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High Stakes, of a Sort

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"I've come for Naegi-kun's underwear."

Celes didn't even bother to look up from the game room pool table as she lined up her shot. "I'm surprised he even told you I had them." There it was. She rapped the cue smartly against the cue ball, and the four, five, and six balls fell into the corner pockets one after another. Only then did she straighten to look Kyouko Kirigiri in the eye, a pleasant smile on her face. "He was so red when he handed them over, I was sure he'd take this particular bet to the grave."

"He didn't need to tell me." Kirigiri remained in the door frame. "I knew he'd lost something, and the underwear weren't in his gym bag."

"You rifled through his gym bag?" Celes grinned wider.

"Of course," Kirigiri replied, her expression indicating that she found this completely within the normal bounds of their friendship. "It was a little cruel for you to take them, don't you think?"

"If they're going to have me gamble against him all the time, I might as well make it interesting." She twirled a lock of hair idly between her finger and thumb. "Super High-School Level Luck or not, he's awful at bluffing, so it's child's play to crush him. He did get his third royal flush today, which got the researchers all worked up."

"I see." Kirigiri's eyes followed Celes as she returned her cue to the rack and dusted off her hands. "If your only motivation was watching Naegi-kun squirm, then you've accomplished it. You have no need to keep them."

"That's no reason to just give them back. I could incinerate them. Or maybe I could just keep them forever, and remind Naegi-kun as often as I want." Celes clasped her hands beneath her chin with a smile. "But I might be willing to let you try to win them back."

"Win them," Kirigiri said flatly. "Forgive me if I'm not inclined to wager against a gambling prodigy who, as I recall, has never lost."

"Well, you know how people exaggerate."

"Even if it's the only way to get the underwear, there's no point in playing if I can't win."

"Hmm." Celes tapped a nail on the side of the pool table. "Then how about this: if you play, I'll give you the underwear, win or lose."

Kirigiri's eyes narrowed. "And the catch?"

"Well, it's not really gambling if there isn't any risk, is it?" She swept an arm out. "My proposal: Poker. Five card stud. Loser of each hand removes one item of clothing. Last person clothed wins."

"...You want me to play strip poker with you."

"Yes."

For a moment, Kirigiri stared at her silently. "...Fine. It's a deal." She turned on her heel and headed out into the hallway.

Celes blinked after her in surprise. She'd expected more of a fight. She'd expected a fight, at least.

Kirigiri poked her head back around the door frame. "Are you coming? I suppose we could do this out here where any of our classmates – or the faculty, for that matter – could walk in on us, but wouldn't a little privacy be more appropriate?"

Celes responded with a cheerful smile. "Your place or mine?"

 


 

Finally set up at the little table in Celes's room, Celes shuffled the cards. She didn't bother to stack the deck; she had no doubt that Kirigiri's detective eyes would catch such a ploy. She didn't need to cheat anyway. As sharp as Kirigiri was, she was an inexperienced gambler, and inexperience meant mistakes. Unless you were a prodigy, of course.

Celes offered the deck to Kirigiri to cut. She did so neatly, before sliding them back to Celes, who dealt them both five cards. Celes watched as Kirigiri picked up her hand, automatically looking for any reaction. Kirigiri's face was as stoic as ever. Perhaps this would be as interesting as she hoped.

Celes picked up her own hand. Pair of deuces. Not terribly promising. She fingered her cards in contemplation. "Your bet," she reminded Kirigiri, when the other girl made no move.

"Why are we using chips when the only thing on the line is clothing?" Kirigiri asked instead.

"Betting is an integral part of the poker experience," Celes replied. "It's the give and take and bluff and raise that elevate it into a game of cunning and strategy. Otherwise we'd be playing nothing more than glorified War. And besides, the chips mean something. Lose all your chips, lose the game, no matter how many clothes you have left." Seeing Kirigiri's contemplative expression, she hastened to add, "And the loser will have to remove all of their clothes and offer an additional prize of the winner's choice. So don't even think about ending this early."

"Do you intend to keep adding rules like this all through the game?"

"We haven't started until you bet."

"Hmm."

"And," Celes continued as a thought suddenly occurred to her, "folding before the draw doesn't count as a loss. You'll lose your ante, but no clothing. So don't think you can end this easily by giving up."

"Are you done?"

Celes considered for a moment, looking for holes in the rule set Kirigiri might use to wriggle out of playing properly. "Yes," she said finally.

"And once I place my bet, you won't add any new rules?"

"That's right." She smiled enigmatically. "I'm all done."

"Mm." Kirigiri's eyes flicked down to her cards again. Then she picked up a single chip of the smallest denomination -- white -- and threw it into the center of the table. "One."

Celes threw a ten chip into the center without hesitation. "Raise." A moderate bluff. Deuces wouldn't beat much of anything, but the important thing was to make sure Kirigiri knew she was going to have to play properly.

"Fold," Kirigiri said immediately.

Celes shrugged and raked in the tiny pot. "Your deal."

Kirigiri gathered the cards, shuffled, and dealt with quick, precise motions. King high for Celes this time, worse than before. "Twenty," she said breezily, tossing her chips into the pot.

"Fold."

"You are going to have to play a hand eventually," Celes admonished, "or else lose by default and have to offer a prize -- of my choosing, remember, and I can get very creative. Do you really want to risk that?"

Kirigiri silently handed the deck back over to Celes, ignoring the question.

Celes dealt again. Ten high, this time; her hands were getting worse and worse. But she wasn't about to concede a hand until Kirigiri actually played.

Kirigiri looked at her cards, her face giving no hint as to their contents. Then she picked up a five chip and tossed it into the pot.

That would have to do. "Call," Celes said pleasantly, adding a five chip to the pile. "Let the games begin. How many cards?"

"Two."

Celes dealt two cards for Kirigiri and took three herself. Now she had a pair of tens. Not the best hand she'd ever been dealt, but not the worst either.

"Ten," Kirigiri said.

Given Kirigiri's cautious play, Celes doubted that her own hand was good enough to win. But having a winning hand was such a small part of the art of poker, in the grand scheme of things. She felt herself settling into a gambling zen. She felt detached from herself, floating, but simultaneously hyper-aware of Kirigiri's every movement, always on the lookout for a tell. "I'll see your ten and raise twenty," she said.

Kirigiri looked at Celes, looked at the chips in the pot, looked at her cards. She was silent a long moment. Then, finally: "Fold."

Celes raked in the chips again. "I'm a little disappointed," she admitted. "With a poker face like yours, I thought you'd prove a greater challenge."

"The night is young," Kirigiri said solemnly, and removed her tie.

Kirigiri had lost her jacket and both of her socks by the time she seemed to get the hang of things.

 


 

Half an hour later, Kirigiri sat clad in nothing but her panties and her gloves, staring intently at her cards. She had slowed Celes's progress, even managing to divest her of a stocking -- no small feat, she was assured -- but in the end, this war of attrition was one she was destined to lose. "Raise twenty."

Celes took her time responding, less because she was considering her next move and more because she was enjoying ogling Kirigiri's bare chest. It must be colder in her room than she'd realized. Her smile spread just a fraction wider. Finally she picked up the chips. "Call."

Kirigiri paused a moment, then, with resignation, laid down her cards. Ace high. A complete and utter bluff! Her strategy had improved tremendously. But not enough. Celes laid down her own cards -- two pair, kings and jacks, confirming what Kirigiri already knew.

"Time to take something off," Celes prompted her pleasantly when she made no move to do so on her own.

Kirigiri's fingers clenched against the table. She stared down at her gloves. Then, with a sigh, she stood and slipped her fingers beneath the waistband of her underwear.

Oh. It seemed she'd made a slight miscalculation. "Wait," Celes said. She would have to fix this lapse in judgment. It wouldn't do for this moment to come before the climax of their game, after all. "I have a proposition for you."

Kirigiri stopped and looked at her, waiting for her to continue. Her fingertips remained poised just beneath her waistband, and Celes didn't make much of an effort to hide her enjoyment of the sight. But all good things in time.

"Your gloves can be your forfeit this round, and you won't have to take them off," she offered magnanimously, "and in return... you'll leave your panties with me once I divest you of them."

Kirigiri stared at her flatly. "I have to wonder about your new-found obsession with underwear," she said. "You may be spending too much time with Yamada." But she removed her hands from her waistband and sat. "Fine. It's a deal."

Celes offered a Cheshire smile in response and simply passed Kirigiri the deck.

A few rounds of quick folds later, and Celes could see Kirigiri's stack of chips dwindling. She'd have to make a move soon, and their little game would be over. It simply wasn't exciting enough, though. Celes curled her toes in the carpet and thought.

"Alright," she finally declared after yet another folded hand. "Let's make this interesting."

"Haven't you made this interesting three or four times already?"

Celes waved her off and continued as if she hadn't heard. "There's no thrill if there's no risk," she said. "And you're so far behind, there's barely any risk for me anymore. So I think it's time for Sudden Death." She sloughed off her jacket, then let her skirt drop to the floor. One by one she removed every piece of clothing except her shirt, which hung just low enough to cover her if she was careful, although the room was indeed cold enough that her nipples were clearly visible through the fabric. "Winner take all."

"I wasn't aware you knew how to take off a bra with your shirt on," Kirigiri said, and dealt the cards.

Celes eyed her hand. As it stood, it wasn't good enough to beat much of anything, but... there was potential. Long-shot potential. Prayer that the gods of luck and miracles were smiling on her potential. "Twenty."

Kirigiri studied her hand. Her face continued to betray nothing. Then she seemed to make up her mind. She reached over to her tiny stack of chips and threw two tens into the pot. "Call."

A thrill ran up Celes's spine. This would be it, then. All or nothing. "One, please," she said, sliding one face-down card away. Kirigiri dealt the card and took one for herself.

"Twenty more."

"I see your twenty and raise twenty."

Celes wondered what her hand could be. Was she bluffing again? "Raise ten."

Kirigiri looked across the table at her intently, and Celes met her gaze evenly. After a long moment, Kirigiri reached out and shoved her stack of chips forward. "All in."

It must be something tremendous, to take that risk on the final round! Celes hadn't even had to force her. Now it was time to end this. "I call." There was no other option, of course. "Let's see your cards."

Kirigiri set them down one by one. Six of diamonds. Seven of diamonds. Eight of diamonds. Nine of diamonds. Ten of diamonds.

A straight-flush.

Celes's eyebrows shot up. "Quite the miracle," she murmured. Finally a burst of emotion showed on Kirigiri's face -- a smirk of triumph. And then Celes laid down her hand.

Seven, eight, nine, ten, jack. All spades.

The smirk fell from Kirigiri's face.

"I see," she said quietly. "I should have expected such an astounding turn of luck from a Super High-School Level Gambler."

Celes simply smiled and rested her elbows on the table and her chin on her folded hands. "I win," she said. "So it's time to pay up."

Kirigiri stood once more and slipped her fingers beneath the waistband of her panties without preamble.

"Slowly!"

Kirigiri raised an eyebrow, but she acquiesced. She rubbed her thumbs lightly along the tops of her hips, and she slowly shimmied her underwear down. When the band was as low on her hips as it could possibly go while still keeping the important bits covered, she paused to run her fingers across the newly exposed skin, black leather shining against her paleness. And then finally, with one more -- largely unnecessary -- shimmy of the hips, she let the panties drop to the floor. Kirigiri stood, nude save for her gloves, boldly facing her loss and making no attempt to cover herself.

Celes rose from the table, eyes roving over Kirigiri's exposed body with undisguised hunger. Every curve and angle and plane drew her attention; she stared as if trying to memorize the sight. When she managed to tear her eyes away from Kirigiri's body, she found that though it retained its neutral expression, her face had turned ever so slightly pink. That was motivation enough to sashay closer, into Kirigiri's personal space. "And now for the rest of my prize. I admire the boldness you displayed in your final hand, but as a result you lost all of your chips." She leaned in closer, an intent expression on her face. "And that means I get to pick anything I want, remember?"

Kirigiri met her gaze evenly. "And what is it you want?"

Celes pulled back and offered an angelic smile. "You can start with a kiss."

At that, Kirigiri finally broke. Her eyes rolled to the ceiling. "You are so ridiculous," she said, but the irritation in her voice was matched by the affection in it. "You realize that if you want me naked in your bedroom, it would be much easier to just ask."

"But it wouldn't be nearly as fun," Celes purred. She reached out and settled a hand on Kirigiri's bare hip, stroking the skin lightly with her fingers. "And you played along the entire time, so don't try to pretend you didn't enjoy it."

"Mm," Kirigiri said noncommittally. She leaned forward to offer the requested kiss, but stopped when Celes put a finger to her lips.

Celes moved her hand to caress Kirigiri's cheek. She leaned in close to her ear and whispered, "I didn't say where."

Kirigiri turned her head. "This one's free," she murmured, half an inch from Celes's lips, and closed the gap.

Celes accepted the kiss graciously, sliding her hands slowly down Kirigiri's body as she did, finally grasping Kirigiri's hips and tugging her closer.

"Do you really intend to keep my underwear?" Kirigiri asked as soon as they broke apart.

"A bet's a bet," Celes answered cheerfully. "I'll give them a good home."

"You should really spend less time with Yamada."

"You made that comment already," Celes said. She ran her fingers lightly up Kirigiri's spine and felt her arch into the touch. "Spontaneity. It adds to the thrill of the chase, don't you think?"

"I'm just glad I didn't have to wear the teeth this time."

"Spoilsport."

Kirigiri kissed her again in apology. Celes could feel the curve of a smile against her lips.

"But I suppose," Kirigiri continued after she pulled away, "this means I'll have to wear Naegi-kun's underwear out of here."

Celes stared at her. After a beat, she said, "You really do have a strange definition of friendship."

Kirigiri tilted her head questioningly. "They're clean," she said. "And of course I'll wash them again before I give them back."

"…Of course." Celes gave up. "But I'd really rather not think about Naegi-kun or his underwear right now." She smiled. "Why don't we go back to that kiss you owe me?"

She tugged on Kirigiri's hands, and Kirigiri followed her willingly to the bed, where they proceeded to settle their bet to their mutual satisfaction.