Winner Take All
"I fold," Cordelia said.
"You can't fold, ducks - not even finished dealing yet." Spike kept dealing without even sparing a glance at the others.
"I don't know how to play cards, and are you sure that poker is the way to go here?" Cordelia glanced down at her hands and got distracted by a flaw in her manicure.
"Logic," Anya said, counting the pile of chips in front of her. "Seven of us, seven seats, seven card stud." She looked to the smiling man beside her, who was looking wistfully at Cordelia.
"That's right, Princess,' the man said. "But I sure could go for a bottle of seven-year-old Scotch, if there's one to be had."
"You never quit, do you, Doyle?" Cordelia asked, but there was no heat in her words, and she smiled as she picked up her cards and began rearranging them.
"Not so far," Doyle said. "How about you?" he said, glancing across the table. "Anything to add?"
Wesley frowned at his cards thoughtfully. "Could use better cards," he mused. He looked up and around the table, then smiled. "It's good to see all of you again. Well, all of you that I know." His eyes flicked back and forth between Cordelia and Fred. "I'd not thought to see either of you again."
"What about me, Percy?" Spike said "Aren't you glad to see me?"
"I knew I'd see you, Spike," Wes said. "Most likely in Hell."
"Now you're just tryin' to flatter me. Ante up." Spike tossed two chips into the center of the table.
"This isn't Hell," the last occupant of the table said. "I don't think they have poker in hell."
"Oh, yes they do, Miss Calendar," Cordelia said, tossing her own chips onto the table. "It's just the red hot kind and not the seven-card kind."
"Who are all you people?" Jenny asked.
Queen of Hearts: Anya
"I'm Anya," Anya said. "I was a vengeance demon for eleven hundred years and then I almost married Xander Harris. I ran a magic shop with Giles and I died in the apocalypse."
"Which apocalypse?" Jenny asked wrily.
"The last one," Anya answered.
"Next to last," Spike said.
"It was my last one," she replied, stacking her chips.
"Xander Harris?" Jenny said. "Tall, kind of awkward, sweet boy with the floppy hair?" Anya nodded. "How did he grow up?" Jenny asked.
"He didn't," Spike and Anya said together.
"He left me at the altar," Anya added.
"Ouch, sorry," Jenny said.
"You don't look like a demon," Fred said softly.
"Thanks," Anya said brightly. "I was actually human when I died, not like..." She trailed off when Spike and Wes gave her sharp looks.
"Yes, you look lovely," Wes said, and Anya preened.
"It's your bet, sweetheart," Doyle said, and Anya tossed three blue chips into the center of the table.
King of Hearts: Doyle
Doyle raked in the pot, chuckling at his good fortune. Two hands into the game, a bottle of Scotch and a box of cigars had appeared beside him. Everyone had glasses, the men and Anya each had a stogie going. "So," Doyle said conversationally, "how did you all die?"
"Ubervamp,' Anya said, dealing the cards.
"Mystical coma," Cordelia said.
"Mage." Wes' voice was tight.
"Ancient sarcophagus," Fred said.
"Angelus snapped my neck." Jenny's hand reached up to touch her throat.
"First Drusilla, then I burned in the Hellmouth, and as a final insult, I got my head bitten off by a dragon. You?" Spike tossed his bet onto the table.
"Semi-heroic suicide thing," Doyle said, then smiled when Cordelia snorted. He turned so that he could look at her over the top of his cards. "I missed ya, Princess," he said quietly.
"Missed you, too," she said. "Even though you gave me a really crappy going-away present."
"I'll do better next time," he said, admiring the heavy fall of her silky dark hair.
"Can't," she said. "No more next times. No more goodbyes."
"Your bet, Doyle," Wes said, and Doyle stopped looking at Cordelia long enough to raise and call.
Queen of Spades: Fred
Fred moved her chair a little bit closer to Wesley's. "Thank you," she whispered.
"For what?" Wesley asked.
"For The Little Princess, and for staying with me. It meant a lot."
"I would have done anything to keep you," he said, voice strained. "You know that, right? I died thinking of you, hoping to see you again."
"And here I am," she said quietly.
She clasped his hand under the table and held on tightly, thinking that this was definitely heaven.
Queen of Clubs: Cordelia
It seemed strange to see Doyle sitting there drinking and smoking and playing cards and exchanging smart remarks with Spike. It was utterly surreal. For so long, her only connection to him had been on that stupid videotape, sounding horribly uncomfortable shilling AI's "low rats." And how many times had she cried while hearing his sweet voice ask, "Are we done?"
She shook herself slightly and stared at her cards. She was getting low on chips and her inside straight looked like a winner. Of course, Spike was playing to win, no matter how much the others seemed immersed in their own thoughts and dramas.
She raised the bet as it came to her, then stared at her cards once more. She jumped as something brushed her foot under the table and she looked up to see Doyle mostly hiding a sly smile behind his cards. She thought about that final kiss he'd given her, the one that had passed the visions and had held so much caring. She slipped her foot out of her sandal and trailed her toe across his instep. His smile faltered and he smoldered. Yes, Cordelia thought, that was a face she could love.
Jack of Clubs: Wes
"Spike," Wes said, still clutching Fred's hand. "Do you know if Gunn..."
Spike grunted and ashed his cigar onto the floor. "Don't know," he said. "He was alive when the dragon got me, and he's not here."
"I hope he's okay," Fred said softly.
Wes turned to her, his eyes flashing. "He killed you."
"He didn't know."
Wes turned quickly to stare at Spike. "That's no excuse."
"Yeah, it is," Spike said. "You want to be mad at someone, be mad at Angel, least he made a choice - Charlie just made a mistake."
Wes swallowed and looked down. "I...I have to be angry at someone; it's all I know how to do."
"Does it matter so much now?" Spike asked.
Wes thought about the way the gun had felt in his hand when he'd shot at the thing masquerading as his father, the way the knife had felt in his hand while stabbing his friend. He thought about how the Orlon Window had felt, light and spare between his fingers. And then he thought about Fred's slender hand in his and he, too, redefined heaven.
Queen of Diamonds: Jenny
Jenny looked around the table, her eyes lighting on Anya. "Excuse me," she said. "You said that you worked with Rupert, back in Sunnydale?"
Anya stacked her cards and slipped their corner under a small pile of chips. "Yes," she said. "We worked together for quite a while."
"Was he...okay? After I died?"
"He was rather stuffy, mostly, and he got impatient a lot," Anya said, remembering. "He often lectured me about being nicer to the customers."
Jenny grinned. "I remember that he could be a little...stiff. I liked that about him."
"He told me about you once," Anya said.
Jenny looked down at the green felt covering the table, wondering what Rupert would have said about her, if he ever forgave her.
"Hey," Anya said, her hand moving across the table to lightly brush the backs of Jenny's fingers. "He loved you, you know? He said that it didn't matter, what Angelus did to him, because all he could feel was the pain of losing you."
Jenny felt tears prick her eyes. "Was he drunk when he said that?"
"Of course he was," Anya said, picking up her cards and fanning them out as the bet came to her. "He was British, you know."
Ace of Spades: Spike
"Looks like it's down to us, love," Spike said, shuffling the cards. He and Anya sat side by side, each with a large pile of chips in front of them. The others weren't paying attention. Wesley and Fred were sitting with their heads close, whispering and laughing and sharing almost unbearably sappy smiles. Cordelia was telling Jenny the stories of all that had happened since she died, with Doyle adding commentary and fielding playful slaps from his Princess.
"Go demons," Anya mock-cheered. "Deal."
Spike dealt, then threw his ante into the spot of clear table in front of them. Anya followed suit and glanced over her cards. "Did Xander ever...find someone?" she asked.
Spike shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "Dunno, really. He went to Africa and I was dead for the second time. Never saw him after Sunnydale."
Anya threw her bet in. "I'm surprised the two of you never got together," she said.
Spike's mouth fell open and his cigar dropped into his lap. He stood quickly to brush it away and remained standing, glaring at Anya.
"Oh, sit down," she said. He did. "Your bet. I think the two of you would have made a good couple."
Spike snorted and raised the bet, rearranging his cards. "Are you insane? Droopy and I were nothing alike."
"Exactly," Anya said. "You always wanted to take care of someone, and he always wanted there to be someone to take care of him. Plus, he was a Viking in the sack."
"So I've heard," Spike said. "Doesn't matter now, anyway." He laid his cards on the table face down and pushed his entire stack of chips into the pot. "All in," he said.
Anya pushed her chips in and laid her cards down for Spike to see. "Three of a kind."
Spike flipped his cards over, smirking. "Full house, queens over eights. Looks like I win," he said, pulling the chips toward him.
The next thing he knew, he was waking up with cold, heavy rain driving against his bare back and very hard asphalt under his equally bare front. Thunder was pounding rhythmically in his ears. He struggled to sit up, realizing two things. One, he was completely naked; and two, that wasn't thunder. Spike placed a hand over his suddenly beating heart and looked up to see two figures coming toward him. The tall one was Angel and the one leaning on Angel was Gunn. He watched as Angel stopped, nostrils flaring and realization dawning on his face, followed closely by searing anger. He thought back to what Anya had said and wondered what the weather was like in Africa.
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