Author's Note: 'Pinch Hitter' was fluff and fun. This is a little more angsty, the other half of the yin-yang symbol. But still fun. :D


Chapter 1

Life sucked, thought Buffy, trudging gloomily through her patrol.

Ever since the PTB brought her back after Willow's Adjoining spell ended up dropping Buffy into limbo, things had been in a constant upheaval. The PTB had brought over an older Buffy from another dimension to pinch hit while she was gone and that Buffy had had a disturbing effect on everyone and had left an unsettling legacy behind her when she had finally returned to her own dimension.

That Buffy (call her Buffy2 for convenience, Buffy thought irritably) had been four years older than she was. Buffy2 had come from four years further along their timeline, which meant she knew everyone's futures, both things like the apocalypses that were going to happen and the things that the Scoobies themselves would do in the future. She had apparently had a lot to say to everyone about the way they were going to behave and she had left an inch thick folder for Buffy to read.

Some good things had come out of it. Willow now had a tutor. Giles had set that up and Willow was blooming under that tutelage and becoming more responsible about how she used her magics. Sending Buffy to limbo like that had given her pause.

Giles was also different. He kept talking about grays and encouraging Buffy to network with the non-harmful demons in Sunnydale. That was working out very well, so it was obvious that Buffy2 had known what she was talking about.

Buffy realized that right away the minute she started reading that folder Buffy2 had left for her. That folder was now Buffy's bible. She read and reread it obsessively. The folder not only listed the things that had happened in the other Buffy's dimension and might happen here, but it also provided the reasons why and suggestions on how to deal with the things that might cause problems, like Big Bads called Glory or the First Evil.

What disturbed Buffy most was what Buffy2 had to say about people. About Buffy herself and the Scoobies and Giles and Angel and Riley.

Like Willow's addiction to magic, for instance, which was really an addiction to power, Buffy2 said; to making people do what she thought they should. Buffy had never seen that, but once it was pointed out, it was obvious. Willow had never really gotten over being ignored for so many years. Somewhere inside, she was still that insecure little geek whose world wobbled when she saw people doing things she thought were a mistake. Magic allowed her to 'save them from themselves' and make them do what she considered the right thing. That attitude was being corrected now. The tutor was not only teaching her about consequences and how to handle her power, but was also giving her a better perspective.

Giles was making big strides away from the Council's indoctrination and Buffy could see the difference in him. He was far more flexible and open-minded. He had always been so insistent that only a creature having a soul could be good. That was gone now. Working with non-harmful demons had worn that rule away, replacing it with a 'how do they act?' Which really did make more sense, Buffy had to admit.

Xander had always been the worst of them, the most intolerant of demons. But now with Willow and Tara talking at him and with Giles' changed attitude, that too was starting to diminish.

And then there was what Buffy2 had to say about Angel. Once the fracas was over, he had gone back to L.A., since the two of them staying so temptingly close together could lead to major badness. He did promise to come back if he was needed but, after reading Buffy2's folder, Buffy wondered just how much she would really be able to rely on him. He had his own life in L.A. and she didn't seem as important to him as his focus on his personal redemption. Which was only natural, but it left Buffy hanging. Without realizing it, she had counted on backup from Angel. It was hard to accept that possibly she couldn't.

But if what Buffy2 had said about Angel was hard to digest, it was nothing to what she had to say about Riley. Buffy2 had been scathing about the evils of the Initiative and the way Riley not only followed but agreed with their precepts. Riley was the Initiative's poster boy. And Giles was leery of him too. Giles had never really paid much attention to Riley before. Riley was just Buffy's boyfriend. But something must have happened while Buffy was in limbo, because Giles now had a marked distrust of Riley and avoided him whenever possible.

On top of that, Buffy2 said that Riley was going to start screwing around with vamp hos and then walk out on her and marry someone else and come back to rub that into Buffy's face. Buffy knew that Riley hadn't done that yet and maybe never would, if she kept an eye on him. But having to keep an eye on him was a distasteful thing in itself. It meant that she couldn't trust him and that made Buffy uneasy and uncomfortable with him. Which put Riley on edge, so the whole thing blew up one day, with him calling her on it and her retaliating with some of the things Buffy2 had said about him.

It all ended up in a screaming match, with him saying she was still hung up on Angel and had never loved him and didn't even get off when she was sleeping with him. All of which was true, but how had he known that last part? Buffy had always thought she had covered up her inability to climax very successfully. Then Anya told her that Buffy2 had flung it in his face one day when she got mad. Buffy couldn't help finding that funny, although it must have been disastrous for Riley's ego.

In the end he had walked out and gone off to Belize, just as Buffy2 had said he would, only a little earlier.

So here she was all alone again and likely to be alone forever, if some of the things Buffy2 said in her folder were correct. No human could ever satisfy a Slayer, said Buffy2, who should know if anyone did. So where did that leave her? There was no such thing as a male Slayer. Was she supposed to get it on with a demon?

Buffy2 had. With Spike, of all people. That creeped Buffy out more than a little. Spike was a vamp. And Buffy2 was a vampire slayer. That was just plain wrong! But Buffy2 had taken Spike with her to that other dimension and everyone, even Xander, said that they were madly in love.

Eww!

But Buffy2 had a lot to say about Spike in her folder. She had never thought that Spike would be allowed to accompany her, so she had gone into great detail about Spike and what he had done for her in her dimension and why Buffy should let this Spike leave Sunnydale and not stake him, even though he wasn't chipped anymore.

Angel wasn't chipped, but Angel had a soul. Which made all the difference. Or did it? Buffy2 said Spike had a heart. Which seemed to work the same or even better by all accounts, if she believed what Buffy2 said about him sacrificing himself first in the Hellmouth and then in Angel's future fight with the Senior Partners.

Buffy had seen him with Dru, seen the care he had taken with her. Yeah, she had to admit that he had loved Dru. And he must have loved the other Buffy to die for her like that. The trouble was that Spike was unique. Buffy had never heard of another vamp who loved like that. Not even Angel did, when he didn't have his soul.

Heck, she didn't think she herself could love like that. Buffy2 did, but that didn't mean that she ever could. Buffy2 wasn't her and had gone through a lot of things that she never would. Maybe she was selfish and self-centered and incapable of love, like Riley had flung at her during that last nasty quarrel.

There was a small commotion going on in the middle of Restfield. Buffy could hear the high, piping voices of Firoud agitated about something. She ran forward hurriedly. The Firoud were small, rather charming, non-harmful demons with bat-ears and cute, little gargoyle faces who lived in the sewers and ate small rodents. She liked them and didn't want them to get hurt in a hassle with the kind of vicious and murderous demon that usually turned up around the Hellmouth.

They were surrounding a dark figure standing in the shadow of a crypt, chattering at it excitedly.

"Where the hell am I?" the figure demanded. It was a male voice, blurred and shaken. "This sure isn't Hell!"

"Sunnydale, Sunnydale!" the Firoud chorused back.

"Sunnydale's a sodding hole in the ground!"

The figure staggered away from the crypt and into a clear area between tombstones. Moonlight washed over platinum hair, a black duster, black jeans and black tee.

Buffy's mouth fell open in shock.

The Firoud ran towards her, shouting. "Slayer, Slayer! Look, look! Spike, he is back!"

"Bloody hell!"

It was Spike. He swung around to stare at her.

"Buffy?"

He jerked towards her, not even noticing the stake she had raised automatically at the presence of a vamp in front of her. His hands swept to cup her face, then his mouth was on hers.

Her knees almost gave. Not even Angel had ever kissed her like this, with so much passion and intensity. And forget about Riley, who had never been capable of rising above the mildly pleasant, never had this depth of feeling, and clearly hadn't known the first thing about kissing. She fell helplessly against him, her mouth responding involuntarily to his, her whole body turning suddenly to flame under the thrust and slide of his tongue.

Whoever thought anyone could make her feel like...

'Oh, my God!' she thought in horror. 'This is Spike! What am I doing?'

Her hands found his chest and thrust against it forcefully. He tore his mouth away and gasped. She realized in appalled disbelief that her own breath was shuddering and that her body was trembling violently.

"Shouldn't have done that," he muttered. "Know you don't want it. Sorry, sorry. Couldn't help it."

His hands were still cradling her head, his eyes gazing deeply into hers.

"Buffy!" he breathed.

No one had ever spoken her name like that before—in awe and wonder and pure joy. No one had ever looked at her as he was looking at her—with so much love and tenderness and delight.

"God, it's been a year!" he whispered. "A whole year since I've seen you! I can't believe you're here!"

His chest was solid under her palms. He wasn't a phantom. Well, after that annihilating kiss, she sure knew that.

"You're her Spike."

"What?"

"The other dimension's Spike."

He pulled back in bewilderment and the moonlight fell across her face. His eyes widened in shock as he finally registered that she was not the Buffy he had thought she was. He hadn't moved past the wonder of her presence until now.

"You're...younger! How...?" He turned his head and stared around him. "It's Restfield! It's Sunnydale! But Sunnydale's gone!"

"Not here. You're in another dimension, Spike, and it's the beginning of August, 2000."

"Two thous..."

He let her go abruptly and jerked back, then swayed and nearly fell. She caught his arm and guided him down onto a tombstone.

"Your time is two thousand and four or five, isn't it?"

"Yeah. My time...?" he muttered disbelievingly under his breath.

He was as different to her as she seemed to be to him. It wasn't the Spike she knew, cocky, snarky, arrogant, the coldly lethal killer only kept in check by the chip. There was a warmth to him now, a softness in his eyes, a vulnerability.

"You're from another dimension, Spike. But..." She frowned. "How is it possible? You died there."

"Died. Yeah. We fought. It was a battle with the Senior Partners. That lance..." His hand went to his heart, then he looked down in bewilderment when there was no wound there. "It went straight through my heart. I should have dusted..."

"I think you did dust. But something's brought you back. What do you remember?"

"The lance. Then...a place." His brows flicked together as he struggled to remember. "A good place. Everything was possible. I felt lo..." He broke off abruptly, his lips tightening. "I felt welcome."

She watched him with a kind of awe. It wasn't limbo. She'd been there and hadn't even been aware of it. "Was it Heaven, do you think?"

Angel had gone to Hell. Everyone thought Spike would too. He had killed thousands of people over the last twelve decades. But then he had saved the whole world, billions of people, when he had sacrificed himself in the Hellmouth. And then there was that battle with the Senior Partners. Maybe he had earned Heaven after all.

"Don' know...I can't...It's all going away. It wasn't Hell though." He rubbed his hands roughly across his face. "I need a drink."

She laughed a little. "I guess you do. There should be one in your crypt. Unless some demon's taken the place over."

"Crypt. Yeah. Year 2000, right. I had a crypt then, din' I?"

"What did you have when you were with Angel?" she asked as he stood up and they began to head towards his crypt.

"This grotty little basement flat some wanker got for me, thinking he could use me. Never cared for it." He grinned crookedly. "Liked the crypt a whole lot better."

He was swaying a little as he walked. She put out a hand to steady him and he glanced down at her, his brows rising a little.

"So how come you're not staking me, Slayer?"

"The other Buffy said I shouldn't."

"Other Buffy?"

"The one from your dimension."

"I really need that drink," he muttered.

"Yeah, it's a little complicated."

"I should say." He was frowning. She could see that he was thinking rapidly, working out what was happening and slotting everything into its proper place. Spike had always been very good at that, picking things up from remarkably few clues. He had demonstrated that when Adam had him set them all against each other.

"Do you still have that chip?" she asked abruptly.

He said nothing for a moment, then let out a slow breath. "It malfunctioned and you...my dimension's Buffy had it taken out."

"Then maybe I really should be staking you," she muttered.

"Won't kill, Slayer."

"How do I know that? That chip was the only thing holding you back and now it's gone."

"One can choose not to kill. It's not a compulsion. And the chip's not the only thing holding me back."

"What else would work?"

"A soul."

She stopped dead and stared at him. "You've got a soul? Oh, come on! What, some other gypsy wandered by and cursed you, the same way one cursed Angel? Yeah, right."

"Wasn't cursed. Fought for it. Won it."

"You...chose to get a soul?" No vampire had ever done that. Even Angel had had his soul forced on him. But it would explain that unfamiliar softness in his face, that vulnerability in his eyes, the difference she felt in him. "But why? Why would you do something like that?"

He said nothing, just turned away, not meeting her eyes.

"For her," she said and he hunched his shoulders uncomfortably.

"Thought it would make a difference. It didn't."

She stood staring after him, her mouth open, as he walked away from her, his head a little down. That was an unbelievable thing for a demon to do. In a way, it was more of a sacrifice than when he had died in the Hellmouth. To burn would have been agonizing, but finally there would have been an end to the pain. To get a soul was to scarify one's being with pain and guilt for all the centuries of his possibly immortal unlife. It was a huge, a magnificent thing to do.

Why hadn't Buffy2 mentioned it? She had said nothing about the soul in that folder. Buffy suddenly realized why. The Spike of this dimension whom Buffy2 had been trying to protect by writing those notes didn't have a soul, so she hadn't remembered to mention that the one in her dimension did. She hadn't thought about it at all. It hadn't mattered to her. She had proven that when she had taken their Spike with her, soulless and chipless as he was. That Buffy didn't care whether Spike had a soul. She just loved him.

'I didn't know I did until he was burning up in the Hellmouth,' she had written. 'And then it was too late. I told him I loved him. But he didn't believe me. Why would he? I'd been so cruel to him, treated him so badly. I'll never forgive myself for that.'

Spike had reached his crypt. She shook herself out of her stupor and ran after him.

"Bit dusty," he said wryly, holding the door open for her. "Hang on while I get some light for you."

He lit a few banks of candles. Everything seemed to be just as this dimension's Spike had left it. No other demon had moved in.

Spike was looking in the fridge. "There's a couple of cans of cola in here. Must've got them for you. Would you like one?"

"Yeah, thanks."

He emptied a can into a glass and handed it to her, then poured himself some JD and stood leaning back against a sarcophagus, sipping his drink while she seated herself in his old green armchair.

"Bring me up to date," he said. "What other Buffy were you talking about?"

She explained what had happened, how Willow's spell had sent her to limbo and how Buffy2 had been brought here to take her place and then had been returned when the PTB finally figured out how to fix things and bring Buffy back.

"So everyone's in their right place now," he said slowly at the end.

"Well, sort of," she said wryly, thinking of this dimension's Spike being now in the other dimension.

"Sort of is right. What am I doing here? This isn't my dimension."

"Well, see, two of the same thing can't exist in any dimension. They explode or something. I suppose that's why whoever sent you back couldn't send you to your own dimension and had to send you here instead. There's already a Spike there now. Buffy took ours with her."

"She did what? Why?"

"Well, she loved him and she didn't want to be without him, so the PTB..."

"Bloody hell! What did that wanker do to make her love him that I didn't?" With a violence that startled her into an involuntary jump, he flung his glass against the wall where it smashed into sparkling fragments.

"She loved you, Spike, and he was you and..." Whoa, this was complicated!

He sat down suddenly on the floor and leaned wearily back against the sarcophagus, his elbows on his bent knees and his head back against the stone.

"She didn't love me. She never did."

"She did. She said so. She said she even told you that, but you didn't believe her."

"In the Hellmouth..."

"Yes."

"She didn't mean it. She just said that because I was dying. Just some pretty thing to say to make up for the death."

"She meant it, Spike." She looked at him with compassion, seeing the grief and the pain in his face. "I can show you. She left me a telephone book sized folder telling me things. There's a lot about you in it. I'll bring it over tomorrow and you can read it."

He gave a little breath of laughter. "Telephone sized book? And you don't like to read."

She laughed too, wryly. "Yeah, that is funny."

"Funny. Too right, it's funny. Cosmic joke, it is." He wasn't looking at her. He was looking into space and his face was bitter and desolate. "After all I did, after all I went through, he gets the girl."

She hadn't seen it from his perspective until then. She had been thinking only of Buffy, who had finally gotten the man she loved. But this was the man who'd made the sacrifices that their Spike had profited from.

"Oh, Spike, I'm so sorry!"

He sighed deeply. "Not your fault. Not his either, I suppose. Just the breaks. I'm just so tired of being jerked around by some higher power. 'Let's have a little more fun with him, eh?' Don't you get the feeling sometimes that somewhere someone is laughing?"

She didn't know what to say that wouldn't make the situation worse. It had been just a rhetorical question anyway. He had his forehead down on his crossed wrists, his face hidden. She let him be, feeling an unwilling surge of pity and compassion for him. It just wasn't fair, what had happened to him.

After a long while, he said, "What do I do now?"

"Anything you like." She spread her hands. "You don't have to stay in Sunnydale. You can go anywhere you want. I won't stop you. You said you wouldn't kill. Does the soul keep you from even feeding?"

"Yeah. Doesn't stop me exactly. Just tells me it's wrong, so I...don't want to."

"Like Angel." A thought struck her. "He's got a detective agency over in L.A. You could..."

"No." His voice was flat and hard. "Not again. We trusted him the last time and he suckered us."

He shrugged at her quick glance.

"God knows what he was trying to accomplish with that fight with the Senior Partners. Go out in style maybe. I didn't mind. I like a good fight and I wasn't caring much about staying alive by that time. But Wes and Gunn died because they were human and he sent them up alone against demons. I don't know what happened to Illyria or Lorne."

"I don't know about this Lorne guy, but Illyria survived, the way I hear it. But when it was all over, she left for another dimension."

"Yeah, Blue still had a lot of Fred in her. Wes dying hit her hard. Angel make it?"

"Yes."

"He would."

There was a little silence. Then he sighed.

"Mind if I stick around Sunnydale for a while, pet? I won't get in your way. Just need to get my head together, figure out what to do."

"Sure. Take as much time as you like." She started to get up, then hesitated. "Just don't...don't stake yourself."

"Past that point now, luv." Then he gave her a twisted smile. "Whoever is it would only bring me back again anyway. Don't think they're through playing with their toy yet."

"Hey, things will work out," she said, trying to lighten the mood. "Where there's life, there's hope, right?"

"Sursum cauda, eh?"

"Huh?"

"Up with the tail." He grinned wryly when she laughed.

"I'd better go. Thanks for the drink, Spike," she said as she rose, then glanced around the crypt. "Where do you sleep? I never thought about that before. On the sarcophagus? That can't be comfortable."

"There's a downstairs, Slayer."

"There is?"

"Should be by this point in time. I know I was working on it that year." He got up and went to a trapdoor at the back of the crypt and pulled it open. "Oh, yeah. He got it finished."

"Then I don't have to worry."

He looked around, puzzled. "You're worrying about me? Doesn't sound like the Buffy I remember from that year. She'd have staked me without a thought."

She would have if it hadn't been for Buffy2.

"There've been some changes made," she said uncomfortably. "You're different, I'm different. Guess we'll have to get used to each other. Oh! Riley's gone, but there are still some Initiative people hanging around, so be careful."

He frowned. "I'm still trying to get the time frame sorted out. Mr. Bits is history, right?"

"Yeah, Adam's dead and the Initiative's been pulled out. But there's still some military about. Mostly admin and MPs taking care of the last little details, I think. No one's grabbing demons to experiment on now, but it would be safer to keep out of their way."

"Captain Cardboard's gone? In my dimension, he hung around for nearly a year more."

She shrugged awkwardly. "We decided to call it quits."

He glanced at her, his face gentle. "He wasn't worthy of you, Slayer."

"That's what the other Buffy said. Did he really go with vamp hos?"

"Yeah, he did. Moronic thing to do. Could have gotten turned and then he'd have been a real danger to you and your Mum and the Scoobs. Can't think of anything more brainless and irresponsible. Held that against him a lot more than him shoving that plastic stake through my heart."

She swung around to stare at him. "He did what?"

"Just trying to teach me a lesson. Telling me he'd do it for real if I didn't keep away from you."

And why was she shocked? A plastic stake wouldn't have killed Spike, but it would have hurt him immensely and torture like that was right up Riley's alley. She saw that now. He had never flinched from any ugly thing the Initiative had demanded of him. Even the time he helped rescue Oz was because he had realized Oz was Buffy's friend; the cruelties done to Oz and other demons hadn't bothered him until then.

"Well, I'd better go," she muttered and moved towards the crypt door.

"Buffy?"

She turned. "Yes?"

He was just looking at her, his gaze soft and sad and wistful as it lingered on her face. Her skin heated under that silken look and she flushed.

"Just...Buffy. It's been a long time since I've seen any Buffy. I just like to look at you. You're so beautiful."

"I..."

This wasn't the Spike she knew. He was so different from the Spike she knew. It scared her. Because she couldn't see him as a monster any longer. Because he was a person to her now, not just a vampire. And that was dangerous.

"I'll, uh, I'll see you around, Spike," she said hastily and fled.

TBC