She may not have been prepared for his sudden appearance, but she wasn’t going to let it distract her. She was Uravity, she was a professional, and she was in a meeting.
“The villain’s hideout is relatively unguarded, and the police are currently working through obtaining a warrant.” Edgeshot’s voice, as ever, was cool and professional as he relayed the information. Uravity nodded as she took notes, paying close attention to her mentor’s words. “The information we have dictates that there are entrances to the north and to the south.”
“That’s…” Uravity turned to see Deku looking at the folder he’d been provided. Gang Orca looked as though he had already reviewed his own information, but he seemed to be letting Deku ask the questions. His own form of a test? Deku mentioned that his internship was mainly focused on thinking things through, so she guessed letting Deku take the lead in asking questions was appropriate. “…on opposite ends of the compound.” His green eyes flickered upwards, trained solely on her mentor. “Are we going to be splitting off into two groups by agency?”
Uravity watched as Gang Orca shook his head. “We will be splitting up; not according to agency, but according to skill.”
Uravity blinked, turning her full attention to their guest. “Huh?”
“Allow me,” said Edgeshot, reclaiming the floor once more. Both interns turned their rapt attention to him while Gang Orca ceded the spotlight. “The two entrances to the compound are not equal. The entrance to the north is camouflaged, so we can presume it is a secret getaway option for the leaders of the operation. Capturing them is our highest priority, but we must also detain as many criminals as possible. Each team must have one Hero who specializes in brute strength and another Hero who specializes in stealth.”
“Our initial plan was to exchange interns and provide a well-rounded experience, but the parameters of the mission changed recently.” Gang Orca picked up where Edgeshot left off, and Uravity vaguely wondered if she and Deku looked like swivel heads going from one Hero to another. “Our initial information came from Rakka, who was captured by Uravity eleven days ago. However, a secondary interview with the gang captured by Edgeshot and Uravity prior to that revealed that the northern entrance is a series of secret tunnels. There are several branching exits.”
Uravity paled. “If any of the leaders escape into those tunnels, the chance of finding and apprehending them drop to near zero.”
“Precisely,” said Edgeshot. “Unless we are prepared.”
“I see.” Uravity was glad Deku did because she did not. She only had to wait a moment for him to explain. “If Gang Orca and Edgeshot go into the tunnels, they could locate any escaping Villains with Gang Orca’s echolocation and apprehend them quickly with Edgeshot’s precision and Foldabody. If the leaders attempt to scatter, mobility wouldn’t be a problem for either of the Pro-Heroes either.”
Uravity blinked, then turned to Gang Orca. “I didn’t know you could echolocate.”
To his credit, the older hero chuckled. “The ability is a lot more powerful beneath the water, but I do have it. This is not public knowledge, so I would appreciate it if you kept it a secret.”
Uravity nodded, understanding. While not an overwhelming power, the ability to find people who were hidden from plain sight was a good thing to keep under wraps: a surprise ability for any villains who thought they could get away. And teaming up with Edgeshot, who moved faster than Ochako could and knew how to connect with pressure points swiftly, was a good idea, too.
“So, if you two are taking care of the north entrance, then that leaves Deku and I with the police at the south?” she asked. The Pros nodded.
“You will be the overwhelming force that sends the compound into a frenzy,” confirmed Edgeshot. “Our goal is not to harm them, but to capture them; knowing that, you will have to be strategic with your strikes.”
“You’ve both been learning how to work with the police over the past few months, so this will be a great time to coordinate effectively with them,” continued Gang Orca. His red eyes focused on one intern then the other. Both sat straight under the scrutiny. “I know that you have been learning this since your first year, but you are Pro Heroes on the field, and you will be expected to lead as such. We are leaving the safety of these officers and the capture of multiple villains in your hands.”
The responsibility pressed down on her, but it was a familiar weight, and Uravity felt ready to carry it. She was born to carry it.
“Leave it to us!” she announced, a passion igniting in her soul. Deku echoed her, and she could see both mentors smile, pleased.
They would not let them down.
“Are you ready, Uraraka-san?”
Ochako turned to find Deku standing in front of her. The train was a little crowded this morning, and her friend had made sure that she’d gotten a seat. It was a kind gesture that had her reaching for her water bottle. It was a measure she couldn’t take on the field, but it helped her plenty in the moment.
Of course he’d notice that, she thought, almost ruefully. But…
“I’ll be okay, Deku-kun.” She smiled at him, grateful. “When I get into the costume, I turn into Uravity, and it’s like those thoughts don’t stand a chance against my ability to focus.”
The tension she’d noticed on his shoulders, yet attributed to the oncoming mission, lessened, and it was only then that she realized how much she had probably worried him. She opened her mouth, but he was slightly faster.
“I’m glad,” he said. Ochako blinked at the smile he was giving her. It wasn’t forced; it wasn’t carefree. It was that kind of smile he sometimes gave her when he was sharing a happy secret, like his mom’s recipe for katsudon or like the first time someone had called All Might his dad. Upturned lips and pink cheeks beneath ever present freckles: the picture of honest embarrassment that often made her smile. But was it the expression or the boy who wore it that made her feel so light and happy today? “You’re strong, Uraraka-san. You’re an amazing Hero.”
It was the boy who wore it. Definitely the boy who wore it.
“Ahahaha, thank you, Deku-kun,” she said, willing her own cheeks not to burst into flame. She ducked, clenching onto her water bottle. The less eye contact she had to make, the better. But she couldn’t leave a compliment like that alone. It wasn’t in her nature. She smiled. “That really means a lot coming from you.”
“A-ah, I—um…” Ochako looked up to find that Deku had turned away from her, a finger scratching at his cheek and his eyes averted. “That’s…”
Despite herself, Ochako giggled. Even after all this time, there were still moments where he couldn’t take a compliment. That didn’t mean he was any less deserving of one, though.
It only meant, to her, that she should try to compliment him more often. She smiled at the challenge, up to the task now that she had her own failsafe in play.
“Well, with two amazing Heroes on the case, those villains don’t stand a chance, right?” she asked. Her smile was genuine as she thought about those two heroes. Deku and Uravity. The ones who were going to get the job done. Instead of her feelings, she directed her thoughts toward the raid today. She thought of how she and Deku were going to capture as many villains as possible, how they’d return with a job well done, how they’d go back to class soon enough, and how they’d graduate soon after that.
Deku, it seemed, couldn’t get rid of his embarrassment as quickly. With red ears and averted eyes, he nodded firmly. “R-right!”
Two hours passed them by, a flurry of activity and preparation before they arrived at their destination. They stood before the police force, costumes in place, backs straight, and eyes forward. Gone were the two tittering adolescents, and in their place stood two leaders who were ready to get in and get the job done.
“Everyone, thank you for your hard work and for assembling so early.” Uravity’s voice was clear and strong as she addressed the men and women under their care. “Our goal is simple: take as many criminals into custody as we can. According to our information, we may be facing anywhere between twenty-five to two-hundred criminals, so be on your guard.”
“Uravity and I will handle any villain whose Quirk appears to be or is particularly destructive or malignant, but we are trusting you to watch our backs,” added Deku. “Be safe; be resilient.”
With those resounding words, the police nodded. Uravity let her gaze pierce as many officers as she could, and she saw men and women return her gaze with determination in their faces. Men and women of experience, looking to them for leadership and willing to see the job through to the best of their ability.
She would not let them down.
Uravity turned to the head of the force, the one who had the warrant. She nodded, and the chief stepped up to the entrance. It was without hesitance that the door was knocked upon and their presence announced. No sooner had the possession of a warrant been stated than the front door been blown open.
The scene erupted immediately into chaos, and Uravity flew into action. The door that had blown into their faces, nearly throwing several policemen and women off their feet, now hung in the air, courtesy of her Quirk, and it took Deku only a moment to return the favor with force. The few criminals who still stood after his Delta Smash were caught off-guard by the rapid return of their door. With the element of surprise returned to the side of the law, the raid was well and truly begun.
Uravity threw herself at the criminals, tagging multiple in rapid succession. They rose, one by one, into the air as she defended herself against undisciplined blows and frenzied Quirks. There was one jolt of electricity that she brushed off, anticipating it after having reviewed the information they had been able to gather and already having been exposed to electric jolts several times, courtesy of one Denki Kaminari. This untrained shock couldn’t compare. There were elastic fingers that wrapped around her wrist and continued to hold her fast even after she tagged their owner with her Quirk. A quick and disciplined twist, a reminder of what she had learned in her first year, dispelled the grip and cast her opponent into the air. Opponent after opponent met her head-on, and each one was thrown into the air.
Whenever she checked on the opponents who had been relieved of their gravity, she could always see a trail of blackness writhing along them. She saw it, and her opponents were only released after they were within its safe grasp.
“Release!” she called, quickly handing over the criminals she had tagged and turning her attention back to the scene in front of her. She’d tagged ten. Who knew how many Deku had managed to get on his own. Who knew how many the police had already managed to cuff. Still, it looked as though several remained. There could be more hiding in the shadows. She had to be prepared for them.
Uravity winced as her stomach twisted. The effects of her Quirk weren’t bad yet, and she knew she could take down so many more. She only had to hold out for a little while longer. Just a little while longer.
A sharp tug at her boot notified her to the fact that she was in danger. One moment too late.
Uravity was jerked off her feet and pulled down, down, down into the ground. The air was stolen from her lungs, and the constant sounds of struggle and fighting died instantly. She was immediately surrounded by pitch darkness, and she felt suspended with nothing to ground her.
Almost nothing to ground her.
It was her training that forced her not to panic, and it was years of honing her reflexes that allowed her to break the sudden grip on her costume. With a synchronized kick and twist, her captor’s wrist was turned so harshly that the choice swiftly became clear: hold her fast or release her now. The villain chose to let go.
She felt sudden pressure on all sides of her, squeezing her out of whatever environment she’d been dragged into. A moment later, sight and sound returned. As did her awareness of her location.
She had one moment to realize that she’d been completely displaced. Where she’d once stood on solid ground, she was now forty-or-so meters in the air. She wasted no time in removing her own gravity, and the inertia from being ejected from the side of a building kept her moving sideways instead of simply downwards. She halted far enough away so as not to be grabbed again, and she turned to her new opponent.
A flash of dark hair caught her eye, and below it rested two purple irises, glaring at her with the frustration that could only be gained by previously attaining a goal that was now out of reach. Their face was the only thing she could see. The rest of the body seemed to meld into… nothingness. Either the building or the shadow that enveloped it.
Building or shadow… building or shadow…?
“Damn Hero.” The criminal’s throat made an unpleasant sound as they spoke, and their eyes promised revenge. “Living easy. You don’t have to worry about money. About where to live. How dare you look down on us. How dare you!”
Uravity held herself in the air. This criminal had taken her by surprise once. It wouldn’t happen again. She observed steadily as they tried to move closer to her, as more of their body protruded from the building. From the building? No…
“Damn you. Damn you, damn you, damn you, DAMN YOU!”
Uravity noticed before they did. They were leaning too far out. And if their Quirk worked on themselves as it had on her, it wouldn’t be long before they would be expelled from—
The criminal didn’t seem to realize the predicament they were in, so great was their anger. But Uravity realized it. And Uravity acted.
She lifted her arm, and her grappling hook shot forward. The metal of her device plunged ahead, recoiled when she halted the extension of the attached rope, and wrapped around the culprit once. Twice. Thrice. Uravity jerked back on the device, securing her hold on the furious villain. In the sunlight, they gnashed their teeth and screamed profanities, but Uravity had a hunch and wouldn’t compromise on it.
Keep this one out of the shadows, she noted to herself. The ground and the building hadn’t been made of the same material, and the criminal was reacting wildly in the light. Not harmed, but wildly all the same. They must be able to travel through darkness.
With the villain secured, she turned her attention to the rapidly-approaching ground. Only her gravity had been removed, and with the thrashing of the villain, it was incredibly risky to steal his gravity long enough for a safer landing. She needed to do something quickly!
Uravity looked to the building they’d emerged from. She didn’t want to risk going back into the shadows, but she had no choice. It was either swing into shrouded safety or get very personal with the pavement very quickly. She aimed her other arm towards the building and fired.
The other grappling hook sailed through the air with ease, crashing into glass and hooking onto the structure rapidly. Uravity yelled as her shoulder caught the sudden strain of being knocked off-course, but she did not let the villain out of her sight. As she feared, the criminal’s delight was transparent as soon as they saw the oncoming shadow.
She felt the presence before she saw it, and she had to control the thrashing of the villain attached to her hook before she could turn to see him. There, four meters below and standing tall on the pavement, stood Deku. There were electric green currents around him, sweat had beaded upon his brow, and he panted heavily. His arm was thrown forward, Black Whip extended to hang onto both her and her quarry.
And, boy, was she glad to see him.
“Thanks for the catch, Deku!” yelled Uravity, using the newfound slack in her grappling hook to retract the rope. Another upgrade of Hatsumei’s, it would seem. She’d have to thank her later. “Think you can hold them still for me?”
“Yeah! Let me just…”
She’d seen him train with Black Whip. She knew the energy it took to make the simplest of motions without overdoing it. She knew, right then, that his training was paying off. As winded as he was, he was also manipulating the odd second manifestation of his Quirk with a confidence that made it seem as if he’d been doing it his entire life.
Pride was the first emotion to swell inside her heart, but she knew how slippery of a slope that could be. She knew how swiftly pride could burn into admiration, and admiration into affection. She discretely pushed a button on her helmet, and a waterspout appeared before her. She took a few sips, grateful for the relief while reminding herself not to be greedy with it. After this, they still had to check for other—
She clamped onto the rope in front of her, willing herself not to lose focus.
She had to cuff this villain.
“Damn y—fuck, get away from me!”
These cuffs just needed to…
“Criminals apprehended! Good work, Deku, Uravity!”
“You—what did you just—ARGH!”
Without their Quirk or a chance of escape, the villain could only flail angrily, their hands going every which way. She’d only just cuffed the criminal and hadn’t had the time to get out of range. It made sense that her helmet would have been knocked off by their angry motions.
Without her helmet, and the water therein, it made sense that she had a higher chance of spitting flowers.
What didn’t make sense…
…was that these flowers were blue.
One more violent thrashing, and Ochako, caught off-guard, was knocked out cold.
“They’re blue now?!”
Mina’s voice was the shrillest sound in the evening air. The hours had passed Ochako by in a haze; memories blurred together with equal and weighty importance, but only now did it feel as though she’d even begun to process it all. Now, surrounded by concerned friends as they all discussed the events of the day.
Or, rather, as Deku relayed to them the events of the day and she sat in shock.
“No.” His words were not firm or confident. He sounded as shaken as she felt, and she didn’t blame him. Too much had happened today. Too much. “The blue flowers didn’t replace the Verbascum. Her system is making and forcing out two different types of flowers now.”
The raid had been going so well. So well. And then… one moment of weakness after two weeks of hope…
And her world had begun to crash around her ears.
“I do not understand,” said Iida, his arms chopping. “According to the information we have all confirmed, Uraraka-kun’s condition has been consistent symptomatically. We anticipated a fluctuation in severity, but this is entirely unexpected!”
Unexpected… was definitely a word she would use. For everyone.
She’d only been knocked unconscious for a few minutes. Enough time for the police to effectively transport those they’d caught; enough time for Edgeshot and Gang Orca to find Ochako laid out on the ground, Deku hovering above her. While it was her best friend’s face that she’d seen first, it was the decision of her mentor that she’d thus far been struggling to come to terms with.
“…the police were able to apprehend many of the criminals. Several got out into the streets, but you will not be part of the team chasing them down.”
A relegation to deskwork, she’d thought. She’d wanted to fight the decision. Insist that she was all right. She’d thought that she was prepared to bear any consequences of her actions except for being relegated to deskwork. She’d thought.
“I will also be contacting UA and letting them know that I will not be accepting another intern until you are well.”
Confusion. Hesitation mixed with desperation. A dawning realization with equally budding denial.
And then, the blow that had effectively stopped her brain.
“I’m putting you on indefinite leave. Hanahaki isn’t incurable, and I know you’re strong enough to recover. When you do, I want you back on the field.”
He’d mentioned something about refusing to give up on her… but…
“I suppose it’s possible that the disease has mutated since Uraraka-san began using a countermeasure, but that would imply that the disease itself is alive, somehow…” Momo sounded so far away. Her mind had finally begun to digest the fact that she was out of an internship. On her third and final year of UA, she was out of an internship.
This was not good.
“Diseases can’t be alive,” said Toru, but her voice sounded so far away. The disease had to wait a moment. Ochako’s future… “Can they?”
The room was silent for a moment. Within that moment, Ochako’s thoughts churned and her body tensed. Without her internship, she couldn’t graduate on time. She couldn’t become a Pro-Hero with her friends. Unless she could get it back…
She was screwed. Utterly screwed. She knew it. Everyone else knew it…
“I don’t know. From what Edgeshot said, there might actually be a living component to this that we didn’t know about.”
Ochako’s heart clenched, and another fact hit her like a blast of frigid air. Another fact of what everyone knew. That’s right. How did she forget? She did her best not to let the terror show on her face, but fear was a foregone conclusion at this point. And how could it not be?
Deku knew she had Hanahaki. And, thanks to Edgeshot, he now knew exactly what sort of “intrusive thoughts” triggered her episodes.
They’d been walking to the train station. She’d been in a state of shock. In the span of five minutes, she’d been pulled off her internship and Deku had been given all the tools to put all the pieces of her illness together.
To do that and then to feel responsible for her life. A life that was already ripped from her hands. She was scrambling, scrambling…
The ideas warred in her mind, each one doing its best to impart its share of hopelessness and despair upon her heart. So great was the internal conflict that it was a surprise she’d heard his words.
Ochako startled, her internal war shocked into silence when faced with those two words. The consequences were still severe, and she still felt despair, but it was as though an extra cavern had opened up within her, allowing concern to pour in and lead her actions. Lead her to look at him in confusion. Then with shock.
Her best friend was a crier. Always had been, and she selfishly hoped that he would always wear his emotions on his sleeve. But to see the tears on his face and to intrinsically know that they were for her sake… It struck a sorrowful chord in her that sent tears to her eyes, too.
“You…” Deku, bless him, tried to stem the flow of tears. He wiped at his face, scrubbing the tears away with his palm. He took a deep breath, perhaps to steady himself, and the sound was so painfully unsteady that it broke Ochako’s heart. She wanted nothing more than to reach out to him and comfort him, to tell him everything would be all right. Even if she didn’t know it would be, she wanted to tell him it would…
When she rested one hand on his arm, the action somehow soothing something in her, his free hand immediately hurried to meet it. He had never been forceful with his friends, and he wasn’t now, but she could feel the restraint he showed when squeezing her hand. His vision seemed to clear, at least for the moment, and he turned to her. Ochako watched as fresh tears welled in his eyes and overflowed, and she couldn’t stop herself from reaching to wipe them away herself. Even if she had placed her pinkies on his skin, she didn’t think even she could remove the gravity from this situation.
“You don’t deserve this.” Those four words held so much conviction, yet they felt so broken. She could feel the pain he felt on her behalf, and she knew that he was doing his best not to fall completely to pieces. This, as caught-off-guard as he had been by the news of her true affliction and what particular thoughts continued to cause it, was the best he could do. She knew it.
And it hurt that she loved him all the more for it.
He protected her from onlookers and held her hair back when she had to vomit flowers into a nearby gutter. Yellow and blue danced in front of her, and whatever solstice she had found from Deku’s heartfelt sentiment turned cold in her gut. She’d spend the next several hours trying to process how much he knew…
…and how much he didn’t.
“What kind of living component?” asked Mina, pressing the boy for answers. Answers that she knew the rest of the group would get if she didn’t interfere…
But there wasn’t a reason to interfere anymore. He knew. He knew, and she was going to die. Despondency replaced desperation, and her head sank low in a vague assent. Her internship was gone. There was no recovering from this. There wasn’t a point to hiding it anymore.
“According to Edgeshot, the types of thoughts that the flowers are responding to are specifically about r-romantic love,” said Deku. The room was quiet for a moment, and Ochako let herself be swept away in the silence. For a moment, she could try to imagine that the world wasn’t about to end. In this freefall to doom, this one moment of—
“Wait, so you’re telling me that it knows the difference between romantic love and friendship love? That’s gotta be bullshit.” Mina had definitely been hanging out with Bakugou for the past few years. “There’s no way a disease can know the difference.”
“Recovery Girl said there was a chemical reason for it, kero,” interjected Tsu. “She explained is to us—”
“Wait— So you knew?!” Even Ochako winced at the accusation in Jirou’s tone. “Don’t you think that could have been important to know?”
“Don’t.” Jirou’s tone was low, and it was angry. Momo wisely stood back from her friend, hands up as the other’s purple eyes glared at her with accusation. “Unless you feel up to sharing even more. Like how to fix this. But I’m pretty sure Recovery Girl didn’t give you any options, or you would have taken them by now, right?”
Ochako turned to Momo, whose mouth opened and closed soundlessly. Tsu was also silent. Add that to her own silence, and—
“For the lo—ugh! You have got to be fucking kidding me! You guys had an answer all this time and you just— Let go!”
“Jirou-chan, you’ve got to calm down!” The indentations of Toru’s fingers on Jirou’s skin were light, but present. “Getting angry isn’t going to help.”
“Neither is keeping secrets!” Jirou spat the last two words at the three accused. Ochako didn’t see Momo and Tsu’s reactions, though she knew that her friend’s words hit her with more impact than a physical blow. “I just—!”
The sound was so soft, so quiet, that it was a wonder that it resounded through the entire room. Everyone turned to the source of it, only to find Iida standing still. His eyes gazed into his hand, which was curled in front of his face. His mouth was slightly ajar, and everyone could tell that his breathing was irregular. Ochako looked down.
He’d dropped his phone.
The new silence was so tense, so fragile, that it felt like everyone in the room was somehow putting an effort into preserving it. Even Jirou, who was struggling to keep herself put together, seemed to respect the sudden mood they all found themselves in. At the end of one long minute, it was Mina who ventured forward and gingerly retrieved Iida’s phone. And, as Mina was oft to do, she turned the screen towards her face, put in Iida’s passcode, and read the contents of his screen. As Mina was not oft to do, she read it aloud.
“In conclusion, there are two cures for Hanahaki.” She read slowly. Deliberately. “The first is to get the surgery. You won’t be able to feel anything for anyplace or anybody, but at least you’ll be alive. The second is to confess. If you do this, make sure to get your affairs in order first, just in case. Good luck, you poor bastard. I go in for surgery tomorrow.”
A weight pressed against Ochako, and she began to curl under the weight of it. It was familiar. Familiar and terrible, and just as oppressive as the first time she’d felt it. She blocked out the noise of her friends trying to make sense of that paragraph, of Mina demanding that Iida explain the entire article, of Tsu and Momo beginning to confirm that it was the truth, of Toru trying to keep Jirou calm, and of Deku…
Ochako could only feel an emptiness that she wished had been there for her sooner. Just a few hours sooner, and she wouldn’t be in the mess. But it hadn’t been. And now she was here. And now everything was going so wrong.
“So… that’s why…” His voice sounded so broken. “That’s why you didn’t want us to know…”
She could only nod. The choices she had… “Recovery Girl told us about it,” she murmured lowly. Amidst the noise, she wasn’t sure if even Deku could hear. Selfishly, she hoped he could. She wanted him to understand. To not… not judge her for her choices. “There’s a surgery, but I’d lose the ability to feel anything ever again. And if I confess…”
Here it was. The crux of the issue. The air left her, and a cold settled into her veins. Her voice, softer than ever, trembled. “If I confess now, he either says he loves me too and I wonder if he ever really means it, or he’s brave enough to tell me the truth and his only reward is to watch me die right in front of him.
“How selfish would that be?”
There. She’d said it. A part of her had expected a weight to be lifted off her chest. And it had, but not nearly enough. Why—
“Selfish!?” A shrill scream shattered the shaking sentiment Ochako had been enduring. She didn’t even have a chance to raise her head as footsteps marched towards her and as a pair of hands thrust themselves into her shoulders. Ochako’s head finally snapped up until she was face-to-face with Mina’s tearful golden eyes. “You wanna run that by me again?”
“Ashido-kun, please do not manhandle Uraraka-kun!” Iida’s voice sounded shaky. He sounded as though he, too, was on his last legs. Weren’t they all? “We can find a way through this!”
“I know!” yelled Mina, but her grip on Ochako only got tighter. Rage, desperation, and hurt swam freely in her friend’s eyes, and Ochako could not look away. Her own desolation was tugging on her, begging her to bow her head in defeat. But Mina’s gaze…
It was so fierce. Somehow holding out hope amidst the despair. How? Knowing everything that Ochako had known, how could she be hopeful? And angry and sad and vengeful all at once? It was overwhelming, and the tiniest sliver of Ochako that didn’t feel empty loss felt jealousy. The emptiness quickly overtook it, but it now had to fight to remain dominant. Fight against the force known as Mina.
“Ask any one of us—Any one of us—how we feel about this,” demanded Mina. Mascara ran down her face, and she arrested Ochako’s attention. “Actually, don’t. Guys, you tell her what you think!”
“Ashido-kun, is this—”
“Yes!” Mina’s hands left Ochako as she whirled onto Iida, anger sizzling off her as she fixed him with a pointed glare. Small beads of sweat flung off her with the motion, and the carpet sizzled lowly in protest. “If she wants to call herself selfish so damn bad, maybe she should listen to the rest of us first now that we know everything that she was keeping from us! And you can start!”
Iida spluttered. “Really, I don’t see the—”
“I don’t want Uraraka-san to die!”
Ochako’s head snapped towards the origin of the declaration. There, standing tall, Momo’s obsidian eyes met with hers. Determined. Determined and tearful. The same powerful stance as that day in the hall, the uninhibited emotions that she’d probably wanted to show that day finally breaking through.
“I don’t want Uraraka-san to die,” she repeated, whispered. “We’ve been working so hard to keep that from happening. Death, either of Uraraka-san’s body or of her emotions… I can’t imagine a fate I want less.”
Ochako’s heart splintered as she watched her friend finally succumb to her tears. After two months of strength, she was collapsing. A handkerchief was handed to her, and Ochako followed the offering hand to Tsu. She was comforting their vice president through tears of her own, and Ochako could feel her heart splinter further at the forlorn croak of her friend.
“I don’t want a world you’re not a part of, kero.” Tsu’s throaty voice carried clear evidence of her tears, and Ochako wondered how long she had been crying. Ochako felt another hit to her heart, to have neglected the emotions of her friend long enough to not have seen her begin to cry. “If you had to take the surgery, I would support you. I would remember enough for the both of us and continue to try and forge new bonds with you every day, kero. I can swear I’d never give up on you, just as I’m not giving up on you now. But please don’t ask me to live without my best friend, kero.”
Ochako was floored. The surgery?! She’d written that off almost immediately. What kind of—
“Same.” Ochako turned, mouth agape, to Jirou. Her voice was raspy, but she finally looked as though she’d stopped fighting against Tooru’s grasp. Jirou was staring—no, glaring in Ochako’s direction, conviction evident in every single one of her words. “I would rather live every day thinking and working for a chance to get you back than to lose you forever. Death isn’t a good option, and I can’t imagine that any of us would stop until we got you back.”
“But—!” Tooru’s voice joined the fray, a shrill contrast to Jirou’s rasp. “According to what Iida-kun explained, they remove parts of the brain. There isn’t any coming back from that. She could end up brain-dead! If Ochako-chan turned out that way… because of this…”
The room turned somber, and Ochako blinked. She’d shut the surgery down so quickly that she’d never considered it going awry. Not once. But… if she tried the surgery, and if it did go so horribly wrong…
“She’d have to live having lost her emotions, her job, and… well, it’s worse. I don’t want to go there, but it’s worse. No,” Tooru’s voice took on a steel Ochako rarely heard from her. “Ochako-chan is a fighter. This has been hurting her long enough. If it takes confessing to fight back, so be it. But I don’t want her to end up in pain or end up with her life thrown away because of this. Ochako-chan can do this, and that’s what I believe.”
Ochako couldn’t speak. Tooru wanted her to confess? After everything—
A coughing sound caught Ochako’s ear, and she turned to Iida. He nodded to himself before turning to her, and she could see the determination in his eyes.
“It appears I would be remiss in my duties as your friend to not tell you how I feel about this situation as well.” Iida’s gaze never left hers, and she found she couldn’t have looked away if she tried. “Uraraka-kun, you are one of my dearest friends. If I could take this disease away from you and bear the burden myself, I would. However, this is something I cannot do for you. I can only tell you that I want you to live. You are so noble and so admirable; the world would truly be a horrible place without you in it. What makes you who you are, however, is your capacity for emotion. Your empathy and drive and determination to smile. The level of care you show to all of us and to your parents. To have a world without the broad spectrum of your emotion is to not have you in the world at all, and to live in a world which would allow to pass from it without fighting is nothing short of a blasphemous thought.”
Ochako felt tears brim at the edges of her eyes, yet she could not break her gaze from Iida’s. He wanted her to confess, too. What…
“Uraraka-san…” Even though he only said her name, the sound of Deku’s voice released her tears. It was a natural reaction, to know that she was hurting so many people that she cared so deeply about, yet a part of her felt ashamed of it. Still, she could not stop herself from turning to him. Her heart, already shocked and obliterated by the true feelings of her friends, couldn’t handle his hand immediately reaching towards her face, gently brushing some of her tears away. The touch radiated warmth, and it was only then that she realized how cold she’d gotten so quickly.
And the contrasting warmth that came from his presence. His, Mina’s, Momo’s, Tsu’s, Jirou’s, Tooru’s, Iida’s. They were all there. How had she let herself go so cold when she was so surrounded?
“I want you to live.” His words were a whisper. A rasp. Tears streamed down his face just as they did down hers. When she lifted a hand to wipe his away, his second hand stopped her. Gently, he brought her hand down, until he held it between them, and squeezed her hand gently. She wasn’t sure who the reassurance was meant for: him or her or both of them. He took a deep breath. “I want you to go as far as you can go, and I want you to reach as high as you can. I want you to save so many, many, many more people, and I want to help you do all of that. But this… this is taking it away from you. Your dreams, your goals… It’s so unfair. I want you to have your future. You’re so amazing, and I… I don’t want you to leave. Not like that. I want you to stay… If you let it run its course, you’ll…”
The word die hung between them, a bitter concept that couldn’t be said aloud. Much less accepted.
“But… if he doesn’t love me… romantically…” Ochako wasn’t sure why she was playing with fire, emphasizing this… she wasn’t sure if she wanted to be found out or if she wanted to hide… but she had to make her point. A stubborn part of her had to say this aloud. “Then I have to die right in front of him… just for a chance to live… that is selfi—”
“Aren’t you listening?” Thankfully, Mina didn’t reach out and grab her, but she did grab her attention. Deku kept a hold on her hand, but she wasn’t stopped when she turned to face Mina again. The overwhelming flood of emotions was still present in her eyes, somehow more intense than earlier. And now, having felt her heart shaken from its emptiness and shattered with the affection of her friends, she felt the intensity of Mina with such a clarity that she couldn’t have possibly ignored.
This wasn’t just anger. Or hope or hurt or vengeance. This… this was love.
“I know that this—this—this stupid disease won’t accept the fact that you have amazing friends who love you so much! I know it won’t take your parents’ love! But that doesn’t make our love for you any less real or important! We care about you, and none of us can bear to watch this happen to you! To watch you waste away like this, to just… give up like this.” Ochako never knew how heartbreaking it was to watch the fire dim so quickly in a friend’s eyes. She never knew the fear that could prickle at her heart when a dear friend went quiet with their concerns, their hopes, and their own fears. She knew it when Mina sank to her knees before her, reaching onto the couch to grasp Ochako’s free hand. She grabbed it, and she held it tightly.
“Your options right now are confessing or taking the surgery. Either way… please… please try. Try something. Don’t… don’t make us watch you die like this…”
Ochako could only stare at Mina, open mouthed, as the normally exuberant girl stubbornly attempted to keep up her strength. She could only watch as the fight slowly eked out of her, causing Mina’s head to bow until two horns rested on either side of Ochako’s arm, trapping it between her grasp, her horns, and the couch.
Muffled footsteps made their way briskly to the pile, and it wasn’t long at all before Iida also sank to his knees. He reached out one hand, hesitant, before he laid it gently on Mina’s back. He was never one for unprompted physical touch, but even he appeared to know that Mina was unravelling. Before either girl could vocally appreciate the act of support, he turned his attention to Ochako.
“She’s right.” His voice was grave, and Ochako could see the pain around his eyes. His eyes were perhaps the driest in the room, but not from lack of care. Perhaps from an abundance of it. She knew him well enough to know the signs of Iida reaching his emotional threshold, and they were most certainly there. He was hurting just as much as every other soul in the room. “The time for accommodation and procrastination has come to an end. Therefore, we must beg of you to take action. If there is any chance that your life can be saved… that you can continue to live among us… such a chance, regardless of how small it may be, is worth taking at this point.”
Ochako gulped, both of her hands entrapped in warmth. She turned from Iida and Mina, both of whom were finally agreeing for her sake; to Jirou and Tooru, both of whom seemed exhausted; to Momo and Tsu, both of whom had supported her every step of the way, even while they themselves had become exhausted; to finally Deku, whose tears had not stopped yet and, regardless of how this was going to go, she realized, never would.
“I… have to make a choice soon, don’t I?” she asked. As she sat on the couch, she could feel the presence of every person in the room, a warm, enveloping feeling that almost seemed to cradle her in its care. Her question was for every person who'd shown her such affection, though her gaze remained fixed on Deku. She couldn't have drawn her gaze away from him if she'd tried. As her punishment, she saw every level of sadness and sorrow pass his face as he nodded.
The emptiness had let her go at last, and Ochako could do nothing but sob, her will finally broken.