Wagering History


by Annie Sewell-Jennings




Spades.

Honestly, I hadn't played the game since I was sixteen and bored in study
hall, twirling my hair around my finger and tiredly looking at my hand,
snapping gum and wishing that I was someone else. But I had joined in,
carelessly tossing cards into the pile, collecting books, doing an average
job.

Maybe it seemed more glamorous and interesting to play cards underneath the
neon lights and haze of smoke in the Bronze. Like I was someone elite,
someone too good to dance. But when Xander pulled out the deck of cards and
Willow said that she knew how to play Spades, the idea seemed so appealing
that I was thrilled.

"We need a fourth, though," Willow said, momentarily downcast, and I
shrugged, taking a sip of my room temperature beer. Ew. Totally gross. I hate how I can never down a whole drink while it's still cold, so that I'll always have to suffer through piss-warm beer. Or not get drunk. The latter's probably the better option.

"We could always play wild," I suggested. "Just deal the fourth hand but then not play the cards. Then you don't know what's highest." I flashed a winning grin, moved my hands around a little bit. Playing cute sometimes gets me my way, but not that night.

Xander made a disinterested face, shuffling the deck between his hands.
"Nah," he said. "It's more fun if you have a fourth. Besides, we get to have teams then, and by default, spiffy team names. Like the Gladiators." He gave us his own version of a winning smile. So not as cute as mine.

I snorted. "Thanks, Russell," I said dryly, and I sighed, cradling my chin in my hands. Now, I have come to terms with the fact that there is nothing to do in this town, nothing to escape from trouble and boredom, but I thought that a game of cards might have done it. To be wrapped up in strategy and meaningless rectangles of tagboard. It didn't sound bad.

It was interesting to watch Xander shuffle a deck of cards, though. His
adventure in the strip club two summers ago had apparently taught him some
new tricks, and his fingers rapidly shuffled the deck, cutting it expertly
and with an artistic flourish, like he was a blackjack dealer in Vegas
putting on a show. "We could always play poker," he suggested, and Willow
quickly protested.

"Oh, no," she said forcefully. "I had a very, very bad experience with poker
when I was in sixth grade. Lunch money lost, dignity stolen..." The redhead
shook her head emphatically. "It's a sordid tale of innocence lost through
gambling and mild nudity."

Xander perked up at that. "Sordid nudity?" he asked eagerly, and I just
rolled my eyes. Men are always oh-so capable of rearranging sentences to
their benefit. But on Xander, it was kind of cute. The little guy's just so
damn horny. Sometimes, I wonder how Anya satiates that appetite for sex, but
then I remember that Anya's pretty much a nympho herself. Riding horse... Ew.

God, it was easy to retreat into this banter, this old rapport that we have
together. It was reinvigorating to be there, observing as Willow talked with
her hands and Xander was clever. I could ignore the last couple of months,
the mistakes that I made, and lose myself in the stability of their
conversation.

Maybe that was why I wanted to play cards so damn bad. I wanted a
distraction, something to keep my mind off of everything that was different
and strange at home. I could forget that the house was empty except for one
resentful, sullen-faced sister and a frazzled Slayer. No worries, no cares.
Just this banter, this healthy little chat between old friends. Just this
wonderful conversation.

Which was now dead, because not a one of us could think of a single damned
thing to say.

"I know how to play gin," I suggested eagerly. "Or hearts." Then I sighed,
leaning down on my hand. "Dammit, I had my heart set on spades."

Slumping into her hands and giving a miffed little puff, Willow seemed to be
an exasperated pixie. "Me too," she grumbled, and then Xander snorted,
looking past us as he shuffled cards between his hands.

"Well, if we want a more visual and pathetic form of entertainment, we do
have good old Spike drinking himself sick at the bar," Xander pointed out.

Spike. Oh, Lord.

See, this was the sort of thing that a game of spades was supposed to
destroy. It was going to erase the memory of his sad attempt to have me
through electronics. I would never have to remember the sight of his awful
robot. Or his battered, bruised body draped across the lid of a
sarcophogus... Or the memory of his swollen mouth brushing against mine...

Oh, Lord.

I was terrified to turn around and look at him, but being a glutton for
punishment, I did take a glance. Upon first glance, I wished that I hadn't.
The swelling had gone down a little bit, but his face was still purple and
black, and his mouth was still puffy and tender-looking, and was currently
nursing a cigarette. There were cuts all across his cheek, and I didn't want
to know how they had gotten there. His hand shook as he drank his beer, and
he looked stiff and sore. He must have been hurting - he didn't even do his
hair. It just kind of tumbled. I felt bad for him.

Willow sucked in her breath when she saw him, and I had forgotten that she
hadn't seen how badly he'd taken it from Glory. "Man, he looks awful," she
whispered to me, and I nodded my head.

"Yeah, he took one for the team," I muttered. Did they know that I'd kissed
him? Was it written across my face? I felt like I had a big scarlet "K"
written across my chest. Well, maybe just across my cheeks. They felt pretty
red.

Xander shook his head, shuffling the cards between his hands. "Yeah, it's
hard not to feel kind of bad for him," he admitted. "And that's saying a lot, because I really, really hate Spike. But..."

His voice trailed, and we were all quiet for a minute, looking at him while
he drank his beer with a shaking hand. We didn't quite know what to think of
him after what he had done. He had been tortured, had been brutalized, and
had kept the secret. In essence, Spike saved Dawn's life, and had done it
selflessly and had suffered for it.

And I had kissed him.

Slowly, I looked at Willow. "You know, maybe we should do something for him,"
I suggested. "He looks kind of lonely..."

"Buff, you've got to be kidding me," he said. "Spike? Sitting in front of us?
Existing near us? Touching my cards? Wrong. No."

"Oh, come on, Xander," Willow said. "Buffy's right. He's been through a lot
lately."

I turned to my friends and arched my eyebrow at them. "Look, I want to play
spades," I said simply. "It's a damn card game. He says one thing even
remotely weird, and he'll go. And we all know how Spike is when it comes to
saying weird shit, so maybe one hand at best. All right?"

Before Xander could object, I turned around and called out. "Hey, Spike!"

He turned around gingerly, wincing, and I kind of gave him a half-smile that said, "Hey, don't hate you so much anymore." He tugged his bruised mouth into a return smile, and I felt bad at the sight of him. He made me feel almost...
Guilty. Which was, of course, completely ridiculous, since he'd done enough
in this past week (Exhibit A: Sexbot) to make me want to stake him.

Of course, then he'd done enough to make me want to kiss him, so...

I got up from the table and walked to the bar, leaning on the tabletop and
tilting my head at him. Even through the bruises and cuts, he smiled at me,
an almost shy smile, like the kind that I used to get when talking to the
quarterback of the football team in high school that I always had a secret
crush on. "Hey, Buffy," he said, and I found myself a little short of breath when I looked at his mouth. I could still taste the kiss.

"How are you feeling?" I asked. Stupid me to be concerned. Stupid me to have kissed him.

"Like I got hit with a Mack truck," he said. "Well, suppose that's
appropriate, since Glory's ass is the size of an eighteen-wheeler."

Was it wrong to snicker at that? No, it was funny, so I laughed a little.
Spike smiled at me, tilting his head like we were enjoying some sort of
warped camaraderie. I think that maybe we were. "First time you ever laughed
at my jokes," he said.

I arched my eyebrow at him. "There's a first time for everything, Spike," I
said. "Like this is the first time I've invited you to come sit with us.
Wanna play spades?"

Now it was his turn for his eyebrow to arch, and I was pained by how bruised and swollen his left eye still was. He really got the brunt of it on the left side of his face - she must be right-handed. "You sure you want your ass
whipped that badly?" he said, and I rolled my eyes, grabbing his hand and
ignoring how well our fingers fit together as I dragged him back to the table.

God bless Willow for being so damn cheerful and eager-to-please. Sometimes,
it's a grating quality, but on that night, I was grateful for it. She gave
Spike a bright smile and waved a little at him. "Hey, Spike!" she said. "You
look... Um..."

"Pathetic?" Xander supplied, and Spike rolled his eyes, taking his seat
across from me. Great. Now I would have to stare at his bruised face all
night long, thinking about what he'd done for us and how I couldn't be a
bitch to him anymore. And I'd have to look at his mouth and remember what it
was like to touch it with my own. Maybe I could put a paper bag over his
face...

"So, how are you playing this?" Spike asked, and Xander sighed, rolling his
eyes a little as he dealt out the cards.

"We don't bid on the first round so that we can work up some books to bid,"
he said. "Bags are counted, and ten bags costs you a hundred points. No blind bidding unless you're behind a hundred points, no nil, two of clubs is high
joker, two of hearts is low joker, then two of diamonds, spades, and then
down from ace. First team to five hundred points or Spike's really offensive
comment ends the game." Damn. That was pretty impressive.

I tilted my head at Spike, wrinkling my nose at him in a cute little fashion.
"Yeah," I said. "One nasty word or rude little remark and you're out of the
game and back to the fun of solo drinking. So keep up this fabulous new trend
and behave yourself."

Spike just tightened his smile and picked up his cards. "So who's on my
team?" he asked.

"Oh, Xander and I are always a team," Willow quickly said, and I rolled my
eyes.

"Fine," I sighed. "Spike, it's me and you. And if you make me lose, then your ass is grass, buddy." I picked up a paper napkin and a pen, preparing to take score.

Willow smiled broadly all of a sudden with that infectious little grin that
could light up a room. I've seen her give that smile to Tara, and I've seen
Tara turn about fifty shades of red from bad lusty feelings. I have to admit
- it's a pretty cute smile. "Ooo, wwe need team names!" she said excitedly.
"Xander and I are the Sharks. We've always been the Sharks."

Cigarette once again clinging to his lower lip, Spike leaned across the table
and tapped the paper napkin. "Yeah, and our team name is going to be 'People
That Realize Team Names are Annoying'," he drawled, and Xander sighed.

"Again, irritating comment that everyone else seems to be ignoring," he said, and I rolled my eyes.

"We'll keep a separate score for every nasty remark that Spike makes," I
said. "When it gets to five, we'll just stake him." Cheerfully, I smiled
across the table at him, and he gave me his own fake smile back.

Xander perked at that. "Ooo, good call, Buff," he said. "Upping the ante a
little."

Spike shifted a little in his seat, exhaling smoke right in my face. He's so damned charming. "Speaking of upping the ante, are we betting money on this?" he asked. "Cause you know, I could use the cash and all."

Xander gave him a look like he had just grown antennae and sprouted a tail.
The mental picture made me stifle a giggle. "Uh, that would be a hell no," he said.

Disappointed, Spike sat back in his chair. Willow then smiled. "Well, here's
an idea," she said. "How about whoever loses the round has to reveal some
deep dark secret? Something really good. And whoever wins the game gets to
tell someone outside of the game someone else's secret."

Xander threw back his head and closed his eyes. "Oh, please, God, tell me
that there's something that involves Spike, liquor, and a karaoke bar," he
said aloud, and Spike smiled tightly at him.

"Yes, very funny," he said. "Actually, I like Bewitched's idea. Makes things
a little more... Interesting."

"Fine by me," I said. "The skeletons in my closet could deal with being aired out." With that, Willow gave me a worried expression. "Oh, I don't mean that literally."

Relieved, Willow sat back. "Sorry, but in Sunnydale, you have to wonder."

Rearranging his cards in some weird-ass order, Spike took another drag from
his cigarette and shrugged. "Actually, I have a skeleton in my crypt," he
said casually. "Of course, it's all gnarled up and not so attractive, but it gives it that kind of historic air." God, he has the weirdest conception of
conversation. Only Spike would discuss the rotted corpse in his house like it was a new lamp that he picked up at Pier One. Like it was a Martha Stewart
cadaver or something.

Clearing his throat to change the subject, Xander looked at Spike. "Okay, so you're right of the dealer, so throw down your lowest club."

Spike arched his eyebrow at Xander. "Hey, I said that I knew how to play the
damn game," he said a little haughtily before tossing out a three of clubs.
Willow furrowed her brow at her hand, frowning at the cards between her
fingers before putting down a six of clubs. I had a shitty hand. A terrible
hand, actually. It sucked.

"My hand sucks ass," I complained as I carelessly threw a king of clubs onto the table. Spike smirked at me, like that meant he won something, collecting the book and arching his eyebrow at me.

"Well, at least you brought us a book, luv," he said, stacking the cards in
his hand and accidentally ashing onto the tip of a card. Great, now I was
going to get cigarette ash on my fingertips when I picked up the cards. And I had just had them manicured. Really cute, too. Who says that white girls
can't wear nail tips?

Sighing in exasperation, I threw a three of hearts onto the table and waited to lose.

It was going to be the longest fucking game of spades in history.

*****

Continued