The subway slowed to a stop an hour later. Ochako honestly had no idea where they were, nor did she care. Instead of reading the signs around her, she focused intently on the simple rules she, Tsu, and Momo had talked about on the ride over.
The first rule was that romantic talk was officially off the table. Banned. Exiled. Not to be brought up or mentioned ever.
This rule was one that they would have to talk about with Mina and Toru specifically. All three of them knew that if it were only Ochako asking, they would get questions. Questions that Ochako, quite frankly, didn’t want to have to answer just yet. However, since it would be her and Momo and Tsu asking, the other two probably wouldn’t fight the ban so much. Jirou, to be honest, probably wouldn’t be too invested in it.
But if they did ask ‘why the sudden gag order?’, they decided that their cover reason would be that, with graduation a scant six months away, everyone in their class would need all the focus they could get on their classes, internships, and job searches. If that didn’t work, the three girls decided that they would probably call Iida in for backup with the new rule. The decided they could probably get him on their side if they said it was for ‘encouraging professional behavior on and off the field’.
Ochako really hoped it wouldn’t come to that since Iida was a really good friend who was both earnest and hard-working, but she knew that, even as a last resort, Iida could be pretty effective when he needed to be. Hopefully Mina and Toru would just go along with it for now.
The second rule was that Ochako had to start keeping a journal for her symptoms.
At first, Momo and Tsu had wanted to have daily meetups to discuss her condition. Ochako had countered with the idea of weekly meetups instead, but Tsu had pointed out that, with such fast-acting symptoms, it was important to keep on top of any changes that happened as soon as they happened. The Hanahaki disease was just too quick to ignore for six whole days. In the end, Ochako had admitted that she just didn’t want to have to talk about it every single day.
Her admission had been met with silence while they had figured out what to do. After a few minutes of puzzling it out, it was Momo who had come up with the compromise of a journal. The journal, of course, had to have a few rules in order for it to be a fair compromise. She had to write in it every day, she had to write down any symptoms that she had during each day, and she had to talk to either one of the girls or Recovery Girl if the symptoms worsened in any way. This gave Ochako the chance to talk about the disease whenever she wanted to and drop the subject whenever she needed to. Grateful in one case and satisfied in the other, both Ochako and Tsu had accepted this compromise.
Ochako had vetoed their next rule, though. There just wasn’t any way she could find a compromise for it that would have worked for them all.
Momo and Tsu had suggested that they could chaperone any interaction she had with Deku from then on. It wasn’t like they hadn’t thought their suggestion through, though. They’d figured that it would be easier to extract her from any sort of situation that could possibly lead to any hanahaki-related mishaps. The thought was sweet, but Ochako had been firm in her decision.
“Even if you could monitor us all the time—even in class!—that would be like punishing Deku-kun for something he didn’t even do,” Ochako had explained while frowning. “We’re best friends; we hang out literally all the time. What would he think if, all of a sudden, I stop hanging out with him whenever you guys aren’t around? He might think that he did something wrong, and I don’t wanna do that to him.
“Besides,” she added with what she had hoped would be a disarming smile, “I don’t want to wake you guys up at 2AM.”
She was met with the confused and questioning gazes of her two friends, and Ochako was suddenly reminded why she’d never let those meetings be known to anyone else before.
“What do the two of you do at 2AM, kero?” asked Tsu, puzzled. Ochako flushed at the polite question, happy memories of floating pencils and extensive mutterings and comparing class notes and fieldwork notes and disastrous cooking meetings coming to mind.
A moment of fear pricked at her heart, and she brought her hand up to her face, ready to catch flowers if needed.
But the memories continued to float in her mind, one smiling face after the next, and she found that it didn’t hurt. There were no flowers, there wasn’t even any pain. She actually felt… contentment. The kind she’d rarely felt before.
She marveled at it a little.
Even before today, such close and intimate memories had always come with a pang of longing in her chest. Almost as though that tantalizing taste of aloneness and togetherness was so entirely removed from her reality and so utterly impossible that it couldn’t been anything other than as painful as it was. Now, however, it felt like she was free to focus on the happier aspects of these precious memories.
Like Deku-kun’s completely unappealing face when said floating pencil had smacked him in the face by accident. Or the time she’d caught him misspelling ‘Orca’ in his notes and he’d let her tease him about it for a while. Or the time they’d tried to make a cake in the middle of the night and had spent hours cleaning up the mess together because neither one of them had wanted to leave the other to do it on their own. The memories weren’t painful. They were reminders to her of the type of person her best friend, her crush, was.
And they didn’t hurt her. Physically or emotionally, they didn’t hurt her.
The fact made her grin. It made her feel warm and it made her feel safe. In fact, it made her feel downright powerful.
The hanahaki disease might have surprised her and scared her, but this was a moment that was hers. Heartfelt memories were hers to cherish now, and she vowed to cherish them for as long as she could.
Determined and feeling bold, she stepped off the subway. She could feel a rod in her spine and a fire in her eye. She turned to her friends with a grin.
“So,” she asked, looking between the two of them, “What’s first?”
She watched as her two friends observed her for a moment. She knew they were both looking for signs of distress or of pain. But there weren’t any to see. Not in her smiling face, not in her stance, not in her anything. She had this. She could do this. And, from the way her friends looked so relieved, they knew it.
“Right!” exclaimed Momo, taking charge with a strong stride. “This way!”
Ochako matched pace with her two friends as they walked, laughing as she’d thought she wouldn’t be able to. This morning had been filled with so much despair and pain that it was almost surreal that she was now walking down the sidewalk, laughing so hard that her sides hurt. Yet here she was. Here they were. Listening to one of Tsu’s funnier stories about her younger brother. Laughing like the world was still moving forward.
And, in a way, she guessed it was. It was moving forward.
“What did he do then?” asked Ochako, watching as Tsu placed a finger atop her chin. She knew that her friend could probably remember the incident perfectly, but she was probably just making the two of them wait a little bit so she wouldn’t have to talk over their laughter.
“Kero. We had to wait fifteen minutes for our father to arrive with some cool water,” explained Tsu, a twinkle of mischief in her eye. “Normally, I would have brought water with us in the first place, but Samidare-kun insisted that we didn’t need to bring any for just a trip to the store. I suppose he wanted to impress our parents with how grown-up he could be doing an errand like that, kero. He looked so proud while saying it, too. I probably shouldn’t have encouraged his behavior, but I think he’s thought twice about not listening to my suggestions ever since, kero.”
“Oh my,” said Momo, giggling from behind a polite hand. “What an interesting way to find out that your tongue can go that far. It’s a shame that such an event happened in winter, though.”
Tsu nodded in reaction to Momo’s concern, a smile on her face. “Even though he had his tongue stuck to a pole for fifteen minutes, Samidare-kun wasn’t too bothered by the whole thing, kero. He bounced back fairly quickly. In fact, he keeps telling me that, soon, he’ll be able to reach his tongue further than me without any Hero training, kero.”
Ochako chuckled, trying to imagine anyone surpassing her friend without the training they’d all gone through. They had exercised and pushed their limits almost constantly under the watchful eye of teachers and mentors alike. Going further than them without putting in the effort was difficult to imagine.
She said as much to Tsu, who smiled knowingly while nodding. She understood.
“Ah!” said Momo, interrupting the conversation. “We’re here!”
Ochako turned away from Tsu to find… “A secondhand thrift shop?”
It was true. In front of the three of them stood a single-story building, ramshackle kanji spanning the top of the store and weakly advertising the clothes and merchandise inside. The signs that spanned the relatively clean windows ran along the front of the establishment. They would have once been bright yellow and red, but as it was, the large 20, 30, and 40 percent off signs were clad in lackluster yellow and burned reds. A single green ‘clearance’ sign stood askew in front of the open door.
The entire building seemed so very out of character for Momo. How did she know about this place? Why were they here? She turned to her friend, confusion clearly colored on her face, for answers.
To her credit, Momo seemed to realize just how strange the place she’d brought them to was.
“I—” Momo was fidgeting with her fingers, a nervous habit that she hadn’t quite outgrown of when she was among friends. “I thought of the last time I had to blend in and not be noticed. We stopped at a store very much like this one and got some disguises, and no one bothered us after that. So, after this morning, I thought that perhaps you might like to… well, pretend to be someone else for today.”
Ochako blinked owlishly at her friend’s explanation. Part of her wanted to ask why she would have ever needed to shop at a secondhand thrift shop and what kind of circumstance had led her to needing a disguise in the first place, but that part of her was very small indeed. Everyone had their secrets, and she was more than willing to let this one be.
On the other hand, a very large part of her was touched by her friend’s thoughtfulness. A little literal and straightforward, but the plan was solid enough for what Momo had decided that Ochako needed. And given Ochako’s state when she’d crafted the plan, the girl couldn’t blame her in the slightest. Momo had said a place to ‘blend in’, and this definitely fit the bill. She felt the gentle rays of kindness warm her soul, the act alone giving her more strength than all the clothes ever could.
“Thank you, Momo-chan.” Immediately, the hints of trepidation that could have been in her friend’s face melted away, leaving in its wake an expression of pure joy. What came out of her mouth next, however, was a response that she’d spent the past two years using. “But… I’ve been saving a lot. I don’t feel comfortable spending too much, even though you went through so much trouble to find me a store to shop in. I still want to have enough for… you know…”
In that moment, her words halted. They stuck in her throat. Though there were no physical flowers, Ochako could feel their presence anyways. Phantom sensations tickled in her mouth, taunting her with one very obvious fact that she hadn’t wanted to consider, especially after their breakthrough on the subway:
‘After graduation’ wasn’t guaranteed anymore.
The hard work of the past hour and a half crashed around her ears. Her air was stolen, and she was suddenly forced to grapple with ideas that she wanted to reject. Even with this step that she’d taken, with accepting her feelings as part of her now, could she guarantee a future for herself? Could she promise herself that she would see the fruits of her labor one day?
Would saving for herself still be worth it? She would always save for her parents and for their house and for their vacation; that was an intrinsic part of her by now. But for herself? For an apartment? For cooking pans and furniture and bills… was that a future that she could invest in?
That she even should invest in?
The thought clamped onto her soul, forcibly beginning to drag it back to the reality she’d done so much to escape.
The reality where she threw up flowers when the feelings got too much.
The reality where those feelings would only grow, and the flowers would only show up more and more.
The reality where she’d only bought herself a little time. She hadn’t saved herself at all.
The reality where she didn’t know what her future held.
The reality where she didn’t know if she had a future anymore.
“Enough for when you move out on your own?” asked Momo, finishing the thought that Ochako could not. Despite her voice being gentle, the stark contrast was enough to startle Ochako from her thoughts. She turned swiftly to her friend—when had she looked away?—and saw a soft smile on her face. Her eyes looked…sad. Apologetic, almost. “That’s a noble goal, Uraraka-san. It would be foolish of me to hinder that.”
Ochako Uraraka looked at her friend and knew that she was many things. She was a Pro-Hero in the making. An average student. A dependable leader. A capable fighter. A young woman. A daughter. A friend.
None of those things implied that she didn’t have the brainpower to figure out what Momo was trying to do for her.
And, even a moment ago, Ochako might have grabbed onto her friend’s attempt and offering with both hands, smiling as she thanked her for being so understanding with her long-term goals and life choices. She would have grabbed both girls by the arm and dragged them into the store, chattering about all of the different bargains she could find anyways or about how they could always window shop and just not buy anything, or she would chatter about anything and everything that would help her hang on to her delusion of normalcy for a little while longer.
But the words wouldn’t come to her mouth. They couldn’t. Here, roughly taken hold of by reality, she was rooted to the spot. As she watched Momo pretend for her sake, she knew that she couldn’t allow this to continue. She couldn’t allow her friends to treat her like glass; that was a surefire way of breaking her. She couldn’t let them help her try to escape from reality itself over and over again.
If she did that, then she lost. If she did that, then the hanahaki won.
Right. This was her new adversary. This was something she couldn’t give in to. Her feelings could be accepted, but that wasn’t going to work here. She needed a new strategy.
Regardless of her new reality and the terror it brought her, she had to meet it somehow. She had to do something other than run away.
So instead of doing all that she wanted to, Ochako shook her head. She had finally realized the gift, the true gift, that Momo had been trying to give her. The chance to run away and to not deal with this problem for at least one day.
It was a gift she had to refuse, even if it was so tantalizing. Momo’s face, now filled with her own confusion, fell a little at her actions. “Uraraka-san…”
Momo looked lost for words, and she turned to Tsu. Their friend looked equally confused, but her eyes were piercing Ochako, silently asking for an answer. Ochako took a breath.
“I don’t even know if I’ll live to after graduation.” Ochako’s voice, as wobbly as it was, sounded much stronger than she felt, but she had to see the truth for what it was. She had to say it out loud. She looked from Momo to Tsu, hoping they would lend her just that much more strength to keep her going forward. No running, no hiding, no disguising. They both had creases on their foreheads, worry at the tips of their lips. She could see it. And she had to tell them what was on her mind and on her heart. To share this vulnerable part of herself, even if it hurt.
Especially since it hurt. It hurt so much.
“I want to run away from all of this,” she said, her voice no more than a whisper. “My legs are shaking, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to go through all of today without crying again. But I can’t run from it. I can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist. I did that with my feelings the first time, and it didn’t help. I don’t have the luxury of trying that for two years. I don’t even know if I have the luxury to try that for one month or one week or one day.
“So… please… don’t promise me something we can’t guarantee right now.” Ochako wasn’t sure if her feelings—confused and muddled and hurt and angry and hopeful as they were—showed through her cracking and wobbly voice. She hoped it would show in her bow, her eyes closed to stop a fresh batch of tears coming through. “I want to live as real a life as I can right now, and I don’t know how to do it without being able to see my future.”
The air between them all stood still, and Ochako could feel the weight of her words even as they left her tongue. They pressed on her, showing her even more of a reality that she still had no idea what to do with. A reality where she was afraid.
She was afraid.
What was she going to do now?
What was she going to work for?
What did she have to fight for?
Her future was everything to her. A future where she was a Pro-Hero. A future where she could pay for a vacation for her parents in-full. The future was the place where all of her dreams would come true. Now that it wasn’t there… Now that a bleak and misshapen void had taken its place… she felt so lost.
How could a few hours steal her very foundation?
“Ochako-chan,” said Tsu. “You can still have your future, kero.”
But did she, though? Ochako couldn’t help but feel that she didn’t.
“Tsuyuu-san is right. Uraraka-san…”
Ochako felt Momo’s firm hands. One pushed upwards on her shoulder, the other cupped her chin. Momo guided her gently into standing straighter and then to looking her in the eye. She was frowning. “Recovery Girl gave you your options. You have choices to make. Your future is still yours to decide. It’s not lost.”
Ochako looked from Momo to Tsu and back again. Momo’s grip lessened to allow her this movement, but the significance of that was lost on Ochako. How could she get her emotions across? How could she tell them what she needed to say? How…?
“Ochako-chan,” prodded Tsu, her throaty voice commanding her attention. She looked into eyes that were, at once, wise and patient and demanding to be acknowledged. “Talk to us, kero. You heard your options. You know that your future isn’t lost, kero. It’s not like you to give up like this.”
Ochako took a breath, shaking and wobbling. Her emotions bubbled within her stomach, swirling into a tumultuous sea of broken dreams and dangerous what-ifs. Confused, battered, angry, she spoke.
“No matter what I choose, nothing is ever going to be the same,” she choked out. The tears she had been trying to hold back this time pushed themselves forward, slipping down her face in confusion and in mourning. “I was going to graduate from UA and get a job. I was going to find an apartment and live on my own or with a few friends to save on money. I was going to use my internship experience to become a Pro-Hero and work to start my own company. I was going to save money and give my parents a retirement that they’ve earned. That was my plan!
“But now… Now I don’t really have that option, do I?” she asked. The tears didn’t stop. Couldn’t. She ran four fingers through her hair, trying desperately to envision a future she had no control over anymore. “If I confess and he feels the same way, my life is changed forever. We’d both want to achieve our goals, but how realistic is that? Really, how realistic is it? How could he—how could I—make it as a Pro-Hero when we’re working on a new relationship at the same time? A relationship that would have started—not because either of us are ready, but because my very life is on the line!
“And let’s say he doesn’t feel the same way—” Here, Ochako couldn’t help but shake her head, trying to rid herself of the feeling of pain before the flowers could reach her. She wasn’t successful. She buckled over where she stood, spitting flowers onto the ground and despising them with everything in her. Momo and Tsu rushed to her aid, but their soothing actions did very little to help her stem the tide of pain.
Bitter, she continued. “—If he doesn’t feel the same way, I do this! Can you imagine how much that would break him? To watch me die like this right in front of his eyes? And my parents! I’d never be able to buy them a retirement! I’d never be able to send them to Hawai’i! Everything I’ve ever worked for would be gone!
“And—!” Ochako forced herself to stand up straight now, unwilling to look at the flowers anymore and unable to bear just how painful they’d become to her in just a few short hours. The support of her friends fell away as she walked forward, trying anything to get this sudden burst of energy to just leave her. Momo and Tsu matched her pace easily as she barreled her way forward. “—Let’s say I take the safe route. Fine. I get this surgery, remove the part of me that loves and cares and has goals and dreams, and then what? Why would I even become a Pro-Hero? There are lots of safer things to do; why would I ever stick my neck out for other people if I didn’t care? Why would I want to earn money if I didn’t feel love for my parents? To pay them back and help them because I want to? If I don’t have that, then what do I have? And you two! Everyone in class! Everyone I care about at all! If I do that, I won’t even—”
Here, Ochako’s voice broke. Here, she could clearly see a future she could never convince herself to want.
Momo’s concerned eyes and motherly affection would be unnecessary.
Tsu’s inquisitive look and practical outlook wouldn’t be endearing.
Iida’s pride in his family and his strength would be useless to her life.
Mina’s love of people would be a useless fact that was better off being forgotten.
Her mentors would be people in her past, and she probably wouldn’t maintain contact with any of them, their lessons only being retained for their usefulness and not for their impact on her life.
Her parents… she would feel no love for her parents. She would have no reason to remember the day her daddy had told her to do what made her happy. She would have no reason to dwell upon her momma’s careful instructions on how to prepare for the future and remember the kindness with which she had spoken. She wouldn’t see a point in saving them from their work since she would probably convince herself that they would be fine when they weren’t.
And Deku… Deku… Could she imagine ever listening to his tangents about Pro-Heroes and finding them boring? Could she ever look at him and not find his green hair or his freckled face beautiful? Could she ever walk side-by-side with him and not treasure their time together? Could she ever look at his hobbies and deem them unnecessary? Could she ever, one day… just write him off as somebody that she used to know?
In her mind’s eye, the faces of the people she loved and cared for flashed in front of her, and she knew she could never give them up. Not a single one.
But even if she chose not to have the surgery, the options were bleak. Extreme. Dangerous. She had no solution that would lead her to the future she wanted. She had no road map to follow. She had no goals that she could see herself reaching.
She had nothing.
“Uraraka-san.” Ochako blinked. When had she stopped? When had she curled in on herself again? When had she begun to hug herself? When had Tsu and Momo begun to hug her, too? She shivered, the cold suddenly pressing in on her like never before. The warmth of her friends was there, but only, perhaps, to show her just how cold she’d become so quickly. “I think it’s time to call your parents.”
Ochako balked. Her head swiveled to Momo. “But—they have work—!”
“Yes, but they asked us to take care of you, kero,” said Tsu. Her hands clamped down on her friend, forcing the young woman to be still even as she wanted to reject the idea with her whole body. Her parents had work. They needed to do their jobs! At least until Ochako could…
Ochako could feel coldness slip further into her core, reality setting in once more. How much time did she have now? Could she do anything for her parents? Enough to make a dent? To grant them even one well-earned vacation? How much could she really do now?
As Ochako stopped struggling, she heard Tsu continue. “And right now, that means calling them. Even if you think they’re busy, kero.”
Her friends’ words echoed in her mind, compounding with her own fear. How much time did she have with them? How much time could she do something for them? Work, call, make them proud… how much time did she have? Could she afford to be stubborn now?
And, if she were being honest, she really did want to talk to them…
“Uraraka-san.” Ochako looked at Momo, her heart teetering. The responsible part of her said that she shouldn’t call right now. They had to work, and she’d always respected that. Her daddy had called yesterday and told her that they had work. But the part of her that was hurt and scared and lost desperately wanted to hear something from the two who had raised her and always loved her. She wanted her parents, but she still needed to be responsible. The two halves of her warred with each other… throwing their points back and forth, back and forth…
The other girl’s face softened in its worry, and she offered her friend a smile.
“Why don’t you text them?” Ochako opened her mouth, but Momo pressed on. “You can tell them that you’ll be calling them within the hour. This way, you can give them a chance to put some of their work away and not feel as though you’re disturbing them during something important. While we wait, I’m sure we can find an establishment that will serve us brunch.”
Ochako blinked. That…would work. Daddy and momma always let her know, gently but firmly, when she couldn’t call. This gave them a chance to do that and helped ease her own worries. Ochako could feel herself calm down a little. She could talk to her parents. Not now, but soon.
She could feel the relief ease over her shoulders and sap some more of her strength. With this, she felt as though one good wind might knock her over. Not the best notion for a hero-in-training, but she’d been having a really rough day.
“That’s a good idea,” said Tsu, her voice somehow grounding Ochako and telling her that she couldn’t fall over quite yet. “We didn’t eat before we left, kero. Brunch would do us some good.”
Momo nodded, and it took Ochako a moment to realize she’d asked that aloud. She slapped her hands over her mouth, but her sudden desire for food would not be silenced. If her mouth wouldn’t ask, her stomach would gladly do it for her.
So it growled. Loudly.
“Ahaha…” Ochako’s laugh couldn’t be more awkward if she tried. Bravely, she tried to smooth over the awkward moment. “Yeah. Good idea. I’ll just…send my parents a text, then?”
Thankfully, neither of her friends laughed at the social flop. They did, however, each have a mischievous twinkle in their eyes. With smiles, they nodded and began to turn towards Momo’s phone. They were probably going to use an app to find somewhere to eat.
That’s fine, thought Ochako as she dug around in her pocket. She quickly found her phone—still many years behind her friends’—and pulled it out. I hope they don’t pick anything expen—
Ochako’s phone buzzed incessantly in her hand, nearly hopping to the ground with its racket. With wide eyes, she quickly flipped her phone open and was greeted with several notifications.
12:02 HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
12:02 Was I the first person to wish yo8u?
12:03 I bet I was!!!
12:05 Oh, you’re probably asleep.
12:05 HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!
12:06 MESSAGE ME WHEN YOU WAKE UP!!!
5:30 URARAKA-KUN!! A VERY JOYOUS BIRTHDAY TO YOU!! AS I LOOK BACK ON THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP, I AM ONCE AGAIN REMINDED OF HOW LUCKY I AM TO BE CONSIDERED YOUR FRIEND!! LET US GO FORWARD AND IMPROVE OURSELVES AS HEROES AND AS PEOPLE IN THE YEAR TO COME!!
5:45 ADDITIONALLY, PLEASE DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF WITH THE SMELL COMING FROM THE KITCHEN! IT IS OF NO CONSEQUENCE! ENJOY YOUR MORNING!
5:46 Happy Birthday, Uraraka.
6:13 Happy b-day, girl. You still wanna play guitar later?
Aizawa-sensei, Momo-chan, Tsu-chan:
7:15 Aizawa-sensei, may we leave campus for today? It’s for enrichment purposes.
7:15: Please, kero?
7:20 You girls have permission from the staff to leave campus for today. Return by midnight.
7:20 Yes, sir! Thank you!
4:30 Good morning, Uraraka-san! I hope you’re well rested! I know we both made it in pretty late last night and
4:30 Sorry, hit enter on accident! I know you’re probably taking care of yoursel
4:32 SORRY! I just know that you’re a strong and capable hero and I don’t have to worry, but I do anyways as a friend and I hope you got a good night’s sleep and
4:40 Anyways, I know I said this morning, but happy birthday! I have training this morning, but do you want to hang out this afternoon?
5:01 You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course! I’m sure that everyone wants to hang out with you today! We can do it tomorrow instead!
5:01 Or later this week!
7:17 Um, just got back from my training. I don’t know what’s going on, but I saw you with Yaoyoruzu-san and ATsu-chan. Yaoyoruzu-san waved me away, but I wanted to let you know that if you ever need anything, I’m here.
7:18 *We’re here. The whole class. We’re here for you if you need anything.
7:22 If you want, I can ask everyone around here to give you some space when you get back. Yaoyoruzu-san and Tsu-chan messaged Iida-kun said that you guys would be gone for most of the day and to not worry, but if you need anything from us, all you have to do is ask. Or we can all hang out if you don’t want to be by yourself with whatever’s going on. Whatever you need.
8:42 Text me when you can?
Ochako bit her lip, the words showing in black print through her old screen. Where did she even begin? The happy support of her friends? The well wishes? Aizawa’s instant support? They all touched her and made her feel loved, but…
But she knew where she wanted to start. She wanted to start with the messages that touched her heart so deeply. She loved her friends dearly, but his messages had a different impact. Stronger, almost, but that wasn’t the right word. More pulling, perhaps.
She didn’t realize that he’d already seen her while they were at the tree, that he’d already started wishing well for her while she had been hurting so much. She didn’t know that she’d been worrying him. She didn’t know that he’d been waiting for a text from her for almost ten minutes now.
If she knew him, and she did, then he was probably still staring at his phone. Maybe using his grip tool to work off some of the anxiety or muttering up a storm. He did that when he was worried. He pushed himself harder and faster and stronger than usual when he was worried. She’d seen him do it while they had all been on standby before rescuing Eri-chan in their first year and then again when his mom had been sick in their second year. He hadn’t been able to go home and take care of her, and it had eaten him up inside to not be there for her. Of course, Bakugo’s mom had helped out until his mother had made a full recovery, but he’d still worried until she was well again.
Knowing that she was on the other side of that kind of worry now…
Deku-kun really cares about all of his friends, doesn’t he? she thought as she opened his message. A wave of affection swept through her, and while she knew logically that it was okay for her to feel this way, a small portion of her chided herself for the rapid rise in her mood. It was a habitual reaction to her own affection for him, and her body reminded her why it was a reaction she could no longer allow.
Ochako brought a hand up to her face and turned to find a convenient flowerpot nearby. It was gross, but she shimmied closer and spat two tiny, yellow flowers into the dirt. She glared at it for a moment, weakly angry yet again with the lot life had thrown her. She was too tired, honestly, for the amount of rage she’d been able to produce before.
Ochako whipped her head away from the flowers to find Momo and Tsu looking at her, their concern displayed openly. For a moment, Ochako feared that they would ask her about the flowers. They obviously saw them.
Thankfully, neither seemed as though they thought it necessary to bring up. Tsu merely slid her eyes from the flowerpot to Ochako. “Did you text your parents, kero?”
“N-not yet!” said Ochako, bringing up her phone and, like her friends, pointedly ignoring her floral contribution to the pot beside her. “Gimme a moment.”
Ochako returned her attention to her phone, her thumb hovering over the buttons. The device had shown her all of her messages instantaneously in a series of notifications, so none of them would be sent a read message, but…
Before she could talk herself out of it, Ochako found herself navigating to Deku’s name and opening their conversation history. As soon as it opened, she reread his messages. Each one sent a bit of courage to her heart, each one sent a bit of guilt to her soul, and each one told her that she had to say something.
In all the time she’d known him, Deku had actually rarely asked anything of her. He was always an encouraging person, and sweet, and kind, and oh-so-understanding. He suggested things often, but he rarely made actual requests of her. So as much as his message tugged at her heart and made her feel weak in the knees and made her want him right there with her and subsequently make her throw up flowers and kind of made her want to run at the same time, she wanted to answer him. Even though she didn’t want to tell him what was going on—he would probably do a lot of research if she told him what she knew and the idea of him doing that and knowing what was wrong might have been just embarrassing if she wasn’t 98% sure her life would be on the line—she wanted to let him know that she’d heard him.
That she’d never wanted to worry him.
That she was sorry she couldn’t tell him more right now.
Ochako felt the nippy air enter her lungs, revitalize her through a chilly shock, and leave her presence as a warm, ephemeral mist. That was enough to break whatever trance she had come into and gave her the words she wanted to send. Both to him and to her daddy. She quickly tapped out a message to Deku on her old phone, sent it, then hurried to her daddy’s contact, pressed it, and sent a message to him.
Ochako pressed send before she could talk herself out of it, flipped her phone shut, and stuffed it in her pocket. Both of the messages she’d sent had left her feeling uneasy for different reasons, but they’d needed to be sent. Trying to huff away a newly building anxiety, Ochako shook her head and turned to her friends.
“So,” she asked, ready to move on. “Where are we going?”
8:51 hi Deku! sry abt tht. stuf is goin on bt dw! girls n i r workin on it! b OK soon! :)))
8:53 daddy, need 2 tlk 2 u n momma. can i call by 10? >.>
It turned out that Momo and Tsu had found a café not too far from the thrift shop. It was a twenty-minute walk, and the smell of eggs and pancakes encased her as she and the girls sat down.
“How did you find this place so quickly?” asked Ochako, stubbornly trying to place her mind in the here and now. But it didn’t want to stay. After all, how could it? She’d basically lied to Deku. How could she have told him she would “be okay soon”? How could she have thought that was okay to send to her best friend? Of course she didn’t want him to worry, but… She didn’t even believe it herself…
“It’s an app called five square,” said Momo, tapping at her smartphone before bringing it before Ochako’s gaze. The first thing she saw was green and her conscience yanked painfully on her heart. The second thing she forced herself to look at was a list of cafes and restaurants. “It helps you explore new areas.”
“And it has filters, kero,” interjected Tsu, mercifully bringing Ochako’s attention away from the phone. “You don’t want to see Momo-chan’s normal filters.”
Ochako turned back to Momo, carefully ignoring the app in front of her, and raised an eyebrow. The vice president flushed. “They weren’t bad!”
“No,” agreed Tsu with a sympathetic croak. “Just out of our budget.”
“B-but!” said Momo, bringing up the phone again. Ochako didn’t look at it. Her conscience couldn’t take the reminder of her foul deed. The strained triumph in Momo’s face was hardly any better, but it was still somehow marginally better than being reminded of her own dishonesty. “We can have something small to eat here for as little as 100 yen! Meals can be as low as 500 yen! That is an acceptable budget, correct?”
Ochako’s eyes widened. That cheap? She looked at the menu, eyes devouring its contents.
“Oh my—they even have specials going. Two for one! What sort of place is this—if I lived in the area, this would probably be my favorite spot—what’s a breakfast bowl? Why is it so cheap—oh, ingredients! How do they have potatoes and eggs and vegetables and charge so little! Is there something wrong with the quality—no, I don’t think there should be. But maybe they’re small sizes? That would make sense, but a two for one deal would really help out in a pinch…”
Ochako was interrupted from her muttering by a buzzing from her pocket. She froze.
Her phone had vibrated on the way over to the restaurant. Of course it had. She’d seen Deku’s name and had decided, for the sake of whatever good will she wanted to keep in her heart, not to look over his message. Not yet, at least. She didn’t want to see the hesitant ‘if you’re sure’ or the earnest ‘you can talk to me if you need anything!’ messages she was sure he would mean with all of his heart. Not when she’d said something that wasn’t absolutely true.
But it could have just as easily been her daddy, finally responding to her text. Either a ‘yes, you can call’ or a ‘not right now, Ochako’. He usually didn’t take this long when getting back to her, but it could have been that she’d missed his message by holding off on looking at her phone because she knew that, somewhere on the device, Deku’s messages would be waiting.
Ochako frowned. That could be it.
No, that was probably it.
“Uraraka-san?” asked Momo. “Is there something wrong with the menu?”
With a start, Ochako realized that neither Momo nor Tsu had heard her phone go off. She’d just frozen without context for either of them.
“No, no. The menu’s fine. Great, even!” Ochako’s assurance was hurried as she put the menu down to look Momo in the eyes. The other girl didn’t seem to believe her, so Ochako fished into her pocket for her phone. She brought it out to show them. “I just… got a text.”
Her two friends leaned in to read the black strip of kanji and hiragana. “Your dad texted you back, kero.”
Ochako flipped her phone around. Sure enough, ‘daddy’ read across the black strip in white text. Quickly, she flipped the phone open and read the text he’d sent her.
9:17 you know you can call this old man whenever you want,right?
Ochako sighed in relief. The responsible part of her quelled, her fingers were already tapping in her daddy’s phone number.
Her finger hesitated over the call button. She looked up at her friends. They smiled at her, encouragement clear on their faces.
“Call them, kero.”
“We can eat afterwards.”
Ochako smiled at them, the beginnings of guilt ebbing away at their verbal affirmation. She looked down at her cell where her daddy’s phone number sat in the middle of the screen and fiddled with the controls just a bit more. Volume adequately set, Ochako pressed the green call button and placed the device in the middle of the table.
“Are you sure, Urarka-san?” whispered Momo as the device rang, realizing that her friend had just put the device on speaker. “We would understand if this is a call you’d prefer to make in private.”
Ochako nodded. If she had the time, she would have explained to them that they were the ones who, when realizing something was terribly wrong, had insisted on accompanying her to Recovery Girl’s office. They were the ones who whisked her away from the campus, where she would have most assuredly been swarmed by well-meaning classmates wishing her a happy birthday. They were the ones who had done their best to motivate her and distract her. They’d pushed forward over the past few hours and done what had been needed to keep Ochako in the present. They assured her of a future and distracted her with funny stories. Their presence alone had helped to combat some of the already tumultuous emotional storms.
They couldn’t solve this problem, but they’d tried. And Ochako knew they would continue trying to the best of their ability. They were heroes. They all were.
Instead of saying all of this, Ochako only had the time to smile and mouth “I trust you both” before the ringing cut.
Her daddy, after all, almost never let her phone calls get to the second ring.