Fandom: Angel (gen, Spike)
Spoilers: Not Fade Away
Summary: Cutting the cards at the end of the world.
Spike cut the deck and shuffled, careful to keep his hands darting in and out of the pools of candlelight. Concealed in shadow, slipping the aces from the bottom was child’s play, and he sighed to himself when not one of his opponents noticed. Amateurs and children. They weren’t even cheating.
Every new city and town and godforsaken backwater that the three of them rolled up in, while Angel went off to brood by himself and Illyria got her jollies putting on Fred’s face and luring gullible vampires down dark alleys, Spike went looking for the game. However bad things got – plenty bad, this past year - there was always a game somewhere. Reminded him of England in the last war, people dancing through the air-raid sirens, Dru in drawn-on stockings and a uniform she’d taken from a pretty WAAF girl who’d refused to cry.
His soul stung him for the fond reminiscing, though not so much as it once would, and he dealt the cards. “Five card draw, deuces wild,” he said; the big demon with the moss hanging off him had only just worked out what the little cards with numbers and pictures meant, and Spike didn’t have the months it’d take to teach him a decent stud. “Ante up.” He tossed a pack of cigarettes onto the table. The vampire who’d been running the table before he invited himself along threw in a mangy rat, by the smell of it hours dead. The other one – turned not long before everything kicked off, Spike guessed, a college kid cursed to have that Adam’s apple and those acne scars for the rest of eternity – pushed forward a pile of Twinkie bars.
“Always heard those things’d survive an apocalypse,” Spike said.
College Boy grinned nervously. Spike was a little bit flattered. Didn’t so often get people afraid of him these days. When the hordes of hell had been unleashed on Los Angeles, and then the rest of the world, vampires had suddenly found themselves on the bottom of the heap. “Twinkies and cockroaches,” the boy offered.
“That’s a myth,” Spike told him, remembering Fred – or maybe it had been Willow – telling him that once. “Cockroaches live off the crap humans leave behind.”
“Like rats.” The other vampire looked wistfully at the rat he’d ante’d. “You don’t see rats no more. Not like they were.”
“No humans, no vermin,” the demon rumbled. “That’s why you vampires are dying out.”
Spike was one of a kind – all right, one of two who were one of a kind – and he resented being classed as you vampires with two specimens who Buffy could have dusted with her little finger.
The part about dying out, though, that wasn’t so far wrong. Not so many blood banks these days, with no electricity to keep the fridges going and hundreds of desperate vampires who’d been there before them. You could survive on demon blood – Illyria, fond of him in her own peculiar way, dragged home demons she’d killed, most of them with a priceless look of surprise on their faces – in the same sense that a human could survive on Big Macs, till their organs started to liquefy from lack of nutrition.
The demon leered at him in the flickering light of the candle, razor-toothed and with a shark’s black bead eyes, and Spike thought about ripping his thick head from his shoulders and drinking deep.
“We talking or playing cards?” Spike said.
He’d shot craps in a ruined church, the other vampires in the game less troubled by the crosses than by the creatures slithering past the stained glass windows. He’d played blackjack with a Chirago clan in Cheyenne, holed up in the nest they’d made beneath what had been a Walmart. The Luxor, in Vegas – that had been a week, Charlie had still been alive and they’d even dragged Angel to the tables, before Wolfram and Hart caught up with them and things had, somehow, gone even further to hell. He always won, though the winning didn’t come into it when you were playing gamblers who had to be reminded how to tell a straight from a flush. Some nights he made extravagant lists in his head of the things he’d give – a million dollars, Angel and Illyria’s lives, any chance of seeing Buffy ever again – for a real game, against people who knew how to play instead of just grasping the chance of a few hours huddled for protection with those who wouldn’t try to kill them.
He won the hand with aces and eights; “Dead man’s hand,” murmured College Boy and took his turn as the dealer, fumbling the shuffle and giving out too many cards. Spike glanced, uninterested, at his hand. Three kings. Somebody up there liked him. He slid the other two cards across the table and kept his face stony as he picked up a five and the king of hearts. Hard to get excited when the most you could win was another rat.
“We got a regular game Thursdays,” the host said. “Serious gamblers, y’know. Big stakes, like the old days.”
He doubted that. Plenty of kittens to be found, everywhere they went, but they were the offspring of housecats gone feral, happy to claw out the eyes of any vampire stupid enough to try and use them for an ante. There were days when he dreamed of sleek, fat tabbies and blood warm from the microwave, served in embarrassing mugs.
“Won’t be in town that long. Me and my friends, we’ve got to keep moving.”
“Moving to Cleveland,” the shark-eyed demon said. “We heard you’re looking for the Slayer.”
College Boy and his sire lowered their cards and stared at him.
“Not likely she’s still alive,” Spike said, and it was a small sort of relief to say aloud the thing that Angel wouldn’t hear.
Sharky lifted a huge shoulder. “I dunno. I hear things. Like, Cleveland not being such a haven for our hellish friends as the rest of the country. Like there’s someone there taking care of things.”
Spike’s poker face was tested for the first time all night.
The kid said, “The Slayer’s real? She’s not just some story?”
“Yeah, she’s real,” Spike said. “Knew her personally,” and any boast he might have added wouldn’t come.
And College Boy’s face was shining now, his sire looking miserable at the sight of it, and Spike wondered how long it had been since he’d seen hope that it seemed so extraordinary; “Is it true,” the kid asked, “is it true she’s going to save us?”