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Form the Fear of Losing

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"It was sour," Eri pronounced, running her tongue along her upper lip. She was sitting perched on three science textbooks and a chair. With the added height she was just tall enough to see the others sitting at the dorm kitchen table—Todoroki, Uraraka, Iida, and Izuku. "It was sweet too," she continued, poking at her empty bowl with her chopsticks. "I didn't know you could have both."

 

Iida nodded, folding his hands together on the table in front of him. "Tensei used to make this stew for me when mom was busy."

 

"Eri, you can have more if you want," Izuku said, watching as she delicately slurped the last remaining noodle.

 

Eri looked up at him with wide eyes. "I can...can I have more?"

 

"Of course!" Uraraka said, jumping up from her seat and reaching across the table to grab Eri's empty bowl. "Nobody really eats the dorm leftovers. It will probably just go bad in the fridge."

 

"How much more?" Eri asked, cocking her head to the side. She was still looking up at Izuku, gaze piercing. There was only one way he could answer. 

 

"Eri—you can have as much as you want!"

 

Eri grinned, fidgeting in her seat. "I want more then.” Suddenly her face fell. “Everyone else is done eating. Do I have to sit alone?"

 

"We'll stay here," Todoroki said, pushing his bowl towards the center of the table and settling back in his seat.

 

Iida stood up and began gathering the empty bowls. "We were going to play a card game anyway. We can do that here."

 

"A card game?" Izuku asked.

 

Uraraka walked back from the counter and set Eri's refilled bowl in front of her. "Iida has this game with all these hero cards—different statistics and skills and things—and they battle each other! I’ve been wanting to play for ages!”

 

"That sounds like Takedown ," Izuku said.

 

"That’s it!” Uraraka said. She paused on her way back to her seat to grip the edge of the table and stare down at Izuku in excitement. “You've played already?”

 

Izuku reached around to scratch the back of his head. "I think I played as a kid. Everyone at school had a deck. I remember not liking it."

 

"You didn't like the hero card game?" Uraraka asked, sliding back into her chair, "Deku, that seems unlike you."

 

"Were you playing with Bakugou?" Todoroki added.

 

Izuku bit his lip. Now that he was thinking about it, he did not remember what he had disliked about Takedown . "That’s possible,” he muttered.

 

"All the kids at my school used to play," Uraraka explained, "But I couldn’t buy any cards. I've been wanting to try this game for years! And Iida told me yesterday that he had a couple of decks and that I could borrow one—"

 

"My dad thinks it's a dumb game," Todoroki said, "so you have to play with us."

 

Izuku nodded. "Okay then—I'll probably like it more with you guys."

 

Iida rounded the corner, carrying a small box. Setting it on the table, he took out several stacks of cards held together with rubber bands. "Each of you take a deck," he explained. "The cards all have different stats, but the overall power of the cards should be fairly balanced."

 

"There are only four—four groups of cards," Eri said suddenly, "Who doesn't get to play?" 

 

"We can all play," Izuku said quickly, "Two people can be on a team. Do you want to be on my team?"

 

Eri smiled again—though that was not uncommon recently. "Sure! And—can I have more stew?" She pushed her bowl forward expectantly. 

 

"Did she finish already?" Iida asked, setting the card box to the side.

 

Izuku looked down at the bowl. It was empty. "You must be hungry!" he said, grabbing the bowl and passing it back to Uraraka. "I bet you're growing."

 

"Deku didn't like this game as a kid," Uraraka said smugly, taking the bowl to refill it.

 

Iida looked up at him in confusion, but Izuku cut him off before he could comment. "That was a long time ago! Besides, this is a game about heroes, right? I'm sure I won't hate it!"

 

Half an hour into the game, Izuku decided that he did hate it.

 

Uraraka bit her lip, fingering through the cards in her deck. "Hmmmm, I think I'll attack Deku again."

 

Izuku slumped back in his seat. "Again? I'm losing!"

 

"You are losing," Iida said, genuinely pensive. " Takedown! the Hero Card Game is strategy based—I assumed you would be good at this." 

 

"A strategy based hero game," Uraraka said, placing down a card face up on the table in front of her. "How have you not analyzed it to death already?"

 

"Who did you play?" Izuku said. "I can't see from this angle."

 

Todoroki stood up to peer across the table, "It's Wash."

 

"This one then!" Izuku exclaimed, snatching a card from his hand and slapping it down on the table in front of him. 

 

Iida pushed up his glasses and clasped his hands in front of himself. "Midoriya, did you look at the stats before you played that?"

 

"It's Deatharms," Izuku explained, "Their strength stat has to be higher than Wash's. This is the strength stat round, right?"

 

Uraraka stuck a finger on his card, dragged it across the table, and flipped it around. "No, my card has higher strength."

 

"That's not possible," Izuku said. "I watched Deatharm's fight last week and—"

 

"The cards don't always reflect reality," Iida interrupted, taking off his glasses and rubbing the bridge of his nose. "The system has to be balanced in order for play to be enjoyable. I already told you this."

 

"This is more than unbalanced," Izuku demanded, pointing his finger forcefully at the offending cards. "These stats are not even close to the strengths and weaknesses of the actual individuals. If they wanted to create a balanced card game, why didn't they just make up fantastical creatures or something?"

 

"Marketing," Todoroki said.

 

"I win this round," Uraraka exclaimed, "That means you lose another life, Deku!"

 

Izuku sighed. "I'm out."

 

"Wait no!" Uraraka said, "Don't quit! I'll attack someone else next time!"

 

"I'm not quitting," Izuku said, gesturing towards the scorecard half buried under Todoroki's folded arms. "That was my last life! If you wanted me to keep playing you should have attacked Todoroki. He still has all ten of his."

 

"Really?" Iida asked.

 

"No," Todoroki deadpanned.

 

Uraraka pulled the scorecard out from where Todoroki's arm was draped over it. "Huh, he does still have all ten lives. How did that happen?"

 

"You all kept attacking me!" Izuku exclaimed.

 

Suddenly, he felt a tug at his sleeve. "Deku," Eri almost whispered, "Can I have another bowl?"

 

Izuku almost jumped at her touch. For a moment he had forgotten Eri was there. Now she was hesitant, her eyes watery. "Eri," he said softly, "Are you okay? I'm sorry if I startled you—this game is dumb but it doesn't matter really. Was I too loud?"

 

"No," Eri whispered, "I want more." 

 

"More food?" Iida asked, raising his eyebrows, "How many bowls have you had?"

 

"I don't remember," Eri continued. She looked down at her lap and her hair fell forward, hiding her face. "Is there—can I only have so many?"

 

"You can have as much as you want," Izuku repeated. He reached to hand the bowl to Uraraka, only to discover that she had snagged it when he was not looking.

 

"There isn't a lot left," Uraraka called from her station near the counter, "But you can have the rest." 

 

"There's no more?" Eri asked, twisting her hands in her lap. 

 

"You can eat something else if you want," Izuku supplied, "We have other food."

 

Todoroki jumped up from his seat. "We might still have crackers in the pantry."

 

Eri swallowed and wrung her hands again. Then she pushed her chair back from the table so quickly it overbalanced. 

 

Izuku caught it before it fell. "Careful! Do you want to get down?"

 

Eri nodded furiously and swallowed again. Izuku stood and pulled her chair out from the table. She reached out to him, grabbing a fistful of his shirt. Just as Izuku bent down to lift her out of the chair, she looked up at him and retched violently.

 

Both of them froze. Most of the vomit had landed on the floor, but Izuku could feel a significant portion dripping down his leg and beginning to soak into his sock. Something clanged in the kitchen. Iida was saying something vehemently—Izuku could see his arms moving in the corner of his vision. Then Eri threw up again. Izuku snatched her from the chair and set her on the floor a few feet away—still over the kitchen tile. 

 

“Somebody grab the textbooks,” Iida ordered.

 

Izuku crouched down in front of Eri and put a hand out her shoulder. She looked up forlornly and gagged again. Suddenly Todoroki was there beside them, holding out a plastic bowl. Izuku took it from his hands and positioned it in front of Eri just in time. The bowl was slippery in his grip. Izuku decided not to think about that. 

 

"Deku, her hair!" Uraraka called from across the kitchen. 

 

Izuku looked, Eri's hair was draping down over the front of her shirt and along the edge of the bowl he held close to her chest. He reached up and snatched it with his free hand, gathering it into a bundle at the nape of her neck. "Guys I need a um...I don't remember what they're called—the hair circle things!"

 

Iida scrambled for something on the table, and came up with a deck of cards. He pulled off the rubber band, made eye contact with Todoroki, and tossed it to him. 

 

"I'm going to go find some clean clothes," Uraraka exclaimed. Izuku did not turn to look, but he could hear her footsteps pounding back towards the elevator. 

 

Eri gripped the sides of the bowl and threw up again. Izuku saw the chunks of meat he had chopped for the stew this morning floating in front of him, and his own stomach churned rebelliously. Izuku bit his lip and stopped looking down. Todoroki was still  kneeling next to him, trying to tie up Eri's hair with the rubber band from the card game.

 

 Iida materialized beside them, holding a roll of paper towels. He tore off a piece to hand to Izuku, then reconsidered and set the roll down beside him. “I’m going to start cleaning,” he explained, “I may need to borrow some of those in a minute.”

 

“I’ll help,” Todoroki said, tearing off a few paper towels and heading back towards the kitchen table.

 

Eri was still gagging, but there didn't seem to be as much coming up anymore. Izuku grabbed his own paper towel and began to wipe at her face.

 

"My dress," Eri sobbed.

 

"We can wash it," Izuku said, "It's okay. Uraraka is getting you something to wear for now."

 

Eri coughed, and tried to spit into the bowl. The slobber got stuck on her chin, and Izuku wiped it off again. 

 

"I want more," Eri whispered.

 

Izuku felt something wrench in his chest. "More food?”

 

Eri nodded.

 

“Eri—you can’t. You're hurting yourself."

 

Eri looked down. Izuku was not sure if she was preparing to vomit again, or if she was avoiding his gaze. She swallowed. "When...when I was in that place…”

 

Izuku nodded. Somehow their games always came back around to this. He was starting to think that there was some part of Eri which he really had been too late to save. 

 

"I was so hungry," she continued, biting down on her lower lip, "and I want...I don't ever...I don't want to…"

 

"Take your time," Izuku whispered.

 

Eri took a faltering breath and looked up with red-rimmed eyes. "Deku—I don't want to be hungry anymore."

 

Izuku set down the bowl and drew Eri into his arms. Her dress was cold and wet, but he could handle it. He had to—this was the only think he could think to do.

 

With her face pressed tight into his shoulder, Eri could not see his tears