"Captain, I am afraid I find myself at a loss to understand the exact purpose of this exercise." Kirk watched Spock's brow furrow in concentration as he examined the contents of his hand.
"Well, it's quite simple, Mr. Spock." Kirk felt his lips quirk into the amused, flirtatious smile he so often found himself wearing in Spock's presence. "You expressed a desire to understand the human concept of bluffing. I can think of no way better than simple demonstration."
"The concept of learning through kinesthetic involvement is not new to me," Spock retorted. "It is the accompanying requirement that I be in a relative state of undress which I find baffling."
"It's only a requirement if you lose," Kirk pointed out, his smile broadening into a grin. "Think of it as...motivation, for gaining proficiency with a much-needed skill."
"Then perhaps you can explain to me why the rest of the crew is not being instructed in this apparently crucial ability." The oh-so-familiar eyebrow arch he shot Kirk at this moment spoke volumes.
Kirk paused for only an instant before continuing, "Why, it's just as I said. Bluffing is a human concept, and as the only non-human on board the Enterprise with a chance of assuming command, it is imperative that you learn it."
Spock eyed him for a long moment, before returning his intense gaze to his cards. Had he been anyone else, Kirk would have sworn he was attempting to will them into a more pleasing arrangement, but such an action would be far too illogical to be attributed to his first officer...almost certainly.
"So, Mr. Spock, which will it be - call or fold?" Kirk asked, taking on a tone of detached curiosity.
"Should I fold, you would win custody of my pants, is this not correct?" Spock inquired.
"Yes, yes, I believe that is where we stand," Kirk said, hiding his laugh behind his hand, "or sit, rather." He knew from experience that idioms were best left out of conversations with Vulcans.
"But if I should call, there are two possible outcomes. One, my hand contains cards whose arrangement is deemed superior by the arbitrary rules associated with this exercise, resulting in me acquiring your shirt and pants. Or two, your hand proves you the victor, at which point I must cede to you my remaining garments or break the agreement by which I entered into this game. Have I an accurate understanding of the facts?"
"Your grasp of the particulars is flawless, as always," Kirk responded, no longer bothering to conceal his grin.
"Very well, then," Spock said decisively. "I will call."
"All right, Mr. Spock, what do you have?" Judging from the look on Spock's face as the hand had progressed, Kirk felt sure he had little to worry about.
"I believe this particular arrangement is what I have heard Mr. Scott refer to as 'three lovely ladies and two strapping lads," Spock said, laying the queens beside the jacks in a neat line.
Kirk felt his stomach drop. "I...must confess to having misjudged the situation slightly." He threw down his cards, revealing only a pair of tens. "I cannot beat that."
"Do not feel too badly about it, Captain," Spock observed placidly, "the odds were 2497 to 1 that you could."
"But...your face..." Kirk was still at a loss to explain it. "You seemed so displeased with the contents of your hand."
"Well, as you explained it to me, there were 849 possible hands that could have beaten it," Spock explained as if it were obvious. "Surely that shows significant room for improvement."
"I..." Kirk thought for a moment, then shook his head. "As usual, Mr. Spock, I can find no fault in your logic. Clearly this was a case of the student attempting to instruct the master." He paused thoughtfully again. "In fact, if I didn't know better, I'd say you've been playing me."
"As we have just engaged in a game of chance, I would say that was rather obvious, Captain," Spock noted, "unless you are employing a use of 'playing' with which I am unfamiliar."
"Of course not, Spock," Kirk said, standing to begin the process of removing his clothes. He couldn't resist muttering under his breath, "That would be most illogical..."
He would have sworn the hint of a smile played around the Vulcan's lips. "Captain, I have a question."
"Well, ask it, Mr. Spock, perhaps I have an answer," Kirk returned handily, lifting his shirt over his head and depositing it in the ever growing pile of clothes beside the table.
"I believe there is an earth idiom to have 'lost one's shirt.' Is this the sort of situation about which that turn of phrase was originally coined?"
Kirk hands stilled on his waistband. "You know, Mr. Spock, from anyone else, that sort of comment would be considered as gloating."
"I'm sure I intended nothing of the sort," Spock said, though Kirk would have sworn there was the hint of a gleam in his eye. "Vulcans, as you know, have no use for such petty emotions."
"Oh, I've got your Vulcan side all figured out," Kirk said, stepping out of his pants and tossing them on the pile, "it's the human bits that are constantly giving me trouble."
"I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Captain," Spock said lightly. From anyone else, Kirk would have called it a definite lie. "Shall I deal this time?"
Kirk shrugged a little and motioned for him to continue. "Doesn't seem to help my luck when I do it - go ahead."
"Ah, luck," Spock said with a knowing nod, dealing them each five cards with speed and precision. "I have read much of your human belief in it - truly a fascinating creation."
"You don't believe in Lady Luck, Mr. Spock?" Kirk inquired with a smile. A quick glance at the four hearts in his hand had him thinking his own faith in her may not have been misplaced. "You'd better be careful - she's liable to get you back for that. You know what they say about a woman scorned."
"Captain," Spock said, just a hint of temper penetrating that implacable Vulcan veneer of his, "putting aside for a moment your unsound assumption that a personification of chance could be in any way gendered..."
"Of course, of course," Kirk said, still smiling. Baiting Spock was getting to be one of his (and certainly Dr. McCoy's) favorite pastimes.
"It cannot have escaped the reasoning of a being as intelligent as yourself that as I have no belief in 'Lady Luck' as you call her, I would have no logical reason to fear the repercussions of offending her."
"You're right, of course, Spock," Kirk said, signaling to his first officer that he wanted another card. Upon receiving it, his smile grew just a tad brighter - the ace of hearts. Was the lady trying to tell him something? He wondered. "Call."
Spock himself took three cards, and Kirk watched the displeased expression on his face deepen. "Our lady has not been kind to you?"
"To say would surely not be advantageous, Captain," Spock replied. Though Kirk would count nothing as certain after their last game, he got the distinct impression that his odds were rather improved.
"So what'll it be, Mr. Spock?" Kirk asked. "Will you call me?"
"Though I will confess to being more displeased than usual with my hand, I can learn nothing from this round if I fold, thus failing to learn the contents of yours. I will call."
Kirk splayed his cards over the table. "For someone who doesn't exist, Lady Luck does certainly seem to be favoring me - she has gifted me with an abundance of hearts."
"I fear my own result is not nearly as favorable," Spock said dejectedly, lining up his pair of tens and assorted cards as neatly as he had his full house.
"Captain," Spock said, his brow furrowing in thought once more, "The results of this hand appear to have divested me of all my remaining garments. I would not wish to be accused of, as Mr. Scott would say, 'welshing,' but I must admit, I cannot see how this lesson on gambling can continue if I am without anything to bet."
Kirk opened his mouth to respond, then closed it again when he realized that he had not actually thought past a general desire to get Spock naked. Not for the first time, he was regretting his general tendency to act first and think later.
In the face of a gamble far dicier than any he had made in the past few hours, Kirk realized there was only one thing for it. He believed that they used to call it a "Hail Mary." "Spock, may I speak freely?"
"Of course, Captain. You know how highly I value your opinion." Kirk couldn't help but smile. Only Spock could sound so dignified at the losing end of a game of strip poker.
"When I said the purpose of this game was to teach you about bluffing..." Kirk took a deep breath and sent up a quick prayer to anyone who happened to be listening that he wasn't about to damage one of the most important relationships in his life. "Well, that was, in itself, something of a bluff."
"I must confess, Captain, that something of the kind had occurred to me," Spock replied, "although having not been instructed in the skill, I could naturally not be more than ninety-six point one percent certain."
"Oh," was the best Kirk could come up with in response. The notion that Spock could have anticipated such an action on his part had definitely not entered his mind.
"Right, well...good. Very good, Mr. Spock You clearly have some...some aptitude for this." Kirk paused. What exactly had Spock meant? This was not a gambit with any room for error. "Just so we're perfectly clear on the subject, what exactly do you construe my intentions to have been in executing this...maneuver, shall we say?"
"Why, to initiate a sexual relationship with me," Spock said, his tone as analytical as it ever was. "That much was, you'll forgive me for saying so, surely quite obvious."