Smoke swirls around them in the thick, pungent air. Spike glowers down at the basket of mewling kittens. "Think you can keep your mates quiet, Lucky?" he snarls. "They might scare off the next player." His yellow eyes return to scanning the dark bar room as the brown kitten hops agilely off of his shoulder and into the basket with the other kittens.

Spike glances subtly down at them out of the corner of his eyes as they suddenly hush. He's not sure what Lucky said to them, but it seems to have worked as his cat hops back up onto his shoulders. He pauses in scratching his head as he realizes he just thought of his partner in crime as his cat. "Hmph," he mutters. A question mark flashes in his head, but he hisses low, "Nothing."

They're being watched. They have been for a while now, but there doesn't seem to be that many sore losers in this particular bar or, at least, not tonight on a Friday night. Nobody's questioned his winning streak or the cat he lets ride on his shoulder, but nobody's coming forward just yet to play against him again. "Come on," Spike calls to the room, "one of you losers has got to think he's got what it takes to beat me." He doesn't miss the fact that several tails, not just Lucky's, swish with agitation as he goads them.

"Fine," rumbles a deep voice. Spike glances to the opposite end of the bar as a Demon roughly the size of a small mountain moves forward out of the shadows. "But it's all or nothing," he states from around the thick cigar in his red mouth. "If I win, I get all your cats. One on your shoulder included."

Spike ignores Lucky's claws digging into his black leather. They're not going to lose, but that is a lot to stake on one game. "And if I win?" he asks, his yellow eyes glittering dangerously in the darkness.

"You won't," the Demon retorts.

Spike chuckles. "Bravado's a fine thing," he remarks, "but only an idiot plays against some one if he hasn't got something to win."

"I'm Desmond," announces the Demon who looks like he can easily squash Spike between his ham-sized fists.

"I know that name," Spike comments idly, moving his cigarette with his tongue to the other side of his mouth. "You wanna tell me why?"

"Sure. I run the underground cat ring through all these places you've been hitting. It's time I put an end to your luck."

Spike grins. "You're welcome to try."

Desmond picks up the chair sitting opposite from Spike's, flips it around, and sits down. "I'm gonna do more than try," he states from around his cigar. "I'm gonna send you running back up your girlfriend's ass and these cats are gonna go where they belong: in my stomach."

Lucky's claws break through Spike's shoulder, but he gives the sharp pinch of pain no attention as he glares at Desmond. Something ticks subtly in his jaw, but none of the Demons in the bar seem to notice. "Correction. You're gonna try. I'm gonna send you packing."

"We'll see about that." Desmond crooks a mean-looking claw through the stale air. "Lucas deals."

"Fine. I don't care who deals." Spike rolls his shoulders in an effortless shrug. "It's not gonna change the outcome."

"No," Desmond agrees, "it won't, because I'm gonna beat your ass down no matter what you do."

"One hand," Spike counters calmly. "Winner takes all: I get your cats, or you get mine. No rematches."

"You're a cocky son-of-a-bitch." Desmond grins as he pulls his own deck of cards out of an inside pocket on his broad, white jacket and tosses it down on the table. "Normally I like that, but you've gotten bad for business, Spike. It's time you remember your place."

Spike glowers at Desmond over the table as the skinny, green Demon his opponent called Lucas starts to shuffle the cards. "Bigger Demons than you have tried to teach me my place, but what they never understood is my place is right where I damn well please it to be."

Desmond chuckles, a booming sound that quiets all the noise in the bar. Even the band on stage stops hissing and playing their instruments. "Bravado," he says, smirking and reiterating Spike's earlier comment. "I like that. Too bad for you it'll be over soon."

"We'll see," Spike snarls. "Stop yapping and have your man deal the cards."

Desmond's tail swishes underneath his chair. "Lucas?"

"Yeah, boss?"

"Start dealing."

"Yes sir, boss." Calmly, Spike picks up one card after the next while Lucky strains his yellow green eyes on Desmond. The bigger Demon is good. He has no tells to give him away, but the brown cat has a tail his own. It swishes over Spike's back as he sits down on his shoulder to wait, his intent gaze fixing on the Vampire's cards.

Spike arranges his cards carefully, stopping only when he feels a tiny prick of Lucky's claws on his shoulder. He tosses one card face down onto the table and pushes it away from him. Lucas drops him a card, and he adds it smoothly to his hand before flicking his eyes up to his Demon opponent.

Desmond changes two cards, but when play returns to Spike, it's clear he's hiding a smile. Desmond waits for him to make his move, but he merely lowers his cards and gazes intently up at him. "I'm good," he announces.

Desmond grunts and promptly changes another card. Spike waits as the big, red Demon surveys his cards. "So am I," he finally announces in his deep, booming voice.

Spike spreads his cards, face up, on the table. "Royal flush, mate."

Desmond throws his cards down on the table with a disgusted grunt. "How the Hell do you do it?!" he growls as Spike leans back, his fingers inching toward the basket of kittens sitting beside him.

"I'm just lucky."

Desmond lays his own cards down. His run was from the nine of spades all the way to the King, but Spike had a Ace of Diamonds in his winning hand. "You should come work for me. Whatever the Slayer's people are paying you, I'll triple it."

Spike stares across the table at him. "Money's not everything," he says after a long moment. He gets idly to his feet and picks up his own basket. "I'll be back tomorrow night to pick up my kittens. Don't try to skip town."

"I'm not running," Desmond growls, "but I still wanna know how the Hell you always do it - "

Spike's grin widens. "I told you, mate: Luck."

He turns smoothly, grasping the handle of his wicker basket full of little, fuzzy, and mewling bodies and heading for the door. Lucas gathers the cards quietly as every one else in the bar watches Spike make his departure.

Suddenly, just as Spike's inching out the door, Lucas screams. The Vampire's blonde head jerks back just in time to see one of Desmond's long, glowing claws embedded in the middle of Lucas' hand and the card beneath his palm. "Damn!" Spike hisses to Lucky who meows in response. "You couldn't hold it one more second?" He doesn't need to see the table to know what's happened: Beneath Lucas' palm isn't an Ace but a Three of Diamonds!

"AFTER HIM!" Desmond roars, but Spike's already gone running into the night, his basket of kittens held close and Lucky's claws digging into his shoulder.

The picture of a napping cat wells in Spike's mind. "I DON'T NEED THAT NOW!" he hollers. Darting into a dark and empty alley, he scales the wall and is on top of the building by the time the Demons run pass the alley.

"They told me," a familiar voice says from behind him, "but I didn't believe them."

Spike whirls around. "Buffy - " he glances down at the basket of kittens he's still holding, " - this isn't what it looks like!"

Her green eyes meet the big, yellow green orbs of the cat perched on Spike's shoulder. "I know," she says gently, smiling with . . . Spike gulps. Is that actual approval he sees glowing in her eyes?

She closes the distance between them rapidly, grabs the collar of his trench coat, and slams his mouth against hers. She kisses him fast and hard, her tongue delving into his mouth, her kiss making his whole body sear with need and leaving him gasping for more when she lifts her mouth from his. "Now let's go slay some Demon ass!"

"Keep the big one alive," he calls after her once he's able to speak again. "He's the ring leader!"

"Remind me to reward you again later!" Buffy calls back over her shoulder.

For a moment, Spike just watches his woman run. Then he glances at the cat on his shoulder who, for all the world, looks like he's grinning. "You do bring me luck," he says quietly, accepting finally that Lucky has become his cat just as Spike himself has become the Slayer's. He shakes his head as he scratches Lucky's. "Wild and crazy luck but good luck."

Lucky mews and bumps his head against Spike's palm. "Get in the basket," Spike tells him. "We got a fight to win." And they will win this fight tonight, he already knows as he runs after Buffy and the Demons. He can already hear the sounds of his woman slaying the enemy up ahead. They're going to win this fight tonight. They're going to free every cat in Sunnydale. But what next? he wonders. What will they do for an encore? What kind of trouble will Buffy, or Lucky, get him into next?

He's not prepared for the image that wells in his mind next, but he knows where it comes from. It's the image of a brown cat - the very same brown cat with a rag-tag ear who's currently working on keeping the kittens secured in Spike's basket - with his teeth attached to a huge ass rabbit. "The Easter Bunny?!" Spike barks laughter. "Why not?!" he cries next as he slams his feet into the face of an onrushing Demon. "Working with you two," he exclaims happily, glancing over at Buffy who's a whirlwind of beauty and danger, "anything's possible!" He's never been as lucky or as happy as he is tonight with his cat and woman at his side!

The End