Awareness did not come gradually or easily to Ochako. Instead, it came as a force, overwhelming her with memories, observations, thoughts, and emotions.
She’d fought hard. So damn hard. She’d worked hard and schemed and found loopholes and been so, so, so careful. Until it didn’t matter how hard she’d squirmed, until she’d been left with her only options. And then—only then—she’d let everyone in. Truly in. With a mess of tears and shouting and vulnerability, they’d barged in, bringing their own insecurities and fears and terror with them.
And yet… and yet…
She’d felt so safe and so warm and so encouraged afterwards. They’d held onto her, keeping her close and holding her in any way they could. Their warmth had bled from their souls, flowing into her through as they rested against her, supporting her physically and emotionally. One wreck of students in a large, sleeping pile, and she’d felt so wrung out and supported and loved. She couldn’t imagine making any other choice than the one she made after feeling so cared for. Her goodbyes, her time with Deku…
Wait… had she said…? What had she said? Had she told him? Told him how much he meant to her? Did she say everything? Did he understand? She wracked her brains to remember.
But… but… the only thing she could remember…
Oh no… he’d looked so horrified. No… no!
“Dammit…” Her voice cracked on a sob, even though she didn’t have a real body to sob with anymore. “I didn’t… I didn’t tell him… He doesn’t… he’ll never get… he…”
Ochako was dead. And she’d never told Izuku how much she loved him. She’d never done enough to show him she cared. She’d been so stuck in her own head that she’d let the time go by, and now she was dead.
And Izuku had had to watch her die. Just like she’d been afraid of. The look she remembered in his eye when she’d been able to see him…
“D-dammit,” hiccupped Ochako, doing nothing to stem her tears. The pain was too real, too fresh, to even try. There wasn’t a reason to hold back anymore. No future to protect. No hope to hold onto. No embarrassment to defend against. Nothing in this world except her and her alone. Wild, frenzied emotion erupted in her chest, and she released a primal roar.
The area around her did not echo, and Ochako felt the swell of anger in her chest collapse just as swiftly as it had appeared. She could get angry, she could sob, and she could cry, but the one thing she could not do was blame anything except herself.
She’d wasted her time. She’d spent so long trying to go back to how things were that she’d ignored what her life had become. And now it was gone.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Ochako to a person who could not hear her now. Tears streamed down her face, and remorse weighed heavily in her heart. “I said everything to everyone else, but I should have told you. I should have told you so much. I’m so sorry.”
Ochako didn’t bother to wipe her tears, nor did she attempt to get up. Instead, she let herself feel. She let herself acknowledge that she was hurt, and she allowed herself to feel that pain. She’d spent so long trying to be okay that now… well, now that she was dead, she supposed she could allow herself to realize that she wasn’t okay.
Somehow, the tears felt lighter after that.
It was a while before an awkward coughing sound startled her out of her cathartic cry. Ochako turned to find a man wearing an old white shirt with rolled up sleeves and jeans that were clearly worn and well-loved and the kind of hard-toed working shoes that her daddy and granddaddy had always worn. Green paint was splattered on his arms, and he was holding out a white handkerchief. Awkwardly concerned hazel eyes met brown, and Ochako realized with a start that she wasn’t alone.
Ochako jumped, her fist immediately raised to block before her mind caught up with her actions. When it did, she didn’t bother to keep her thoughts inside.
“When did you show up?” she asked. “Who are you? What are you—well, I don’t know what I’m doing here. Is there anything I’m supposed to be doing after… um…”
Ochako faltered on her sentence. She’d come to terms with the fact in her mind, but saying she was dead out loud? Or whatever equivalent of out loud she had now? It seemed much harder. Thankfully, the man in front of her seemed to take her questions in stride. His smile was easygoing even though it still had concern around the edges.
It looked familiar.
“Been here a while,” said the man, gesturing with his handkerchief. “’Least, long enough to think that you might want this. If ya don’t, I can just put it away.”
Ochako didn’t lower her guard; she only looked curiously as the man seemed to accept her nonmovement as an answer and put the handkerchief away. Once he did, he made himself comfortable on the… floor?
Ochako gaped at the area around her, taking it in fully for the first time. The darkness wasn’t entirely dark. If she looked at any one particular area, she could swear she was looking at the darkest shade of green or blue or purple or red or… the colors went on and on as her eyes shifted from one part to the next, but if anyone tried to take it all in, then would probably say it was only ever blackness that was broken up by hundreds— no thousands— no millions! Of soft, small lights.
The orbs coalesced beneath her and the person in front of her, shifting in a way that didn’t seem to indicate a start or stop to their movement. There were some orbs that bounced a little too far away from the mass and seemed to just… float. Some of them hovered, but some of them went up and up and up and up and… One of the orbs, a soft, yellow color that emanated a sense of calm serenity, brushed past her on its way into the never-ending void of ever shifting dark colors.
“What…?” breathed Ochako. The beauty here felt… understated, yet profound. It was simple, but it took her breath away.
If she had any, she guessed.
“Now, you’re new, ain’t you?” asked the man, distracting Ochako from the scenery.
Ochako turned away from the lights floating into the sky, puzzlement clear on her face. “New?”
The look in his eye was familiar. No, not familiar. Almost familiar. Like she saw something like this before, but it wasn’t quite right here. These were experienced eyes that were patient and kind, but she was used to such eyes being crowded around by crow’s feet and a smile that was at once patient and mischievous. But she hadn’t seen such eyes or the smile that accompanied them in years. Not since…
But… this wasn’t him. No way. This man looked similar, but he was acting wrong. Like he didn’t know who she was. This was the kind of smile he’d give a stranger, not his granddaughter.
“New to the afterlife,” said the man, unaware of the connections being made in Ochako’s mind. “Most people usually have a family member or someone who was close to ‘em in life greet ‘em, but sometimes not. This place works in funny ways like that. I’ve talked to newbies before, though, so I’m not a total washup for helpin’ ya get your death legs.”
The joke was bad, and he looked so pleased with himself. It was familiar. Familiar and not, because she’d seen this technique of cheer before, but it wasn’t familiar because this wasn’t the person who had comforted her before. This was someone new.
This was a twin of the person she’d known. Her eyes widened.
“You!” she gasped, the pieces coming together.
“Yep,” said the man, oblivious. “Now, first—”
“No, wait, you’re granddaddy’s brother!” said Ochako. She scanned the man again. He had her granddaddy’s hazel eyes, the ones she could remember mischievously handing her a cookie behind her daddy’s back (and her daddy pretending not to notice). He had her granddaddy’s impish smile. He was a younger version of her granddaddy.
Forever frozen at twenty-one.
Those hazel eyes, too young to be completely familiar and yet somehow familiar enough, blinked at her. She wondered for a moment if he would believe that they were related, but her wondering stopped when he grinned, laughing in a tone that sounded so familiar. She’d heard that laugh from her daddy many times before.
It had to run in the family. Had to.
“Ahahaha! Well, I guess it ain’t so random after all!” laughed her grand uncle. He wiped a nonexistent tear away from his eye and smiled at her, bowing slightly. “Nice to meetcha. I’m Kofuku Uraraka, but you can call me Ko-oji. Never got to hear it from that squirt, Chaba-kun, and I’d sure like to hear it at least once.”
“Wait, you mean like happiness?” asked Ochako.
“Yup,” said Ko with a grin. “Jichan got ‘life,’ and I got ‘happiness.’ Had to assure ma and pa when they got up here that I really lived up to my name, just like Jichan lived up to his. How about you? Or should I just call you mei-mei?”
Ochako shuddered as vivid memories of being dragged all over UA by one hyperactive inventor flashed across her mind.
“No, no,” she said quickly, holding her hands in front of her before bowing in greeting. “I’m Ochako Uraraka. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Ochako…mei? Child of the tea ceremony?” Ko tilted his head, folding his arms as he puzzled loudly. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a fine name! But… a little on-the-nose, isn’t it? I mean, tea leaf and child of the tea ceremony? I’m glad Chaba-kun got a sense of humor, but what did your ma have to say about that?”
Thoughts of her parents flew through her mind. Her daddy’s laughter, her momma’s care. Their bright smiles and their boundless love. Ochako’s heart ached for them.
What she wouldn’t give to do everything over again. The right way.
“Hey.” Ko’s voice was gentle, and Ochako blinked back into the present. She took a deep breath. The first in a long, long while. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I am. It just… it just feels good to breathe,” said Ochako. She brought a hand up to her throat, feeling—or at least pretending to feel—the skin on her throat. There wasn’t any pain. No rawness, no soreness. Just… “I haven’t been able to for a while. It…”
“It’s weird to think you ever took it for granted, huh?”
Ochako turned to Ko, a sympathetic smile on his face. Ochako blinked. Oh. That’s right. He had it, too.
“Y-yeah,” she said, knowing—just knowing—that he would understand. He nodded, and she took another breath. Was it wrong to enjoy the fact that she could breathe? She frowned. “Ko-oji, I… I was so close. To confessing, I mean.”
She saw an understanding in her uncle’s eyes. Flashes of emotions passed through his face so rapidly that Ochako almost couldn’t name them. He finally seemed to settle on a resigned weariness that looked like it could have been optimism once. His grin was tired, but somehow genuine. Ochako couldn’t blame him.
“Runnin’ out of time… it’s not fun,” said Ko. “I remember that bit. It was the worst. But it wasn’t the whole experience. The fun bit had to be all the months leading up to it. Talkin’. Runnin’ around. Playin’ jokes and givin’ life your everythin’. If life’s short, make what you can outta what you got, you know?”
Ochako knew he was trying to be sympathetic. To be encouraging. Unfortunately, she could only feel shame as she turned away.
“I…” she said slowly, tears pricking at her eyes yet again. She let them fall. “I didn’t.”
“Didn’t make what I could out of it,” said Ochako. The darkness and the soft orbs blurred together in her sight. She let them. “I spent so long trying to avoid the fact that I had hanahaki that I didn’t face it. I didn’t make a choice either way, and I wasted so much time. My friends wanted to help. My doctor wanted to help. My parents wanted to help. My boss wanted to help. Deku-kun wanted to help. I didn’t let them in at first, and they had to fight me to help me.” Ochako chuckled wetly, then she buried her face in her palms, her pinkies lifted from her skin even now. Even in death, some things never changed. “By the time I was ready to take charge of the hanahaki and make my own decisions, I was too late. I waited too long. I was going to confess. I almost said it! But then…”
Ochako could remember Deku’s look of horror. She couldn’t remember much towards the end, but she remembered seeing him afraid. She remembered putting that look on his face.
She hated it.
“I wish I’d told him how much he meant to me,” she wailed. “I wish I thanked him more than one time, and I wish I’d done more than hide my feelings away from him. I wanted to keep living and I wanted to laugh and I wanted to train and I wanted to learn and I wanted to be a Pro-Hero with him! I wish I hadn’t wasted all my time being afraid, and I wish I could just talk to him!”
Ochako had managed to put her feelings and affairs in order for everyone except Deku. Would he blame himself? After she’d asked him not to? Would he ever know how much she’d thought of him?
Would he ever know how much she loved him?
Even death, it seemed, wouldn’t stop her from loving him.
“Oh.” Ko’s voice was sharp enough to pierce Ochako’s cries, and she forced herself to try and breathe in order to look at him. His eyes were on her, wide and surprised, and his lips were quirked up into a smile of all things. Why—? “Well, looks like I get to answer your last question, Ochako-mei.”
“My last…?” asked Ochako, completely thrown by the change in topic. She looked at herself to see what the fuss was— “My body’s disappearing! Why is my body disappearing?”
“Calm down, calm down,” said Ko, soothing in a way that was awkward and clearly not practiced. He looked like he was doing his best, but Ochako was doing her best not to freak out. “This isn’t the total afterlife. Not exactly. It’s more like a waiting room. Most people go from here to the actual afterlife after things get explained all formal-like. But sometimes… sometimes people are lucky enough to get to go back.”
Ochako paused, her tearstained eyes widening. Was that… was her heartrate quickening? Did she have a heartrate? “Ko-oji, wait, does that mean that I…?”
He answered her with a grin. “Get ready for round two,” he crowed, and Ochako could feel her heart sing. “And this time, try not to get stuck in your head so bad that you forget how to love the people around you, all right?”
Ochako chuckled. “I earned that one,” she admitted. “I won’t forget this time. Promise!”
“Atta girl,” said Ko. “Now, go tell that fella what you really think of him, and don’t you come back until you’re empty in the regrets department, ya’hear?”
Ochako grinned, matching her uncle’s expression. “Okay!”
Her heart then began thundering in earnest, and her vision grew dim. She shared one last grin with her uncle—tinged with excitement and fear and determination—before everything went well and truly black.
Awareness came slowly. Gradually. With several lapses and setbacks.
At first, Ochako was only aware of sounds. They were muffled and unclear. There was a voice. There was beeping. There was silence.
When the sound came back on, it was quieter. Not muffled. It was almost clearer. The beeping was there. There was a whooshing sound. Silence.
The beeping returned, and there were more voices this time. They weren’t really clear, but this time, Ochako could pick out more sensations. Something slender and flexible looped around her face. It felt like it was under her nose. Something cold and dry whooshed gently across her nostrils while something warm spread against parts of her skin. Something was wrong with her throat. She couldn’t open her eyes. The sensations faded out.
When Ochako was aware again, the beeping was still there, but the sensations had changed. There wasn’t anything on her face, and the throbbing in her throat was almost gone. She tried to open her eyes again.
Harsh sunlight forced her to close her eyes again, and Ochako could hear, with sudden clarity, a commotion around her.
“Did she just open her eyes?”
“Ochako, sweetie, can you hear us?”
Her parents murmured above her, and Ochako knew that she had to open her eyes. Her parents must have been so worried. More prepared for the sunlight, Ochako opened her eyes again.
Her daddy and momma were leaned over her, their faces worried and relieved and she saw a smile on her daddy’s face that she could have sworn she’d seen only recently. Perhaps in a dream…
“Daddy… Momma…” said Ochako, the words making it out of her without difficulty. She smiled. “I love you.”
The next moment, she was engulfed in arms and smushed with faces and covered in tears. She reached her own arms to hug them back, happy and grateful and scared and relieved all at once. She’d almost died. She knew that. She knew it in her core.
It was a miracle to be able to hug her parents like this again.
But she couldn’t stay. She had other things to say. Other things to do.
Quickly, she pulled back from her parents, holding them at arm’s length as she prepared mentally to move forward.
“I need to see Deku-kun,” she said. “It’s important.”
Her parents shared a look, and Ochako wasn’t sure, exactly, what it meant. It was that kind of look that she was sure meant something good, but she was never sure what it was. She didn’t have long to dwell on it, though.
“What you need, Uraraka-chan, is rest.”
Ochako watched as Recovery Girl walked into view, her cane tapping against the floor. The Pro-Hero looked tired, more so than usual, as she came around to the other side of Ochako’s bed, waving down her parents when they attempted to make room for her on their side. The nurse put aside her cane when she hopped up on the seat and began to gently examine Ochako’s throat.
“It’s very lucky that your friends were able to get you medical help when they did,” said the Pro, “but that doesn’t negate the fact that your body and mind were under consistent and significant stress for two months.”
“But, the hanahaki!” said Ochako. “I have to—”
Recovery Girl placed a hand on Ochako’s shoulder, stilling her. The look on her face was… soft. Kind. Empathetic and understanding and, if Ochako’s eyes were to be believed, a bit relieved.
“Uraraka-chan, you don’t have to worry about that anymore,” said Recovery Girl. Ochako’s eyes widened, fear already gripping her heart, when the nurse continued. “During your surgery, I noticed that the flowers weren’t regrowing as I was pulling them out. When I finished, I was very worried about drawing on your body’s natural ability to heal as I was afraid that accelerating your body’s natural healing process would cause the flowers to regrow. Your friends and Edgeshot both indicated, in different ways, that your case had accelerated to the point where romantic thoughts weren’t necessary as a trigger anymore, so I hope you can understand my caution. You were kept under watch for several hours before I deemed it safe, and I used my abilities on you.
“I began slowly, first healing the worst of your scars. Thankfully, the flowers did not return, and they remained absent as I continued to heal you.”
“Wait…” she said slowly. “So you’re telling me… the hanahaki’s gone? Just like that?”
“Well, I would say it seems as though the condition’s been fulfilled,” said Recovery Girl with a knowing smile.
“The condition?” asked Ochako, wracking her mind. “But I didn’t tell him— wait, I still need to tell him! I need to go see Deku-kun right now!”
Ochako tried to sit up straight, but the blood went to her head in a rush, and she felt woozy.
“Calm down,” said Recovery Girl, her hand now pushing Ochako onto the bed. Ochako went easily. “Geez. You two are so similar.”
“Similar…?” asked Ochako, turning to the Hero. “What do you mean?”
Recovery Girl shook her head, a smile on her face. Ochako wondered if she had that fondness for all of the students or just the ones that gave her the most trouble. “I had Midoriya-kun escorted back to the dorms a few hours ago to get a proper night’s rest. That boy honestly slept on a chair for the past three nights. He’ll most likely come back before classes tomorrow morning, and you can speak with him then. It might do the both of you some good to clear the air.”
“No buts!” said Recovery Girl. Though Ochako wanted to fight back, Recovery Girl was levelling a glare at her that she supposed had been a long time coming. “Uraraka-chan, you must take care of your body. Rest. You’ll be able to speak with Midoriya-kun tomorrow morning when he shows up.”
Knowing that she was well and truly stuck, Ochako conceded. She let herself sit in bed and listen carefully as Recovery Girl and her parents moved the conversation to other things. Things like her internship (Edgeshot had given her one week of leave instead of indefinite leave, and she would be assigned to paperwork for one week when she got back as punishment) and her classes (she could go back in three days).
After a few hours, though, Ochako stopped listening, her entire face burning crimson.
She finally remembered what happened before she passed out.
“Are you sure you’ll be all right?” asked Daddy. “We don’t mind staying with you, you know.”
“I’ll be okay,” said Ochako, smiling the biggest smile she could at him. “I took a nap earlier, and I feel a whole lot better knowing that the hanahaki’s gone. Besides, Recovery Girl said you two have been here for three days sharing that tiny little bed. You two should get a full night’s rest, too.”
She watched as her daddy scanned her face. She tried to look as innocent as possible, but she couldn’t really hide her intentions. Not from her parents. Instead of stopping her, though, the two of them just gave her a matching set of worn smiles.
“Be careful, okay?”
Ochako, caught, nodded with a sheepish grin. Her momma and daddy left with knowing looks, and Ochako was left with the vague wondering if all parents could do that or just hers. Regardless, she waited with bated breath as she heard the footsteps echo down the hallway and down the stairs. She got out of bed.
Recovery Girl said she would only be gone for an hour, and the Pro-Hero had expected her parents to keep watch over her for that time. It took 20 minutes of convincing for her parents to finally go, and Ochako wasn’t about to waste one second more.
The window slid open easily. The crisp, night air beckoned at her, and she hurried to heed its call. She jumped, letting gravity take her for a moment before activating her Quirk for a safe landing. After a moment, she was safely on the ground, Quirk deactivated, and running in the direction her heart was leading her.
Deku-kun… I’m sorry I shut you out. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I’ll make it right.
Ochako meant to run to the dorms. She meant to go through those doors, up the stairs, and knock on his door to talk to him.
That changed when she saw the green lightning charging in her direction. Her eyes widened.
“Deku-kun!” she yelled, waving an arm above her head as she ran. She wasn’t sure what he could see when he moved that fast, but she hoped he would notice that she was running at him. “Deku-kun!”
Ochako felt an electric charge as she heard him say her name. No pain. No coughing. Just hard breathing and laughter as she kept running for him. It was only a moment before she realized the problem, her steps faltering under her own momentum. “Wait!” she called. “Slow down!”
Either she’d said something too late or he didn’t hear her. Regardless, the next thing she knew was that a pair of arms, coated in green, electric energy, were clasped around her, and she was holding him in return. The wind whistled in their ears as he fought to make them both stop before they fell over, and it was only a moment later that she realized he’d tripped and that they were now spinning hopelessly in the air as a tangle of bodies and limbs.
To be honest, she didn’t mind. She’d float forever if they could just stay like this. She held him tighter.
“You’re awake,” whispered Deku. She felt electric currents running through his body, electrifying her and making her shiver. His arms were so stiff that they trembled. Or was that her trembling? “You’re awake!”
“I’m sorry.” The night air was cool around them, and Ochako couldn’t bring herself to break the atmosphere it brought. Still, she refused to be totally silent as she whispered her apology. “I’m so sorry I put you through that, Deku-kun. I—”
“No, I’m sorry.” Deku’s voice was fervent, hurried. How badly had she scared him? “You only had a little bit of time, and I wasted it.”
“Wasted?” echoed Ochako, the word sounding hollow and wrong to her own ears. “Deku-kun, what are you talking about?”
She pulled back from the embrace, holding him less than an arm’s length away so she could see his expression. It was pinched and pained, and she knew that he could only ever wear his heart on his sleeve. The tears on his face stabbed at her heart, knowing that her actions had put them there.
She let go of him with one hand to brush some of those tears away.
“Deku-kun, don’t apologize,” she said.
“But,” protested Deku, “but I wasted your—”
“No, no you didn’t. You didn’t. You gave me exactly what I needed when I needed it the most,” said Ochako, her voice low and insistent. Tears kept flowing from Deku’s eyes, and she kept brushing them away. It was a futile effort, but she hoped it brought him comfort anyways. “If anyone’s apologizing here, it’s me. I should have talked to you a lot sooner than I did, and I didn’t. If I had just talked to you instead of overthinking it, I wouldn’t have put you through so much pain.”
Ochako couldn’t help but look at him. Truly look at him. His eyebags were prominent, and he was very clearly tired. Tears tracked down his face, and his freckles stood out in sharp contrast to the rest of his skin. Shame washed over her.
How long had she been worrying him? How long had she shut him out and tried to solve the problem on her own? How long had her stubbornness cost him his health and peace of mind?
Too long. Far, far too long. It wasn’t right.
“I don’t…” said Deku, his brows pinching. “I don’t understand…”
Ochako’s heart ached. He didn’t know? They didn’t tell him that the flowers were gone? Or maybe they told him and he didn’t believe it? She didn’t know, but she did know that she could try to make things easier.
“The flowers are gone,” she said.
His eyes widened, and his mouth opened. And shut. And opened. And shut. And— “I… what? They— they’re really gone? Really?”
Ochako nodded. “Yeah. They are. Recovery Girl told me when I woke up this afternoon. They’re really, really gone.”
Ochako watched as her best friend’s form shuddered. Tears streamed down his face anew, and he pulled her into a crushing hug. She moved her hands to hug him back just as fiercely, burying her face into the crook of his neck just as he was doing to her.
Her foolishness had nearly cost her so much. It wouldn’t cost her one thing more.
“When you told me that you loved me,” she whispered, “I was trying to tell you that I loved you.”
She felt him still beneath her fingers. A wave of nervousness hit her, two moments too late, and she found herself speaking without thinking.
“I mean, you are my best friend. You push me, you inspire me, and you walk with me. You’ve only ever encouraged me to do my best, and you’ve never thought of my secrets as something to be ashamed of. You’re kind and determined and you have one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever seen. You’ll run out to save someone without a second thought, and I can’t help but chase you when you do. You’re a good person, Deku-kun, and that’s just who you are. I love you, and I have for a while, and I really should have told you sooner, but I didn’t… and… and…”
Ochako found herself running out of things to say. How could speaking from the heart fail her so soon? Mortified, she almost wished she were back on terra firma so the ground could just swallow her whole.
Instead, she felt Deku’s arms around her. They were trembling. Wait… he was shaking.
“Uraraka-san, I…” Ochako could hear a struggle on his voice. Worry gnawed at her heart. He’d said he loved her, but maybe it was a heat of the moment thing? Maybe he meant as a friend? Oh no, what if she’d misread the situation entirely? What if— “I’m feeling a lot of things right now. I’m so happy, and so relieved. But I know you.”
Ochako’s breath hitched. This… this wasn’t what she expected at all. Deku’s hand rubbed circles into her back as he continued. Was it to comfort her or to comfort him?
“You didn’t want this; you told me you didn’t want this,” he whispered. “I want… there are a lot of things I want, Uraraka-san. I want to call you by your name. I want to hold you and never let go. I want to graduate side-by-side with you and become a Pro-Hero in a world where you’re a Pro-Hero, too. I want to be with you and make our dreams come true together. I want a life where we can walk side-by-side and be together. Believe me, I want it, but I’m scared. If it wasn’t for the hanahaki, you weren’t going to tell me, were you?”
Deku… was really amazing. He’d done in a few minutes what she’d ran away from for months, and she was done running now. She took a breath.
“No,” she admitted. “Not anytime soon, at least.”
“Why? And… and why change your mind now? We could have forgotten the whole thing. Now that you’re healed, you don’t have to push yourself. And… and if you don’t want to be together, then we don’t have to be. I’m not going to force you into anything Uraraka-san, but I’d like to know why.”
Ochako didn’t even have to think. She’d been running for too long to not know why, and she’d hurt Deku too much to consider not answering.
“I was scared,” she confessed. “I have goals, and so do you. I didn’t want to give up my dreams. I wish I could say that I was being noble about it, that it was for my parents’ sake so they can live an easy life or that it was for the sake of the lives I want to save in the future. But that’s not it. I wasn’t being noble at all.
“I was just scared, and I was using my dreams as an excuse to everyone, including myself, and I ended up hurting everyone I care about.” Tears welled up in Ochako’s eyes as she thought about them all. “Momo-chan, Tsu-chan, Jirou-chan, Mina-chan, Toru-chan, Iida-kun… Recovery Girl and Edgeshot… I hurt my parents. I hurt you.”
Ochako pulled herself out of Deku’s embrace to face him. She needed to face him. She couldn’t take his comfort in good conscience right now. No. Deku needed to know her feelings, and she needed to tell them to him plainly.
His face was red, and there were tears. Green eyes stood out vibrantly, and electricity ran over his features. But, more than anything… those wet eyes were wide, and she knew that he was listening.
She had to speak.
“The hanahaki made a problem that I already had worse, and I made that problem worse by pushing everyone away. You cured my hanahaki, but before that happened… before that, everyone made me realize that I only have so long to tell the people I love that I care about them.”
Deku’s face turned redder, and Ochako might have found it incredibly adorable if her heart weren’t pounding in her ears. Nervousness clawed at her, but she couldn’t afford to be afraid. She would not let herself be afraid now. She took a deep breath and released a shaking sigh. “I managed to say almost everything on the tapes, but I almost died knowing that I never told you how special you are to me. I almost left you behind without telling you how important you are. I almost never got the chance to tell you and show you that you are, without a doubt, one of the most important people in my world.
“And I know you,” she continued. If they were on the ground, Deku would have jumped.
“U-Uraraka-san, I…” he stammered, trailing off. Ochako could only frown.
“Deku-kun,” she said firmly, tears of her own finally breaking through. “If I left you like that, you’d find a way to blame yourself for it, and I didn’t tell you enough times how grateful I am that you’re in my life at all to make sure you knew not to do that.”
Ochako could see, too clearly, the proof that he had blamed himself before her. It was in his green eyes, welling anew with tears, and in the wobble of his frown. She couldn’t clearly describe how he was showing his emotions, but he was, and she knew that she hurt him. Her silence, getting wrapped up in her own mind, not letting him in. Deku was the sort of person who just wanted to help people, and she’d been so scared that she’d effectively pushed him out and hurt him. She didn’t know how badly, but the fact that she had was enough.
“I love you,” she whispered, her voice urgent. His Quirk sparkled and popped, and his breathing hitched. “And I’m so sorr—”
“Uraraka-san, I…” Deku’s voice was choked, and though Ochako had more to say, she could hear that Deku was getting overwhelmed. “Please. Don’t apologize. Just…”
Ochako watched as Deku seemed to try to work through the emotions that were showing on his face. His brows furrowed, and he was still crying, but his expression was changing. His frown was warbling, trembling into something that could be called a small smile. It was so tentative that it captured her heart immediately.
“I just need to know if you’re still scared. And, if you are, is there anything I can do to help?”
A few months ago, Ochako might have tried to take the concern in stride. Smile it off and deal with it herself. But she’d been down that road to its extreme, and where it led was a place of self-isolation and pain. Pain for herself, and pain for everyone she loved.
No. It was time to be honest with her feelings.
“I’m a little scared.” Her confession was a whisper, and her hands trembled. “I’m scared that I just ruined everything, and I’m scared because I hurt you. I’m scared of things getting awkward, and I’m scared of losing you even as a friend.”
Ochako let the wind take her secrets, and she let them be known. Deku looked at her, but she couldn’t find traces of accusation or anger no matter how hard her mind tried to convince her they should be there. Just… kindness behind reddened cheeks and sparking eyes.
“Uraraka-san, you were my first friend here at UA. You were one of the few people here to see me and just see that I belonged here,” said Deku, squeezing her hands. When did he…? “You gave ‘Deku’ a new meaning, and you didn’t mind how awkward I actually am. You’re my best friend, and even though you’ve been having a hard time, that doesn’t just magically erase everything we’ve done together. No matter what happens, I want you in my life.
“And,” said Deku, his face getting redder and his wobbly smile growing. But, despite his embarrassment, he kept looking her in the eye. “I love you, too. We’ll probably be awkward because I know I’m really, really, really awkward, but I think if we just talk to each other… I think we’ll be okay.”
Deku’s words crashed over her, and Ochako let them. There was too much in it for her to take in at once, but one thing was abundantly clear:
It was over. She was safe. And Deku… was here.
The relief and happiness and fear that she’d just gone through was too much, and the waves of emotion in her chest crashed through her. She dove at Deku for another hug, and he held her tightly while she sobbed. He held her tightly and ran one of his hands through her hair, and she finally felt safe.
“You know,” he whispered, and she knew he was crying too. “I really missed this honest side of you.”
Together, they laughed and cried.
Until Recovery Girl found them in the air and made them come down before scolding them both.
But even as she and Deku got scolded, Ochako couldn’t bring herself to regret going out to find him. She couldn’t. Not as she held his hand tightly in hers, not as they stayed side-by-side, and definitely not as they were both allowed to go back to the infirmary together provided that Deku sleep on the empty bed instead of on a chair. So they may not have actually gotten back to sleep until three in the morning, but Ochako couldn’t regret that either.
“Uraraka-san?” whispered Deku from the next bed over. Ochako blinked, only barely seeing his face in the moonlight. She smiled.
“Is… can I…”
He tapered off with his words, but Ochako could see the redness on his face in the moonlight. She opened her mouth to ask him if he was okay, but his next words came out in a rush of embarrassed syllables. When she could make sense of it, her face flushed. She smiled, and nodded, and asked him in return. His hair flopped as he nodded back at her, a smile on his face, too.
“T-then… goodnight, O-Ochako-san.” The grin on his face was so shy and he looked so earnest that Ochako couldn’t help but grin in return. Her heart thundered in her chest, and though she didn’t think she’d be able to sleep now, she knew she’d have to try.
“G’night, I-Izuku-kun,” whispered Ochako. She couldn’t stop smiling. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
The future was open to her. And, this time, she allowed herself to envision that she wouldn’t be walking into it alone.