Ochako halted on her way out of the classroom. Thankfully, she’d had enough time earlier to excuse herself to the bathroom so she could spit out the evidence and rinse her mouth. Even more thankfully, the flowers hadn’t returned.
But, for some reason, fate was tempting her today. And she was letting it. In the form of one beaming boy, who ran up to her while he adjusted his backpack. His smile was slightly withdrawn, and she could see the trace amounts of worry around his vivid-green eyes as he thanked her for waiting.
And she knew that she’d caused it. She tried to ignore the terrible feeling in her gut as they walked together to the dorms. Maybe a quick conversation now could help smooth over her awkward silence during study hall.
“Man, math sure is hard.” She stretched her arms above her head, doing her best to be nonchalant. Maybe if she brought it up, he wouldn’t find her silence weird? Hoping for the best, she turned her smile at him. “Thanks for helping me out with it earlier.”
At this, Ochako could feel her smile soften, genuine emotion shining through. All these years, and there were still times he couldn’t take a compliment. Even though she didn’t get much out of their study session, he still tried, and she knew that if she’d been paying attention, she would have understood the material much better. He was amazing like that.
As she and Deku walked side by side, she truly did feel grateful for his presence in her life, flowers non-withstanding. Ever since their first year, he’d always gone Plus Ultra to help anyone he could, and she’d always felt that unending kindness extended to her.
The sentiment gave her a fluttering sensation in her heart, a calmness in her spirit, and an icy dread in her stomach. She’d had two years’ worth of experience keeping the first two from her face, but Deku had just as much experience looking for traces of fear in the faces of others for it to pass unnoticed.
The instant he stopped walking was the instant she knew he’d seen it. She knew she’d have to say something. Anything, really, to reassure him.
Ochako could feel her heartbeat. She could hear it thrum in her ears. She knew what was coming.
Pushing down her anxiety, she focused her attention on him. A smile wouldn’t do much now, not like their first year during the Sports Festival. He hadn’t known about that part of her at the time. To be honest, she wasn’t sure when he’d picked up on it: the part of her that tried to encourage everyone when she was upset. More specifically, the part of her that wanted to encourage him even when she was sad. But he’d noticed. He’d picked up on it, and he had since grown into the habit of calling her out whenever he noticed it again.
So, she didn’t smile. Instead, she stood beside him, waiting for him to start. Deku was one who couldn’t keep what was on his heart quiet for too long, and it made actually waiting for his words a little unnerving.
The wait, however, ended not with words but with an expression. He looked at her, and he smiled one of his own smiles—a smile that was so warm and so comforting that a great part of her just wanted to hold him and curl into his embrace—for her. It told her so much before he even opened his mouth to speak.
“I…I know you’ve been distracted lately. I don’t know if I’m looking into it too much or if you’re really going through something difficult. And…I know that there are times, especially as interning heroes, that we can’t tell each other what’s wrong. B-but!”
Here, Deku’s words took a steadier quality. Here, his stance became stronger. Here, she could see through the windows of his soul to find a fire burning fiercely, illuminating the strength with which he believed his words.
Here, he became the Deku who inspired and saved. The Deku that always encouraged confidence and certainty, even in the darkest and unsteadiest of places.
The Deku she fell in love with.
“No matter what’s going on, no matter what’s happening, you can rely on us. Me, Iida-kun, Tsuyu-san, Todoroki-kun…” The piercing nature of his gaze arrested her, making sure she heard and understood every word he said. Understood the gravity with which he meant it. “Even if you can’t tell us what’s wrong, we’re all here for you whenever you need us. You know that, right?”
Anyone else might have assumed he was talking about her distracted nature during the math session. But Ochako knew better. She knew the glint in his eye, and it sent a jolt of realization through her.
Her smile was brave even when she didn’t feel brave. “Yeah,” she told him, plowing through her bubbling fears. “Thank you, Deku-kun.”
Her vocal affirmation seemed to steady him for a moment, and the intensity he’d been emitting seemed to recede. His smile was still warm and comforting, but it was without the sheer willpower behind it that he always seemed to gain whenever he set out to save someone. However, the mood lingered on in her, causing her to be hypervigilant. Because one thing was absolutely certain now:
Deku knew something.
She wasn’t sure what he knew or how he knew it, but he knew something. And while he wasn’t pushing her now, she knew that, if she didn’t keep this under control, he would soon enough.
That night, Ochako meditated a little harder than normal to try and keep the images of Deku, his incredible skills of deduction, and his kindly worried nature from entering her dreams.
She couldn’t afford to wake up to flowers again.
Ochako looked across the foliage at her partner. A nod was shared, and the plan was executed.
Their opponents were, somewhat unfairly, both well-equipped with their offensive Quirks. One had hands of fire and brimstone; the other had an entire realm of shadows to control. For this takedown, she and her partner needed to wait until the right moment… just a little more… a little more… a little—
A deep sound erupted from the other side of the glen, immediately attracting the attention of their opponents. With that moment’s diversion, Ochako made her move.
She ran quickly. Close to the ground, her gravity centered, she shot across the open clearing. She had to run faster. Faster. Faster—
“Found ya, Earphones!”
One of her targets, quite literally, blasted away from her. Ochako could only hope that their plan would hold together because it was far too late for her to turn back now. The force of his explosions caused her to stumble, but she righted herself quickly.
Not quickly enough.
Quicker than she could blink, Ochako found herself in the air. She was used to this, but she typically found herself in this position by the strength of her own power. This time, however, she had to contend with being held aloft by a sentient shadow.
“Uraraka-chan! Let’s play later, okay?”
Ochako had to bite down a smile. Dark Shadow always seemed to know the difference between training and real fights because he never would have been this friendly with a real villain. Still, this was her training too, and she had to take it seriously, even if Dark Shadow wasn’t. She reached out her hands.
“Maybe later!” she called out, intentionally resting all ten fingers upon Dark Shadow’s form for the first time in all her years of knowing him. She waited for her Quirk to hit her stomach, to feel that uncomfortable jolt of stealing something natural.
But it never came.
“Dark Shadow, drop her!”
Ochako’s eyes widened. She knew that she could survive a fall from this height—she’d done so enough times before to know that—but it would hurt like the dickens if she did! While Dark Shadow hesitated a moment, frowning in confusion at the order, Ochako swung closer and latched herself onto the creature of the night.
“Hey—! Oh, are we playing now?”
Ochako couldn’t answer as Dark Shadow began to flail in her grasp. He reached his arms around her, trying to pick her up like he normally did, but she refused to let go of his form. He continued to reach and pull and tug at her, but…
Ochako glanced down at Tokoyami while wrestling with Dark Shadow. Why wasn’t the dark hero recalling him? Surely, he knew that, with Ochako latched onto his back, the shadow wouldn’t want to do much more than play. As a weapon in this setting, with all the lights of the forested sparring area and against those he considered his friends, he only ever wanted to neutralize. He wasn’t a threat.
As long as she held on, Dark Shadow was practically out of commission. However, she couldn’t use her quirk on something that technically didn’t rely on gravity to move. Even worse, Dark Shadow, she now remembered, technically didn’t have mass. He was more of a dark energy than anything else. There simply was no gravity for her to steal from him!
Long story short: the both of them were neutralized for now. She and Tokoyami were at a stalemate. Something needed to shift…
What I need… Ochako’s eyes darted to the side. Even with all the flailing, one would be hard pressed to ignore the erratic heartbeats and literal explosions. …is more light!
“Sorry about this!” yelled Ochako as she twisted her body. Dark Shadow squawked as he was forcibly pulled to follow her lead. She could hear Tokoyami yell; he probably already knew what she was up to.
“No, no, no, no, no!” called out Dark Shadow, flinching against the added light of Bakugou’s explosions. Ochako grit her teeth against the heat. She could endure it! She had—
Dark Shadow’s form began to quake beneath her fingertips, and she found her grip slipping. She scrambled to regain purchase, but every time she managed to get a firm hold, he shrunk again. Dark Shadow’s form shuddered and writhed beneath her before—
Good news: Dark Shadow wasn’t as big a threat anymore due to her quick thinking. Bad news: That same quick thinking meant that Ochako was now falling from a height of at least 20 meters.
Ochako had but a mere moment to remove her own gravity. She slapped her hands to herself and used the support gear in her boots to navigate midair.
Thank the support department for upgrades! And thank goodness for the Sports Festival in her first year! As much as Hatsume’s antics had annoyed her back then, the girl honestly came up with amazing ideas, and her support items were second to none.
Okay, okay… I’m in the air, this should give me a chance to think. Midair isn’t his forte— oh sh— MOVE!
Ochako propelled herself to the side in order to avoid a flying Tokoyami! Her jaw dropped.
“Oh, come on! When’d you learn that?!”
“I learned a lot under Hawks during our first year. I’m surprised I’ve never done this in front of you before,” replied Tokoyami. Now that Ochako was looking, she could see that Dark Shadow had become his actual wings.
Ochako grit her teeth. Two years’ worth of training in an area she had thought he wouldn’t be prepared to deal with at all. This was going to be more difficult than she thought.
Well… she thought, gaining her bearings and righting herself. Just another goal. Get better at being adaptable so you can start your own agency.
“So, let me show you what I can do!”
Ochako grinned. She had a few tricks of her own up her sleeve. “Bring it!”
The two of them clashed in the air. Ochako had her support gear to help her move, and she made tight turns and impressive maneuvers that would have completely floored her first-year self. During that first Sports Festival, she’d only been able to use Hatsume’s jetpacks clumsily. Now, she had a fine-tuned control over these boots that let her move almost perfectly naturally.
Tokoyami’s singular weakness in midair was that Dark Shadow had a tendency to obscure his eyes. It was a flaw that Ochako exploited to the best of her ability, consistently darting above and around Tokoyami whenever possible in order to get the next hit in. However, having a living quirk came with its own advantages as Dark Shadow quickly got used to telling Tokoyami wherever she was.
“Earphone Jack out!”
Ochako’s eyes widened. Jirou—!
“Hey Bird-for-brains! You fuckin’ done yet!? You’re slowin’ me down!”
Ochako turned her attention from Bakugou’s exasperated question—a stupid, stupid, stupid mistake—and saw Tokoyami’s palm just as it crashed into her face.
“Sorry about this, Uraraka-san. However, I can’t afford to go easy on you.”
Two minutes and one embarrassing defeat later, she found those words to be of minimal comfort. Comfort, but minimal comfort nonetheless. She groaned and rubbed at her face as though the action would scrub away the humiliating loss.
Surprise. It didn’t. Ugh. She’d have to work harder to—
Ochako turned to see Deku waving as he ran up to her. She waited for him with a smile as he bounded up to her in his green hero suit—
He looks really good in that…
Ochako clenched her jaw shut just as Deku ran up to her. His green eyes were alight with excitement even as he rubbed the back of his neck when he slowed to a stop in front of her. “Ah—are you feeling all right? That looked like it hurt. Tokoyami-kun didn’t look like he was holding anything back.”
Ochako smiled brightly and nodded as she waved her hands. Being thrown into the ground by sheer strength wasn’t anything to get fussed over by now. It had happened to all of them at some point or another. In fact, it had probably happened multiple times in their training. At this point, it was par for the course.
Yet here he was. Fussing over it. Fussing over her. It warmed Ochako just as much as it sent an icy chill of dread through her.
“Did you hurt your throat?” asked Deku. He frowned as he tilted his head and leaned closer, probably to get a better look. She eyed the hand that reached towards her face, close but not touching her. Never touching her. She shifted her gaze to his.
Oh, she realized. He’s waiting for permission.
Her face flushed even though she desperately hoped it wouldn’t. To distract herself from it, she moved her head without Deku having to make contact. His fingers fluttered softly as he inspected her throat, but she knew he would find nothing there.
Tokoyami had hit her face, not her throat, after all. No, this injury was from the inside.
And it was getting worse.
“It’s not like we’ve never gone for the face before, but I don’t think you’ve ever had this problem before—then again, you really backed him into a corner with how fast you were moving. He didn’t have any other options to bring you down. Thinking of something safer might have let you escape again. You know, your maneuverability in the air has really improved these past few months,” muttered Deku as he inspected her. His fingers ghosted over her as he searched for the problem she knew he would never find. Ghosted, but never touched. She prayed the blush wouldn’t creep down her neck.
“Young Mineta, Young Shoji, Young Midoriya, and Young Yaoyoruzu! Please prepare for your mock battle!”
Never before did she think she would worship All Might’s voice to the extent Deku clearly seemed to.
Deku’s attention was called away by the frail man’s booming voice for a moment before he returned it to her. When he did, however, he pulled his fingers away as though they’d been scalded, and he clumsily stepped backwards. Ochako rushed forward to keep him upright, but he was steady on his feet before she had a chance to help. Averting his eyes, he began to ramble. “I really hope you weren’t hurt, Uraraka-san, b-but I don’t know much about throat injuries— all I know how to deal with are bruises and broken bones, yep, so— b-but please go talk to Recovery Girl if you aren’t feeling well because losing your voice would be pretty awful— oh I need to go, that’s right, but please at least keep what I said in mind?”
Ochako did her best to keep from inhaling sharply when his pleading green eyes rested on her face. With all the self-control she could muster, she gave him a shaky nod. The smile he gave her in return was just as timid.
“Ah, yeah, okay. So… see you later?”
She nodded again, this time stronger and with a smile. It was genuine even though she was using it to hide. She could see that he was reluctant to leave her, so she used her hands to shoo him away. It took a moment, and a pair of worried green eyes, but he did eventually go to the preparation room before their teacher could call for him again.
She waited until she saw the door behind him close—waited until she was one hundred percent certain that he could not observe her with those intelligent eyes. Only then did she go in search of a trash can to empty her mouth of flowers.
It was the second time in five days.
“I know, I know…”
The two girls were standing in the hallway, but the students who hurried to and fro paid them no mind. Maybe, Ochako mused, they just assumed that she was getting scolded for something by her class vice president. It wouldn’t be too far from the truth. But the truth had more of a disapproving look than an actual scolding. Ochako averted her eyes from it all the same.
Momo sighed from her place two feet in front of her, reviewing the journal in her hands. She flipped through the pages, lips pursed as she did fancy math things that Ochako couldn’t dream of with what she’d written. Fancy math or not, she already knew what Momo was almost certainly piecing together.
Momo snapped the journal shut, and her steel eyes bored into the top of her head. Ochako accepted the journal back without meeting such a glare.
“Uraraka-san, it’s getting worse.”
“At the rate it’s progressing—”
“I know!” seethed Ochako, snapping her eyes of burnt brown towards Momo’s eyes of unchangeable steel. “But my uncle was already at this point two weeks in. It’s been three. I’m doing better than he did.”
“But the flowers are appearing consistently every three days. We can’t possibly rely on—”
Ochako jutted her chin forward, daring the other to finish that sentence. Momo’s jaw clicked shut, but her eyes grew all the colder. Ochako took a deep breath.
“I’m working on it; I promise.” Momo didn’t look persuaded in the slightest. Ochako averted her eyes again, the weight of her friend’s presence becoming too much. “Give it time. This will work.”
“How much time?” demanded Momo. Ochako knew that her friend’s patience had been worn thin, treaded upon by time, worry, and Ochako’s current state. But knowing why Momo was upset didn’t help her to fix it. Not if she wanted to stick to the plan.
Still, Momo continued. “How long should I wait on the sidelines while you get worse? Another day? Another week? Another month?”
Ochako knew it was rhetorical. She knew it was. But an answer slipped past her lips anyways.
“Graduation. Give me ‘til graduation.”
Momo didn’t have the chance to agree, disagree, or argue with her about it. Ochako quickly turned and left her friend behind, pointedly ignoring Momo’s belated shouts.
Ochako laughed as she walked down the hallway. Momo had been hard to talk to lately, and Tsu was just as difficult. Ochako had no doubt that they’d spoken about the situation behind her back. But while Momo and Tsu knew too much, Mina and Toru knew too little. They tried to break the ban every chance they could, and it was trying Ochako’s nerves, her resolve, and her sanity.
This was why she found herself walking down the hallway with Jirou, who was just telling her about her band’s latest exploits.
“The next time I think of putting Ki-kun and Bakugou-kun in the same room as electrical equipment unsupervised for so much as five minutes, just end me,” groaned Jirou as they walked. “Because obviously I’m too far gone at that point to make any kind of rational decisions.”
Ochako felt her laughter wobble a little, but she did her best to push past it as Jirou referred to her…boyfriend.
She shook her head a little bit, smiling as she continued the conversation. “I’m sure it won’t ever get that bad, Jirou-chan,” cheered Ochako. “You’re one of the most level-headed people I know!”
Jirou sighed dramatically. “I wonder about that… I mean, leading a band while going to my internship and training and dating? I question my own sanity nowadays more often than not. Oh, hey Midoriya-kun! Hey, Eri-chan!”
Despite herself, despite the awful timing of his arrival so close to a conversation that even remotely mentioned dating, Ochako turned to look.
Obviously, Eri had grown. No longer was she the terrified six-year-old child that she and so many others had risked so much to save. No longer was she clinging to the barely familiar, so awed by and yet so scared of what the huge world had to offer her. She’d left behind her trembling steps for confident strides, her shaking arms for sturdy ones that showed the entire world just how much she could hug and just how much she could care. And even though both her body and spirit had gotten so much stronger and even though she was fully capable of walking on her own, the eight-year-old never had to. Not in present company, of course.
He stood tall, even with an excited Eri on his shoulders. He, like her and Jirou, was wearing his uniform. Crumpled and messy like normal. Even his tie was like normal. It was clumsily finished, but neither he nor Eri seemed to care about that. And honestly, Ochako thought, why should they? When they looked so happy, why should they care about the little details like that? For instance, one of Eri’s tiny hands was buried in his equally messy green hair; the other hand was wrapped clumsily around his face. It was so haphazard and yet so perfect. So messy and so sweet. And even with one cheek smushed by a tiny hand, his smile was bright. His eyes were bright. He looked so happy. So excited.
The first thing that hit Ochako was contentment. Then a swelling of joy in her heart that made her want to burst with happiness. Then warmth in her face.
Then… an ice-cold chill.
Ochako couldn’t breathe.
She didn’t hear Jirou or Eri or Deku call after her while she ran.
For a moment, the only sounds Ochako could hear were the sounds of running water, of her own blood pounding in her ears, and of her own violent upheavals. The echoing nature of the bathroom wouldn’t allow for anything else.
Until the door opened.
“Uraraka-chan? You left so quickly that Midoriya-kun and Eri-chan were—woah…”
If she’d had the energy, Ochako might have flushed in embarrassment. She might have even looked up. As it was, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. Not after a month of this. One long month of thought exercises and of deep breathing and of following her uncle’s directions to the letter. A month where she thought that maybe, maybe, maybe she’d been doing enough to live life on her own terms.
But it wasn’t enough. She’d only made it one month before the symptoms came back in force. He’d made it two and a half. Then half a month of the symptoms getting worse and worse before that night.
Before the end.
Her disappointment and failure felt like the now-familiar rip of soft petals demanding to be spat out of her mouth. And she did. This time, she was close enough to forcibly hack her floral tributes into the porcelain throne.
Not all of the flowers had made it into the toilet during her desperate escape, though, and the running water of the faucet could only hide so much sound. The evidence of her plight made a steady trail all the way to her hunched over position in the stall.
She desperately wanted to curl up and hide and never be found again. She hated this.
“Um, Midoriya-kun, you wanna…” Jirou’s voice trailed off, somehow softer than before and not as echo-y. Still, the question she’d begun to ask made Ochako tense.
Please don’t send him in here… please, please don’t… not now…
“…you wanna take Eri-chan on a tour outside?” Bless Jirou. Bless her.
“Is Uraraka-san okay?” Deku’s voice was softer than Jirou’s. But she could pick up on the concern that laced his voice, twining obviously through it like overgrown ivy that obscures a long-standing fence. That same concern shot spikes of guilt through her soul.
First the text, then the silence, now this. She couldn’t imagine how he was feeling right now. Concerned, yes. But maybe betrayed? Maybe hurt? He’d tried to help, and she’d pushed him away. Was still pushing him away, honestly. Some friend she was.
“Uravity-san?” And now Eri was concerned, too. If she knew Deku, then he was probably even more worried now. Worried about her and worried about worrying sweet Eri.
It made her feel even worse.
Why couldn’t she have kept it together? Why did this have to happen? Why, why?
“I don’t know, but it looks like we really don’t want to crowd her right now.” Even though she hadn’t given either of them the answer they probably wanted to hear, Jirou couldn’t help but sound comforting. “Don’t give me that look. I’ll take care of her. You take care of Eri-chan.”
Ochako could just imagine the look that Jirou was talking about. Creased eyebrows and an open-mouthed frown. Eyes that burned with a passion, and hands that twitched to act. It was the look he gave when he wanted to help and couldn’t. It broke her heart every time.
And now she’d caused it.
She spat more flowers into the toilet, pain wrenching through both her heart and her throat as she coughed heavily to make sure no petals stayed there. The fauna burned, and though she would have preferred not to make any sound, she wasn’t successful as she retched.
Ochako turned her gaze and found Jirou standing in the stall doorway. She was, blessedly, alone. The instant the thought crossed her mind, Jirou’s scowl deepened.
“Oh no you don’t,” scolded the purple haired girl, her voice severe as she walked into the stall and pulled some toilet paper from the dispenser. “You don’t get to look like someone just told you the world wasn’t going to end. Momo-chan and Tsu-chan have been walking around like they’ve got some sort of anvil over their heads for days now, and I know Midoriya-kun’s been worried as hell. He keeps looking at you like he’s trying to figure something out, and I guess this is what he’s been trying to get you to open up about— don’t try anything with me, girl; I heard him talk to you a few weeks ago. Honestly, I thought you all just got in a fight and needed some space away from each other before it all blew over or maybe your agencies were all co-oping on some serious mission or something— I didn’t realize you were hiding an entire condition from everybody— hold still!”
Ochako stubbornly tried to wrench her face away, but Jirou’s grip remained firm. Like an aggravated mother dealing with her petulant child, Jirou was wiping Ochako’s face. Scrubbing, more like.
“It hurts,” complained Ochako. Jirou shoved Ochako’s face softly, the scowl ever-present.
“Good. Maybe next time you’ll think before keeping something like this from your classmates,” said the musical heroine before taking the toilet paper away. She stood and turned, throwing the used toilet paper into one of the nearby small trash cans, before returning to her position next to her. Despite the harsh words, Jirou reached out a hand and began to rub circles into her back. It felt nice.
Ochako didn’t feel like she deserved nice right now.
She deserved to rot after making everyone worry.
Jirou. Momo and Tsu. Her parents. Recovery Girl. Eri.
“Think you can stand?”
Ochako paused, her train of thought broken. She concentrated on the question. Could she stand? A part of her, stubborn and willful and determined, said she could. She could and would power through this. She’d make it back to her dorm, meditate, do whatever her uncle’s journal said to, and get up tomorrow morning to keep pushing through. She could.
But Jirou’s gaze pinned her. Eyes of deep purple pushed at her conscience, demanding nothing less than the absolute truth. Like Momo’s stare of steel, Jirou’s gaze compelled her to examine herself again. To note the trembling in her legs and the pain in her throat. To realize that it was taking everything in her just to meet that stare head on.
Slowly, she shook her head.
“Thought not,” muttered Jirou, eyeing the mess around them. “Don’t know much about flowers, but no one ever really feels all that great after puking their guts out.”
Jirou wasn’t making a joke, and Ochako didn’t laugh. Honestly, she wouldn’t have had the strength to laugh even if she was making a joke. Instead, she tiredly placed her forehead against Jirou’s shoulder.
The month caught up with her, and she couldn’t help but curse it. Could this get any worse?
“Midoriya-kun and Eri-chan volunteered to get Recovery Girl for you,” said Jirou as she continued to rub circles into her back. She didn’t stop even as Ochako tensed beneath her touch.
A bucket of ice might as well have been dropped on her. She bolted upright, her gaze transfixed on Jirou. Her mouth opened, but no sound could come out.
“Honestly, I thought you were more responsible than this,” sighed Jirou. She kept going like she hadn’t just potentially sentenced Ochako to death, narrowing her eyes as she thought aloud. “How long has this even been going on for anyways? I know it’s been at least a week since you started avoiding Momo-chan like the plague. And you talked with Midoriya-kun—when was that—the ninth?”
Jirou’s gaze remained fixed on Ochako, but the girl could no longer compute. She blinked, willing everything to just not be happening. This was a nightmare.
And Jirou was still going. “Jeez, that means you’ve been on the field with this. Do you know how dangerous that is? Edgeshot called you in two days ago, and you went like this? What were you thinking?”
“She was thinking that she knew better than a medical professional.”
The sudden voice jolted Ochako into action. She turned to face the newcomer, but her gaze swept past Jirou’s shoulder, past the admittedly terrifying visage of Recovery Girl, slightly above the white hair of a nervously fidgeting Eri, and was immediately captured by the boy standing respectfully at the door of the ladies’ restroom.
She could only watch as his eyes followed the trail of flowers to where she sat on the bathroom floor, kneeling beside the toilet with Jirou. She could only sit there and watch as a multitude of emotions passed through his face. Shock. Confusion. Hurt. Her cheeks burned with shame. She couldn’t watch him anymore. She couldn’t watch him process the mess she’d never meant to burden him with, and she couldn’t bear to watch him put the pieces together. She couldn’t. Her gaze turned downwards.
What a friend she was.
“Better than… wait, you knew about this?” gasped Jirou. Ochako wasn’t looking, but she knew Jirou’s eyes had narrowed even further. Her earjacks were probably quivering in rage. “Why didn’t you stop her? Look at her! There are flowers everywhere! She couldn’t breathe when we got here! How’s she expected to fight like this?”
The steady clacking of Recovery Girl’s cane as she drew ever closer fell like a requiem bell on her heart. She knew what was coming even as the elderly woman slowed to a stop in front of her, her wizened gaze meeting youthful fire without being scorched.
“Jirou-chan.” The gravelly voice of the school’s nurse held a weight that commanded respect. Even the angriest in the room stilled upon hearing it. “How many injuries do you suppose Pro-Heroes sustain in the line of duty?”
“Tons,” said the girl, her answer sure. “Being a Pro-Hero is dangerous. We all know that. That’s why we have to be at our best when we go to save people!”
Ochako could feel Recovery Girl’s gaze shift to her even as her words were directed at her friend. “That’s very true. Being a Pro-Hero demands that you be at peak health every minute of every day, willing and ready to be on-call whenever necessary to save lives. However—” Here, the kind, matron voice of Recovery Girl took a warning edge “—it is a well-known fact that Pro-Heroes have little regard for their own safety when it comes to achieving their goals. Winning against villains, saving people, progressing in their career. Pro-Heroes have always tried to stay in perfect health and have always fallen short. The most successful Pros are those who have completely disregarded medical advice in the past.”
Here, Ochako flinched. She knew Recovery Girl’s opinion on the subject. The school’s skilled medical heroine had lectured her about it heavily before the young hero-to-be had insisted that she, too, could power through this illness the day after her diagnosis. Like other Pro-Heroes. She’d declared that nothing would stop her, and only a limitation of movement would keep her off the field. She’d heard Recovery Girl’s chastisement then before the professional had reluctantly relented, and she was going to hear it again now.
“No one should be above the word of a doctor or nurse. Not in regards to their health. But Pro-Hero work is a profession where ignoring your health in order to keep going beyond has become a risky norm. All Might returned to hero work before he was healthy. Eraser Head returned to the classroom wrapped, head to foot, in bandages. Thirteen. Endeavor. Hawks. Miruko. All foolish. All praised.”
Ochako lowered her head at the reminder. Pro-Heroes never rested. She couldn’t either. She couldn’t. She balled her fists. If she gripped hard enough, maybe she could still keep her dreams from slipping away.
They had to stay within her reach. They had to.
“But she’s still a student,” insisted Jirou, her voice pleading. “Don’t you have some sort of say? The internships are through UA— you should be able to do something!”
Ochako squeezed her eyes shut. This wasn’t what she wanted. This wasn’t what she wanted at all. Recovery Girl’s answer fell on deaf ears. She already knew that if the school nurse had as much sway as Jirou thought she did, she would have been out of commission at the mention of the first flower. There were a lot of students who kept working through bellyaches and headaches and sore limbs. They ran on recently broken legs and pushed their Quirks past exhaustion. Everything about this school was extreme, and their policy on when they allowed students to test themselves was no different. The policy was something to allow the students to discover and know their own limits and so on. She knew that, so it wasn’t Recovery Girl’s answer that bothered her.
It was Jirou’s pleading to take her out of her internship for her own safety.
It was Momo’s insistence that she was running out of time.
It was Tsu’s silent agreement.
She knew that she worried them, but… but…
But their slowly mounting disbelief in her was too much.
Fueled by the pain of it all, she bolted. She was pretty sure that she’d hit her shoulder on her way out of the bathroom. Whether it was against the stall or a person, she wasn’t sure. But she was out, fleeing the smothering care of people who believed— or would believe soon enough— that she wasn’t strong enough to keep going.
Her legs pumped beneath her, and the wind ripped itself through her raw esophagus and into her desperate lungs. The hallways were a catacomb that she knew like the back of her hand, and its shortcuts were her personal escape. She ducked into a classroom that she knew would be empty, skirted around the vacant desks, shoved the window aside, and flung herself into the open air.
At ten meters, she had but a moment to enjoy the crisp January air as it kissed her face. Just a moment to keep her eyes open and trained on the scene in front of her. The grounds of UA felt extensive even when she knew that the wall that divided them from the outside world was closer than it appeared. Just one, single, solitary moment to feel totally suspended in freefall, wondering if she could ever catch herself in life just as easily as she could catch herself now.
And then the moment passed. Her fingers splayed easily against her sternum, and gravity was whisked away. Her landing strategy had been perfected from years of use, and she hit the ground running once again, releasing as soon as her feet hit terra firma.
She darted into the greenery, comfort cradling her even as she felt pain stab her heart.
Her feet carried her down a familiar trail. Carried her to a place where she knew every pebble and twig. She knew every bend in the path, and she knew a special divergence that most people didn’t. She took it, her breaths falling faster as she neared her impromptu destination.
And then she stopped. Her breathing was ragged, and it was only now that she could feel how burnt she felt. Her raw throat. Her pulsing muscles. Her aching lungs. Her flushed face. She felt on fire.
But she still somehow felt so cold. Even here.
Here was a place only known to a select few. Off the beaten path, past the greenery, there was a patch of dirt. The ground was hard, and it wasn’t a very comfortable place to sit. If she closed her eyes and let herself imagine, though, she could imagine that the cool air was of the morning and that she wasn’t as alone as she felt.
She could imagine him sitting right there, the both of them exhausted and hoping that none of their teachers would find them during their morning routines. Midnight sometimes did yoga nearby, and All Might liked to take strolls that carried him passed here. They sometimes made a game of staying completely still and quiet. Stealth training, they’d jokingly call it before getting back up and running again. They almost never stayed here for long, but this place had become special to her. Important. Only two people knew that this barren patch of dirt was special. Her…
She cursed her lack of foresight. Or the fact that when she blindly sought comfort, it brought her to a place where only he could find her.
How was that fair?
“Thank goodness I found you.” She could hear him coming through the underbrush. Should she turn to him? She could run again, but where would she go? The dorms? “You ran off so quickly, I wasn’t sure where to find you at first. Jirou-san is looking for you in the dorms, and Recovery Girl agreed to look after Eri-chan for a little while. At least until Aizawa-sensei comes back.”
The dorms were out. Honestly, going anywhere was out. Deku caught up to her once, and she wasn’t entirely sure why she’d been able to make it as far as she had. Her Quirk didn’t enhance her natural abilities like his did. If she ran again, she’d only be caught that much faster. What could she do? What could she—
A twig snapped beside her, and she turned towards the sound.
She saw Deku. His creased eyebrows. His open-mouthed frown. His fierce and gentle eyes. His fingers were reached out to her.
He’d stepped on a twig in walking closer to her, and now that she was facing him, he was searching her. She knew she was searching him. For doubt. For hesitance. For… for anything that told her he believed the same as the others, honestly. For anything that told her he’d ask her to slow down. To stop.
“Uraraka-san.” His voice was steady. Firm. Whatever he was going to say, he was already filled with his conviction. She could hear it in his voice. See it in the passion behind his gaze. She knew that whatever came out of his mouth next, it would be something he would stand behind with every aspect of his being.
And she hated that it scared her.
But it did. And it prompted her to speak first.
“Deku-kun!” Her words were hurried. Unplanned. But they were genuine, and she hoped he could see that. As she kept her gaze as even with his own as she could, she hoped he could see how much she meant this. “I…I can’t stop working. I can’t. If I lose my internship… if I stop training, I don’t know what I’ll do. I don’t know if I’ll be able to do everything I want to.”
She looked away from his face and down towards her hands. They were trembling. Almost despite herself, she wondered just how much such weak hands could accomplish.
“I want to be a Pro-Hero,” she said quietly. How could these hands do that? “I want to save people and bring smiles to their faces. I want to help create and protect a world where people can live happily and safely. I want to give my parents the life they deserve, and I want to keep moving forward.”
Her hands shook before her, but she couldn’t see them anymore. Her vision swam with tears, and her voice cracked as some of the bitterness at this situation made itself known as plain as day.
“I don’t want this to stop me…” she ground out, anger and frustration coloring her tone just as much as bitterness and shame. “…or force me to do something I’m not ready for! I just… I just want to do what I promised I would, and everything else can come after— I’ll do it, I will! I just… I can’t… Please don’t ask me to stop.”
She felt cold. She felt alone. She felt bitter and frustrated and angry. She felt shame, and she felt righteous stubbornness. She felt so many things.
And then she felt warmth. The tension coursing through her hands melted, just a touch, of its own accord. Energy drained, they could only rest tiredly in the grip that now held them.
“Uraraka-san.” How, after everything, could he sound so gentle with her? How could he sound so patient? The curiosity caused her to lift her chin, desperate to know what he was thinking.
Through her tears, she saw no accusation in his eyes, though she deserved it. She saw hurt, which justly hurt her. She also saw sadness, which also justly hurt her.
But those emotions flickered in the presence of his boundless determination. Of the hard set of his lips and the openness of his gaze. The gentleness of his hands atop her own and the brief hesitance he had when stepping closer to her.
“I know how important being a Pro-Hero is to you,” he said, his voice low and soft and somehow so comforting. It wasn’t fair. “You’ve been working so hard to give your parents the life they deserve, and you’re too close to the finish line to take a step back. But…”
Ochako braced herself. She knew it was coming. He was going to ask her to stop. She knew it. He—
“Recovery Girl stopped me before I could run after you. She didn’t tell me a whole lot, but she did tell me that if you don’t get help soon, these flowers are going to…”
The steadying breath Deku took shook Ochako to her core. She was causing him pain. Him and Momo and Tsu and Jirou and her parents and Recovery Girl. She knew it, but…
But what could she do about it? Her options were limited, even more so than before. Her uncle’s journals hadn’t given her enough time. They’d bought her false security and a month. It wasn’t nearly enough time. Her options were back down to three, and only the impossible looked even vaguely appealing after a month of telling herself that she would confess when the time was right.
But the time wasn’t right, and she knew it. She could feel it. She wasn’t there yet. She wasn’t ready for this.
What could she do? Tears of frustration bit at her eyes anew, and she scowled. Her hands shook in her anger. What could she do?
Ochako turned back to Deku, and his expression startled her. Where there had been hurt, there was now resolve. Sadness seemed to become strength. His determination, ever present, seemed stronger. “I don’t know what’s triggering these flowers, and if you could stop throwing them up, I know you would have done it by now. You’ve got too much you want to do to risk it all like this. So…”
Deku’s grip around her hands tightened before relaxing. A gentle squeeze to ground her. Or himself. He didn’t look like he needed grounding, but she could tell. He was steeling himself.
She found herself turning her hands in his palms, hesitating only briefly before resting four of her fingers against his skin, her pinkies facing the cold air. The contact comforted her, and she hoped it comforted him, too.
Not that she felt she could comfort him or had a right to now, but she would try anyways. Selfish as it may be to try and make him feel better when her actions were the ones causing him pain, she would try. For his sake and for her own.
She kept her gaze even with his, and she could see the instant he understood her intent. He breathed deeply and told her, “So I want to help you. I want to help you fight this off so you can be the best Pro-Hero you can be. For the people you’re going to save someday, for your parents, and for yourself. I… want to help.”
Ochako’s heart fluttered, and she wondered how she could have met such an amazing person. How he could still want to help someone as selfish as her. The thought only briefly crossed her mind when a feeling of ice passed through her, and she snatched away one of her hands to hide her mouth from view as the flowers invaded. She turned away to cough, and the vile yellow things hit the ground with force.
Suddenly, Deku’s offer was a lot less sweet and a lot more impossible. Ochako coughed, the flowers making their way slowly against her esophagus as she tried her hardest to expel them. It was only after a few moments of this that she realized Deku’s other hand had never left hers. In fact, his grip had only tightened.
Selfishly, she gave his hand a gentle squeeze. Reassurance, she told herself, that he meant it. His offer. At this point, she’d do anything to stay on her chosen path to become a Pro-Hero. To achieve her dreams and, eventually, make the flowers go away for good.
“What…” she asked. She couldn’t meet his eyes, the yellow flowers demanding her gaze. “…did you have in mind?”
She felt Deku’s movement through their conjoined hands. He moved around her, walking until he stood beside her. She had a feeling he, too, was looking at the yellow flowers on the ground, staring them down and analyzing them like he would an opponent. They stood there, side by side, for a moment. Ochako let him think, her own mind too weary from the circles it had been running to do anything other than glare at the proof of her own body conspiring against her.
“I think…” he said slowly. Ochako turned her head, partly to defy the power that these tiny flowers had over her and partly to try and get a gauge on his expression. His eyebrows were downturned, and his frown looked guilty.
What…was with that kind of face? Why guilt?
“We should try to kill the flowers before they kill you.”