Queen of Hearts

~ by Spiffy da WonderSheep

Lorne will, for the rest of his life, wonder how he got roped into playing poker. Although when he gets around to becoming famous and writes his tell-all book, it will make an interesting chapter. Not many people got to play poker with an ex-vengeance demon, a vampire with a soul, a Chaos mage, a was-missing-and-presumed-dead high school quarterback, and Xander's grandfather (who had said, 'Call me Julian', but everyone continued to refer to him as Mr. LaVelle).

Oh, and a scion of the computer industry, but he lost his stake early and was now watching from the sidelines. David had a forlorn look on his face and a pillow strategically placed in his lap. Anya was wearing his cape. And a sporty tie knotted around her head like some action star.

"Quit looking at me like that," Anya said around the unlit cigar in her mouth. "You look like someone who's been turned down for a credit card."

Larry laughed, his tie dangling around his bare neck. "At least we got a chance to change into street clothes after the wedding. Otherwise this game would have been a lot shorter."

"Enough yammering," Mr. LaVelle said. His cigar was lit, and throwing out clouds of aromatic smoke. That were immediately sucked out into the LA night by the bathroom's exhaust fan. He shuffled the cards and started dealing. "The game is five card stud. Deuces wild. Ante up." Mr. LaVelle threw a shoe in the middle of the table.

Anya looked at her cards and took a shirt from the pile folded neatly in her lap. "I'm in."

"Wait a minute," Ethan protested. "You deal three cards for five card stud."

"No you don't," Larry retorted. "One down, then the next three up, then the last one down."

"We're playing Family Rules," Mr. LaVelle said before the two of them went any further. "So, ante up or get out."

Lorne held his breath, wondering if Larry was going to accuse Ethan of cheating. Again. The two seemed content with exchanging glares. The rest of the bidding went smoothly, nothing more interesting than a very nice hand-tooled black leather belt going into the pot (courtesy of Ethan, who had lost everything above the waist already). Lorne took a peek at his hole cards. A two of hearts and a four of diamonds. Nothing solid, but promising all the same. He began whistling 'Luck be a Lady' under his breath.

"Stop it," Harmony said, peering at her cards. "No one's going to sing for you."

"Can't blame a guy for trying, dollface," Lorne said, giving her a smile. Everyone else was looking at him with confused eyes.

Except for Harmony. She glared back. And then turned to Larry. "Is this good?"

"Not sure yet," he told her. "You have to wait for the next set of cards."

"Okay," she replied cheerily, putting the cards face down on the table. "Hit me!"

Mr. LaVelle sent the next set around. "The Ace of Clubs for Anya, five of clubs for Ethan, nine of diamonds for Lorne, Queen of Hearts for the lovely lady," Harmony squealed a bit at that. "Seven of clubs to Larry, and three of hearts for the dealer. High card bets, and that's you, Anya."

Everyone checked, a perfectly normal, wise, and sane thing to do at this point in the game. Mr. LaVelle began to deal another round. "Two of diamonds to Anya, no help there. Six of spades to Ethan, possible straight flush. Nine of spades to Lorne."

There was a giant sucking sound as everyone inhaled sharply. Lorne now had the strongest hand on the table. Too bad his hole cards were such crap. Mr. LaVelle let the tension rise a bit before turning over the next card. "Five of diamonds to Ms. Harmony."

"I want another Queen!" Harmony complained. Lorne bit his tongue to refrain from making the comment about queens that jumped into his mind.

"That's not how the game works, Harm," Larry said.

"Says who?" Harmony demanded.

The door slammed open, and everyone jumped. "Spike!" Buffy yelled.

"Xander!" Cordelia yelled from right behind her.

"They're not here," Mr. LaVelle said cheerily. Lorne wondered how he could be so self-possessed. It felt like his heart was trying to beat its way out of his butt.

Cordelia and Buffy both blinked in unison. Cordelia found her voice first. "What are you all doing in here?"

"Playing strip poker," Mr. LaVelle said.

"Guarding the hot tub," Larry said at the same time.

"Angel asked us all to guard the hot tub from Spike and Xander," Lorne clarified. "And we found a way to keep ourselves occupied."

"I don't know why I'm here," David said miserably.

More blinking ensued. Cordelia snatched open a wicker basket and pulled out a terry cloth robe. "Come on, David, I think we've got some spare clothes around here that will fit you." She had him bundled up and out the door in no time flat.

Buffy came further into the bathroom, and looked her girlfriend up and down. "Harmony, please tell me you didn't bet my shirt."

"Um... oops?"

"All right. Whomever won a cerise Ferrara original blouse from my girlfriend may now hand it back to its rightful owner." Buffy, Friend of the Groom was gone. Lorne was now looking at Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And what the Slayer wants, she got. Larry handed over the blouse.

"I was going to give it back, honest!" Larry protested.

The Slayer glared.

The Slayer's Girlfriend held her arms out. "Gimmie a kiss!"

Buffy obligingly slid into Harmony's lap and Lorne studiously studied his cards. Because it was the polite thing to do. After a few seconds of straining his ears to hear what she was murmuring in Harmony's ear that made her giggle like that, Buffy stood up and left.

Mr. LaVelle cleared his throat. "Ah, where were we? Oh, yes, um... five of diamonds to Harmony and that means Jack of diamonds to Larry. No help there."

"Harmony, I've been meaning to ask you..." Larry began.

"Her hair," she said, her cards close to her face.

Mr. LaVelle paused in the middle of dealing himself the four of diamonds. "Pardon?"

"Ah, a thing for blondes?" Ethan said, arching an eyebrow.

Anya arched one of her own eyebrows in his general direction. "You have a thing for blondes?"

"Not really," Harmony said. Lorne bit his tongue to hold back the snicker, remembering stories about a Catfight to End All Catfights held over the personal effects of another blonde vampire. "It's just... Have you ever seen her put her hair in a ponytail?"

Dead silence. Until Anya asked, "Is that some kind of euphemism--"

Ethan put his hand over her mouth. And then yelped and yanked it away. "You bit me!"

"One night, after I'd gotten the soul, I just--- needed to get out." Harmony played with her cards as she talked. "I drove to Sunnydale and was wandering around my old haunts, you know, pretending I was the Big Bad of Sunnydale High again."

"You shouldn't have put your hand so close to my teeth," Anya retorted.

"And she was standing in front of that old cemetery, you know, the one with no new vamps but lots of icky demons?" Larry nodded. Mr. LaVelle just looked interested.

"Is *that* an euphemism for something?" Ethan asked Anya.

"She stood outside the gate, and just... I can't describe it. She put her hair in a ponytail and it was the most erotic thing I've ever seen. I fell in love with her at that moment." Harmony shrugged. "It happens."

"Do you want it to be an euphemism for something?" Anya asked Ethan.

"But--" Larry asked, slightly flustered. "How did you two get together?"

"What? Oh. That took a bottle of tequila and a Susan Sarandon film festival."

"Right. Sorry. We fold," Ethan said, standing up. He had Anya's hand in his. "We've got some-- this---"

"We're going to go have sex now," Anya said, half-dragging Ethan out the door. "Good-bye."

"If you see Giles," Ethan called over his shoulder, "Tell him we're in our room."

The door slammed behind them. Mr. LaVelle puffed on his cigar. "The pair of nines bets," he said.

"My shirt," Lorne replied, and the game went on.