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Claw Machine

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On a bustling Saturday night, the department store was as busy and crowded as ever, as the sound of elevator jazz music was drowned out by all of the talking and laughing everywhere.

It’s a good thing I reserved a table beforehand, Kouda thought as he and Jirou walked out of the pizzeria, their appetites full and tastebuds satisfied. Though Kouda wasn’t a vegetarian, he did prefer eating vegetables as opposed to meat – so he was relieved when Jirou ordered a veggie pizza for them. Then again, that could have been intentional.

“That was really delicious! It was worth finishing our homework early to go out, isn’t that right?” Jirou grinned from ear to ear as she rubbed her stomach in satisfaction. Kouda nodded while smiling back.

She looked at her watch and pondered. “I thought we’ll be here for longer, but it’s still only 7PM. Is there somewhere else you want to go, Kouda?” He shrugged and shook his head. They stopped and stood for a bit, looking around the floor they were on to see if there was anything worth their interest. Not much, to be honest. Eyeing the store map on the wall opposite from them, it seems as if Jirou had an idea.

“How about the arcade upstairs? We can play something there, and if it doesn’t work, there’s always the bookstore.”

Well, not much else to do anyway, Kouda thought. They went upstairs and arrived at the arcade – a flashy and colorful place filled with every single game you can think of, from Gunhead’s Justice to All Might’s Idol Adventure. Kouda remembered a time where he thought these places were secretly villain hideouts as a child because the flashing lights were “scary-looking”, and laughed to himself.

Buying a set of fifty tokens at the counter for a discount, they went and played to their heart’s content. Jirou couldn’t help but giggle innocently at Kouda’s futile attempts to clear an Easy Mode song in All Might’s Idol Adventure, but his legs just wouldn’t dance fast enough. On the contrary, Kouda watched while trying to keep himself from laughing at how bad Jirou was at Super Bunny Bros – she kept falling down the first pit while he beat the entire game first try without taking a single hit. It was more fun than they imagined it to be.

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Time passed quickly as they had fun at the arcade, and before they knew it, it was already half past eight. The department store closed at 9:30PM, so they had an hour left to leave – and twenty-four tokens to waste during that hour.

“How about we have go at the crane games? I’m feeling lucky today!” Jirou pointed at the row of machines stuffed to the brim with gifts of all shapes and sizes – card games, stuffed toys, even game consoles. They knew that these were rigged eighty percent of the time, but that means there was still a twenty percent chance of winning a gift, right? With eagerness, she grabbed Kouda’s arm and pulled him to a machine containing stuffed animals. Every animal one can think of was there : from frogs to bears to bees, the latter making Kouda slightly shiver. There was even a limited edition All Might plushie in the corner - something Midoriya would gladly spend a hundred tokens on. The neon yellow light on the top of the cabinet that illuminated the animals did nothing but make them seem more enticing.

“I’ll go first!” said Jirou as she moved forward. She looked around for something that she’d want in her room. Maybe the teddy bear right in front? Oh, that cat pillow looks cute… Wait. Holy shit. Her eyes widened as she saw it – a purple dinosaur stuffed toy. No, it wasn’t just any purple dinosaur stuffed toy – it was the special dinosaur toy that she was absolutely obsessed with when she was seven. It was nothing special appearance wise, but as she got one for her very first birthday gift, she treasured it like the world – until she lost it during a field trip in ninth grade. Her devastation, was, for lack of a better word, utterly tragic.

“Jirou, do you like that dinosaur?” Kouda timidly spoke up as he curiously looked at her excited expression.

“Like? I love it! I’m definitely, absolutely going to get this one!”

 Jirou cracked her knuckles and put a token confidently into the slot. Calm down, I can definitely do this- She mumbled to herself over and over again as she tightened her grip on the joystick, moving the claw to exactly where the dinosaur was… and pressed the grab button. The claw descended, and closed in at the purple dinosaur… except it just barely closed, and as it moved upwards the dinosaur dropped almost immediately.

“Well.. alright!” Jirou swiftly lifted her spirits back up- “It’s been a while since I did one of these anyway. Failure paves the way for success, isn’t that right?” Kouda nodded and slightly raised a fist up to encourage her to continue.

“I’m going to get this! Here I come!” She put another token into the slot.

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“I give up.”

Jirou banged her head into the glass cabinet. Fifteen tokens, and among those tries the only time she managed to make the dinosaur move was on the thirteenth, where she moved it to the right….. three centimeters before it dropped back into the pile.

“This is even harder than our exam with Present Mic. And at least there was a chance there…” She complained to no avail, hopelessly looking at the purple dinosaur. It was almost like it was mocking her.

Kouda patted her back in consolation, while looking at the claw machine.

Should I do it? He thought to himself.

The truth is, Kouda had a strategy to beat the machine. A strategy he had developed a few years ago, after having spent a total of eighty-four tokens in desperation at these monstrous money-eaters. But it didn’t always work – there was, roughly, a one in eighth chance, and it had to depend on the contents of the cabinet itself as well, as well as the claw’s mechanism.

Kouda darted his eyes around the cabinet. He looked at where the dinosaur was located, then examined how the toys were arranged and piled up, and then counted silently – one, two, three, four..  Just enough. He could feel a bit of confidence rising in him. This might just work.

“Jirou, can I play?”

“Oh? Well, sure. It’s definitely rigged, though..”

Jirou gave Kouda the remaining nine tokens. He moved forward, and took a deep breath. Seven for the arranging, two for the picking.

Kouda put a token into the slot. Gripping the joystick, he moved the claw to a spot next to the opening that the rewards would supposedly go in. The large cat pillow was there, standing upright thanks to all of the stuffed toys focused there to tilt it upwards. Kouda had the claw descend, and thanks to the pillow’s size and how it was sticking out, the claw grabbed and held on to it without too much trouble – though the grip was still somewhat loose.

“Oh, that’s a nice choice.” Jirou nodded. She thought that Kouda’s strategy was to choose a large gift nearby the opening, one that the claw could easily pick up.

Except that wasn’t the case. Instead of moving the pillow to the opening, he had the claw take it to a spot right next to the dinosaur – then waited for it to slip from the loose grip and fall down.

“W-wait, why aren’t you taking it? You could have gotten it!” Jirou incredulously questioned Kouda’s decision.

“I have an idea.”

That was the only thing Kouda said, as he put another token and chose to pick up another stuffed toy – this time, it’s the limited edition All Might plushie. Like last time, after picking it up he moved it and dropped it next to the cat pillow.

Jirou watched with utmost confusion as Kouda kept repeating what he did – until it struck her like a mace to the face.

Kouda was making of a pile out of these plushies, so that he could place the dinosaur up there and grab it easily.

She was surprised and subsequently amazed by this strategy of this. He had made sure to choose all of the larger toys to stack up, so the pile would be large enough for the dinosaur to sit on without toppling it over – not to mention every toy was “flat” in some way – meaning that if one were to have them lie down, they would lay completely flat on their back without anything sticking out, unlike the usual teddy bear. Kouda had also taken advantage of how everything in the cabinet arranged – they were stacked in a balanced manner, so if you were to make a pile on top of them, it wouldn’t fall so long as it was stable enough.

After seven tokens, the pile was done. Kouda had made a few slip-ups along the way, but overall it looked very stable. There were two tokens left – and he had to make sure that every move he made from then on was perfect. Tension was rising.

Kouda put a token inside the slot. He skillfully picked up the dinosaur with the claw, and, just as it was about to slip away, he managed to move it fast enough to drop it down comfortably into the pile. However, with that drop, the pile also started to shake.

“They’re going to fall apart! Quickly!” Jirou exclaimed as Kouda panickedly put the last token into the slot, moved the claw towards the dinosaur and-

Whump.

The tower of large stuffed toys fell apart, scattering everywhere across the cabinet. And there the purple dinosaur was, safely in the claw’s grasp. With the boosted height it got, the claw grabbed it without much difficulty. Jirou cheered as Kouda, with great relief, moved the claw to the opening. The dinosaur dropped down, and he picked it up from the collection hatch.

“You did it!” Jirou gave him two thumbs up as he held the toy in his hands, turning it back and forth. “That’s definitely going to be a prized treasure for your r-“

Before she could finish her compliment, she was taken aback as Kouda extended the toy towards her.

“This is for you, Jirou!”

Jirou couldn’t say a word. Kouda put in all the effort to win this prize from a definitely-rigged machine, and yet here he was, giving it to her without a single moment to reconsider.

“But Kouda.. You’re the one who won it…”

He shook his head in response. As his cheeks reddened, he glanced away for a bit thinking of what to say, before looking back at Jirou and smiling gently:

“Y-you really like this one, right? I think it’ll be perfect for your room, Jirou!”

Reluctantly taking the dinosaur from Kouda’s hands, Jirou stood there and looked at it for a long time.

This is.. Kouda’s gift for me.

He won it from me.

As Jirou repeated those thoughts in her head, her face became red as well. Finally, she looked up at her boyfriend, and words finally struggled their way out of her lips:

“Kouda.. Thank you so much.

I’ll always keep it.”

Kouda’s smile became bigger and his expression brightened, though the redness of his cheeks still remained.

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“Attention, our dearest guests,”  an announcement echoed across the store, “The store will be closing in fifteen minutes. Please finish whatever business you may still have and take your leave. We thank you for your patronage.”

“It’s 9:15 already? Time really flies!” Jirou looked at her watch in surprise, her other arm hugging the dinosaur tight.

“Jirou..”

Kouda extended a hand towards her.

“Let’s go, Jirou!”

Jirou gladly took it, and they made their way out of the store, opting to take the escalator instead of the elevator.

The elevator jazz music had faded down, and the stores were also closing their doors as well. The silence made the surprisingly contrasting to the store’s usual chaos, and it was strangely relaxing to them - just holding hands and walking in this serene peace that was very much uncharacteristic of a department store.

Neither of them said anything the entire way back to the dormitories, which was ten minutes away from the store, but it was as if they had understood each other perfectly. Jirou would occasionally take a glance at the purple stuffed dinosaur she was hugging with one arm and smile to herself, even pressing her face into its head sometimes to sniff the raspberry smell it carried. Meanwhile, Kouda looked at her with a contented and proud expression, and he could feel his heart beating just a bit faster as emotions welled up in his heart, and his hand gripped hers just a bit tighter.

The dinosaur was a gift from Kouda to Jirou.

But in the end, it turned out to be more than just that.