Ochako was tired.
Honestly, that felt like an understatement of the century. She was exhausted. Learning not only that a fatal disease which preyed upon romantic feelings existed but that she had it had taken a serious emotional toll on her emotional state. That wasn’t even talking about the options she now faced.
Confess and survive.
Confess and die.
Or survive and be unable to love.
In all aspects, it was a tough pill to swallow, and Ochako wasn’t sure if she could shoulder the weight of it all alone. It had already choked the air out of her once before and had wrung tears out of her that she didn’t know she could cry. The sudden and sharp pain of it all had at last begun to recede though, leaving in its place a numbness that she’d never felt before. She imagined this might be what black holes felt like. If she were alone, she would have surely succumbed to its intense pressure and curled in on herself in an attempt to protect what little she felt she had left.
But she wasn’t alone. She was surrounded by people. People who seemed to understand her plight and, even if she didn’t think they could fully comprehend its weight on her, cared for her. For now, their support was the only thing keeping her in the here and now. Not in the past, where she might eternally loop and curse the day she fell in love. Not in the future, which looked only bleak and far too short. In the present. Now. They were keeping her just barely respondent. Their presence was enough to keep her from collapsing into herself under this new and impossible weight. To keep her just barely above the beckoning void of feeling absolutely nothing at all.
“Uraraka-chan.” Ochako heard her name but couldn’t bring herself respond. Her shortcoming, however, did not deter the Pro-hero.
Recovery Girl spoke again.
“I don’t want you to feel as though you should decide anything straight away.” The woman’s wisdom showed itself through her firm statement and a handful of offered gummies. Ochako looked at them tiredly before lifting her gaze to the nurse’s face. Her smile leant her a certain type of strength. The kind of strength that helped to keep black holes from swallowing people whole. “You have at least a few weeks. I want you to take this chance to clear your mind and to speak with your parents as soon as you can. There are options for you, and while the support and advice of those who love you will be invaluable, be sure you choose the path that you want to take.”
Ochako nodded numbly, the words flowing into her brain and yet leaving no impact. She would remember them, but they seemed so distant and detached from her right now. Her limbs felt heavy. Her eyes felt itchy. Her throat felt the strain of hours of body-wracking sobs.
How could she feel so hurt and so numb all at once?
Recovery Girl stood from her seat and strode closer. The elderly woman took her limp hand gingerly from its place and pressed the gummies into her numb fingers.
“I mean it,” said the Pro-hero. Although Ochako couldn’t empathize with it, she recognized the look she was getting from the woman and the tone of her voice. In a different situation, it would have been powerful. Hopeful. Inspiring. Now, it was just barely enough to make her lift her head against the pressures of her mourning heart and blearily listen to the words coming from her elder’s mouth. “A decision as large as this one needs to be thought through carefully before you do anything. Take your time.”
A pressing squeeze on her shoulder brought her sullen gaze to Momo. She stood resolute and firm, a rock in this swirling storm. She turned to Tsu. She hunched protectively over her friend, almost like a tree that leaned and swayed with the wind and yet would not break. She turned to Recovery Girl, who stood equal to her charge, ready to provide her with the tools and guidance to help her through this in whatever way possible. She embodied the stars themselves, reminding her of consistent light and endurance.
Endurance she had to emulate now.
She had to try.
Ochako still felt numb. She still felt as though she were one word away from crumbling into pieces. She still felt the presence of the emotional black hole that threatened to pull her in until there was nothing left. She still felt fragile.
But through the pull of darkness and the promise of destruction, their hands were stretched out to her. They wouldn’t give up on her. Even through her weakness, her friends—both young and old—were reaching for her. Telling her to stand and join them. And as long as they fought, so would she. She could try to resist the black hole a little while longer.
She would try. Even if it was the last thing she would do, she would try.
She bowed her head.
The three girls trudged from Recovery Girl’s office, Ochako in particular with a fistful of gummies and a heart of wrung emptiness. Distantly, the young woman was sure that all three of them walked slowly under the heavy burden they’d just been given. For her, it was inevitable. This was her sickness. But Momo and Tsu…
She looked to them, the pressure in her chest intensifying. Darkness clawed at her and the black hole demanded to be heard. To be shown. It threatened to consume her right then and there, to suffocate her with its all-encompassing power and destroy her before the flowers had the chance. It demanded to be made known, to bring everyone in the vicinity with her into her spiral of helplessness.
They didn’t deserve that. They never deserved that.
She needed to leave. She needed to be alo—
“Well!” Momo clapped her hands, startling her fellow hero-in-training with her suddenness. Ochako’s heart, so heavy before, began to beat violently in protest. However, unaware of what her spontaneous action had caused, the hero of creation turned to the both of her compatriots with determined grey eyes. “Recovery Girl said to speak it over with your parents, but it would seem as though they aren’t here yet. Perhaps they’re busy?”
Ochako blinked. Partly to banish tears that had come, unbidden, to her eyes. Partly in disbelief. Through the emotional haze of this morning, it was difficult to remember that she’d only heard yesterday of her parents’ attempted departure and subsequent cancellation. How did Momo already know about their plans? Or, wait, how did Momo know about their coming and not know about their cancellation?
The questions, however, were cut short by a pang of longing in Ochako’s heart. It was different than her longing for Deku’s presence, which she now knew would trigger the evil flowers in her mouth. No. This longing was far more integral to her, far more primitive.
It was the longing of a hurt child for the safe embrace of her parents.
Ochako folded her arms around herself and curled in slightly, trying desperately to protect herself from the additional pain and ultimately failing. She turned to Momo, who she could already tell was blaming herself for her less than tactful breaking of the subject. Momo’s mouth opened and shut a few times, obviously grappling for something to say that could salvage the situation while Ochako herself could say nothing.
“I’m sure we’ll see them when they arrive,” said Tsu, her calm voice of reason breaking through the awkward atmosphere. Ochako turned towards her friend, and it was obvious that what Tsu saw in her face affected her deeply. The green-haired hero frowned in a way that tugged on her heartstrings as she reached out and took something off of her face.
Ochako could barely make out the water on Tsu’s finger.
“The entire class is on the lookout for them, so we’ll know the instant they arrive, kero” said Tsu. Ochako wasn’t sure what to do with the encouragement and the lump in her throat—thankfully flower-free—was making it hard to speak.
To correct the wrong idea her friends were attempting to comfort her with.
“Yes,” agreed Momo, stepping closer and putting a hand on her back. “And when they do, you can count on Tsu-san and I to create an environment where you can talk without distraction. I’m sure we can convince the rest of the class to give the three of you some space without letting them know anything you don’t want them to.”
To this, Ochako could only shake her head, the tears now flowing freely. Her friends were trying to comfort her, and it was sweet, but it was also no use. No good. At that thought, the lump in her throat painfully dislodged so she could gasp out her denial. “Not coming,” gasped she, still shaking her head. But now that she had spoken, words came easier. She clarified. “They’re not coming. Something happened at work…”
“I can’t imagine they wouldn’t come if they knew that you were having an emergency,” said Momo, her heartfelt words tugging at Ochako. She turned to her friend, ready to inform her that her parents still had to work in order to provide for themselves and for her, when the look on the other girl’s face made her pause. Warm and firm, her expression was not one to be quarreled with half-heartedly. “I can’t say I fully understand the financial situation you and your family are in, but I do fully understand that both of your parents love you very much and would do anything in their power to guarantee your health and happiness. For example, last year, before you walked with them to the train station, your mother and father spoke with us all.”
Ochako’s eyes widened. A flash of something other than despair shot through her, leaving ripples of anxiety in its wake.
She felt a soft pressure on her arm and turned to see Tsu’s hand rested upon her. She smiled. “Don’t worry, kero. They didn’t say anything embarrassing.”
A wave of the aforementioned emotion rolled over her. She’d been caught and her thoughts so quickly identified.
But that was two emotions within half a minute that weren’t overwhelming anxiety or the pressure of doing and feeling nothing. Trepidation and embarrassment.
She’d take it. Even if these feelings weren’t happiness, she’d take them. Anything to escape the black hole.
“What…” she asked, doing her best not to acknowledge the crack in her voice. Her friends didn’t mention it either, and she was grateful. “…did they say?”
Momo smiled, the steel of her leadership voice softening into something warm. Comforting. Nurturing. “They thanked us for taking care of their most precious daughter. Of course, we told them that we’re all good friends and that it is also you who takes care of us, but they were really quite insistent about it.”
“They called you their most important treasure, kero,” added Tsu. Despite the claim, her voice sounded as though she might have been commenting on the weather with how matter-of-fact it was. Ochako turned to her friends, looking for any hint of exaggeration in their eyes.
She found none.
Perhaps that was because of the tears, or perhaps that was because she was being so pointedly reminded of something she really should have known.
She loved her parents without a doubt. She loved them and wanted what was best for them. She wanted to take the harsher burdens of this life and of working and ease them from her parents’ weary shoulders.
But her parents loved her, too.
It was more than goofy phone calls or teasing about homework or laughing at the jokes she sometimes told that weren’t funny. It was in telling her that she did a great job with her grocery shopping for the month after she regaled them with tales of her couponing adventures. It was in sharing with her their quick fix-its for aching stomachs or running fevers. It was in her father’s encouragement to follow her own path and her mother’s help in figuring out how to turn that path into a reality. It was in her parents’ determination to help her find her an apartment for her first year of UA that was close to the school and not in a scary neighborhood. It was in every “Good morning, Ochako!” and “I’m so proud of you, kiddo!” and “How was patrol? Did you learn anything new?” that she heard over these past few years.
Her parents loved her dearly even if they didn’t understand every aspect of her life. And her friends were right. They would come if they knew she was in the middle of a crisis. Or help in whatever way they could.
This realization stirred… something… in her, and that something fought gallantly against the black hole. Both her parents’ love and the attention her friends paid to that love wrestled with overwhelming darkness and pressure, forcing it to keep its distance from her heart. How such a reminder could fight with the very forces of nature, she had no idea. But it did.
And it wasn’t being snuffed out without a fight.
The idea bubbled in her chest, building and building until it burst from her in the form of a giggle through her tears. This… energy… it wasn’t hysterical, but it wasn’t rational. It wasn’t anything except what it was. Which was strange, but present. But she didn’t care. It was something. Something other than the darkness was fine by her, even if it made her feel and seem a bit crazy. She used her free hand to wipe some of the tears from her eyes, her giggles now refusing to be stemmed.
“You guys…” she chuckled wetly, unable to get more out. Words weren’t enough. Instead, she reached to her friends and brought them closer, enveloping both of them into a hug that she didn’t know she so desperately needed. She squeezed onto both of them, grounding herself with their presence and their reminder.
She wasn’t alone.
Her friends loved her.
Her parents loved her.
These facts created a warmth within her. It was clumsy and pulsed irregularly, but it was warm and it was unstable and it was hers. Some of the black hole’s power shirked away from this new warmth.
Some was enough. For now, some was enough.
They didn’t waste a single moment in hugging her back, softly uttering soft and kind words in her ears. The individual meanings of such words would lose themselves to the formidable power of time itself, but the impact they left behind would be felt well into the afternoon. The warmth and comfort were what she clung to, and while it was hard to say if her friends knew of the great power their presence had, Ochako wouldn’t question this form of strength.
Strength. Was this how she regained it? Was this how she would remain upright from now on?
Well, this was something she could try. For them. For this warmth that they shared and were willing to prop her up with for now.
She wouldn’t run from them. Or from this. She wouldn’t listen to the black hole telling her to crumple on herself.
Not right now.
Not when her friends were still reaching out to her. She couldn’t run from them or try to hide her problems. She had to face them. For them, at least. When they were fighting so hard for her.
And she knew how hard it could be to fight for somebody you cared about. Two years ago, a body in the air, writhing and in pain, shouting for help and for everyone to stay away. How scared had he been then, with his mutating quirk and lack of control?
How scared was she now?
Ochako pushed away from her friends as her mouth filled with yellow flowers. She turned, running to a nearby tree in order to spit them out. Shaking legs could not support her, and her arm was not fast enough to catch onto the tree itself. As she fell to the ground, she was grateful that she didn’t land in her pile of flower vomit, but the sentiment was shallow at best. She landed perhaps an inch away from the bright petals, a glaring reminder that her thoughts and reactions were no longer her own.
She had no control here.
She had no control over any of this.
“Uraraka-san, are you all…”
Ochako released a sound that was at once a roar of indignation and a grunt of pain, taking the useless arm that had not been able to catch her and thrusting it into the sturdy trunk of the tree. It held, but she wished it wouldn’t have. She hit it again. And again. And again.
And the stupid tree wouldn’t fall! It wouldn’t just… knock over!
Ochako wound her arm backwards and threw her entire torso into the punch from where she sat. The torque ripped through her muscles, and the reverberation from the impact left a shuddering impression on her body. Her entire being was coiled, ready to spring, ready for something to give…
Only for her to see that her efforts did nothing. The tree stood, tall and proud, just as it had before she’d taken her sudden aggression out on it.
This realization, coming so close on the heels of her previous one, stood defiant over the warmth she’d begun to cling to. The kindness that had pierced through her hopelessness now seemed just as frail as she had first feared it would be. Because she could throw her all at this tree and have it do nothing. She could throw her all into this problem, and nothing would change. Nothing she did would change anything about this. She would throw up flowers until she died from it.
And that thought was effectively breaking her. No villain could have done this. No overly competitive classmate. Not even her feelings on their own could have reduced her to this.
She could have laughed at the strength she had before.
She could have cried at her weakness now.
What she did was a messy mixture of both.
Ochako burst into tears, the warmth that she’d clung to quickly receding. In its place, a cold that was quickly becoming familiar clung to her like a depressive foggy morning. It tapped at her psyche and dug into her fragile emotional state, taunting her with her own ineptitude. Mocking her with her own inability to hold it together. Her friends, now crouched on the ground around her, continued to try soothing her, but the gestures barely registered in her swirling mind. She couldn’t even get a sentence out… She was too fragile. It was too much. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t do this. She couldn’t—
“Yes, you can, kero.” Tsu’s firm voice was a calm amidst her storm, but she couldn’t help but feel that such calmness didn’t belong here. Not here, not now. Not when everything was breaking apart. She couldn’t. “You’re stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for, Ochako-chan.”
The words sounded hollow. If she was strong, why was that tree still standing? If she was strong, where was her conviction? Her determination? Gone, that’s where. Gone like her chances for the future. Gone like she would be in a few weeks’ time. Months, if she was lucky.
But what was lucky about living her life like… this? How could this be lucky? How could anything about this be lucky?
This was a curse. And Ochako knew no cure for it. She only knew that she wanted to hide. Hide away from the world and not come out again. Hide away until she died like she truly deserved.
Because death had to be better than the options she had right now.
“No.” Momo’s voice was gentle, but even Ochako—in all her despair—could sense the return of the firm steel in her tone. The hero of creation leaned backwards and forced Ochako to look at her. What she saw was the expression of a fierce leader, a worried friend, and a ride-or-die supporter. Her intensity was enough to scare even the very forces of nature into submission. “Uraraka-san, you heard Recovery Girl. You have options. You have time. And you have got to get your mind off of this.”
“She’s right, kero,” chimed in Tsu, and Ochako was suddenly faced with both friends staring at her with a mixture of strong emotions that she couldn’t possibly name. Tears ran down her face and hiccups captured her ability to speak, but these facts only allowed her friend to continue with her points. “Even if your parents hadn’t asked us to look after you, we wouldn’t let you fight this on your own, kero. We won’t. We’ll find a way to deal with it one step at a time. But the first step is exactly like Recovery Girl said. You need a distraction, kero.”
Ochako shook her head. If words failed, actions might not. She wanted to be alone. She needed to be alone. She couldn’t take—
Instead of acquiescing to her silent request, her friends only seemed to hold onto her more tightly.
“Don’t ask us to abandon you, Uraraka-san.” The word ‘abandon’ slapped Ochako in the face, rendering her still. To abandon someone was to leave them behind and to turn your back on them. As a hero and as a person, it was something Ochako herself strove never to do. She’d told this to her friends time and time again when her anyone asked about her motivations. They’d all made a silent pact, sometime in first year, to never do such a thing to one another. The memory resounded with her even now. Momo, using the opportunity she’d created, continued, her unwavering conviction punctuating every word she said. “Because we won’t.”
She turned to her friends, almost certainly a mess. They had their hearts in the right place, but they didn’t understand. She needed to go. She couldn’t stay here and feel… and feel…
“Ochako-chan, we’re heroes,” said Tsu simply. The word ‘heroes’ stopped her again. The pact… “You’re a hero, too. And you should know, by now, what that means, kero. Heroes never turn their back on someone in need.
“Especially if that someone is a friend, kero.”
It was then that her mind understood even when her wounded heart wanted to refuse. They didn’t want her to be alone. They didn’t want her to face the unspeakable darkness and pressures of this terminal illness in a place where they couldn’t reach her. Logically, she knew that neither of her friends would be able to empathize with this feeling of hopelessness, this… dread and sickness of the heart. They’d all been through harrowing experiences, but this was one she knew that the others had no living experience with.
But, even so… the more she dwelled upon it, the more her heart began to see anew what her brain was still somehow missing. They wouldn’t give up on her. They would never give up on her, even in moments where she gave up on herself. Just a little while ago, she’d marveled at how they held their hands out to her. She’d vowed to fight as long as they did. She’d broken her promise so quickly, wishing to hide away and die, but here they were. Still here. Now, she marveled once more.
How quickly she’d forgotten. How quickly she’d been willing to cast them off to the side to do this alone. To be alone. To die alone.
How could she have repaid their kindness with an intention so cruel? Fresh tears, ones of sorrow and regret and shame, broke.
“I…” Ochako choked on air, trying desperately to breathe through the emotional resurgence that had just taken place. Her friends waited patiently for her as she took a breath, seemingly unfazed by the increase of tears. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean… I…”
Quickly, she grabbed for them again and latched onto them. Her friends hugged her back, matching her ferocity. They may not have realized just how close their friend had been to giving up, but now, with her friends beside her, she vowed not to ever, ever, ever make that mistake again.
She would get through this, somehow.
She had to.
They sat there, unspeaking, for a while. Ochako didn’t know if it was seconds or minutes, but she eventually became aware of the fact that they were in front of the UA building in broad daylight with several hundred students roaming around somewhere on campus. Any one of them could walk across this trio of girls, hugging and crying together in a puddle of limbs at the base of a tree, at any moment. And, in a school full of heroes, questions would be inevitable if they were discovered.
And she really didn’t want to deal with any questions about it. Not right now.
“Do you want to go somewhere else, kero?” asked Tsu, somehow reading Ochako’s growing discomfort with surprising preciseness. However, all too used to her friend’s uncanny ability to see through to the heart of any situation and with no true emotional energy left over from her most recent conviction to be surprised anyways, Ochako only nodded.
“I think I have an idea,” said Momo. “There’s somewhere we can go where we should just be able to blend in with a crowd.”
Ochako, too tired to even think of not trusting her friend, nodded.
The first half an hour was spent on a subway in silence.
It wasn’t as though no one spoke, though. Tsu and Momo were both excellent conversationalists when the skill was required, but Ochako couldn’t help but allow the exhaustion of the morning to pull her into a state of unconsciousness. The last thing she remembered was Tsu asking Momo where she was taking them. Momo’s answer had been lost to a black void.
A black void that soon turned into swirling colors for Ochako. Saved children screamed. Her parents were bent over a table, working hard with cricks in their backs and bags under their eyes. And someone… was out of reach… so far… there was no way she could reach…
Startled out of her dreamscape, Ochako’s breath caught in her throat and she was forced to cough in order to reset her breathing and gulp down some much-needed air. It was a moment before she felt the comforting hand on her back and realized that she’d hunched over to clear her windpipe.
It was half-a second more before she recognized that shade of yellow on the subway floor.
Blearily, she stared at it, the feeling from before throbbing under the skin of her knuckles and tensing her shoulders. While her rest had been good for recovering some of her stamina and wits, waking up to the problem directly kicking her in the throat hadn’t settled her volatile emotions one bit.
Dark thoughts and angry thoughts, inspired by that ever-present black hole and her continuing fight against it, swirled inside her. The forces of nature would not be denied, but nor would Ochako allow herself to slip into that hopelessness and despair. While those good thoughts of the morning had helped her find a semblance of peace, this anger gave her something to do. Some physical way of beating back the tide of emotions that threatened to swallow her whole and snuff her out. As such, she clung to that anger, refusing to let it go. And in that moment, a wayward thought hit her. Maybe this was why Bakugo was constantly yelling.
The thought was so random and so funny that, for a moment, she was startled from her anger at the flower on the floor. Almost involuntarily, she chuckled.
Damn emotions, not making up their mind.
But even erratic and crazy like this, she would prefer all of this life over the harrowing emptiness she’d felt in Recovery Girl’s office. She’d grab it by the reins if she needed to in order to feel alive.
“Ochako-chan, you have a scary look on your face, kero,” said Tsu. The comment, she knew, was not made to be anything other than observational. As such, she took it as a compliment. Scary was better than dead.
“I’m going to do my best,” she growled. Vaguely, it reminded her of her of her first year at UA when she had been pumping herself and her classmates up for their first Sports Festival.
She’d done her best there and failed. This time, she’d do her best and succeed.
She had to. And she would. She would.
“Uraraka-san, I believe you’re frightening that young child over there.” Momo discretely pointed to a small child with flowers in his hair, clinging desperately to the skirt of a woman Ochako could only assume was his mother. The woman patted her child reassuringly and elected to ignore the outside factor that was Ochako, focusing all of her attention and love instead on the boy who trembled beside her.
She watched, for a moment, the sweet interaction. The mother kindly wiped the tears of the child until he was assured. She smiled at the boy, inspiring him to smile in return.
For a moment, she wanted to be jealous. That little boy didn’t know how lucky he was, right then, to have his momma banish the fears of the real world for him. A scary person on the bus? Never fear, momma’s here to keep away the bad thoughts. He had his protector with him. She…
Ochako sighed, turning away. She wanted to be jealous because she wanted her parents here. But they weren’t. And they couldn’t be. But there still wasn’t a reason to be jealous. While her parents weren’t here, she was surrounded by amazing friends who had sat through three of her crying spells already and had watched her throw up flowers just as many times. Throughout the morning, even with her crying and screaming and her wanting to run away, they’d stayed by her side. And they were helping her to the best of their ability.
Her parents loved her. Her friends loved her.
Now she had to love herself. She had to help herself.
But by no means did that mean she had to do it alone. Suddenly, she threw her head back, resolutely staring in front of her. She was a hero. Heroes helped people in trouble, even if it was themselves. She briefly looked to either side of her, Tsu and Momo watching her warily. Perhaps they were trying to predict her next move; perhaps their glances were out of simple worry. Either way, she was going to try not to worry them any more today.
She had to let them in. She had to let them help.
And she had to start helping herself.
After all, her parents didn’t raise a quitter.
“I think…” said Ochako, forcing herself to look ahead. The future wasn’t guaranteed, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t fight to make it happen anyways. “I need a plan.”
“Good idea, kero,” said Tsu. Her tone was as observational as ever, but Ochako didn’t imagine that hint of pride behind the words. It fueled her. “If you don’t mind, Momo-chan and I were discussing what Recovery Girl told us about the hanahaki disease while you were asleep, and we thought a few ground rules would be helpful, kero.”
“Of course, we don’t want to pressure you into accepting these rules,” clarified Momo instantaneously. She, too, was making no attempt to hide her pleasure at the turn of events. She looked as though she were going to say more, but Ochako stopped whatever other justification the girl would have given her with a nod.
“I know,” she said, keeping herself serious and yet upbeat. It felt harder today, but she couldn’t let that get her down. Instead of focusing on the effort, she focused on her friend. “You guys have done so much for me already, but if you have any extra ideas, I’m all ears.”
It was as though a breath of fresh air had washed over all of them. After a horribly rough start this morning, Ochako was still fighting, not yet down and out. The disease may have won the first round, but she was back up and ready for round two. Her friends could clearly see that and were in her corner all the way.
Both girls nodded their understanding, and Tsu pointedly looked to Momo. Ochako followed her lead.
“First things first,” stated Momo, an air about her as though she were leading another class exercise. Ochako, even in her swirling emotions, couldn’t help but find the comparison at least a little bit funny. Perhaps it was because of her swirling emotions that she could find such things funny. She hoped these kinds of surprises would keep happening. She was keenly aware that she needed a bit of happiness today. “Recovery Girl stated that accepting one’s feelings can lengthen the time frame from two weeks to three months. We think it would be a good idea for you to admit that you are in love.”
Immediately, the amusement she felt vanished. In its place, a cold fury, a frigid anger, began to spread slowly through her veins, and she pierced Momo with a glare.
As Ochako coughed, the feeling of ice in her veins burned her, and the walls of her mouth throbbed in protest. Her denial hadn’t made it far past her lips without making her pay dearly. But still! These thoughts were private! These feelings were private! If she admitted them… no, she couldn’t! These were thoughts for the dark of night when she could hide and handle them! No! She couldn’t—
“Ochako-chan,” said Tsu, her voice breaking through her friend’s frenzied panic. Anger, embarrassment, and desolation swirled together in one horrible cocktail that Ochako wished she could say ‘no thank you’ to. As it was, she could only turn to her friend, who pierced her in turn with wide eyes. “You do not have to confess to him, kero. Only to yourself. But it’s obvious, especially now, that you feel deeply for him.”
Ochako opened her mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. No words came to mind. Or too many at once. Either way, there was nothing she could say.
“We know you have your reasons for not wanting to confront these feelings or acknowledge them,” said Momo. Ochako knew her friend was being careful with her words, though she could not tell if it was due to the situation or due to how Momo normally spoke. She had mixed feelings the possibility of being treated carefully now, in a time of crisis. “However, for your health, it would be more beneficial for you to face these feelings head-on. They are here. For now, they are your adversary, and each adversary needs to be acknowledged and given appropriate respect if they are to be defeated.”
Momo’s careful wording gave her pause. An adversary. Just like any villain she’d take down during patrol on any of her internships. She never won any of her battles by ignoring them and hoping they’d go away. She was a hero. She fought villains.
But this was also a part of her. A private, vulnerable part of her that had real potential of damaging her. That was already damaging her. Could she really treat it like just another enemy?
But when it was hurting her, how could she not?
“It’s a little more complex than that, kero,” said Tsu, addressing Momo’s analogy. She then turned to Ochako, who was clearly mulling over the idea with seriousness. Tsu sighed. “But if thinking of these feelings as an adversary that you need to defeat helps you to accept them as real regardless of the circumstance, then it’s a start. Kero.”
It was clear from her voice that she didn’t agree with the concept, but Ochako could already feel herself warming up to—no, accepting—Momo’s proposed idea. For now, these feelings were an obstacle. They were in her way. They were a wall between where she stood now and the life she wanted to have.
And every good adversary needed to be measured up in order to be taken down.
“Okay.” Ochako glared in front of her, visualizing… something… to help her. Anything, really.
This was a fight.
Fighting was something she could do.
She just… needed a place to start.
Ochako’s gaze faltered at that reminder, and she looked down, puzzling. Start… start… how did one start? She glanced at both of her friends. “How… do I even start?”
Ochako looked first at Momo, who faltered herself at the question. They both knew who would be the most helpful for this matter and turned, simultaneously, to Tsu. The frog-themed hero blinked calmly.
“Why are you both staring at me, kero?”
“Well, you seem to have the most… emotional… expertise among us,” said Momo.
“You basically sound like you know what you’re doing here,” added Ochako. “I know I don’t, and Momo-chan doesn’t look like she knows either. No offense.”
Momo smiled when Ochako turned to her with her apology, already waving it off. “None taken. It’s an accurate statement.”
Ochako, relieved she hadn’t accidentally hurt her friend, refocused on their only hope.
Tsu sighed. It was somehow both patient and exasperated at once. Ochako vaguely wondered if such a sigh was a skill only unlocked by children who had siblings. Either way, her friend didn’t waste any more time in helping her.
“If you’re hoping to look at your feelings as a whole, then you should start by looking at the differences in yourself, kero.” Tsu’s words of wisdom were welcomed by two bewildered stares. She kindly elaborated. “For example, have you been acting differently since you got these feelings?”
“And if you’ve had these feelings for a long time, how do you feel they are impacting your daily life? What do you spend your free time thinking about? Have these feelings influenced you to do or say things that you may not have done otherwise?”
With each question, Ochako could feel herself being weighed by an invisible ton.
Because she knew the answer to every single one of these questions without thinking twice.
Aoyama pointed out these feelings out to her in their first year. The first long while after that had been rough for her when she’d tried interacting with Deku, but they’d found their rhythm again. After months of tip toeing around each other, they’d found a rhythm.
If that rhythm meant ‘we can have perfectly fine conversations about anything in the world that will suddenly be interrupted by an insane urge to hold him close and/or kiss him and/or give him the entire world’. Then yeah. Perfect rhythm. Absolutely perfect rhythm. He was her best friend, and they had a working rhythm.
He was just also a best friend that she couldn’t help but act like a twitterpated fool around sometimes. Sometimes she had her brain with her when they talked, sometimes she didn’t. It was always a toss-up, and it very rarely mattered what situation the two of them were in when her brain decided to go kaputzie.
As for her daily life, her feelings didn’t really affect her when she wasn’t thinking about them. And her free time was spent thinking about them… a lot. She’d spent many days caught up in daydreams and almost slipped up in saying something about them so many times. But when she wasn’t thinking about them, they didn’t really impact her.
But then again, they also did.
Her original goal was to make money for her parents and to protect people’s smiles. Obviously, in order to get into UA in the first place, she had to imagine herself giving up so much in order to make those dreams a reality.
But knowing him… admiring him as she did…
She almost couldn’t help that she’d started going on morning jogs during their second year, hoping to run into him while she strengthened herself. Even though she didn’t meet up with him every day that she ran, it was a habit she’d cultivated and eventually kept for herself, finding that she enjoyed the brisk morning air and faint stars of the morning along the way.
Because he gave it his all, she found herself ramming wholeheartedly against limits she otherwise would have lightly shoved against in order to improve. She’d thrown herself into the air, increasing her weight and time limits alike at a pace that she never would have believed in junior high school. And while her success was its own reward and a new move was always a treasure in and of itself, it was his smile and admiration of her that always drove her when she wanted to call it quits. When she was throwing up her lunches on shaking knees and ready to rest, his earnest encouragement always gave her the strength for at least one more honest effort.
Because she admired his strategic mind, she’d found herself pushing her own planning into overdrive, almost frantic in the act of catching up. Her mind was an important tool at her disposal, and it had taken her a while to realize just how valuable such a resource was. Again, he’d sped the process along by just being himself. His plans were always rapid and effective, but he’d always respected her mind. He thought the world of her plans, even with as straightforward and last-ditch as they could sometimes be. Over the past two years, she’d worked to make plans that were more complex, and she’d been rewarded. Her victories against him while sparring and moving forward in their respective tracks, though infrequent due to the nature of their competitive natures, were always greeted with great sportsmanship, unabashed awe on his side, and a feeling of accomplishment that only came with feeling the pride of someone you cared deeply about.
Because he had a tendency to stand alone when he thought he was in danger, she had fashioned a new goal of supporting her fellow heroes on and off the field. Every time that he had grown by leaps and bounds, she could see that his progress had come at a price. Broken bones. Dogged secrecy. A mangled body. Incredible fear. She never knew why he felt the urge to take all of these burdens on by himself, but she’d made herself stronger, faster, and more versatile in response to what she saw. Her first blatant attempt of this, her grappling hook, had served her well even in situations where he was nowhere near involved.
But all of these improvements and more had their origin.
Though each of these elements had served her well, she hadn’t made such changes and improvements solely for herself and for her own improvement.
She’d done them for him.
Without even noticing it, he’d integrated himself into her motivations and goals, had bolstered her resolve and drive in so many ways, and had become one of the ones whose smiles she yearned to protect the most.
She’d improved so much over the past few years, but how much of that was due to her fervent desire to stand on equal ground with him? To catch up, to support, and to be supported?
How far would she have come without that extra motivation, as selfish as it was?
She turned to Tsu, who said nothing. She turned to Momo, who likewise held her silence. Both were looking to Ochako as the subway rattled and shook around them, carrying them further and further away from where they’d begun their journey. Despite the shaking, the rattling, and the other passengers that surrounded them, Ochako felt as though they’d entered into a small sphere of silence. A moment, suspended in time, that belonged to them and to her new discovery. A new perspective on her feelings that she had known somewhere in the back of her mind, most certainly in the depths of her heart, but one that she had never gave proper credence to.
She’d pushed herself on account of this crush. She’d changed the trajectory of her life and chased experiences in order to remain equal. His motivation had fueled her, his progress had baited her, and her high school experience had been spent either on his coattails or looking backwards to find him not far behind her, seemingly just as eager to stay on equal footing.
As much as she’d pushed her feelings down, she hadn’t realized just how much she’d relied on them to move forward towards her goals. The same goals she’d been afraid that they would derail.
Being faced with this thought knocked the wind out of her, and she was forced to breathe deeply.
“They…” Her voice would go no louder than a whisper. And in this moment, she faintly supposed that was a good thing. “How can something so destructive and distracting also be so…”
Ochako could feel it. Unwillingly at first, but the more she considered them… she could feel the presence of her feelings. She could see the effect having them had on her life. She’d tried to suppress them, thinking that the only thing they could do was slow her down. Now…
She looked at Tsu, her eyes wide with realization. “How did I never notice that feeling this way made me work harder at what I already wanted to do?”
Instead of answering, Tsu shook her head. “There are answers for that, but that’s not the focus right now, kero. Right now, the question is ‘can you accept how you feel?’.”
“She’s right,” interjected Momo. Ochako turned to her and saw her chin resting in her hand as she gazed in front of her, thinking over the issue. “You’ve had a great deal of time to dwell upon the negative aspects of having romantic feelings, but there are positive sides to it as well. Accepting both sides…”
Momo turned to Ochako, the final piece clicking into place for both of them at the same time. “Accepting all of it means that I won’t only be focusing on the ways that my feelings inconvenience and frustrate me,” gasped Ochako. “That’s why people live longer when they accept them! Their feelings aren’t just that longing and frustration, then! It opens them up to a whole range of emotions!”
“That may be why the time limit increases by a substantial amount as well,” added Momo, a smile on her face mirroring Ochako’s own relief. She turned to Tsu, who seemed to equally share in their happiness.
Ochako felt so much lighter, as though the black hole had been dealt a devastating blow and was being forced to retreat. This wasn’t the final solution, but this step wasn’t so hard after all. Yeah, her feelings had distracted her and made her slip up sometimes, but they also pushed her and made her stronger when she let them.
Her feelings could be good for her. She just had to use them right.
“They’re not an adversary,” she said at last. “They’re a weapon. My weapon.”
“More or less, kero,” agreed Tsu, her observational comment going nowhere as her smile revealed her true feelings. At this, Ochako turned to her with a grin.
“Tsu-chan, you’re a genius!”
As her friend pinked under the praise, Ochako turned to her hands, balled up in her excitement. She grinned. They could do something about this, after all! The realization, the hope, set a fire in her gut. She could do something!
She turned to her friends, far more energetic than earlier.
“Okay,” she said, matching—okay, so maybe surpassing, so sue her—Momo’s businesslike demeanor from before. “What are the rest of these rules?”