Ochako had to blink a few times to reorient herself.
“Hey, why’d you leave the flash on?”
“Everyone! I’m sure the flash was necessary in order to take a professional picture! After all, this is our graduation ceremony, and afterwards, we will all be venturing forward into the world of Pro-Heroes! Let us mark this occasion as professionally and as happily as we can!”
“Shaddap, Four-eyes. It’s just a damn picture.”
Ochako turned to her classmates, who had just begun their regular descent into chaos. Iida and Bakugou were fighting, and Kirishima was jumping in to settle everything down, and Mina was still heckling Midnight about the flash. Aizawa was already in his sleeping bag, but it looked as though he wasn’t going to get any rest. He looked like he was just… watching.
And, honestly, Ochako knew the feeling. This would probably be the last time they would all be together like this, making such a ruckus, for a long, long time. It felt like there was a light weight in her chest. Happy and yet sad.
Bittersweet, maybe. But maybe too sweet to be entirely bitter.
Ochako startled out of her slowly rambling thoughts to turn to Tsu, who was holding her diploma to her chest. Joy was radiating from her friend’s face, and Ochako couldn’t help but smile in turn.
“Congratulations, Tsu-chan!” Ochako looked at her friend, knowing that she was stronger and smarter and more prepared for the world ahead than when she’d first met her. Ochako knew she showed that same amount of growth. A taste of sweet nostalgia bit at her, and she laughed. Sweet. It was definitely more sweet than it was bitter. The smile on her face felt so real.
“Three years…” Ochako said softly once her chuckles died down. “It went by so fast.”
“Kero,” agreed Tsu. Ochako knew she’d miss seeing that contemplative look on her friend’s face every day. “But the hard work begins now, doesn’t it?”
Ochako and Tsu turned, and Momo smiled, her own diploma held tightly. Jirou rested hers casually atop her own shoulder, but the gleam in her eye told all the other girls just how happy she was to finally have it. Ochako knew that they could all relate. “I suppose we shouldn’t expect our lives to get any easier now, should we?”
“No way,” snorted Jirou, a grin on her face. Her eyes then snapped to Ochako, and the girl suddenly found herself with a face-to-face with the end of Jirou’s diploma. She blinked. Fast… “But I expect to hear from you guys if you’re ever in trouble. No hiding injuries or diseases or anything like that. Got it?”
Ochako groaned as the other girls did little to restrain their smiles. The whole thing was like a fading wound, and enough time had passed that jokes were becoming more commonplace about it. Still, Ochako couldn’t help but complain, just a little. “Jirou-chan, I said I was sorry! And I even told you guys when I got a cold last month!”
“Not the best time to get a cold, honestly,” said Jirou, and Ochako groaned as the others giggled anew.
“Are you guys picking on Ochako-chan without me?” Mina’s presence announced itself as she inserted herself into the conversation, hanging off Momo with a playful grin. “Rude!”
“They are,” agreed Ochako. “Jirou-chan thinks that I’m just gonna let you guys walk off the face of the earth without talking to you guys ever again.”
The chiming laughter of Tooru’s laughter hit her before the girl herself did, barreling on top of Ochako based on the admittedly safe bet that her friend would be able to carry her weight. Ochako shifted only a little to keep her friend upright.
“No, Ochako-chan’s gotten much better about that!” defended Tooru. Ochako smiled. Her savior. “’Specially after she started dating Midoriya-kun!”
There was a chorus of hums and agreement that was entirely too self-satisfied for Ochako’s taste. She stuck her tongue out at the traitors, trying in vain to act mad. But she couldn’t be. Not really. Not about the truth.
Ochako scanned the classroom around him, and she saw that her now former teacher had gotten to her boyfriend already. She smiled. Izuku had mentioned that All Might wanted to talk to him earlier. She guessed she’d have to talk to snag him for herself later.
“See? Like that!” teased Tooru, poking the cheek of Ochako’s smiling face. She cheeks pinked. “She’s all happier and she doesn’t have her guard up all the time. It’s nice!”
Ochako was going to be a Pro-Hero. The comment about her guard not being up couldn’t stand. It couldn’t. She didn’t even turn towards Tooru when a challenging gleam glinted in her eye. “Nice, huh? How’s this for nice!?”
In a flash, Ochako twirled, knocking Tooru off her balance and catching both her and Tsu into her arms. Using her momentum, she swarmed the others with a large grin, officially trapping her invisible target in the middle of a gaggle of girls. “Group hug!”
Her cover was weak, and everyone knew it. But they, like all great friends, went along with it for the laughs. And maybe for the hug. Hugs were awesome.
The result was a messy amalgamation of limbs and the laughter of six girls. Ochako laughed as they tried to stay steady on their feet, and they eventually seemed to find a balance that involved leaning on one another for support. Ochako could feel Momo’s arm above her and Tsu’s elbow digging a little into her side, but she didn’t care.
These were her friends, and she was happy to have met them. So, so happy. And yet, as much as they would try to keep in touch, this was a goodbye of sorts. Ochako squeezed Tooru and Tsu tighter. “I’m really going to miss you guys,” she said. “We’re definitely not going to lose touch.”
“Oh yeah, no. You’re stuck with us for life! That goes for all of you!”
The six of them laughed at that, the precipice of bittersweet goodbye feeling all too close for such a sweet moment. That bitter feeling was staved off just a little longer by the fortunate timing of one observation.
“A group hug? Without us?” Kaminari sounded so offended that Ochako had to grin. She peeked out underneath Momo’s armpit to see him, Sero, and Kirishima grinning at the group. “I feel so betrayed. Betrayed, I tell you!”
“If you want a hug so bad, then get in here, Jammingway,” teased Jirou, and that was all the invitation the guys needed. First Kaminari, Sero, and Kirishima. Then Iida and Satou and Kouda. Then Tokoyami and Shouji, who had Mineta securely separated from the girls. Aoyama and Ojirou joined in, and the group was only completed when Todoroki and Bakugou were pulled in by Izuku. Ochako met his red-rimmed eyes, and he grinned. She returned his smile. The bitter of bittersweet goodbyes had already started in, it seemed.
But it didn’t appear to have the mood completely in its grasp. All the students leaning on one another in a desperate bid for one last goodbye hug had started to sway dangerously, and the monstrous form they created together had no center of gravity to truly balance on.
Naturally, they all fell over in a thundering heap.
“Oh, come on!”
Mina’s complaints were loud, and Ochako, buried as she was under her friends, had to laugh. Bitterness defeated yet again. “No, really! That was a moment! An actual moment! All we needed was Aizawa-sensei and it would have been perfect!”
The class chittered as they helped one another up, the somber mood of goodbye staved off with the goodhearted mishap. Everyone was talking, giving more personable hugs, and exchanging soft farewells as they got to their feet.
Ochako was among the last to get to her feet, and she did so with the help of a familiar, scarred hand that didn’t let go even when she was standing. To be fair, she didn’t let go when she was up either. She smiled their hands twined together.
“Congratulations, Izuku-kun,” she whispered. Three months saying his name and it still gave her a zing to actually say it. She knew the red tips to his ears meant that he liked hearing it as much as she liked saying it.
“Congratulations, Ochako-chan.” Ochako felt her neck start to flush, and she couldn’t have stopped her smile from widening a little if she wanted to. And she didn’t. She really, really didn’t. Her eyes travelled from his red ears to his earnest smile to his sparkling eyes that were still red-rimmed. Empathy plucked at her heart, and so did a bit of the bitter taste of “goodbye.”
Well, if there was something she learned, it was that things that felt bad couldn’t be put off forever. Especially things that were both happy and sad. She gave Izuku’s hand a gentle squeeze.
“You know,” she whispered, “I’m definitely going to have a hard time saying goodbye to U.A.”
“Yeah,” said Izuku. “I know what you mean. This place… it…” She watched as her boyfriend looked around the classroom. Their classroom. She watched as his eyes went over every desk, landing eventually at his own. The smile on his face was definitely bittersweet, and she could see tears at the edges of his eyes. “It gave me so much. I’m so grateful…”
Ochako’s heart thudded in her chest, and she could see, just a little, what U.A. truly meant to him. Izuku was expressive, and he never shied away from showing how he felt. Especially when he felt strongly. It was one of his best qualities, and she saw it in the tears he shed—both happy and sad—for this moment of farewell.
Memories of her own washed against her. Meeting Izuku. The Zero Pointer of the Entrance Exam. Making friends. The first time she wore her Hero costume. The first time she went on an internship. Fight after fight, day after day in class… surprises and battles, lessons and days off… working so hard…
Even this ordeal with the hanahaki had happened here, in this school, teaching her one final lesson that she’d needed before going out into the world. And now she had it. And she was… so grateful. So very grateful.
U.A. had given them all the tools and experience and training they needed to be Heroes, it’s true, but it also gave them their friends, their mentors, their memories, and each other.
Ochako took a deep breath, and she let the tears roll down her face. She smiled.
“Thank you, U.A.,” she said, feeling her fingers twitch in Izuku’s. His hand stayed wrapped around her own. “For giving us everything we needed to go into the future.”