DISCLAIMER: We know they're Joss', right? Which really is a shame, because most of the time, we're so much nicer to them than he was.
PREVIOUSLY ON BUFFY: Buffy tended to Spike's injury, and the two fell asleep together, while Angel learned that Spike was at the plane, ready to leave Rome with Buffy...

* * *

Angel almost thought they weren’t going to get off the ground. Roman airport officials weren’t pleased with the sudden flight plan, dawdling in granting approval for precious seconds, seconds where all he could hear was the shallow rhythm of Buffy’s breathing in the passenger area behind him, seconds where the twinkling vista of Rome’s skyline stared back at him through the cockpit window. There were worries that Ilona had already figured out what was going on, that the Immortal had phoned her the second he discovered Buffy was missing, and that Wolfram and Hart were doing everything in their power to forestall any progress Angel might make. Then they got their authorization. He almost kissed the pilot in gratitude.

Spike was subdued when Angel came back to buckle himself in. He had stretched out on the small couch with Buffy firmly cushioned against him, his arm around her waist in lieu of a seatbelt, and his mouth hovered at her temple, as if wanting to kiss but not quite daring to. A knot of anger twisted with the jealousy already simmering in his gut, but Angel said nothing as he sat down. It might burn, but Spike deserved this one concession for getting Buffy away. They would simply address the matter of anything more once they got to London.

There had been no argument about where to take Buffy. Though Angel was still smarting from Giles’ refusal to help with Fred, he knew there was no way he would shut the door in their faces with his Slayer in their arms. The Council, under his guidance, protected their own. The debacle with Dana had proven that, if nothing else.

As for Spike’s revelation about where the clock had come from, Angel grabbed the in-flight phone as soon as they were up in the air. Much to his relief, Wes answered on the second ring.

“Angel.” He sounded surprised to hear him. “I haven’t finished---.”

“Set it aside.” Spike’s sharp glance told Angel how loudly he was speaking, and he deliberately lowered his tone. “I have new information which needs to take precedence.”

“Of course. I take it…Buffy hasn’t awakened yet?”

His eyes swept over her recumbent form, his jaw twitching when he saw how Spike’s fingers had slipped beneath her top to stroke softly along her waistband. “No. But we found out who is supplying the clocks, if not who did the actual spell.”

“That’s wonderful. Who?”

“Us.”

Silence poured through the line. “Pardon?” Wesley finally asked carefully. “Did you say…?”

“Wolfram and Hart.” Watching Spike’s fingers was hypnotic, and Angel growled as he turned his back on the pair. “They’re the ones who gave the clock to the Immortal. We found Knox’s blood on the one Buffy touched. I don’t know how it got there. All I want to know is why.”

“But...” He heard Wesley’s soft exhalation, knew how much he was asking of his friend. “…Knox is dead, Angel. I can’t very well pull him into my office and interrogate him. What do you wish for me to do?”

Angel outlined his request, listening to Wesley scribble his notes. He had no idea if it was even possible, but he knew that if there was any hope, Wes would find it. “How long do you think it’ll take to get that information?” he finished.

“If it’s documented, fairly quickly. Either way, I can let you know within thirty minutes or so.”

He checked his watch. In the Wolfram and Hart jet, the flight to London was a short one, but he was still going to be up in the air for another forty minutes. “I’ll call you back in an hour,” Angel said. “Right now, we’re getting Buffy to safety. If I find anything else out in the interim, I’ll let you know.”

Spike was regarding him with solemn eyes when he hung up the phone. “Her temperature’s rising,” he said. He shifted his hold on her, moving his mouth away from her temple. “I’d say…one-oh-two by now.”

Angel swore under his breath. “That’s putting a time limit on this whole situation. We really don’t need that on top of everything else.” Spike’s hand was still moving along her skin, though now almost imperceptibly. “And will you stop that! Just…lay Buffy down and get in your own seat. She doesn’t need you pawing her, and I definitely don’t need to see you doing it.”

The gentle strokes stopped, though Spike made no effort to move. “She needs to know she’s with friends who love her, you nit. It’s like with the people in comas, yeah? Talk to ‘em, touch ‘em, let ‘em know you’re there. Helps ‘em recover.”

“That’s not touching! That’s petting!”

Spike’s temper was starting to rise as well. “It relaxes her,” he snapped. “And it’s not like I asked for a bloody ice cube, now is it?”

“What? What would you need a--?” He stopped, grimacing. “Never mind. I don’t want to know. At least you haven’t been stupid enough to try and kiss her awake, like she was Sleeping Beauty or something.”

Spike’s silence was damning.

Angel stared at him in disbelief. “Oh my god, you did. What the hell goes through that head of yours? Do you even think before you try these crazy ideas?” He shook his head, still unable to comprehend what Spike had done. “You can’t honestly have believed that was going to work.”

“And how stupid would you have felt if we got all through this, and kissing her was exactly what we needed to do?” More gently than the rigidity of his body should have allowed, Spike slid out from under Buffy, resting her back onto the couch with tender hands before stomping over to his own seat. “Had to do something,” he growled, leaning forward to rest his forearms on his knees. He glared at Angel, though something lurked within his blue eyes that made Angel hesitate to lash back as violently. “And no harm came from it. She’s still there, still sleepin’, and if we don’t suss out how to get her back, we’re goin’ to lose her to the Sandman for good. Don’t be gettin' your knickers in a twist about me and her until there’s something real twisting them.”

“There is no you and her,” Angel countered. “She’s with the Immortal now, remember?”

“Oh, know that. All too well. Question is, do you?”

His mouth tightened into that familiar scowl that seemed a permanent fixture when Spike was around. Regardless of whether he agreed with Spike’s methodology, Angel had to admit he had at least one point. He was jealous. He’d been jealous when he’d thought there was something going on between Spike and Buffy the previous year, and it had festered with Spike’s added presence in Los Angeles. The only thing that had ever eased it was knowing that for as long as Spike was in LA, he wasn’t with Buffy. What would happen when she woke up and realized Spike was alive?

“What are you going to do?” he asked. The question brought a drawing of Spike’s brows, and Angel rolled his eyes as he clarified. “When we snap Buffy out of this and she finds out you’re not dust in the bottom of the Sunnydale crater. What is it you think is going to happen?”

Spike’s gaze fell to the floor. “Hell if I know,” he muttered. “Figured I’d leave that part up to Buffy. It’s always been her show, after all.”

He sounded so genuinely confused that it drove Angel into silence. He wasn’t going to be the one to make Spike feel better, not about Buffy, not about trying to find a future with her. Buffy deserved better, always had and always would. Of course, Angel would much prefer seeing her with Spike than with the Immortal, but hopefully, once they woke her up, she’d see reason about the both of them.

“Why is it you’re so fussed about this?” Spike asked. Angel snapped from his reverie to find the other vampire’s blue gaze intent on his. “You’ve moved on. Got the wolfgirl now. Are you telling me you’d leave her behind if Buffy crooked her finger in your direction?”

He hadn’t actually thought about it in terms of Nina. “Well, no,” he said. “But that’s not the point---.”

“And if Buffy’s happy, then why should it matter who she picks?” Spike pressed. “You should be able to sit back and be happy for her.”

“Oh, like you jumped for joy when we found out she was with the Immortal now.”

“That’s different.”

“Is it?”

Spike’s eyes narrowed, his jaw twitching. For a moment, he simply glared at Angel, then slumped back in his seat. “Wanker,” he muttered.

Angel shook his head and turned away, grabbing a magazine to try and distract himself from the argument. “Big baby.”

“Selfish git.”

“Let it go, Spike.”

Silence filled the plane.

“Tosser.”

Angel sighed.

*************

They landed in London without having said another word to the other. Frankly, Spike was grateful for the reprieve. There were already too many thoughts running rampant inside his skull to have Angel’s dissenting voice added to it, but most of all, there was Buffy. With every slight increment of her rising temperature, his worry about her compounded a thousandfold. None of his fears would matter a drop if they couldn’t wake her up before her fever escalated beyond their control. None of it would matter at all if she died as a result of the Immortal’s obsessive hobby.

In spite of Angel’s glower, Spike held her close as they touched down, keeping her from jarring from the less than smooth impact. All he wanted was to savor every second he got with her in his arms, Angel’s opinions be damned. The sharp edges of his declarations cut more than Spike was willing to admit, mainly because he knew they held a grain or two of truth, but for as long as it was as simple as protecting her from physical harm, he would give it all he had and more. Until the moment came again when she didn’t need him.

He had her cradled in her arms, ready to disembark, when the distant squawk of the radio in the cockpit made them both pause.

“…wait for the officials.”

Angel’s head snapped up at the same time Spike’s eyes jumped to his. They didn’t need to hear the pilot’s response to the radioed instruction. There was no time for it.

“Emergency exit,” Angel mouthed, jerking his chin toward the back of the plane.

Spike followed as Angel brushed past him, eyes and ears straining to catch any unwelcome advances. With the bedlam of the small airport surrounding them, it was difficult to pick out specifics. A roar of an engine. The creak of metal. Too many heartbeats to discern a single individual.

And a burning Slayer nestled in his arms.

The night air was cold as it blasted through the open door, the smell of exhaust thick and choking. Angel didn’t bother with the stairs, leaping gracefully to the ground first, but Spike hesitated long enough to assess the safest way to jump holding Buffy.

“Just do it,” he heard Angel hiss.

Spike’s coat billowed around him, softening his landing. Immediately, Angel was running, away from the main terminal and toward one of the luggage trucks parked nearby, leaving Spike close on his heels. It took only seconds to hop onto the back, and only a few more for Angel to get the thing moving, the vehicle lumbering forward with a dull roar that seemed ominous to Spike’s ears. In the distance, he saw slim figures approach the plane they had just vacated, though it was too far to pick up what they were saying to the waiting pilot. They boarded, and within moments, appeared as faint outlines in the emergency exit that still stood open.

Spike grinned as he flipped them off, though he knew they couldn’t see him. “Idiots,” he muttered.

Nobody followed them as Angel navigated around the building, abandoning the luggage truck as close to the taxi rank as he could manage. At that hour of the night, the line was empty, only a few black cabs waiting to pick up passengers. They didn’t have to wait before slipping into the wide back seat of the first car.

The driver cast them a curious glance in his mirror, but if he cared about the lack of reflection, he didn’t say a word. He sped through the empty London streets, the windows open, the familiar smell of the Underground seeping from beneath the concrete a reminder of days gone by. Spike had no time for nostalgia, though. All his thoughts were on Buffy, and the Immortal, and back on that bloody clock. They stayed there until they stood on the Council’s step, waiting for someone to answer the door.

“Let me do the talking,” Angel warned.

“Mean like the last time, when Rupert refused to take your call?” Spike sniped. He rolled his eyes, adjusting Buffy’s slight weight in his arms. “Yeah, that’ll make things just peachy.”

“He doesn’t even know you’re alive, remember? And we can’t afford to make this about you, which it will turn into the second you open your mouth.”

“Because seein’ dearly departed me on his doorstep with his Slayer unconscious in my arms won’t raise a question at all.” Spike snorted in disbelief. “Doesn’t matter which of us does the talkin’. You just like the sound of your own voice too much to let the rest of us have a go.”

“Oh, you’re one to talk---.”

Before the argument could degenerate into another name-calling spat, the sound of the lock turning in the door shut them both up, pulling both of their attentions toward the entrance, waiting for it to open. A bleary-eyed young man not much more than twenty peered through, but the moment his gaze settled on Buffy, his eyes flew as wide as the door he suddenly threw open.

“Oh! Miss Summers! What on earth…?” He began gesticulating wildly. “Come in, come in. What happened? Where did you find her? I thought she was in Rome, but perhaps Mr. Giles forgot to tell me…”

His blathering questions continued unabated as Spike and Angel entered, one obstacle out of their way. The townhouse’s front hall was narrow, the only illumination the small lamp sitting on the cherry sideboard. All the doors that led off it were closed, but from the top of the stairs that took up half the width, Spike heard another open and shut, then footsteps pad down the hall.

“What on earth is worth such a racket, Daniel?” Giles’ voice was hushed but urgent, and Spike looked up the stairs in time to see him start to descend. He froze when he spotted the pair at the bottom, however, eyes widening as he began to fumble with the glasses in his hands. “Oh, dear lord…”

“Right,” Spike said. “Let’s get this out of the way, shall we? I’m alive, the idiot son here just invited a pair of vampires into your house without batting an eyelash, and, oh yeah, Buffy’s stuck in another dimension courtesy of her new wanker boyfriend who I hope to hell you give as much a hard time as you ever gave me. So. How ‘bout a cuppa, Rupes?”

 

To be continued in Chapter 14