Spike pressed his lips together and exhaled heavily through his nose. “Couldn’t have zapped us INTO the sodding magic city, could you?”
Giles gritted his teeth, trying to keep a pleasant face for the guards in front of them. “It’s warded, now shut up.”
Buffy looked smaller than ever, standing in front of four large stone monsters with spears. The monsters were blocking the entrance to the city they had to get into to get some amulet that would save the world. Between the center two stone monsters stood a middle-aged woman with a prim and cold look about her. She wore a toga and carried a clipboard.
“Let me get this straight,” Buffy said, “We can’t enter the city of whateveritis…”
“Wallandra,” the woman provided.
“Unless we have something of value to trade? And you already said no to Giles’s watch, my bracelet, and Xander’s very tasty, sugar-free gum. Look, we’re only going to be here for five minutes, tops. How much can that possibly be worth?”
The woman smirked, eyes sliding to Xander. “Well, if you’re only staying a short while, you could leave your young man in the brothel for that time. They’re always looking for fresh faces.”
Xander’s eyebrows shot to his hairline and Spike laughed outright.
“Really not happening,” Buffy said, though she did glance back briefly. “Come on, don’t we have anything you want?”
“We are artificers. No object you bring interests us.”
“I can babysit?” Buffy offered. The guard didn’t look remotely interested. Buffy turned and waved Giles, Xander and Spike together in a huddle. “Okay, confab. What do we do?”
Giles spoke first. “We have to find some skill we have that they value.”
“Brothel’s the obvious option,” Spike said, deadpan.
“Hey!” Xander squeaked. “I’m not doing the horizontal mambo for… for entrance fees. And shut up, Spike. The only reason you even came along is to score brownie points with Buffy. Well, I have news: there aren’t enough brownie points in the world.”
Over Buffy’s muttered, “That’s true,” Spike said, “Wrong as usual. Only reason I came along is I was bored. Joyce got herself a new boyfriend and doesn’t want me hanging around her place lest he confuse me with a sexy younger rival.”
“My mom has a WHAT? Wait – you’re hanging around my house?”
“You’ve got cable,” Spike said.
“Can we get back to the brothel part of the conversation?” Xander asked, looking nervously back at the city gate. “That lady has not stopped staring at me.”
“No one is going to the brothel,” Giles said, firmly.
Spike cracked a wide grin. “It’s a bloody discredit to her eyesight that she picked XANDER over me. I’ll go.”
“Be serious,” Buffy said. “We have to figure this out.”
“I am. Look, tell the bint I volunteer for the brothel. I let some old hag chase me around the bed for fifteen minutes, and then you come collect me. Like picking a lock. A victimless crime.”
Spike looked very pleased with his idea, and Xander said, “Yeah, send Spike to the scary matriarchal brothel. He’s good with that. I’m good with the part I don’t play in the plan.”
Giles rubbed the space between his eyes.
Buffy said, “You’re forgetting something, Spike: something that begins with a C and ends with blinding pain when you try to fight a human?”
“Don’t have to fight anyone. It’s fifteen minutes and I’m faster than them. Besides.” He touched the tip of his tongue to his teeth. “Maybe I’ll just get lucky.”
“Gross! You’re a pig!”
Giles said, “I’m for anything that will get me out of this conversation.”
The guard must have been listening, because she was suddenly in their circle, at Spike’s side, holding her clipboard. “Wonderful. Sign here.”
Spike raised his eyebrows and picked up the pen.
“This is a bad idea,” Buffy said. “Gross, and a bad idea.”
The guard looked at Spike’s signature like it was a shiny new paycheck. She held the clipboard out to marvel for a moment and then turned to Buffy, handing her a small stone tile about the size of a domino. “Present this receipt for the return of your chattel.”
Spike caught Buffy’s eyes and waggled his eyebrows. Then he vanished.
“Hey!” Buffy glared at the guard. “What’s the idea?”
“If you really are only going to be here a short while, expedited use is necessary. You can pick him up at the brothel on your way out. It’s on the city square, across from the temple.” She smiled coolly and gestured them toward the gate, where the huge stone monsters had stepped aside silently.
“We can’t defeat them,” Giles advised as Buffy straightened to her full height. “We’ll do better to get the talisman and get out.”
“We’ll talk later,” Buffy said, jabbing a finger at the guard.
“This will work,” Giles said, under his breath as they passed through the ornately carved stone gates. “The temple is where the talisman is. We’ll be in and back to Spike before he has time to annoy them into staking him.” Giles paused, looked back, and said, “I can’t believe I care.”
However, when they found the talisman, the moment Buffy touched it, she, Xander and Giles found themselves back in the Magic Box. Willow was still waving the incense bundle from the spell to send them into the other dimension. She dropped it with a shocked gasp. “Wow. That was… you guys didn’t even vanish. I mean, you did, but… where’s Spike?”
Everyone looked around themselves. “Perhaps,” Giles said, “He was transported relative to us. He could be across the street.”
Buffy planted her fists on her hips. “Or we just left him. In a brothel.”
Willow’s eyebrows shot up. “What kind of dimension was this?”
“The ancient city of artifact crafters,” Giles sighed. “Buffy. You have to take the talisman to the site of the rift and stop it before it opens. We’ll look for Spike.”
“It’s only Spike,” Xander offered. “He can take care of himself.”
“It was almost only YOU,” Buffy pointed out, but nodded. “Let’s get this world saved. Again.”
Spike blinked, surprised that his surroundings had changed completely, but he didn’t let it phase him. He was in a dark room, round with high windows far above. A set of stairs went up to a ledge at about waist-height and off this ledge there were three curtained archways. In front of one of these stood an older woman in a grey toga. He gave her his best leer. “Well, ducks, you’re about to get your money’s worth. Hold on to your eyeballs.” He rolled his shoulders and gave his enviably flat stomach a rub. “Because I bet I can make taking my shirt off last the full fifteen minutes and you won’t even regret it.”
The woman glanced up and down him, a hint of smile touching her stony features. “Tell Wrella we have another one for the meat room.”
“Another for the what now?” Spike straightened as the woman parted a curtain and walked out of the room. That was when four other hands grabbed Spike’s arms from behind.