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Author's Note: This is a rewrite of the episode Double or Nothing, minus the absence of Wesley and the emotional fallout of Connor's disappearance. A happy episode, before things get really dark for the end of what I plan to be the first season. Enjoy.

high Stakes.

"Come on, shirt off."

Angel sighed dramatically, and surrendered. Placing the cards he had been holding on the bed, he freed himself of the white shirt which covered his chest. He now only had two items of clothing left. "I'm sure this game was invented just so women could ogle their boyfriends when they lost."

"Angel," his girlfriend- who unlike him, had only been forced to take off her boots -began, "Poker was invented by men and played by them for centuries. Only in this liberated age for women can we play the game. The question you should be asking is why you're losing. For a man who once had the demon known as the Scourge of Europe within his power, continuing losing round after round is strange in comparison." She paused to gather the cards for a shuffle for the next round. "Unless you've deliberately been losing."

"My love, believe me, deliberately losing at strip poker would be the last thing on my mind. Particularly playing against you." He accepted his new lot of dealt cards. "When did you learn to play like this, anyhow?"

"Spike taught me and Dawn during the time my Mom was in hospital," Buffy answered, her tone becoming soft as she recalled that difficult year. Angel reached across the small space between them to hold her hand in sympathy. "Its' one of my few good memories of that time." Mentally shaking off the sadness caused by that recollection, she shifted the conversation slightly. "Didn't you spend some time in Vegas? Surely you learned to play while you were there."

The telephone rang at this point, putting a stop to conversation. Angel got up from the bed to pick up the receiver which was located on the beside table. "Angel Investigations, we help the helpless."

"I know, I work here, duh," came back the dulcet tones of Cordelia Chase. "We were wondering if you two were gonna stop whatever it is you're doing up there that we don't want to know about, and come down and, you know, do some work on the saving front."

"Cordelia, there's you, Fred, Roisin, Groo, Gunn, Wes and Lorne downstairs. Don't tell me we're that busy."

"No," Cordelia huffed. "There's a couple of demons whose species we can't pronounce. Frizzana? Frizzle-car? Ring any bells?"

"I think that's Frzylcka," Angel replied after a moment. "They're that demon couple who called last week about a squatter in their lair."

"Oh," Cordelia replied. "Right, Wes is dealing with them, isn't he? I guess you can go back to whatever it is you doing that I don't want to know about."

"Thanks," Angel finished wryly and put the receiver down. He turned to his girlfriend, who was sitting cross legged on the bed, cards in one hand, a smile on her lips. "Should I even bother to check my hand?" he asked her.

Buffy grinned. "Not unless you have four of the same symbol and number."

Angel smiled at her, and then suddenly dived across the bed. He tossed the cards aside and pounced on her. "I have a better idea."

His soulmate laughed as he swallowed her amusement in a passionate kiss.


Across town, in another building, a similar gambling game was being played, in the more professional surroundings of a casino. The dealer of the game turned one of the two cards representing the house face-up. A queen. He turned the second, to reveal an ace, causing groans to echo within the confines of the room.

"And twenty-one for the house," he declared aloud. The demon players sighed and surrendered their cards and dips to the dealer. Behind him a large demon passed by the game hut, then more tables playing blackjack, the roulette wheel and a few craps tables before approaching another well-dressed demon, the owner of the casino.

"Table 6," the owner remarked to one of his bouncers, "the one in blue. Palmed a king in his left hand. And Benny? Just take the left hand. We can still make money off the right." He turned to the new companion. "You. Good." He took a business card out of his pocket and handed it to him. "Bring him in. His marker's up."

The demon examined the business card. 'Angel Investigations' it read, together with the address and telephone number. As well as the name of the owner of that card.

"It's time to collect his soul," the owner continued.


"Wesley. That was it," the woman said.

Cordelia smiled and nodded to the man sitting beside her. In typical British politeness, Wes waited in silence for the clients to recognise him.

"Don't be ridiculous, Monica," the husband said. "It wasn't Wesley, it was Sherman."

"Sherman?" his wife scoffed. "You don't even know any Shermans. It was Wesley. Irish fellow, right?"

"He was English, you old bat. Whoever heard of an Irishman named Wesley?"

"You see what I put up with? Anyway, that's who we talked to. Is he here?"

Wesley smiled and leaned forward. "I'm here, and I apologise for not getting back to you sooner. We were occupied in dealing with the fallout from the collapse of Wolfram and Hart. Now, it says in your file you have a squatter in your lair?"

"Damn no-good Skench demons," the husband, Syd commented. "They're all alike."

"Here we go..." his wife remarked with a sigh.

"A person spends his entire half-life.." Syd continued.

".....building a lair to relax in," Monica interrupted.

Her husband was oblivious. ".....and what happens? A Skench demon squats...."

".....right down on your coffee table," Monica finished. "Ask me how many times I've had to listen to this."

"Like you ever listen," Syd pointed out.

"And you have so many interesting things to say," Monica responded.

"So Skenches," Gunn interrupted. He, along with Fred, had joined the meeting. "I've heard about them. Sorta impish kinda demon -- like a leprechaun?"

Syd scoffed. "Leprechauns don't exist, son."

"Now, Syd, don't embarrass the lad," Monica admonished.

"Sorry, kid."

"Skenches take over a house, right?" Gunn sought to confirm. "Drive out the people who live there?"

Monica nodded. "Well God knows you can't stay, what with the shrieking all night and the projectile phlegm."

"Only thing worse is puttin' up with her for the last three hundred years," Syd remarked.

"You've been married for three centuries?" Fred said in astonishment.

"Ever since the mitosis," Monica answered.

"Not that I'd mind being a single-celled organism again, if you get my drift," Syd responded pointed.

"Oh, shut up, Syd. You never......"

"......had it so good. As if I need reminding."

Gunn turned to Wesley. "I thought gettin' rid of a Skench was pretty easy, though. Don't you just lop off its head?"

Syd answered for the ex-watcher. "Well, sure, if you can avoid the phlegm."

"Syd has a phobia about phlegm," Monica informed them.

"I do not. I have a phobia about sputum," Syd corrected.

"Okay," Gunn remarked, anxious to bring the interview to a close. "Think we got everything we need. I'll get right over and clean out your Skench problem today."

Fred rose as well to see them to the door. "Thanks so much for coming. We'll call you as soon as it's done."

As the couple exited, Monica could be heard saying, "Oh, for cryin' out loud, Syd, that girl's not a sixteenth your age. Put your eyes back in your head. I mean it, ya doddering old coot! Put 'em back in!"

Gunn followed her out of the office, followed by Wesley and Cordelia. "Man. You hear those two?"

"It's beautiful," Fred decided. "All that time and they're still in love. The way they finish each other's insults, it's so....."

"Beautiful," Gunn finished, smiling at his girlfriend.

Groo turned away from the reception area to face them "Is there evil to vanquish?"

"Thanks, bro, but I got it," Gunn replied. "Just a little mucus demon under Alvarado and Clark. I'll be back soon."

"Don't forget your machete!" Fred reminded him.

"Yes, dear," Gunn answered with a grin, before grabbing the weapon in question and leaving the Hyperion.

"He is very fortunate to have such a woman looking after his weapon," Groo remarked.

Lorne looked at him. "I'm not touchin' that one. Anyway. I gotta run. I have a reading in Topanga Canyon." He gestured a hand to the stairs in the general direction of the room where their champions were currently located. "Give me a call when those two finally emerge from the bedroom."


Down below town, in the sewer tunnels, Gunn twirled his machete as he walked until he approached a slight indentation in the wall, below which a welcome mat lay.

"'Gurforg bless our home,'" Gunn read aloud. "Gotta be it." He opened the door and entered the Frzylckas' home.

Inside, the rooms appeared as if some one had laid waste to the place with blue slime covering lamps and walls.

Gunn examined the classic decor. "Smells like old people in....." he trailed off a he moved to dodge a wad of blue slime, which hit the wall behind him. It was followed by an inhuman shriek. "," Gunn finished when he had gathered himself. "Gross!"

Skench rose out of hiding from behind the couch. Gunn took in the tall, strong albino-white demon with a big round shaped mouth.

"Okay. Definitely not a leprechaun," he observed to the room before launching into the battlefield.


"Hello. We welcome your telephonic......" Groo hung up on the empty line of the telephone before trying again. "Hell. Many thanks for telephoning........ Hi. This is Groo. I can't make it to the phone right now, but if you'll leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as I can."

"See?" His girlfriend smiled. "That wasn't so hard was it?"

"Your speaking path is so odd," Groo replied.

"You get used to it." Cordelia replied. "I'm gonna get some lunch, you want anything?"

"Thank you my princess, but no." Groo watched her depart to the kitchen, then turned to the door as it swung open. "Hail to you, potential client. How may I be of service?" He asked the stranger.

"This Angel Investigations?" The stranger asked.

"It is. Are you in need of help?" Groo asked.

"So you must be Angel..." the demon began. "I'm looking for one of your employees."


In the home of the Frzylckas' the fight of Gunn verses the Skench demon was progressing well. The former managed to strike a swing at the demon's head, the move causing Skench to drop to the floor, and lunge in reply. Gunn aimed a kick at his midsection, sending over the coffee table. Grabbing the machete, Gunn leapt on top of the furniture, and put the weapon to the demon's throat. Struggling, he drove the blade through it's neck.

Skench shrieked, sending another phlegm projectile of blue slime straight up towards his killer. Gunn dodged the spray, making it's target the ceiling, leaving him to watch from his position on the floor as it impacted.

"Must be my lucky day," Gunn chuckled before standing.

"Wanna bet?" A voice remarked, making him look up, to see a demon standing at the door. A demon he met only once.

Seven years ago. He had walked into the casino......

"What you want?"

"I wanna talk to the man."

"You got an appointment?"

"No. Got business."

"Over here, Slick, little touch n' go. You packin'?"


"He could kill you ten ways from Sunday even if you were, but then he'd cook me, too... You're clean."

"Told ya'."

"Guess not everyone's as honest as you, bro'."

"I'm not your bro'."

"Know that. You got a name or just a 'tude?"

He had given his name, and the demon had led him into a curtained area.......

"Name's Gunn."

"Charles Gunn if I'm not mistaken. Man of the streets, protector of the young and innocent. What can I do for you, Mr. Gunn?"

"I want somethin'."

"Not sure I can help. I don't traffic in "wants", I supply needs. Kinda things you gotta have right now or you'll die. They tend to be more valuable."

"I need it."

"Then maybe I can assist. What is it? Money, power, love?"

Gunn had handed him a picture.....

"Very nice. She's a real beauty. I can make it happen. But there's a cost. I guess you know that."


"It's nothing you have to pay now, but one day you will. The cost, Mr. Gunn, is your future."

"What future?"

"Well, there's that. Still, I need you to state for the record, of your own free will, you're sure you wish to mortgage your future for your present happiness?"

"I'm sure."

"Shake on that? Good."

"You made a deal..." the demon reminded him, bringing Gunn sharply back to the present. "Signed a blood oath trading your soul. You think that's an arrangement you can get out of? This ain't some D.vs.D. club -- although the one I'm in plays pretty rough, too."

"Who said I'm trying to get out of anything?" Gunn countered, bluffing.

The demon saw through it. "You're planning on giving your soul to another, aren't you?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Some broad, you're fallin' for her hard..."

"Fred?" Gunn uttered softly.

"I don't know, we don't get a name, just an image. Skinny white girl? Big eyes? We're professionals, we keep an eye on the Akashic records, think we wouldn't know when one of our souls was about to be transferred?" He paused, before seeking to confirm, "isn't Fred a guy's name?"

Gunn glared at him.

"Hey, none a mine, I'm just here to tell ya', you broke the contract. Your soul ain't yours to give, it's Mr. Jenoff's to take."

"I gotta see him."

"What you gotta do is pay up. He's not happy, now here I am talking to you."

Gunn sighed. "I'm not... I'm not the same person I was back then."

"We all get older. And we all pay our debts to Mr. Jenoff."

"There must be something else. Something else he can take."

The demon affected astonishment. "Gee, I never heard that before..... except every damn time the bill comes due. Now listen good: you got twenty-four hours to get your house in order and get your ass on down to that casino. If you're thinkin' about runnin' or cheatin', don't. Cause then we take your soul and the girl's, too."

"She's got nothing to do with this."

"Well, you can keep it that way or you can get her killed. It's up to you now, Slick. See ya' tomorrow."


In a daze, he walked for many hours, eventually returning to the Hyperion. As he neared the centre of the entrance lobby, he saw his girl discussing something with Wesley in his office. The two were laughing and smiling.

"R whooh kah bay?" A voice remarked, causing him to turn and face Cordelia. "What?" Gunn asked her.

Cordelia swallowed her bite of sandwich and repeated. "I said, are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," Gunn lied.

Angel Investigations resident Seer saw straight through it. "You are not okay, pal."

"I'm a little tired but...."

"Cordelia here. I can read the misery on your face. I know what's going on."

That caught him by surprise. "You do?"

"It's pretty obvious."

Gunn looked at her. She couldn't possibly know. He tried again. "I'm... happy."

"And wracked with guilt because of it. Well don't be. You and Fred were meant to be, and Wes gets that. He always did."

Gunn inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. Yet, at the same time, a notion of regret swept his mind.

Cordelia carried on. "... she's a doll. Who wouldn't be head over heels? I admit I was a little slow on the uptake. I thought she and Wes... but the way you two look at each other, well, I got eyes. I don't know why Lorne needs people to sing to figure out what's on their minds."

Gunn agreed. "No. You saw right away that I was..."

"Happy. Nothing to feel bad about. You and Fred have your whole big bright futures ahead of you and I'm here to tell you, it's all right to enjoy it. Life goes on."

"I should enjoy my future," Gunn remarked distantly.

"I'm just sayin'. If there's one thing I learned living on a hellmouth: every day is precious, you never know when it may be your last."

Gunn was still staring at Fred. "I never figured I'd be around this long. Or have this much."

"Some people never know one day of joy. You're lucky," Cordelia answered.

"Maybe I am," Gunn realised, though his words had an entirely different meaning.

"So live a little. We don't have any pressing cases and I haven't had a vision in like...." she trailed off, suddenly putting a hand to her temple. "Oh wait. I'm having one right now... It's of you and Fred taking tomorrow off. And see, my visions; never wrong."

Gunn smiled at her. "Thanks."

"Welcome. Have some fun," Cordelia walked away, leaving him alone, staring at his girl through the window wall.

Wondering about the best way to break her heart.


The next morning Fred woke up to the ringing not of her alarm, but the mobile beside her bed. She picked it up, checked the id, then answered the call. "All right, ready? Red t-shirt, your dark blue jeans, grey boots." She paused to hear his response. "Was I right about any of it? Okay, that was just a warm up: Yellow long sleeve tee, grey cords, tan boots." She smiled at his reply. "See, record secure. Never takes me more than twice." She listened again. "Me? I just woke up. Maybe you should come over here and find out. Mmmm-mmm... yeah... depends how soon you can get here... course if it takes you too long....."

She broke off as the door to her room in the Hyperion opened.

"It won't," Gunn answered, as he entered, a silver covered tray in one hand, the cell pressed to his ear in the other.

"Hey," Fred replied, before turning to the phone. "Sorry, have to cancel, somebody just walked in my door."

Gunn smiled before replying into his own handset. "He better looking than me?"

Fred grinned. "Way. And..... he brought me breakfast in bed!" She hung up her phone.

Gunn closed his and placed the tray before her. Voila, Madame. Room service."

"Cool," Fred replied. Suddenly a thought occurred to her. "You didn't cook, did you?"

"Nope." He smiled and lifted up the cover, to reveal two takeout containers and one long stemmed red rose. "Your favourite food from your favourite diner."

Fred opened the containers. "Pancakes and waffles? I'm in starch-heaven, yu-um." She dove in. "Is today special or something?"

"Yup. Very special."

"How come?"

"Cause we have the day off."

"We do?"

"And we are going to spend every minute of it having the best day of our lives."

"Well, now it's official."


"You are the best boyfriend ever." She dropped her fork and pulled him in for a kiss.


Several hours later, at a cafe in Marathon Park, Fred was sitting across from Gunn at a table, surrounded by souvenirs from their day off. A banner from The Pier was tied around her neck; shopping bags lay scattered at her feet, a cardboard crown adorned her hair, and a pennant from the Dodgers game was doing the same to the table.

"Now, for out next item of pleasure: we got movies galore. You wanna go to the twelve plex, hit the previews in every theatre? It'd be like seeing a years' worth a movies all at once." He paused, catching on finally to her overwhelmed expression. "Somethin' wrong with the shake? It's your favourite, double mocha double whip."

"I'm... kinda full," Fred confessed.

"Oh my god, this is serious," Gunn pretended shock.

"It's just, Sixth Street tacos, fish sticks at the Pier, Dodger dogs..."

"Don't fold on me now, girl, we still got a lot of fun to go today."

"Oh... I'm for the fun... it's just, we have too much more of it I might explode."

"Right. Sorry." He pulled the drink away from her. "No more food..... but movie-club-shopping fun still to be had..... wanna hit the roller rink?"

"Charles, I think I'm kinda wiped."

A dark cloud began to ascend on his high. He hadn't wanted this moment to come, even though he knew it was inevitable. "Oh."

"It's just we've been having so much... fun today. Don't you think we should save some, before we use it up and all the other people get sad... 'cause we took all the happy?"

"Oh god. I blew it. I tried too hard."

"No. It's been like the most beautiful wonderful day ever, aside from the hurly burly and the knot in my tummy. Being with you is always special. It's just... it's not like we have to cram the rest of our lives into one single day." She took his hand across the table. "Right? Oh my god," she uttered, suddenly realising. "You did try too hard. You haven't been yourself all day. You're doin' all this because... because something's wrong, something's terribly wrong."

"No,...." Gunn began, hating himself.

"Charles, do you have leukaemia?"

The inquiry was so out of left field, that Gunn started to laugh.

Fred was outraged. "Don't laugh at me! I see it on the news all the time; they're young and in love, their whole lives ahead of them when tragedy strikes....."

Gunn sobered. "I'm not sick."

"You're not? You promise?"

"I'm not sick."

"Oh thank god. I feel better. Except for the terrible knot I've had inside all day....." she trailed off, realising the true source of her stomach ache. "Which is not the food, it's... us. What's wrong with us?"

"It's nothing."

"Oh, that helped."

"Maybe we should just go back to the hotel and call it a ...."

"And maybe we should stay right here and you should stop lying to me," Fred interrupted, catching him off guard. "I know something's wrong. Just be honest and tell me. Whatever it is we'll get through it together."

It was time. He shook his head. "No. We won't."


"This isn't somethin' we're gonna talk through, you share your feelings, I share mine, then we have a big hug."

"I don't think I like the way you're talking to me."

Gunn kept his tone cruel. "Too bad."

Fred swallowed back her tears. "Why are you... why are you being so mean?"

"I'm being honest." Gunn countered. "Isn't that what you want?"

"Yeah. Be honest." Fred paused to gather her strength. "Is it me?"

"Wow. You finally figured that one out."

"What .......what's wrong with me?"

"Now I gotta make a list? I really don't have that much time."

"Are you joking? Charles..." Fred felt her good mood completely disappear. "What's happening?" She asked desolately.

"What's happening, girl, is you and me are over. Done."

Denial was easy to stand behind. Fred took shelter. "No."

"Am I askin'? I'm tellin'. I've had enough."

"I don't believe you."

"Best start." Gunn rose from his seat, ready to leave.

"But... wait... is there someone else? What... what's her name?"

"Her name is 'I'm a real woman, not a stick figure.' Get the picture?" Inwardly, he flinched from her tearful face, but it had to be done. "Speak up."

"...yeah," Fred managed to get out through her tears.

"Good. See ya' around." He walked out of the cafe, then around the corner of the street, determined not to look back.

If he had, he would have seen his girl gather her grief, pay the bill, then head out, back to the one place she knew that she could turn to for help.


In hindsight, she was lucky that they were decent. But then, her situation did not have time for her to adhere to social niceties.

"Fred?" Buffy stepped away to let the girl inside her and Angel's room, and the expression on their friend's face caused Angel to rise from the bed.

"I'm sorry. I was gonna knock, but it's not a good time, so I didn't, but I don't know what else to do..." Fred broke off as tears overwhelmed her once more.

Angel came to join his fiancee by the door. "Fred, what is it? What's wrong?"

"It's Charles. I think he' s in terrible danger."


Across town Charles walked into the casino he had once entered seven years ago. He walked up to Jenoff, meeting the respectful and surprised glance of the demon who had reminded him of the debt just a day ago. "I'm here to pay my bill."

Jenoff turned to face him. Slowly he took his fingers out of the eye-sockets of the last client who had come to pay his bill.

And smiled evilly at the next one in line.

His house always won.


"Wow," the slayer remarked.

I know, hunh?" Fred returned, a little more composed now the initial shock had passed.

"I am sorry this has come to pass," Groo uttered.

"I'm a little confused," Roisin confessed.

"About what? What was unclear?" Fred asked.

"Well... upstairs, you said you thought Gunn was in danger," Buffy sought to confirm.

"He is!"

Cordelia nodded slowly. "Right... and you think that be- cause..."

"He broke up with me!" Fred finished.

"Ah," Cordelia, still confused.

Fred registered the confusion on their faces and tried to explain. "But not really!"

"Oh. No?" Angel queried.


"That is good. I am most relieved," Groo remarked.

"What? No! This is worse! Much worse! I wish he had broken up with me!"

Cordelia tried to sympathise. "Fred, I hate to say this, but... are you sure he didn't? I mean, those things you said he said to you..."

"I know I said he said those things to me, but he would never say those things to me!" Fred protested confidently. "That's how I know he's in trouble! Don't you see? He hurt me! And the only reason he'd do that is to protect me from something! And whatever it is, it's gotta be bad because... this hurts like hell."

"Then I guess we better help him," Angel declared for all.

"Cordy, try his cell again," Buffy asked her.

The seer tapped the number into the phone, and waited. One voice mail message later, and the absence was obvious. "Still no answer."

"Oh, god," Fred uttered fearfully.

"This does not bode well," Groo agreed.

"Okay, then we'll have to split up," Wes decided.

Groo nodded. "To cover more ground. That is a good plan. I agree."

"Fred, Buffy and I can hit Gunn's old gang haunts, see if maybe they've heard from him lately," Angel suggested.

"Or if they know of any old enemies he might have," Roisin added.

"Cordelia and Groo, you two go by Gunn's place, just make sure," Wesley decided.

"Maybe we could report his truck as stolen," Cordelia offered.

Buffy shook her head. "Not a terribly good idea to get the police involved if none of this pans out....."

"We should leave a note here for Lorne, let him know what's going on," Fred remarked.

"And If none of us come up with anything, we'll regroup back here at midnight," Wesley finished.

Groo held up one of the business cards. "And perhaps as we search, we could leave these small rectangles behind us, as did that creature who came by yesterday inquiring after Gunn."

"Right. Good..." Angel broke off as realisation dawned. "What?"

"Small rectangles with telephonic digits. As a way for people to get in touch with us should they learn anything."

"Could I see that?" Groo nodded and gave it to Buffy.

"Somebody came by here looking for Charles?" Fred sought to confirm.

"Yesterday. Please remind me to give that rectangle to Gunn when we find him, for I am confident we shall."

"Guy works for Jenoff," Angel remarked, as he caught sight of the name on the back.

"Jenoff?" Buffy queried.

"The Soul Sucker."


"Charles Gunn," Jenoff smiled as he advanced towards him. Behind two demons took away the corpse of the last bill payer. "I'm impressed. Not a lot of guys come in through that door of their own free will; not the second time, anyway. She must be pretty special, this girl you were gettin' ready to give my merchandise to."

"I'm here to make good on my debt. You don't even talk about her," Gunn remarked firmly. "Once we're square, you don't even think about her."

"She was never part of the deal." Jenoff turned his demon sidekick. "Hold him."

"I'm not gonna run," Gunn answered, before turning to the other demon. "But touch me and you'd better." He turned again to Jenoff. "Let's just get this over with."

Jenoff lifted his hand, his index and middle poised, ready to strike.

It was about then that the door fell down, and Gunn's cavalry arrived; Angel, Groo, Buffy and Roisin in front, while Fred, Cordelia and Wes brought up the rear.

Three of the demon bouncers rushed to attack them. The four champions took them on, sending them easily to the floor. In the midst of this melee, Fred burst through the crowd and called out to Gunn.


"Fred!" Gunn responded, but was restrained by another pair of bouncers.

Demons from the craps and blackjack tables surrounded them.

Angel caught one of the demons and pushed his weapon at it's neck. "Who's a guy gotta kill to talk to the boss around here?"

Jenoff stepped forward. "I'm the boss. Mind telling me why you're disrupting my business?"

"Actually, it's you who's disrupting my business," Wesley answered, stepping forward. "You're about to deprive me of a very valuable employee. Charles Gunn works for me."

"Good business man looks into the backgrounds of potential employees. Had you done that, you might've learned he was strictly short-term material."

"Then I'll make a deal with you...." Angel volunteered. "You release him, forget what he owes you and I'll let you live."

Jenoff was unimpressed. "Thank you." He turned his bouncers. "Kill 'em."

"Double or nothing!" Buffy yelled.

Jenoff halted his exit. "You offerin' me your soul?"

The slayer smiled. "A chance to win it, anyway. I choose the game. I win, we walk outta here. Gunn's debt disappears. You win You get us both."

Jenoff smiled. One ordinary soul, and a slayer's. This would be sweet. "Walk this way, lady. I have just the table."

Buffy followed him and sat down across the table. She took the cards from the dealer and shuffled them flawlessly.

Angel placed his mouth by her ear. "A brilliant stall tactic, bought us some time. Now what's the plan?"

Buffy shook the cards. "This is the plan."

"Really?" Cordelia queried sceptically.

"Really. We're gonna win Gunn's soul back."

Fred removed her eyes from Gunn, who was being restrained by two bouncers still, across from them on the other side of the club. "This is so wrong in so many ways. I mean, it isn't money or a stuffed bunny Buffy's playing for. It's my boyfriend."

"Fred, I understand you're nervous," Buffy sympathised. "Don't be. I've been around a long time, slayer wise. Played a lot of cards and won a lot of bets."

"See, that's where we're different. I tend to get lost and lose things. And I can't lose Charles."

"I'm not gonna lose," Buffy assured her. "I've got too much at stake to do so."

"You worried about this?" The demon sidekick muttered to Jenoff.

"Like taking candy from a baby."

Groo turned to Angel. "If we must rely on luck, I prefer the odds of my sword. We should fight our way out."

Angel reluctantly shook his head. "Gotta disagree, Groo. Fighting puts all of us at risk. Buffy's way is safer."

"If she's wins!" Fred objected.

"I'm gonna win," Buffy assured her. Under the table, she took out a dagger from her pocket and handed it to her soulmate. "But if I lose... You know what to do. Just make it quick."

Angel took the dagger. "You know I will."

"One hand of cards," Jenoff stated as he sat down across from the slayer. "If you win, this man, walks free. If I win, I keep his soul, and I get yours."

Buffy nodded.

"Name your game. Omaha, Texas Hold 'Em, Seven Card Stud...?"

"How 'bout a simple cut of the deck? High card wins," Buffy suggested.

"Slayer's not only got a soul, she's got guts." Jenoff turned to the deck of cards lying on the table before them. "Feeling lucky?"

Buffy gestured. "After you."

Jenoff smiled and made his cut. The five of clubs. A murmur swept the room, while the members of Angel Investigations breathed a sigh of relief.

Buffy made her cut. She turned it over, and waves of shock and horror conquered her and the gang.

"A three?" She queried, staring at the card's three hearts.

"A three...?" Gunn echoed.

Jenoff however was triumphant. "A three! You lose."

Buffy met her fiancee's gaze. He took the dagger from it's hiding place in his trademark leather jacket, and struck.

Jenoff roared in agony as his hand received the full impact of the silver blade.

"That quick enough?" Angel asked his beloved.

Buffy grabbed his axe, and swung across the table, decapitating Jenoff. "Works for me."

Gunn punched the demon sidekicks. "Look out." He called to Buffy.

The slayer shrugged. "It's over. No need to say thanks."

"You're right," Gunn agreed. "If killing him was that easy, I would've done it myself."

Angel Investigations turned their gaze back on Jenoff, as he grew another head.

Buffy turned to address the room. "So who else in here owes this guy?"

As the demons swooped in on the soon to be dead casino owner, the fang gang made their escape back to the Hyperion.


"Say it again. A little slower this time."

Gunn adjust his seat, careful not to hit the steering wheel, and turned to face his girl. "I was terribly, terribly wrong to break up with you and say those mean, untrue things."

Fred basked in the moment. But only for a moment. "Good, now say it into the tape recorder." She held out her hand like a mike.

Gunn gently took it in his. "I'm really sorry and I'll never do it again." He kissed her hand softly.

"I'm just glad you're all right," Fred confessed, stroking his cheek.

He searched her gaze. "I'm only all right if you and me are good. We are, aren't we?

Fred nodded. "Just one last thing."

"Name it."

"Who'd you trade your soul for?"

"It was a long time ago."

"I know. But I want you to tell me and we'll never talk about it again. Who was she? Charles..."

"That was way before I met you."

"You musta wanted her pretty bad to trade your soul."

"Guess I did..."

"Just tell me."

"You'll think it's stupid."

"I won't."

"It was a truck. I was seventeen years old and I sold my soul for a truck."

Fred took in her surroundings. "Not this truck?"

"Don't go dissin' my girl."

Fred chuckled. "Oh, Charles. Your soul wasn't worth air conditioning?"

"Look, back in the day this truck kept me alive. Helped me save other lives too. I know it sounds dumb, but a soul didn't seem like such a big deal. Didn't think I had a future then." His eyes met hers. "Now I do."

They kissed.

"What is it about you that makes me melt?" Fred asked him.

"Maybe it's that I love you," Gunn replied.

"That's gotta be it."

They kissed again.


"Wow. I can't believe this."

Buffy groaned as she surveyed her cards and then those of her grinning soulmate. "This is incredible," She agreed. "Twice in a row on the same night? I'm losing my touch."

"That ain't all you're gonna be losing," Angel uttered, still grinning. "Off with them."

The slayer sighed and raised her arms as she began to remove her last few articles of clothing. "I don't know why you're so smug. It's not like you haven't seen it all before."

"Yeah, but with you, every time is like the first time. Except for the rainstorm and the horrible soul losing aftermath."

"Charmer," Buffy tossed her clothes on the floor, and made to remove her silver cross.

Angel leaned across the bed, forestalling her. "Nu-uh, leave that on."

Buffy shook her in amusement, but complied, before letting her future husband sweep her off her butt on to the silk sheets of their bed.

The End.
To Be Continued In

Dodging the Bullet.