even my meditation trance training couldn't have helped me at that point. The next thing I remembered seeing was when Giles had come into his apartment to see the setup there, then he'd wandered upstairs. I would have shed many tears hen. I wanted to hold him so bad it hurt. It felt like I was burning up inside - this need to comfort him, reassure him that I was still here. Then reality set in - my dead body lay in an unnatural position on his bed. For all intents and purposes (for legal ones anway) i was dead. Damn, I hate being dead. Though I refuse to believe that I'm going to stay this way.

So now here I am, an ethereal being, a spirit without a body. Ever since that moment i've been watching out for Buffy and the others. Goddess, I missed Giles so much it was palpable. But for now i've got more pressing concerns. Does one have pressing concerns when one is a spirit? I wondered quickly. Anyhow, things in Sunnydale had gotten worse with various demons and other vampires wreaking havoc. Angelus had become even more sadistic in his torture. Principle Snyder had asked Willow to take over my class after my demise. It's not legal mind you, since she's a minor but since substitute teachers had been avoiding Sunnydale High like a proverbial plague, Snyder hadn't really tried to look to hard for a suitable replacement. Willow loved teaching though. I saw it when she was at work. Final exams approached and Buffy not being the studious type asked Willow to tutor her. Buffy's pencil fell off her open book nd onto the floor - okay, so it had some assistance from me. Buffy leaned down to pick it up which moved the computer disk slightly, but she didn't notice it before she sat back up. Mmmm, I wonder.

"Okay, I'm learn girl," Buffy said somewhat cheerfully. Willow pointed to the paper. "Okay. So, see here..." She stopped when she noticed Buffy wasn't attentive. Buffy was momentaril started. Deja vu." Come on, Buffy. Pay attention - there's a disk down there that you need.

"Really?"

"Yeah I have this perfect memory of the pencil and..." She dropped the pencil again but this time when she bent over to pick it up she found the disk. She picked up both. "Oh, hey, you dropped this."

Willow looked at the unlabelled disk curiously. "It's not mine. It might be something of Ms. Calendar's." She popped the disk into the computer while they discussed the morbidity of looking at my files. The program started up the Romanian text scrolled up on the left side of the screen, then a few moments later the English translation scrolled up on the right side.

"Does that say 'restoration'?" Buffy inquired as she looked at the screen closer.

"It's one if her spells, I think. Ms. Calendar wasn't a practicing witch, but she did dabble - -"

"Willow - -"

Willow returned her attention back to the screen and realised that they'd discovered the spell to recurse Angel's soul. "Oh boy...oh boy...oh boy." They printed off a copy then headed to the library where they handed the printout to Giles and explained what it was. "Looks like Ms. Calendar was trying to replicate the original curse to restore Angel's soul."

Giles looked over the printout. "She said it couldn't be done." He's right. I had said that because at the time I didn't think it could be accomplished. I watched them as they discussed the finer points of the black arts when Willow spoke up and volunteered to perform the spell.

"Well, I've been going through her files and researching the black arts, for fun, or educational fun, and I may be able to work this." Right off the bat I know Giles would object out of concern for Willow's safety. Willow's got a good heart and she wouldn't be volunteering for completely selfish reasons - she wanted her friend to be happy. She was adamant about wanting to do this. Xander on the other hand could not care less if Angel's soul was restored. He and Giles ended up in a verbal fight.

"Cursing Angel seems to have been Jenny's wish," Giles spoke. Even though I wasn't there physically I could feel his love for me and his respect for my choices. That mad me feel all warm and fuzzy. I would love to give him a nice big hug. I think if I passed through him to do that, he might totally wig out and we don't need that right now

"Yeah? Well Jenny's dead." Damn, Xander! That was low. Kick him while he's down, why don't you? Besides, I'm not completely gone.

Giles was mad and defended me, "Don't you *ever* speak of her in that tone again!" Go, hon!

Can't you hear what I'm saying? They continued to argue then Buffy stepped in to stop them, for which I was grateful. In an odd way Xander also wanted to protect my memory by wanting to make sure that Angel got repaid for my demise. Later on, Giles emerged from his office with news that the tomb of Acathla was missing and that the curator had been killed by vampires. The other students in the room were not happy. After a few minutes Buffy decided that Willow should do the curse. Kendra, another vampire slayer - a long story to be told another time - showed up at their gathering and like Xander, she believed that Angel had to be killed. Kendra presented Buffy with a sword. Giles immediately became interested. I love it when he gets all excited about old books and weaponry. Giles inquired from Willow how long it would take to figure out the details of the spell.

"I need about a day and a -," she picked up the printout, 'an Orb of Thesulah'? Whatever that is." Willow was new to the magic, so I was not completely surprised that she was unaware of its usage.

Giles handed the sword that he'd been holding back to Kendra. As she headed back towards his office he continued to speak. "Spiritual vault for rituals of the undead. I've got one. I...I've been using it as a paperweight," he sheepishly admitted. In my mind, I laughed. My Giles. Funny though, it didn't surprise me that the had one or that he used it as a paperweight.

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Later that night Buffy had gotten a message to go to the graveyard to meet with Angelus. At the library, Giles and the others had prepared for the spell. Kendra was outside in the hallway watching out for anything. Soon all hell broke loose as vampires tore the place apart. In the end, Kendra was dead, Willow was unconscious under a stack of books up on the mezzanine. Xander, who wasn't too far away, was also unconscious and had a broken wrist. Cordelia had left the school...and oh Goddess, Giles! There were two vampires who dragged his unconscious form out of the library. Damn! Damn! If only I had a body I'd fight back. I hate not being able to do something. Perhaps I could insome way, but at the moment my concentration was divided between the injured loved one, friends and allies.

Then it almost seemed as if everything had slowed down to half speed as Buffy burst into the library. She bent over Kendra's body to see how bad she'd been injured and was still in that position as the police came through the door. It didn't look good for her. The officer nearest her began to place her under arrest but was soon flipped over onto his butt. Principal Snyder who'd arrived shortly after the officers was kind of surprised at Buffy's brazenness, but nothing really surprised him anymore. I couldn't blame her for leaving - it was one occasion where she wasn't really involved. She went straight to the hospital where she averted her eyes to avoid being detected, but she was glad that Xander was there, too. I listened to them as Xander talked about trying to reach Willow's parents who were out of the country. Cordelia joined them as Xander filled them in on Willow's condition.

"The doctor said it was head trauma. She can wake up at any time, but ummm...the longer it lasts the...less likely it is," Xander stated as calmly as he could. But he was visibly upset. Damn! Why did this ahve to happen to good people? It's not fair. With all my will I spoke a prayer to the Goddess for Willow's quick recovery. It wasn't until I heard that no one knew what happened to Giles that my attention was refocused. I needed to find out more information.

Severak things occured at the same time and it was confusing. I wanted to be able to help each of them as the situation was getting much more complex. Xander talked to Willow at her bedside and pleaded with her to wake up soon. When she did, she asked for Oz. I decided to stay with Willow until she woke up and was stable enough to be left alone for a few moments. I was weary doing that, but I was anxious to see how Giles was doing. With some effort I managed to locate Giles on the other side of town. Angelus had been torturing him. I was furious. Why can't you leave him alone? I shouted out but no one heard. I wanted so bad to comfort him, to touch him. I hated being so out of control of things. Somewhere out there in the night, Buffy tried to explain to her mother that she was a vampire slayer - while Spike, another vampire was with her. If things hadn't been so bad, I would have actually laughed out of the sheer stupidity of the situation. Buffy and her mother ended up in an argument with Buffy leaving the house more determined than ever to go after Angel.

I could relate to Buffy's loneliness and her grim determination. Being a gypsy in a fairly conservative world made you not among the popular circles or cliques. But I'd long ago given up trying to please everyone. I'd tried to be normal for the sake of my job, but my personal life was just that. For years i'd known that my duty was to watch Angelus, or rather Angel, and try to make sure he was still miserable. I really didn't know what would have happened when Angel found true happiness. What hurt memost was that my knowledge about the curse and my people's history with Angelus had distanced me from the people I care most about. I never really thought about it until recently how much I'd come to respect Buffy, Willow and the others for sticking together to fight off the demons of Sunnydale on a regular basis. Their knowledge of vampires and other demons set them apart from the other students and bound them like members of a family. For a while I was part of that unit. Maybe now I could help, albeit in a different sort of way. I turned my attention to Willow's hospital room where Xander, Cordelia and Oz had gathered to support Willow.

"I wanna try again," Willow said.

"Try what?" Oz inquired curiously, though worried at the same time.

"The curse. We never got to finish it. Maybe we *can* restore Angel's soul." That's my Willow! The optimist.

Xander was hesitant. "I don't like it. You're talking about messing with powerfl magic and you're weak." Xander, you're a great friend for being protective of her, but this is something that has to be done. Whatever she can't handle, we'll figure it out. Xander continued to speak, "Look, it's not a good idea." Under normal circumstances, I don't think I would have had a problem with her wanting to do this. I agreed with Xander up to a certain point. She was weak and it would significantly require plenty of strength for this ritual to occur. But something had to be done. If I had to help out, I would.

"There's no use arguing with me. Do you see my resolved face?" She gave him a look I'd seen before when she was determined to do something. "You've seen it before. You know what it means. This can help Buffy. If we can turn Angel's soul back soon enough we can stop him from ever awakening Acathla."

After a few moments of figuring out the details, Willow sent Oz and Cordelia off to the library to get the items for the spell casting. She sent Xander out to inform Buffy of their plan. Willow was a bright girl who could handle herself well in bizarre situations and if she needed assistance with the casting I'd be there for her.

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From then on things were happening quickly. Being in multiple places at one time was impossible, even if you were a spirit. Willow, Cordelia and Oz set things up for the castingn. Xander had found Buffy but chose not to inform her of their plan. It probably wasn't the best idea since she could possibly have found a way to delay Angelus for a little bit to see if the spell would work. But hindsight was 20/20. Angelus wasn't up to delaying anything. The hardest thing I had to see was Dru, Angel's vampiric daughter, as she manipulated Rupert's memories and thoughts. Damn! He's so vulnerable and she's powerful enough that I can't break through it. I have to find a way. When I saw him open his eyes and smile, his response was to call out my name. I knew then that she was manipulating him to see me. Oh Goddess, why does this have to be so hard? Dru kept caressing him. I don't want to see her touching the man I love like that, but at the same time I was drawn into the scene, sort of like watching a car crash. She teased him and caressed him some more before she kissed him. No...no...no. Somewhere out there, someone cried for me.

Please, stop!! I tried to cry out, pleaded but those cries went unheard.

"Uh, Drucilla?" Spike called out as she still kissed Giles.

"Honey?" Angelus added.

"We are finished, ducks."

Dru stopped, turned and smiled at them. It was not a pretty site. "Sorry, I was in the moment." You'll be in the right moment all right when I get my hands on you! I was furious with the way they'd used Giles. Not just using him. They'd made him so vulnerable that he couldn't put up any barriers to protect humself. Dear Goddess, the stricken look on his face about broke my heart. If only I could hug him and tell him everything would be okay. Everything wasn't going to be all right though, as everyone I cared about believed I was dead for good. Damn, I was madder than Hades. I wanted to hurt Angelus. A lot. But what could I do without a body. Arrrgh, this is so frustrating.

Angelus began the ritual to awaken Acathla. Dru and Spike were on either side of him. I couldn't let this happen. I had to do something to stop this madness. As most spirits go, I could move freely - well, most times - with relative quickness. Which at the moment was paramount.

I'd returned to Willow's hospital room before Willow began to rescue Angel's soul. I had to be there to support her, this spiritual child of mine. Upon the hospital table was the Orb of Thesulah, the candles, and rhunes. The Orb was surrounded by a circle of flickering light. Cordelia began to wave the incense over the Orb while Oz held open a latin book of chants. Willow was in the centre of the bed and held the printout of the Romanian curse.

"Are we ready?" Willow asked. She seemed nervous as she remembered her failed last attempt.

"Stinky herbs are a go," Cordelia responded. "Did I mention that I didn't take Latin?" Oz asked. "You don't have to understand it. You just have to say it...I hope," Willow replied quietly as she cast the stones.

"Right," Oz began the curse, "Quod perditum est invenietur." Willow continued, "Not dead...nor of the living. Spirits of the interregnum, I call Gods, bind him. Cast his heart from the ...evil...realm," Willow's breath quickened. Come on Willow, you can do this. I'm here. She had weakened. "Return...I call on..." Willow panted, short of breath. Her friends were worried. I was worried. If time weren't of the essense, I'd have lectured hered on not doing something this energy-absorbing was a little stupid in the condition she was in.

"Willow?" Oz probbed, concerned.

"Are you okay?" Cordelia also inquired.

I couldn't let her fail again, as was quite possible with her being weak. I realised I could do something right since her strength was low enough that I could join her. It wasn't really a possession, but rather I added my strength and my knowledge to hers. Willow's head whipped back and she looked upwards with her eyes. It'd felt really odd to have at least a temporary possession of a body even if it wasn't mine. But I didn't have the time to really think about that since the time to finish this spell was of the essence. We stared into the Orb and chanted the rest of the Romanian curse, mindless of Cordelia and Oz's concerns and comments. This had to be completed soon for the safety of all involved.

"Te implor, Doanne, nu ignora aceasta rugaminte. Nici mort, nici al fiintei...Lasa orbita sa fie vasul care-I va transporta, sufletul la el...Asa sa fie! Asa sa fie! Acum!" The table was shaking violently. "Acum!" The Orb glowed brilliantly for a flash then the Orb disappeared. I had to leave Willow to allow her to regain her own balance. The ritual was very energy consuming and the need to balance her own energies was of utmost importance. She'd also have to eat to replenish her body's needs - I hoped she knew enough about magic to remember that! -- but that would come soon enough. Oz and Cordelia were still very much concerned about Willow and I'm glad they could be there for her.

I knew I couldn't help Willow any more, and knowing she was safe with her friends, I went back to see how the rest turned out. Giles was no longer there - but I would have sensed his death, so I'd assumed that Xander had gotten him out, alive if not unharmed. Buffy and Angel were the only ones left. Buffy was poised to thrust her sword into Angel's heart.I don't think his soul had been returned a moment too soon.

"Buffy?" Angel started to cry. "What's going on?" Buffy looked at him confused but not ready to lower her sword. "Where are we? I - I don't remember." I could almost feel some sympathy for him, but it was too late for that now.

"Angel?"

"You're hurt." Angel noted the sword slice in her arm. He embraced her. "Oh Buffy...God, I feel like I haven't seen you in months. Oh my God, everything's all muddled. I...oh...oh Buffy..." Acathla opened its mout and with that the vortex into hell also opened. It appeaed from her reaction that Buffy had forgotten about Acathla - it couldn't have been worse timing since Angel's soul had been restored. Angel noticed her change in body language. "What's happening?"

"Shhh. Don't worry about it." Buffy kissed him softly and he returned the kiss passionately. Behind hum, Acathla's vortex opened wide. Buffy broke the kiss and whispered softly, "I love you."

Angel replied in kind. She touched his lips and told him to close his eyes. She kissed hum once again and tried not to cry before she ran the sword through him. Angel opened his eyes quite startled. She stepped back even as he reached for her. He looked down at his chest and stepped back from her closer to the vortex.

"Buffy." The vortex had grown much larger and it drew Angel in as he held out his hand. Once Angel had been pulled through the vortex. it closed down and disappeared and only the stone demon was left behind. Buffy stared at it and began to break down into tears. I wanted to wrap my arms around her to comfort her. These events had been hard on everyone but Buffy was the most affected.

If I stopped thinking for a moment I could have sworn I heard Sarah McLachlan's singing on some kind of radio from somewhere. I listened as it was one of my favourites - "Full of Grace." 'The winter here is cold...' Buffy walked towards her house. '...and bitter / it's chilled us to the bone /We haven't seen the sun for weeks / Too long, too far from home...' She looked at the houses surrounding the neighbourhood then back at her own. I knew what that was like - to be so close to home but feeling very much the outsider. It was hard and in the past year I'd become quite attached to Buffy and I respected her a lot. I could very much feel what she was going through. I wanted to support her as much as I could, which was kind of hard to do, being without a body. Inside the house, Buffy's mother ascended the stairs and called out for Buffy but there was no reply, so she carried on to her daughter's room. Joyce didn't deserve that. Although I didn't know her, she must have had a lot to deal with the uncertainty of Buffy's slayerhood. It seemed like a lot of people around town needed some good hugs about now. Myself included. It seemed kind of selfish, but it's been an incredibly hard year for everyone.

'I feel just like I'm sinking and I claw for solid ground / I'm pulled down by the overtow / never thought I could feel so low...' Joyce spotted a note amongst some clothes on the bed. She sat down and cried as she read it. '...And oh the darkness / I feel like letting go / If all of the strength and all of the courage / Come and lift me from this place...' I felt like crying as well.

I found Buffy at the school, watching Xander and Giles, who was still a bit unsteady, as they met with Oz and Willow. Cordelia was at their side. '...I know I can love you much better than this / Full of grace...'

Giles spoke up first, "Willow, are you sure you should be out of bed?"

"Look who's talking,"she responded easily enough, smiling gently. Giles was also in poor shape to be back at the school. I'd probably make a visit to him later when he got home and relaxed a little.

"Yes," he noted and smirked.

"Any word?" Cordelia asked. It didn't take too much effort to guess that as she hoped that someone had heard what happened to Buffy.

Xander was worried. "You guys haven't seen her either?"

"No," Willow said.

"But we know the world didn't end, 'cause...check it out." Oz mentioned as he took in the surroundings.

Giles took off his glasses and he squinted. My heart went out to him. He was visibly weary but put on a brave front. "Well, we, uh...we went back to the mansion. I - it was empty, um...and Acathla was...dormant."

Willow spoke up, a litte upbeat, "I think the spell worked. I felt something go through me." I smiled - or at least it felt as though I did. Good girl. I'll have to teach you some more about magic.

"Plus the Orb did that cool glow thing." Leave it up to Cordelia to comment on the aesthetics of the whole thing.

"Well maybe it wasn't in timem. Maybe she had to kill him before it could work," Xander added as a possible explanation for Buffy's absence. That maybe she wanted to spend some time on her own. I looked again at Buffy who didn't seem like she was about to join them.

Oz picked up on this. "Well, then, she'd want to be alone, I guess."

"Or maybe Angel *was* saved, and they wanted to be alone together." Willow tried to put a positive spin on things but I think she kind've known that Buffy was on her own out there somewhere.

"Perhaps," Giles responded.

Cordelia commented on the reality of things. "Well, she's gotta show up sooner or later. We still have school."

"Yeah, she'll be here in a while," Willow said hopefuly as she looked around for her best friend, but didn't see her. They began to walk towards the school. Buffy had a sad expression on her face as she watched them go into the school.

'I'm pulled down by the undertow / Never thought I could feel so low / And, oh, darkness I feel like letting go...' The song started up again as Buffy turned and started down the street with a bag over her shoulder. She wasn't looking back. '...If all of the strength and all of the courage / Come and lift me from this place / I know I can love you much better than this / Full of grace...'

Buffy got on a bus headed out of town. '...I know I can love you much better than this...' The bus passed a sign that read:

NOW LEAVING SUNNYDALE
Come Back Soon!

'...It's better this way.'

I knew that it would be some time before Buffy would return to Sunnydale. Perhaps she wouldn't. But there were things here that she alone could do and so she would eventually come back. She was the Slayer after all.

For now it would seem that I would be stuck between the world of the living and the dead, at least for another little while. It wasn't as bad as I'd figured, although I would have liked to have had my body back. It's rather disconcerting to make an appearance before the man I love with just a head.

THE END



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