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The Flowers Fall

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The alarm blared loudly in her ear, effectively jarring her from the land of complete and utter unconsciousness.  Her hand, with its senses muffled by a mitten and further impaired by sleep, clumsily made its way upwards to the clock above her head and haphazardly hit the button.

“Ngh…”

Now that sound had effectively roused her, her other senses continued the process of forcing Ochako Uraraka to wake up.  For example, her sense of touch informed her that her room, although temperature-controlled as a courtesy of U.A.’s own Heights Alliance, was a few degrees cooler than comfortable thanks to the season.  Such a gentle shock caused her to shiver and pry her eyes open, which informed her that a shaft of cold sunlight was shining through a gap in the curtains and slowly making its way down towards her face.

Dawn, you cruel mistress.

Another unholy groan of discomfort escaped the student, and she stubbornly turned over in her blanket and wrapped herself more tightly a vain attempt to warm herself up and go back to sleep.

Alas, her nighttime self was too smart for her morning self’s weary antics.  Her phone, which lay charging on the table across the room, began to vibrate.

Bzzzt…bzzzt…

“Nooooo…” the student groaned, hoping in vain that the device would listen and resume its silence.  It did not.

Bzzzt…bzzzt…

As she had the morning before and before and before even that, she begrudgingly allowed the incessant buzzing to rouse her further from her sleep.  Wearily and with a sense of great defeat, she turned back to her phone, weakly glaring at it as it continued its cheerful duty.

She groaned one final time before finally allowing her quest to go back to sleep fully die.  Bracing against the cold, she shimmied out of her blankets and pulled her arms as far above her head as she could manage.  The resulting pops up her back drew her ever closer to wakefulness in a way that was far more pleasant than her buzzing phone.  The feeling was nice, and a smile lazily floated to her face despite the fact that she had most certainly not wanted to wake up yet.

A loud clattering drew her attention to the other side of the room.  Still buzzing, her phone had just vibrated its way to the edge of the table and was now laying pitifully on the floor.  It was, in a sense, defeated in its own right.

Well.  That didn’t happen yesterday.  The suddenness of her phone’s fruitless bid for freedom struck her waking mind as amusing, and she laughed.  Yes, her mood was already lifting because of one unexpected surprise.

She didn’t waste much more time in disregarding her mittens, shucking her blanket off entirely, and gathering her phone from the floor.  With a smile, she noted the time.

It was a good start to the day.



“Uraraka-kun, Asui-kun!  Please come in!  We will begin in a few moments, so please feel free to enjoy yourselves until we begin!”

“Thanks, Iida-kun!” Ochako smiled as she waved to her friend and classmate; however, his attention was swiftly arrested by another fight erupting amongst the boys.  She knew, even and perhaps especially as a third-year student, that he still took his duties as undisputed class president very seriously even while off the clock.  With a small bow and a respectful farewell, he left them to keep Bakugo from murdering Kaminari.

Again.

“He’s gotten a lot more forgiving about being punctual since first year, kero.  Especially in social events,” said Tsu.  The murdering scene was almost too normal to comment on at all, so Ochako disregarded it for the far more interesting topic of her friend’s behavior.

“He was very proud about learning how to be more fluid in first year with Manuel,” said Ochako, remembering his progress with pride.  “Even though he’s been doing his other internships with other heroes, I don’t think he’ll ever forget what he learned on his first internship.  He told me that it meant a lot to him.”

“I see,” croaked Tsu.  She turned her attention to the rest of the room, but Ochako knew that her friend wasn’t seeing what was right in front of them.  Instead of day-old decorations and the few students who were in the room with them, Tsu seemed…more introspective than that.  “I can understand that.  Selkie taught me some amazing things in my internship, and we both learned a great deal from Ryukuu.”

Ochako nodded, her own experiences with Gunhead and Ryukuu coming to mind.  She would never forget how their guidance had helped her to improve upon her weaknesses and hone her fighting style into what it had become.  And then she was mentally assaulted by the workload of her current internship.  The coming work included a daunting amount of things about hero work that she still had no idea about, and her thoughts dwelled upon the long way she had to go before she could make it pro.  The invisible weight of it all caused her head to bow under the pressure. “We still have so much to learn, though…”

“That’s true, kero,” agreed Tsu, seemingly unbothered by the oncoming challenges.  Honestly, her friend’s unflappable nature both impressed her and invoked her jealousy.  “I guess it just goes to show that the time we spend with our internships before graduation will be very helpful for us as Pro-heroes.”

“Yeah.”  The reminder of their shared goal helped Ochako shrug off the weight that had assaulted her.  She raised her head, determination sparking from her core and expressing itself through her stance and expression.  “By the time we graduate in six months, we’ll be ready for whatever the world has in store!”  She turned to her friend, an encouraging smile on her face.  “Right?”

There was no hesitation at all in her friend’s face when she nodded back, a confident smile mirroring her own.  “Right.”

“Hey, guys!” chimed a new voice as its owner happily draped herself on top of her friends.  “Whatcha talking about?”

“Internships,” answered Ochako as she turned to Mina, determination still fired within her core.  Despite her enthusiasm, the expressive girl stuck a tongue out with a pout.

“Talking about work?  Boo,” Mina complained.  With a dramatic flair, she leaned away from the two girls and drew their gazes towards her.  If the girl didn’t already have incredibly dangerous acid secreting from her very pink body at will, people might have assumed that the girl’s quirk was her pure charisma and charm.  She counted on her fingers.  “All of us are cleaning up today and you’ve got your internship later and we’ve still all of that homework to work on.  I still haven’t worked on that report for Mic-sensei…”

Oh yeah, they had that.

“So!” exclaimed Mina, dragging Ochako’s attention away from said mountain of homework she’d just been reminded of.  “I say that we take whatever time we can and have fun.  We’re still on break!  I, for one, am still in the Christmas spirit!  Let’s party!”

“We must not shirk our duties and responsibilities so carelessly!” exclaimed Iida, arriving out of nowhere.  Ochako wondered if it was good that she hadn’t accidentally thrown her friend over her shoulder for suddenly surprising her or if she should work on her reflexes in her next training session.  Either way, her heart did not appreciate the surprise and she rested a hand atop it in hopes of calming it down.  “It is precisely because of our partying that the common room of our dormitories has not fully recovered!  We must maintain a clean and healthy environment to help us become the best Pro-heroes that we can be!”

“Boo,” said Mina, turning her attention to their class representative and friend.  After a moment, Ochako saw the beginnings of an idea in her friend.  Before she could decide if it was a harmless idea or one that needed to be stopped, the pink haired student tilted her face downwards, looked up at Iida through her eyelashes, and shot their representative a wolfish grin.  “You were much more fun last night.”

Ochako resisted the urge to face palm and mentally apologized to her friend for not being fast enough.  Even though everyone present knew that the girl liked to flirt for a giggle or two, it was also a well known fact that while Iida wasn’t a regular target of hers, he was the one who tended to react the most.  After all, one couldn’t be in the same class with both Mineta and Mina and not eventually clue in to outrageous flirts and their implications.

Sometimes she wondered if Iida would have had an easier time of high school if he’d just maintained his direct interpretation of events.  As it was, however, he was aghast at Mina’s implication.

“Ashido-kun, that is a most improper thing to insinuate!” yelled Iida, his red face reflecting his shock and embarrassment as his ramrod posture tried desperately to hang on to his formalities.  His arm was chopping in his short-circuited state.  “We are all friends attempting to become Pro-heroes!  Behaviors such as—as—hookups between friends…Not that I mean to offend you in any way, but it is exceedingly improper to say—

The horror in his voice was mounting.  Ochako knew she had to step in.

“Iida-kun, take a deep breath,” interjected Ochako, stepping in between Mina—who looked like she was about to break herself by trying not to laugh—and Iida—who looked as though he was going to break himself trying to prove his innocence.  “Mina-chan was joking.  It wasn’t funny—” she turned a stern glare to her friend, and she had the decency to look at least a little abashed at how far her little comment had gone “—but everyone here knows she’s just trying to mess with you.  And we all know that you wouldn’t do something like that.  It’s not in your nature.”

Her words seemed to get through to him, and he seemed to come back to himself.  She smiled encouragingly as he took a breath and let it out shakily.  She felt bad that Mina’s empty flirts always did this to him whenever this happened.  She’d have to talk to her again.  For now, though, her friend looked as though he’d pull through this round all right.

“Of course,” he said softly, quite the difference to his panic earlier.  “Uraraka-kun, thank you.  Your reassurance is greatly appreciated.”

Ochako smiled, feeling the situation deescalate.  “Any time!”

Iida nodded and turned to Mina with a slight bow.  “I apologize for panicking at your words, Ashido-kun.  I should have known you never meant ill.”

“Ah, no,” said Mina, waving off his apology.  “I should be the one saying sorry.  I keep forgetting that it’s not all fun and games to you.  Like, you don’t always know when I’m joking.  If you want, I can just tone it down next time.”

“That…would be appreciated.”

Ochako watched as the most straight-laced person in class and the most party-powered person in class bumbled through their apologies and sighed happily as the crisis was successfully sidestepped.  Within a few moments, however, the two of them parted ways.  Mina went to greet Toru, who had just come through the door with a few of the others, and Iida stepped aside to take charge of the mass of students.

“All right!” he announced.  He sounded as though he hadn’t just been on the edge of completely freaking out.  His ability to bounce back so quickly was inspiring.  “Although a few of us are still outside training, they will join us momentarily!  As such, let us begin cleaning this area so we may continue to become the best Pro-heroes we can be!”

His enthusiastic rally garnered only a few halfhearted sounds of approval before everyone was put to work.



“Uravity!  Left!”

“Yes!”

The hero in training heeded her mentor’s call, ducking away from the oncoming blow.  Over the years, her reaction times had gotten quicker and her movements had only become more fluid.  It was for this reason that Uravity was able to quickly latch onto the hand that had attempted to knock her lights out, remove the offender’s gravity, and launch them over her head and onto the ground, where her knee quickly found purchase in the small of their back while she secured the villain’s hands with quirk-suppressing cuffs.

It took less than two seconds.

“Keep your guard up!” warned her teacher.  Edgeshot surveyed the area around them, and Uravity could also see that their enemies were regrouping.  Three villains were free; two were already in custody.  A bank robbery that she and her mentor refused to allow to happen.  Edgeshot did not glance at his intern, though she felt the brunt of his focus.  “What are their options?”

A teaching moment? Now?  Uravity shook her surprise.  Edgeshot taught differently from Ryukyuu.  Where she would treat her interns as equals who already knew the ropes, Edgeshot never missed an opportunity to quiz her practical and hypothetical knowledge on the field.  Knowing this, she stood, suspending the captured villain in midair without any way of moving himself, and regarded her opponents critically.

“They could run and abandon their teammates,” she stated, keeping an eye on her captured quarry.  “Or they could try to fight to reclaim who they’ve lost.  If we haven’t caught the leader, he might try to order a retreat and come back another day to try again.  If we have the leader already, then there’s a better chance that they’ll try to get the brains of the operation back out of either fear, loyalty, or a chance to get their cut.  Not a total chance, but better.”

“Wow, the broad can think,” muttered the villain from his place in the air.  Uravity paid him no mind.  As a captured target without his quirk or any way to move on his own, his only weapon was his words.  Ignoring him was much the same as disarming him.  “But you didn’t think of everything.  GUYS, SCATTER!”

Shit!

Uravity could only watch as the three remaining villains began to follow orders almost immediately.  One ducked into an alleyway and two headed onto the streets.

“Uravity! Stay with the captured villains until the police arrive!”

“But—!”

“That’s an order!”

Biting back a retort, Uravity nodded, allowing the Pro-hero to chase after the two villains who had beat feet to the street.  Objectively, they were the biggest threat.  They could harm civilians who were out and had an easier chance of returning to save their boss.  The one in the alleyway could come back too, which was probably why Edgeshot had her watching over the boss instead of chasing after him.  If the ties of loyalty were strong…

“Boss!”

…then he would return.

“Idiot!” hissed the boss.  “Get out of here!”

“I can’t do that!  You’re all we have left!”

The lackey immediately began to dart forward, his steps playing out in Uravity’s mind before he ever had the chance to make them.  He would dart forward only to dodge to either side and attempt to fake her out.  He would think it really clever and back up when he realized it hadn’t worked on her.  He would come in again and try for another fake out.  She could let him in closer and capture him swiftly with an ambush.

She’d really done this too many times to not be a Pro-hero herself by now.

True to form, he dashed in.  Ducked left.  Her catching onto his feint made him fall back.  He grew more panicked.  He saw the distance her movement had created between herself and his boss.  He wasn’t thinking straight and only saw his chance.  He darted in again, this time ducking to her right.  She let him get almost too close to his target.

Almost, but not too close.

With his focus wholly on his boss, he didn’t see her tackle coming from the side.  He couldn’t have predicted that he would soon be subject to the same move she’d used to take out his superior.  Within a moment, the lackey was in handcuffs and suspended in midair close to his boss.

It only took a second this time.  New record!

“You fucking idiot,” groused the boss.  The lackey didn’t respond, but Uravity got the feeling he would have if he weren’t currently in quirk-suppressing handcuffs.  She sighed and tapped the communicator in her ear.

“Edgeshot, the third villain came back.  He’s been apprehended.”

“Excellent work,” praised her mentor.  Uravity felt herself swell at the praise.  “I’ve just gathered the other two off the streets.  We’re heading back to your location.”

“Understood!” Uravity looked over at the sound of sirens and noted the flashing lights.  “The police just arrived.”

“Good.  I’ll have you take the lead in villain transfer procedure this time.”

“Yessir!”

“That includes the paperwork.”

“…yes sir.”

With that, her mentor signed off and Uravity finally returned gravity to her captured villains.  They fell to the ground, disoriented enough to not fight the policemen who immediately gathered them up to place them in the back of their squad cars.  She winced in sympathy, but no one was ultimately hurt and the mission had ended in success.  The thought made her smile.

She loved the feeling of acting like a Pro-hero.



The paperwork took so much longer than expected.  True, Edgeshot had remained nearby so he could help her with it, but his version of ‘help’ tended to be asking her roundabout questions until she figured the answer out on her own.  Because of that, and a huge lack of information that she had to hunt down in order to finish filling out the villain capture forms, she left the office much later than planned.

Which was why Ochako wasn’t surprised in the slightest when she saw that her phone had a few missed calls.  What did surprise her, however, was her parents’ phone number.  It wasn’t rare for her to receive a call from her parents—she kept in close contact with them while she finished her schooling—but she hadn’t expected one today.  Hurriedly, she pressed the green button to call them back.

It rang once before a familiar voice erupted over the phone.

“Ochako!  How’s my baby girl?  You feeling okay?”

Like it always did, her daddy’s voice set her at ease.  Something about the big man always made her problems seem so small and made her feel that she could be open and honest about everything.  Sometimes it just made her express sheer gratitude. Sometimes it just made her admit when things hurt.  Sometimes…

“I’m doing good, daddy!  How about you?  And momma?  Are the two of you getting enough business?”

Sometimes it just made her feel so loved and want to return that love in the best way she knew how.  Her daddy’s laughter resounded through the phone and made her smile.

“We’re doing just fine.”  His assurances set her at ease, taking her worries and laying them to rest about any negative reasons why he might have called earlier.  “We wanted to surprise you with a phone call today, but it seems we called when you were busy.  Sorry about that.”

She hummed a negative through the phone, a smile on her face.  “Don’t worry about it.  I always like hearing from you guys.”

“Not getting too old to hear your old man dote on you?” teased he.  She laid a free hand against her heart as she continued to walk.

“Perish the thought!”  The two of them laughed as she made her way towards the train station.  She might miss the train to the school if she stayed on the phone, but talking with her parents was always worth it.

“Well, to be honest, your momma and I were planning on taking the train down for your birthday tomorrow and were calling to give you some heads up.  We didn’t want to scare you like in first year.”

Ochako groaned good-naturedly, remembering with embarrassment her inability to react to her parents suddenly appearing in her room after her first Sports Tournament.  Their presence had been the much-needed balm over the burns of failure and she’d been grateful for their unexpected visit.  Surprised, but very grateful.  “Well, I don’t think you could have done that again,” she pointed out.  “Not when I live in the dorms now.”

“That’s true,” laughed her dad.  His tone then turned sad.  “Unfortunately, we got a call just before we were going to head to the train station.  One of our construction projects started going sideways, and we need to stay behind to take care of it.  They’ll need me there in the morning, and your momma needs to run the numbers to make sure we stay on-budget.  I’m so sorry.”

Her heart lurched sadly.  While she had been distracted a bit by the embarrassing memory, she had really been excited to hear about her parents coming down to visit her.  It would have made for an amazing birthday present.  Still…

“It’s fine,” she said, infusing her voice with as much optimism as possible.  She couldn’t afford to be selfish now.  “I’m glad you called, though.  Makes me feel special!”

“You are special, Ochako.  You’ve accomplished so much.  Ever since you were little, you’ve had one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known.  And look at you now!  Half a year away from graduating and going pro…” said her daddy, his voice swelling with pride.  It resonated with her, making her feel as though every obstacle she’d overcome to this point… every struggle she’d ever faced… every mountain she would continue to climb…it would all be worth it.  It would.  “Your momma and I are proud of you.”

“Aw, daddy,” she chuckled, her hand moving to her head in embarrassment as she fought to keep the tears at bay.  She loved hearing them tell her that, but she wasn’t done.  She was nowhere near done.  She still had so much work to do…

It was then that she noticed something.  The air.  It was cold.  And the sky was dark.  Paperwork… really had taken a long time.  “Um, daddy?  Don’t you and momma have to get up early in the morning?”

Her daddy’s laughter—were those tears on his voice?—sounded familiar through the phone.  “Still going to worry about us, Ochako?”

“Only always,” she laughed.  Although she didn’t want the phone call to end, she knew that her parents had an early morning to get ready for and that she had to catch her train soon.  “Tell momma I said hello?”

“I will,” promised her daddy.  “We love you, honey.  Happy birthday.”

“Thanks, daddy,” returned Ochako.  “I love you guys, too.”

Goodbyes sufficiently said, Ochako ended the phone call with her daddy and felt a rekindling of determination in her being where tiredness had resided only a few moments earlier.  She was glad that the company her parents ran was getting more contracts, but the meager yet steady business was still a far cry from giving her parents the lifestyle she felt they deserved.  Her parents were earnest, hardworking individuals who had always done their best for their daughter and family.  If her daddy praised her kindness, she knew that their raising had given that to her.  If she were special, part of that was thanks to the hard work and care of her momma and daddy.  And everything they’d given to her, they’d given to her with genuine smiles despite their tired eyes and strained living circumstances.  She’d known ever since she was little how hard it was for them to make a decent living doing what they loved.

Her parents deserved to take it easy.  They did more than enough in raising her in order to be rewarded.  One day, when she made it big and became a successful Pro-hero, she would reward them herself.



The train which took her from her internship back to school had been on-time, which meant that she’d arrived at the station closest to UA at half-past eleven.

It had been a long day.

Ochako yawned widely before shaking her head.  Her warm bed may have been calling to her, but she had to get to school safely first, which meant being awake and alert.  While she could definitely handle herself in a fight and knew how to shake a mugger, she definitely would have felt better if she could have come back from her internship around this time with someone else.  Someone like Mina or Tsu or—

“Urarka-san?”

The familiar voice quickly grabbed her attention.  It wasn’t long before she found the source of the voice, given how empty the station was at this time.

Sometime over their two and a half years as fellow students, he’d gotten taller and more broad.  While the physical change wasn’t unique to him among a class of students who were all shooting to become the best Pro-heroes they could be, she couldn’t have helped but notice the change on him.  He’d grown into his gangly limbs and strengthened his entire form.  Yet somehow…with all that power, he’d never quite outgrown the soft tufts of green hair that marked him as different yet normal.  Nor had he ever left behind the soft concern that shone through green eyes that rested atop rounded, freckled cheeks.  The somewhat stronger jawline was a recent development, but Ochako couldn’t say that the change looked bad on him at all.  He was quite easily one of the strongest tanks in her class with a matching fire of determination that saw him through every fight he endured, though anyone who knew him well enough could also classify him as one of the kindest, most soft-hearted, loveable people in the world.

Well, she thought so, at least.  She honestly thought the world of Izuku Midoriya.

“Deku-kun!”  She waved happily to her friend, letting him know that his presence was both recognized and most certainly welcome.  His awkward hesitation at recognizing her in a public space vanished, and he quickly made his way to her side with a matching smile.  “Getting in late from your internship?”

“Yeah,” he admitted as the two quickly fell into step beside one another.  Together, they quickly left the train station behind.  “Gang Orca wanted me to focus more on having and making more backup plans in the field, so we patrolled a little longer until we could find something for me to test that in.”

“Oh, that makes sense,” said Ochako.  “So, he’s trying to get you to use your analytical brain while you’re in the middle of ‘I am Deku; I am here to kick your ass!’ mode?”

“Aha…it sounds embarrassing when you say it like that…” said her classmate, his face burning at the title.  Ochako smiled.  For all his ferocity and tenacity on the field, he may as well be a kitten when he wasn’t in the middle of a fight.

“But I’m not wrong,” sang she, smiling at him to let him know that she was only teasing him.  It took him a moment to look at her face, but when he did, a portion of his tense embarrassment seemed to melt away with a chuckle.  He brought a hand up to his face.

“I guess not.”  The two of them laughed at her accurate observation and walked in comfortable silence a little while longer.

It was a nice night.  The stars twinkled far above their heads, and the moon gave them enough light so they could walk in relative comfort and safety.  The air around them was crisp and comforting.  There was a breeze that was neither too strong nor too chilly for the both of them and their jackets.  Ochako could feel a somewhat weightlessness in the atmosphere around her.

She glanced at her companion through the corner of her eyes.  He looked just at peace as she felt.  His hand had returned to his pocket—rightfully so!  It was freezing!—and he seemed to be enjoying the brisk weather as much as herself.  His green eyes had turned upwards to the stars, and she could see his mind turning over information that she could not access.  She wondered what he could be thinking about.  Not constellations, surely.  He didn’t have a memory for them.  He had more of an interest in Pro-heroes and everything related to them.

The thought made her smile.  No matter how much time passed, he would probably always be a fanboy at heart.

It was one of those things about him that made her heart ache and made her want to reach for him.  Sometimes, in the recesses of her fantasy, she’d reach out and place a gentle hand on his arm.  They’d stop.  In the quiet of the time they had alone together, she’d say something.  Or she’d wrap him in an embrace, hoping to transmit her feelings that way.  In her fantasy, in her mind, such feelings were reciprocated.  If only she had the courage, the resolve, the nerve to say something about it.

But she couldn’t.  He had his goals.  She had hers.  The paths they had chosen left no room for romance.  The feelings she had such a complex relationship with—the ones that at once brought her healing and inspiration as well as embarrassment and shame—were ones that she both acknowledged and ignored.  In the solitude of her room, she might admit that she cared more deeply for him than was strictly platonic.  Outside and in the company of others, however, it was better for her to try and ignore the pounding of her heart and the aching for his touch.

That didn’t stop her from yearning for a chance during times like this, when the two of them were alone together and it only felt too comfortable and too right.  Around him, she felt safe and empowered and weak in the knees and vulnerable and it felt good and it felt scary at the same time.

If only…

“What about you?”

Ochako blinked into the present.  She saw green.  He was staring at her.  How long had he been staring at her?  Did he notice her staring at him?  Oh, no!  Crap, crap, crap!

“Um…” Ochako pulled her mind back to what they had been talking about.  Deku needing to think more during his fights (which, he did.  He needed to stop breaking himself so much!), Gang Orca, staying late…

“Oh,” she said, finally understanding what he was asking.  A sheepish grin overtook her face.  “Edgeshot had me filling out villain capture forms and working directly with the police.  All the paperwork took a bit longer than expected.”

Despite the absolute sheepishness of her answer, Deku positively beamed at her.

“That’s great, Uraraka-san!  Edgeshot must think you’re showing amazing progress on the field to have you working the administrative side of things as well!  What kind of information did the forms require?  Was it difficult?  Do you think knowing what the police need to know will change your fighting style?  It might change mine, honestly.  I wonder how Pro-heroes who don’t collect information as they fight deal with the paperwork.  Oh, that must be why All Might had such a hard time with it!  Ah, did you get to have access to police databanks?!  Would that even be useful in filling out the paperwork?  Honestly, I’m not sure because none of my internships have let me get close to anything like that, they kept telling me that I needed to focus on refining my fighting style…”

Ochako giggled before tapping her friend on the arm with two fingers.  He was doing it again, and it was her sworn duty as his friend to pull him out of his head before he buried himself too deeply in his thoughts.  He stopped his rambling and an embarrassed smile overtook his face.

“Well,” she said, electing to not comment on the rambling.  It was normal by now.  “I don’t think you’d have any trouble with it, honestly.  The capture form wants the villain’s name, alias, and quirk if you know it, but the most important part is writing up any special moves they may have used during the fight.  Like if they used your quirk on you, what did it do to you?  How much damage did they cause to the environment around them?  If they fought hand-to-hand, did they seem experienced in it at all?  You want to get all of that information in there; the more analysis, the better.  I think that’s why it took me so long to do it.  When I fight, I’m looking for ways out and how to beat my enemy, of course, but anything that doesn’t seem useful in the moment kinda goes out the window.”

“Oh, so you don’t need a police database at all?”  For some reason, he looked so disheartened at that conclusion.  She smiled sympathetically as she flashed her identification card at the UA security system.  It let them through without a fuss.

“Only if you think they’ve been caught before to see if the system already has their name and quirk.  But since the police do most of that legwork for that stuff, Edgeshot only gave me a little bit of a tour on how to use it.”

Despite how little of an event it really was—honestly, Edgeshot had just given her a few pointers and told her she wouldn’t really need to use it very often anyways—Deku continued to look at her with amazement.

“That’s amazing, Uraraka-san.”  He beamed at her despite the late hour.  Just how did he fit so much joy into his expression, and where could she bottle it for rainy days?  His expression alone was giving her heart palpitations, never mind the awe in his voice.  “I’ll make sure not to lose to you.”

And if that didn’t send her heart into a mini frenzy, nothing did.  She smiled as she returned the challenge, knowing that she still had a long way to go in terms of pure combat and rapid planning in order to catch up to her friend.

It was nice, this easygoing and earnest competition between the two of them.  It meant he saw her.  She was his friend, of course, but she was also more.  She was an equal.  He saw her as someone to compete with and compare himself to, just as she did him.  Halfway through their first year, she’d announced that they made each other better.  It was true now just as it was true then.

They arrived at Heights Alliance and stepped over the threshold easily.  Enshrouded in the safety of their dorm building, her weariness deemed that it was an opportune time to return to her.  She couldn’t help but release a yawn at the same time as her friend.  The two of them glanced at each other mid-yawn and could not quell their sudden snickers.

“Well,” said Deku, his own tiredness showing through his eyes and suddenly slumped figure.  “Guess it’s time for bed.”

“Guess so.”  Her body forced another yawn out of her, and she knew it was definitely time to get some sleep.  She smiled at him with a wave as she turned to the girls’ side of the building.  “Good night, Deku-kun.”

“Good night, Uraraka-san.”  Man, how could his smile be so cute?  Now she really needed to go to sleep because this boy was sapping her strength.  It was taking everything in her not to just walk over, wrap her arms around him, and just not move forever.  “Oh, and it’s a little early, but happy birthday.”

She stopped in her tracks for a moment, his words warming her despite his presence already flustering her.  It wasn’t like she’d thought that he would forget her birthday, but him making a point to tell her even though it was late and they were both exhausted from their internships and their hard work…

…it made her so happy.  So, so happy.

“Thank you, Deku-kun,” she said.  The words rolled out of her, but she wasn’t sure if they appropriately conveyed how grateful she was for his thoughtfulness and kindness.  It seemed as though at least a fraction of it made it to him as he abashedly rubbed the back of his head and averted his eyes.  The poor boy almost never knew what to do with sincere gratitude despite her doing her best to show it to him whenever she could.

“Y-you’re welcome!  D-don’t stay up too late!”

Ochako giggled.  “You either!”

She didn’t want to say goodnight.  Not really.  Her fatigued mind wondered if he was having the same problem as her…

Okay, it was really time to go to sleep now.  She was starting to get delusional.  With a final hurried goodnight, she made her way to the elevator, hearing his final bid behind her when she pushed the button.  Despite herself, warm butterflies erupted in her stomach, flitting about all the way up to the fourth floor.

It was only when she entered her room when she realized that the feeling in her stomach wasn’t just butterflies.  Uneasy, she crossed her room and grabbed the trash bin next to her bed.

And was thoroughly confused when she began to spit flower petals out of her mouth.

Chapter Text

12:00.  Midnight.

Ochako blinked at the bin in front of her.  She’d cleaned it of trash yesterday and replaced the bag.  Before she came into the room, it had been clean and empty.  Now, yellow petals stared at her, mocking her with their unlikely origins.

“This… is a joke, right?”

Her words were meant to break the silence.  And beat back her own fears.  And small part—a very small part—of her was hoping that saying something would somehow wake her up.  That she had fallen asleep on the train, dreamt of that beautiful alone time with Deku, and was now dreaming about throwing up…flowers.

Of course.  This was a dream.  It had to be.

Well, dream or not, she wasn’t going to bed with the taste of flowers in her mouth.  The drawbacks of her own quirk made her all too familiar with the aftereffects of not brushing your teeth after vomiting, and she didn’t want to risk dealing with all of that again.  She had been planning on waiting until the morning to shower because of how tired she was, but if she was heading to the bathroom to wash the taste out of her mouth, she might as well do a thorough job of it all.

Besides, something as jarring as throwing up flowers tended to wake a person up just a little bit.

She quickly collected her items and eased out of her room.  A quick check down the hall told her that Mina’s door was shut tight and that it was probably safe to head down to the communal bathroom.  She scurried on her way. 

The elevator ride was short, and her shower was quick—learning to save money on running water had left a few habits behind that she was currently grateful for.  It wasn’t long before she was dressed in her most comfortable pajamas, brushing her teeth, and glaring tiredly in the mirror as she tried to puzzle out what strange phenomenon lay in her room.

“Maybe I just overworked myself and threw up something normal…” mused the girl, staring in the mirror.  “It has been a long day…  Wouldn’t be the first time I saw something weird when I was too tired.”

Which was true.  One time, she thought she saw Toru bench press Ojiro.  Not that the invisible girl couldn’t do it, but there was never a reason for Toru to do that.  Another time, she thought she saw Iida race on the ceiling.  Again, he probably could with his superfast engines, but she didn’t think there was ever a plausible reason for the studious Iida to run inside a building, much less on the ceiling.  Then there was that one time she thought she saw Tokoyami hide some silverware in his pockets before leaving the kitchen.

Part of her still thinks that one was real despite her common sense telling her it wasn’t.

However, even she could tell that her tired reflection didn’t believe a word of what she’d said.  Part of that doubt manifested in her face, forcing her to find some other workaround.  Something that wasn’t straight up denial.

“Okay, okay,” she relented, giving in to the piercing gaze coming from the mirror.  She decided to strike a deal with her dream reflection.  “Tell you what: if it’s still there in the morning, I’ll go to Recovery Girl and make sure everything’s okay, okay?”

The girl in the mirror stared at her for the longest time while brushing her teeth.  But by the time she’d spat the cleaning mixture out of her mouth and returned her gaze to the glass, she seemed moderately reassured.

“In the morning,” she promised, watching the other girl mouth the words along with her.

If it’s still there…



“Don’t worry, I’ve got you!”

Pro-hero Uravity held the children in her arms, careful not to jostle them too much as she maneuvered them away from danger.  The children, however, seemed to take her words to heart, and they beamed at her.  Perhaps they knew, somehow intrinsically, that they were completely safe in her hold.  Whatever impossible disaster had occurred was behind them now, and they were safe in the hands of Pro-hero Uravity.

The children cheered as she touched down on the ground, her quirk reacting to her will alone in order to return gravity to everyone in her care.  The children almost immediately swarmed her with their arms, each clambering to give her a final hug before shimmying safely to the ground.  She watched with a full and happy heart as each child, perfectly unscathed, returned to their parents.  The adults, fuzzy in the fact that they were not her focus, waved gratefully to their hero.

Their Pro-hero Uravity.

She waved back as everyone departed.  Maybe they were going home; maybe they were going to the park; maybe they were going on a vacation. 

But she knew one thing for sure:  there was nothing but good times ahead for them now that they had been saved.  They were safe, and it was a job well done in her eyes.  She couldn’t help but swell in pride.

“You saved them,” breathed a familiar voice.  She turned, her mind casting aside the scene she had just been a part of and focusing on the two beloved figures before her.  “Just like you saved us.”

Her daddy and momma were smiling at her, no hint of weary work hanging from their features.  Their eyes were bright and full and happy.  She didn’t think she’d ever seen her daddy look so strong and healthy.  Or her momma glowing as brilliantly as she did now.  Maybe the beach did that to her.  Maybe it was the sunshine and the sand.  Or maybe it was the huuuuge house behind them.  A house she somehow knew was theirs and theirs alone.

She’d done that.  She’d secured that house for them here in Hawai’i.  She’d fulfilled her promise.

Tears welled up in her eyes, joy bursting from her heart.  There they were.  Her parents.  Living easy and enjoying life.  Did they like the beach?  Did they like having their breakfasts prepared for them?  Did they like having enough time to walk together?  Did they like having the choice to not go to work if they didn’t want to?  Did they like the freedom she’d worked so hard to give to them?

The kind smiles in their faces told her they did.  They loved it, and they loved her.

She reached for them and took their hands in her own.  She drew them into a hug, relishing in the fact that she could finally, finally, finally do this for them.  They more than deserved it in her eyes.  She almost didn’t notice when her arms drew closer together, accommodating for one person instead of two.

“That’s amazing.  I won’t lose to you.”

Her mind refused to be surprised by his presence.  He was the one thing her entire world had been missing.  And now he wasn’t missing.  He was there.  In her arms.  Without hesitation, she allowed herself to snuggle into him more, feeling the feather-light touch of his hands on her.

“Deku…” she whispered, giggling his nickname in spite of herself.

A shift in mood, a light tickling on the back of her skull, made her draw away from him.  She hungrily drank in his fluffy green hair, his beautiful green eyes, his playful freckles that danced upon blushing cheeks.  Oh my!  Was he embarrassed?  Like her?  He didn’t need to be…

Like some sort of shift had taken place, confidence swam into his features, and he smiled at her.  She smiled back.  Sometimes, that smile of his just took her breath away.

Carefully, slowly, he eased into her space.  His actions were slow and careful, yet also somehow confident.  His eyes burned, and her heart fluttered.  A deep sense of longing filled her that she couldn’t ignore any longer.  She tilted her head up in assent, their proximity somehow already stealing her air.

The last thing she knew was that the touch of his lips upon hers was feather light and oh-so-soft.



The first thing Ochako knew was that her throat burned and that she had to spit something out of her mouth right now.

She pitched herself over the side of her bed, grabbed the bin, and threw up whatever it was that had woken her.  She coughed and forced whatever it was out of her body as powerfully as she could.  For a moment, the one action was all her dizzy, waking mind could process as she coughed the last dredges out.

Thankfully, the action was over nearly as quickly as it had begun.  Sweet air rushed into her lungs and out again, giving her brain some much-needed fuel to process what had just happened.

A dream.  A wonderful dream.  She’d gone pro.  She’d given her parents a good retirement.  And Deku…

Her face flushed, and she wondered when her subconscious had gotten so bold.  Even thinking about the idea of him… of him…

Her waking mind had more shame than her dreaming one, and she dove into her blankets.  Perhaps if she burrowed far enough, she would eventually escape these feelings that felt entitled enough to reveal themselves in the cover of—

Ochako’s mouth violently protested the gradual invasion of a foreign object, and she had to quickly escape her makeshift shelter in order to spit yet again.  This time, she watched with abject horror as small, yellow flowers—the like that seemed vaguely familiar though she could not recall from where—fell into her bin.  It rested atop a small mound of similarly shaped flowers.  Some had already wilted from the night before.

The night before…  she…  she really had thrown up flowers, hadn’t she?  It hadn’t been a dream…

But it doesn’t make sense, thought Ochako, forcibly pushing away her dream in order to concentrate on the impossible scene before her.  People didn’t throw up flowers.  Ochako didn’t, at least.  That wasn’t her quirk.  This whole thing wasn’t normal.  This wasn’t right.  This was wrong.

Something was wrong.

And if she didn’t do something about it, she could really choke on flower petals in her sleep next time.

The thought sobered her.  She had to do something now.

“Okay,” she relented, mechanically pushing herself away from the…evidence.  A very small part of her still hoped that she would blink and that the whole pile would disappear.  The greater part of her recognized that it had been there since she’d fallen asleep and wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.  She needed to be responsible.  She needed to do something.  She needed…  she needed… 

“I need to go see Recovery Girl…”

Right.  That’s what she needed to do.  That’s what she’d told herself she would do last night, right?  Go see Recovery Girl if the problem kept up.

Ochako took a deep breath.  Then she looked at her phone.  It was on the other side of her room, flipped closed and charging, exactly where she’d deliberately placed it before falling asleep.  She needed to get to it.  She maneuvered out of bed, edged around the bin, and ambled her way to the desk and her small device.  When she flipped it open—her mittens made the task much harder than it needed to be, but she was entirely too focused on getting more information to do something as sensible as take them off right now—the time of 5:15 burned into her retinas.

Almost four and a half hours of sleep.  That was enough.  It had to be.

But would Recovery Girl be in her office by now?

Ochako took a deep breath and exhaled.  The action helped to ease her rushing thoughts and pull herself together.  She wasn’t going to go back to sleep now.  Not when she could end up choking on flower petals by accident.  That was a serious medical hazard.  She needed to go see Recovery Girl.  But she didn’t know if Recovery Girl was available.  But the only way to know was to check.  And in order to check, she needed to leave her room.  In order to leave her room, she needed to change out of her pajamas, at least.

So she did just that.

Okay.  The next thing to do was leave her room, go downstairs, go out the door, and go into the UA main building to find Recovery Girl’s office.

So she did the first two things on that list.

By the time Ochako made it to the living room, she felt slightly better.  Throwing up flowers was still a big deal, but she didn’t feel as thrown off-guard as she had been when she woke up.

Then again, nearly choking in your sleep could throw anyone off-guard.  At least a little.

Her relative calm made it easier to say hello to Momo and Tsu, both of whom were already up and in the living room for who-knows-what-reason.  Momo nursed a cup of tea while Tsu held a glass of water between her hands.  Both had turned when Ochako entered the room in order to leave.

Well, it was five in the morning.  They probably hadn’t been expecting anyone to come down.

“Good morning, Uraraka-san!” Momo’s voice was soothing and calm despite the fact that Ochako was sure her appearance was a surprise.  The young woman briefly wondered what sort of magical properties her friend’s tea held and if they had anything to do with her friend’s ability to roll with the punches as well as she seemed to.  “How are you?”

The question gave Ochako pause.  It was a simple question, and it had a simple answer.  In fact, ‘fine’ had darted to the tip of her tongue, but it had been halted by something.  The taste of flowers.  She hadn’t washed it out yet.

Ew. 

Instinctively, she made a face.

“Do you need a glass of water?” asked Tsu.  Ochako waved her hand with a strained smile and hoped that her friend wouldn’t trouble herself.  The water, though, wasn’t a bad idea.  Quickly, she bypassed the two heroes-in-training and made her way to the kitchen, where she grabbed a glass, turned the faucet, and ran it under the tap for a moment.  First, she rinsed the taste out of her mouth.  Then, she refilled the glass and drank what liquid she could.

It helped.  A lot.

“I could have gotten it for you, kero.  It wouldn’t have been a bother.”

“Are you feeling all right?”

Ochako froze in the middle of taking yet another gulp.  Just why did she think her friends would just go back to their conversation after her abrupt entrance and exit?  She probably wouldn’t if Jirou had done something like that.

At five in the morning.

Looking like she’d seen a ghost.

She winced.  Yeah, she probably didn’t look all that great, given everything.  But she didn’t want to bring down her friends, so she turned to them with as bright a smile as she could manage and tried to reassure them.

“I’m fine,” chirped she.

But the looks on her friend’s faces said that they didn’t believe her.  

Which… was fair.  She laughed lightly, trying to make herself comfortable under their scrutiny.  It was an abysmal effort with lackluster results as grey and green eyes pierced through her lie effortlessly.  She amended her statement.  “Just not feeling that great.”

Momo’s face immediately revealed her sympathies. Tsu’s took on a troubled inquisitiveness.  Ochako raised up her hands, hoping that maybe she could stem the oncoming worry and salvage the situation.

“It’s fine, though!  I’m going to see Recovery Girl, so I’m sure I’ll be A-okay soon enough!”

Unfortunately, her reassurances only seemed to trouble her friends further.

“It’s serious enough to need to see Recovery Girl, kero?” asked Tsu.  “Did something happen during your patrol last night?”

Ochako blinked.  Oh.  Oh, yeah.  That was a possibility.

“I’m…not sure,” she admitted.  She was sure that she’d handcuffed the leader and neutralized his quirk before he could have hit her, but what about the second villain?  What was his quirk again?  Had she seen him in the database?

She couldn’t remember.

“Perhaps you’ll remember on your way to Recovery Girl,” said Momo hopefully.  Ochako nodded, grateful to see some of the concern melt out of her friends’ faces.  She never liked to worry her friends and often did her best to avoid doing anything that could bring their moods down.  Despite the appeasement appearing to have worked, Momo’s eyebrows creased after a moment.

“And…forgive my intrusion…would you mind if I, at least, accompanied you on your way to Recovery Girl?  As your classmate and friend, I would like to make sure you are in good health.”

“Me too, kero,” said Tsu.  Her face was set in gentle determination.  “Maybe talking through your patrol on the way could help you find some answers.”

Ochako thought her options over.  She loved her friends, and she knew with certainty that if she asked to go alone, they would let her go and expect a report back later.  They were considerate of her space in that way.  However, she honestly didn’t want to go to Recovery Girl alone.  She’d been willing to do so out of necessity, but when the opportunity came to spend some time with her friends…

“I’m sure that whatever’s going on, Recovery Girl will set me straight in no time,” said Ochako, her smile warm and her mind made up.  “But I wouldn’t mind some company on the way.”

With equally warm smiles, the other two nodded their heads, and the three quickly washed their glasses.  With that finished, they hurried out the door and took to the pathway that would lead them into the UA main building and, eventually, Recovery Girl.

“Before we discuss your patrol, perhaps we ought to discuss what’s ailing you,” said Momo.  Her sensible approach made Ochako smile and reminded her why she was the vice president of their class.  “It doesn’t appear as though you have a fever or any sort of physical mutation.”

“I’m sure you would have gone to Recovery Girl much sooner if it were that straightforward, kero,” pointed out Tsu, unintentionally sending a twinge of guilt through Ochako.  She had thought about seeing Recovery Girl sooner, but… 

She waved her hand to assure her friends and banish the ‘what-if’s from her mind.  The past was done with.  All she could do was look to the future now.

“You’re right; it’s nothing like that,” she said.  Suddenly, the mental images of the flowers returned to her mind.  In the darkness of her room and the obscureness of her memories, the angles of the petals seemed sharper, more dangerous.  Their presence was an anomaly and one that she was rightfully wary of.  She frowned.  Even though ruminating on the past wouldn’t do her any good, she silently chided herself for not being more cautious of the strange phenomenon.  “I… I started throwing up flowers last night.”

Silence reigned for a moment as the three walked.  Momo and Tsu might have been absorbing what Ochako had just said, but she herself had absorbed the fact by now.  Flowers had come out of her mouth, and she had no idea where they had come from or why.  Before anything really serious happened, she had to figure it out.

“That sounds like something a quirk would be responsible for, kero,” said Tsu at long last.  Ochako glanced over at Momo to see her friend nodding along.

“Tsuyu-san has a point.  Was there any point during your patrol where you might have come into contact with another person’s quirk?  An altercation, perhaps?”

The answer was immediate.  “Edgeshot and I weren’t out for very long when we stopped a bank robbery.  I came into contact with two of the villains that we caught, and the other two didn’t have enough of a chance to do anything to me.  One of them had a minor speed quirk, but I can’t remember the other’s quirk.  After we caught them, we spent the rest of my shift in the office going over paperwork for capturing villains and how to file it correctly.”

“So if it’s a quirk, then there’s a large possibility it would be the second villain’s, kero,” mused Tsu.  “There wasn’t anything in any of the paperwork about his quirk?”

Ochako shook her head.  “Nothing’s coming to mind right now.  I was kind of overloaded with information at the time.”

“Well,” said Momo as she opened the door in front of them.  Gratefully, the three hurried into the building and out of the winter morning chill.  “At least we can tell Recovery Girl what we think this is.  If necessary, we can make our way to Edgeshot’s agency in order to revisit that paperwork and see how dangerous this is.  Class resumes in a few days, after all.”

Relief blossomed in her chest.  Any answers, even possibilities of answers, made this morning easier to swallow.  In a sense.

“Has anyone ever told you that you’re an angel and a saint, Momo-chan?” asked Ochako.  Immediately, her friend’s face flushed, and she held her hands in front of her, waving them with a hint of franticness.

“I— um— well, thank you, but I—”

Embarrassed, Momo squeaked before hiding her face behind her hands.  Both Ochako and Tsu giggled as they all walked the rest of the way to Recovery Girl’s office.

This is nice, mused Ochako as she observed her friends.  Momo, ever unflappable except in the face of a genuine and unexpected compliment.  Tsu, always reliable and level-headed and always up for a bit of companionship.  I should hang out with them more…

“We’re here, kero,” said Tsu, bringing all three girls to a halt in front of the familiar door.  How many times had she been here as a visitor…?  How many times as a patient…?  Over the past two and a half years, too many times to count.  Tsu knocked on the door.  “Excuse us!”

Ochako held her breath as they waited.  Were they too early?  She knew that Recovery Girl, like all the other teachers, had a dorm allocated to herself.  However, she had no idea where their resident nurse lived.  It was more common for students to seek out their homeroom teacher, who would then inform Recovery Girl if medical assistance was necessary, than to go in search of her themselves.

Did they need to go back to their dorm and alert Aizawa-sensei?  She bit her lip.  She hoped not.

“Ara, ara.  I didn’t think any of you students would injure yourselves so early in the morning.  Well, with a few exceptions, of course.”

The door opened to reveal the Pro-hero in question.  She was a short, elderly woman with her grey hair drawn and netted into a tight bun.  A light smile was worn on her weary face, and she was somehow already prepared for the day.  Her lab coat seemed impeccable, and the only difference from her usual attire was the fact that she had her syringe cane in one hand and a cup of steaming tea in the other.  Curiously, her almost closed eyes managed to carefully examine the three of them exactly where they stood.

It was a familiar feeling when standing before Recovery Girl.

“Please forgive us for disturbing you at such an early hour—”

Momo’s earnest sincerity was cut off by a not unkind wave.  Recovery Girl’s smile was equally warm.

“Yaoyoruzu-chan, you’re not a disturbance.  In fact, I rarely see you in here, so it’s refreshing to see your face every once in a while,” said Recovery Girl gently.  She looked at each girl without a change in her expression.  “That goes for both of you as well, Uraraka-chan, Asui-chan.”

Ochako smiled at the kind welcome, bowing her head slightly.  “It’s nice to see you, too, Recovery Girl.”

“Kero.”

With a nod, the woman retreated into her office.  It was an obvious invitation to enter, so the three girls did so quickly.  When the door was shut behind them, Recovery Girl took her seat and gestured to its empty twin in front of her.  “Now, I’m sure at least one of you is feeling unwell in order to visit little old me.  And given the time,” —at this, Recovery Girl glanced pointedly at her darkened window— “I would presume to say that it’s somewhat serious.”

Ochako stepped forward and eased herself into the chair with only the barest touch of hesitance.  “Yes, ma’am.  That would be me.”

“I see,” said Recovery Girl.  Immediately, she turned to the rows of binders on her desk and scanned them.  “Would you prefer to speak with me privately?  I’m sure Yaoyoruzu-chan and Asui-chan wouldn’t mind waiting outside if it would make you more comfortable.”

Ochako looked over at her friends.  Both of them were giving her looks that were nothing short of encouraging.  It was true.  They wouldn’t mind.  She smiled.

“No, they can stay,” she said. “They already know what I’m here for and they’ve already tried helping me figure it out.”

“I see,” hummed the Pro-hero, swiftly pulling a binder out of its place and opening it.  Momo and Tsu stood closer to Ochako than to Recovery Girl, which meant that the contents were known only to the medical professional of the room.  Having obtained the file she needed, Recovery Girl turned her understanding gaze to the young woman.  “Now, what appears to be the problem?”

Ochako took a breath.  She let it out.  Yes, the situation was strange, but that’s why she was here.  She faced Recovery Girl head on, refusing to be cowed by this abnormal position of hers. 

“I started throwing up flowers last night.  Around midnight.”

Recovery Girl paused for a moment, observing the girl in front of her.  She then turned to the file beside her.  After a moment of searching, she seemed to find what she needed.  She nodded to herself and then turned back to Ochako, who was patiently confused by the whole thing.  “Uraraka-chan, do you know your family’s medical history?”

Wait…  medical history?

“My… family’s medical… history?” asked Ochako, blinking.  Wait, did that mean…

“You mean this isn’t the work of a quirk, kero?”

Recovery Girl lightly tapped her file in response to the question, humming as she contemplated her answer.  “It could be, but I don’t believe Edgeshot would have allowed his intern to return to UA unaccompanied while under the influence of a quirk.  As a Pro-hero and a trusted mentor to this school, he’s fully aware that the heath and survival of our students is his responsibility while you’re under his care.”

Oh.  That made sense.

“That being said, Uraraka-chan, I would like to look at what may be more probable.  Do you know your family’s medical history?”

Ochako grimaced as she thought about it.  She and her parents had filled out extensive forms upon her acceptance into UA.  Among those forms had been medical inquiries.  They’d written down her weight, her quirk, her body mass index, and whatever genetic conditions they could have thought of among other things.  From what Ochako remembered, the most serious at the time had seemed to be color blindness from her mother’s side of the family.

But it had been years since those forms.  A lot of the words used at the time had gone over her head and she hadn’t remembered them.

“I… No.  Not off the top of my head.”  Ochako’s answer didn’t seem to be either right or wrong.  Recovery Girl just nodded with an understanding air.  It was simultaneously comforting and worrying.  “Why?”

Ochako’s answer came in the form of the file being handed to her.  She took it carefully and reviewed familiar handwriting.  Her daddy’s handwriting was a barely legible scrawl while her momma’s words were neat and careful.  She knew he’d been trying his best at the time; he just always wrote horribly and had to be reminded that he couldn’t write in shorthand for these kinds of things.

The familiarity helped ease some of the nervousness, but the content of the page was as confusing to her now as it had been when she was fourteen.  Conditions that she’d never heard of were listed, and a rough family tree was drawn on the side with little circles and squiggles.  Maybe something to help them remember who had what?  It seemed like something they would do.

“Uraraka-chan, your file says that your family has a variation of hanahaki disease.”

Ochako glanced at Recovery Girl before returning her attention to the list in front of her.  Her eyes widened when she saw her daddy’s scrawl of ‘hanahaki’ right above the family tree.  ‘x2’?  What did ‘x2’ mean?

She returned the file and her attention to the nurse, frowning.  “What’s hanahaki?  Can I make it go away?”

Recovery Girl took the file with a somber expression.  The compassion was still in her voice, but it had definitely taken on a sorrowful note as she began to explain.  “Hanahaki is a genetic disease.  It surfaced around the same time that humans were beginning to manifest quirks.  In fact, some people would rather classify hanahaki as a quirk instead of as a disease.”

“So it can be controlled?  Trained?” asked Momo hopefully.  Ochako nodded along, grateful that her friend had asked.  To her dismay, Recovery Girl shook her head.

“Unfortunately, the hanahaki disease isn’t truly a quirk at all.  It’s not like a muscle that you can work out.  Instead, the hanahaki disease runs independently of the will of the person who has it and causes more harm than good, which is why it is officially classified as a disease.”

Ochako, recalling the feeling of choking on seemingly harmless flower petals, couldn’t help but agree.  If it couldn’t be controlled, then the side effects were just too dangerous.

“Wouldn’t a genetic disease have shown up sooner than this, kero?  Why is Ochako-chan throwing up flowers only now?”

“There are a couple of reasons this can be,” said Recovery Girl.  “The first reason is that the qualifications have finally been met.  However, I’ve kept an eye on every student in this school.  You met the qualifications for this disease several years ago.  The most probable reason for your delayed reaction to the disease is due to the specific variation that runs in your family.”

Information swirled in Ochako’s mind.  She wasn’t sure which part to ask about first.

“Qualifications?  Variation?” she asked, pulling out the words which she thought were the most important.  She studied Recovery Girl, some part of her hoping that just looking at the woman would help her.  “I don’t understand…”

 “I’ll explain the variation aspect of it first.”  Recovery Girl held up one finger, and Ochako focused on it.  Having one point to focus on helped her declutter some of the mess that her mind had become in only a few moments.  “As I said, your family has a variation of the hanahaki disease.  For some people, the hanahaki disease reveals itself immediately after the original qualifications have been met.  For others, the hanahaki disease requires more.  I believe that in addition to the normal qualifications that this disease requires to present itself, the variation within your family also exists on a biological timer.  Once your body reached eighteen years of age, something shifted.  This allowed the disease to proceed reacting as normal.”

“What ‘something’ shifted?  Can I shift it back?” asked Ochako, her mind reaching out to whatever solution could present itself.  Recovery Girl shook her head.

“That would be like asking your body to return to as it was when you were a child,” explained the Pro-hero.  “Once your body moves forward, there is no rewinding it.  And before you suggest that perhaps Eri-chan can use her quirk to rewind you, you must know that whenever your body thinks it is eighteen, this disease will reappear.  Again and again.  Do you understand what that means?”

Ochako nodded, her throat dry as she had been tossing the idea briefly in her mind.  “I’d have to stay seventeen forever,” she said.  “My body would never grow.  I’d never get stronger.  I’d never be able to become a Pro-hero.”

Recovery Girl nodded solemnly, and Ochako allowed herself to fully say farewell to that idea.  The disease was here.  Attempting to go back would only cause her more harm than good.  She took a deep breath.

She was a hero.  Heroes found solutions.  Even if it took them a few tries to get there.

“Okay,” she said, forcing herself to get her figurative feet underneath her.  This was no time to feel hopeless.  She looked Recovery Girl in the eye.  “You keep saying that qualifications have to be met in order for the hanahaki disease to go forward.  What kind of qualifications are they?”

“You need to experience a romantic love.”

A moment.  There was a single moment.  Nothing in particular changed during this moment.  The sky was still dark outside.  The binders on Recovery Girl’s desk were still upright.  Even Momo and Tsu did not move during this moment.  However, when the singular qualification left Recovery Girl’s lips, something inside Ochako might as well have cracked a little bit.

Because… because no disease needed that in order to show up.

Right?

Right?

It was impossible, right?

Recovery Girl’s patient sigh brought Ochako away from the cliff’s edge of hysterical panic.  Not that the idea didn’t still sound tempting.  Immediately, the girl’s attention latched onto Recovery Girl and, with all the professionalism and complexity she could muster, asked what was on her mind.

“Huh?”

And like that, a dam broke.

“Experience a romantic love?”

“Uraraka-san, why didn’t you tell us?  Oh, were you worried about your privacy?  Especially after all of that teasing in first year?”

“Can something like that really be necessary for a medical illness, kero?  I’ve heard of a broken heart leading to bouts of depression, but just falling in love…?”

“Wait!  Must it be romantic love?  After all, Uraraka-san loves her parents very much!  And her friends.  And becoming a Pro-hero.  There are many routes which love may take; are you certain that only romantic love can trigger this?”

The chatter was broken by a resounding clack!  The three girls’ attention was drawn to the large syringe that had just firmly rapped against the tiled floor.  It was attached to one firm-faced Recovery Girl.

They all murmured their apologies.

“I understand that this can be confusing, so allow me to explain what is known about this disease,” said Recovery Girl, indirectly accepting their remorse and moving forward.  “Love is a combination of many things.  It is as widespread, mysterious, and varied as any other human experience.  In love, there is, of course, a feeling that is difficult to place and wonderful to experience.  However, there is also a chemical reaction that happens in your brain, which allows this feeling to intensify and sustain itself.  It’s then up to the will of the person in question to make a choice about the feeling they have.  In summary, the feeling fuels the chemicals and the chemicals react to the person’s choice.

“Romantic love, specifically, is different than love directed towards a family member or friend.  Familial love is often grown throughout one’s life, built through times of duress and trials.  It is affection, care, and loyalty through many years.  Love for friends is a deep-seated affection as well as a conscious decision to remain connected with the other person.  Romantic love incorporates all of this as well as a desire to incorporate the other person in your life as intricately as possible.  Bear in mind that none of these types of loves outweigh or outperform the other.  They simply exist in a manner that makes them very similar and yet different enough to need classification.

“The hanahaki disease specifically requires romantic love due to the feeling of wanting to incorporate another person in your life as much as possible.  Sometimes the person who is experiencing a romantic love makes the choice to actively deny it.  There are many reasons to do so, and having such reasons does not make a person any more or less of a human being.  However, while having these feelings and learning how to deal with them are both a natural part of life, the denial of one’s own feelings is one of two areas where the hanahaki disease makes an appearance.”

Recovery Girl paused, watching the three of them.  Ochako had the feeling she was waiting for any sort of interruption or indication that they hadn’t understood any particular part thus far.

Unfortunately, Ochako felt like she was understanding the situation all too well.  Recovery Girl continued.

“When one doesn’t choose to accept their feelings of romantic love or they otherwise deny themselves the full extent of their own feelings, the mind will latch onto the idea of the person who they have fallen in love with and find more reasons to become and remain attached.  This is a normal aspect of life as well—”

“B-but why?  Why does this have to…  why does it…” spluttered Ochako, feeling the words hit far too close to home.  The thought of Deku flashed across her mind.  His soft hair and bright smile.  His encouragement and his own determination to reach his goals.  The way he said ‘Uraraka-san’ even after all this time.  All of it…  It made her heart pound, but she had no time in her life—

A quickly recognizable feeling in her mouth forced her thoughts elsewhere, and she wildly searched for a bucket or something similar.  One appeared in her peripheral vision and she quickly latched onto it, spitting cursed yellow flowers out of her mouth.

The attack was over just as quickly as it had begun, and Ochako looked, mortified, at the proof.  It was related.  Somehow, in some way, it was related… to him.

It couldn’t be…

Damnit.

Damnit.

“Dwelling upon someone you have these romantic feelings for is normal, especially when you’re unsure if those feelings are returned.  It’s also normal for that sort of dwelling to produce feelings of frustration or longing,” said Recovery Girl, her voice kind as she carefully drew the bucket away from Ochako’s face.  Even as the traitorous flowers left her field of vision, the girl did her best to hold back her tears; the new information was hurting her in more ways than she could articulate.  Recovery Girl showed enough grace to pretend she didn’t see them.  Instead, she gingerly placed the trash can back on the floor with a quiet and all-consuming ting.

“However, in the case of hanahaki, this same dwelling creates chemicals in the brain that are received as harmful on the body.  Because of this, the body forms a specific way of eliminating the threat.  For some reason, those who have the hanahaki disease begin to spit out flowers to combat such feelings.”

Ochako absorbed all of this as best as she could.  It felt like there was just so much to absorb, but she had a feeling they weren’t done.  She took a shaky breath and let it out.

“Is it possible to forget such feelings, though?  For your own health?” asked Momo.  Ochako’s head hung at the question, the answer apparent to her.  For the past two years, she’d done her best to do just that.  To forget and move on.  To try and regulate such feelings to the background.  To somehow make them weaken or go away.  But every time she thought she’d moved past it…

“Feelings like this don’t simply disappear without good reason,” said Recovery Girl, echoing the painful feelings in Ochako’s heart.  “They need finality and they need time, neither of which are on our side.”

Fear grabbed at Ochako’s already aching heart.  She swiftly turned her gaze to the nurse, throat dry.  “What…” she asked, “…do you mean by I don’t have time?”

Recovery Girl frowned.  “The hanahaki disease is persistent and dangerous.  It continues to lower the threshold of longing or frustration needed in order to trigger its flowering response the longer it goes unchecked.  Patients in denial typically have a few weeks to make a decision about it before the disease is serious enough to be considered fatal.  Accepting their feelings lengthens that time to perhaps three months.”

Despite the lack of flowers in her system now, Ochako felt the same choking sensation that had woken her less than an hour ago.  Her air was gone.

“That’s…”

Ochako tried to take it in.  This new information.  But it was so much…  too much…

“Uraraka-san…”

“Ochako-chan…”

The soothing of her friends through both their murmured voices and gentle touches could not help the wracking of her body.  Ochako cried as she buried herself into her friends’ embrace, everything hitting her all at once and leaving her feeling vulnerable and unable to do anything.

Either way, she wouldn’t live to graduation.  She wouldn’t live to be a Pro-hero.  She wouldn’t give her parents the retirement they justly deserved.

She was going to die.  This disease was actually going to kill her.

Tears weren’t enough for how broken this made her feel, but they were all she had.

“Isn’t there something we can do, kero?” asked Tsu.  Ochako could feel her friend’s hand running through her hair.  It was a soothing motion that typically kept her grounded when she came to her friend with her problems and fears.  Momo, meanwhile, had an arm wrapped around her shoulders, her thumb rubbing small circles into the nearest patch of skin it could reach.

Ochako tried to breathe.  Her friends were here.  They cared for her.  They weren’t going to give up on her, even when she herself was too shocked by the news to see the way out right now.

And there had to be a way out.

There had to be.

Heroes found solutions.

“The symptoms of the hanahaki disease are due to the body’s way of defending against the pain caused by unrequited romantic feelings,” reviewed Recovery Girl.  Ochako nodded.  It made sense so far.  “Because of that, some people choose to address the source of their pain and formally confess their feelings to the person they have fallen in love with.”

Ochako’s eyes widened.  Confess?  Now?  But that would be…

“If the feelings are reciprocated, the accompanying feelings of longing and frustration begin to fade away; thus, the symptoms begin to fade away as well,” continued Recovery Girl.  “This is the best-case scenario.”

Reciprocated… if Deku felt the same way…  If he really felt the same way…

But what about their futures?  Their careers?  Even if he felt the same way, they still had their lives to attend to!  They had their futures to plan for!  Right now, where they were in life, romance wasn’t an option.

Ochako felt the flowers begin to invade her mouth again, and Momo was the one to bring the trash bin back to her.  Once she had finished spitting out even more of those yellow flowers, she thanked Momo and turned her attention back to Recovery Girl.

“What if I confess… and get rejected?  Or confess and we choose not to date right now?  Will all of this still go away?”

The Pro-hero frowned at her charge, but she answered the question.  “Usually, when a confession goes awry due to either non reciprocation or both parties agreeing not to date, there is a grieving process.  A period of ‘why didn’t this work’, ‘why can’t this work’, and of emotional pain.  The process itself is very normal, and there are many ways for someone who does not have the hanahaki disease to come through such a process a stronger and better person overall.

“However, a person with the hanahaki disease will not have the chance to go through that process at all.  If such a person confesses and is rejected, the feelings of frustration and longing surge, just for a moment.  Regardless of how well-prepared a person is for it, these are natural human feelings and they happen.  Unfortunately, this is the second way in which the hanahaki disease proves fatal.  The explosion of frustration and pain lines the lungs, esophagus, and mouth with flowers and effectively chokes out the patient.”

Tsu’s hand stopped on her hair.  Momo’s grip tightened on her shoulders.  Ochako’s knees shook.  Death by asphyxiation. 

What a terrible way to die…

“Is…is there nothing else we can do?” asked Momo, putting to words the last shred of hope they were all surely feeling.  Ochako latched onto that hope with all of her might.  Recovery Girl nodded slowly.

“There is one final option.”

Ochako’s breath hitched.  There was a chance!

Recovery Girl frowned as she continued.  “Several years ago, an American company perfected a surgery aimed directly at relieving the symptoms of the hanahaki disease.  Since doctors still don’t know which specific genes contribute to the makeup of the disease itself and the flowering process, their best bet was to take out the section of the brain that creates the chemicals which agitate it.”

Ochako felt as though she’d been slapped in the face.  She couldn’t mean—

“However, this surgery removes the brain’s capacity to create the chemicals which are also vital to creating any sort of interpersonal attachment.”

Ochako felt cold.

“You wouldn’t be able to have a favorite food or a favorite place.  You wouldn’t have a favorite formative memory.  Loved ones will simply become people who you know.  This surgery completely removes a person’s ability to love in any capacity.”

Ochako could feel herself break.  Every person she ever loved.  Mina.  Tsu.  Momo.  Iida.  Deku.  Her parents.  All of them… reduced to just another person?  Her friends, her family… gone?  Their significance… just like that?

“Are…those my only options?” she asked, her voice cracking.  She could feel the tight hold her friends had on her, but she also couldn’t.  She was numb.  In the face of everything she could lose, she was numb.  She could feel the pain swelling again, somehow too close and so distant all at once.

It was suffocating.  Despite that, she managed to speak.

“I could confess and survive, confess and die, or get a surgery that would make me keep living without feeling…anything?”

Recovery Girl’s look was sympathetic and somber.  She saw the answer in her eyes before she heard it with her ears.  “I’m afraid so, Uraraka-chan.”

Heroes found solutions.  That didn’t mean they had to like those solutions.  No.  It just meant that solutions had been found.

Recovery Girl let the girl and her friends cry in her office until well after the sun had risen.

Chapter Text

Ochako was tired.

Honestly, that felt like an understatement of the century.  She was exhausted.  Learning not only that a fatal disease which preyed upon romantic feelings existed but that she had it had taken a serious emotional toll on her emotional state.  That wasn’t even talking about the options she now faced.

Confess and survive.

Confess and die.

Or survive and be unable to love.

In all aspects, it was a tough pill to swallow, and Ochako wasn’t sure if she could shoulder the weight of it all alone.  It had already choked the air out of her once before and had wrung tears out of her that she didn’t know she could cry.  The sudden and sharp pain of it all had at last begun to recede though, leaving in its place a numbness that she’d never felt before.  She imagined this might be what black holes felt like.  If she were alone, she would have surely succumbed to its intense pressure and curled in on herself in an attempt to protect what little she felt she had left.

But she wasn’t alone.  She was surrounded by people.  People who seemed to understand her plight and, even if she didn’t think they could fully comprehend its weight on her, cared for her.  For now, their support was the only thing keeping her in the here and now.  Not in the past, where she might eternally loop and curse the day she fell in love.  Not in the future, which looked only bleak and far too short.  In the present.  Now.  They were keeping her just barely respondent.  Their presence was enough to keep her from collapsing into herself under this new and impossible weight.  To keep her just barely above the beckoning void of feeling absolutely nothing at all.

Just barely.

“Uraraka-chan.”  Ochako heard her name but couldn’t bring herself respond.  Her shortcoming, however, did not deter the Pro-hero. 

Recovery Girl spoke again.

“I don’t want you to feel as though you should decide anything straight away.”  The woman’s wisdom showed itself through her firm statement and a handful of offered gummies.  Ochako looked at them tiredly before lifting her gaze to the nurse’s face.  Her smile leant her a certain type of strength.  The kind of strength that helped to keep black holes from swallowing people whole.  “You have at least a few weeks.  I want you to take this chance to clear your mind and to speak with your parents as soon as you can.  There are options for you, and while the support and advice of those who love you will be invaluable, be sure you choose the path that you want to take.”

Ochako nodded numbly, the words flowing into her brain and yet leaving no impact.  She would remember them, but they seemed so distant and detached from her right now.  Her limbs felt heavy. Her eyes felt itchy.  Her throat felt the strain of hours of body-wracking sobs.

How could she feel so hurt and so numb all at once?

Recovery Girl stood from her seat and strode closer.  The elderly woman took her limp hand gingerly from its place and pressed the gummies into her numb fingers.

“I mean it,” said the Pro-hero.  Although Ochako couldn’t empathize with it, she recognized the look she was getting from the woman and the tone of her voice.  In a different situation, it would have been powerful.  Hopeful.  Inspiring.  Now, it was just barely enough to make her lift her head against the pressures of her mourning heart and blearily listen to the words coming from her elder’s mouth.  “A decision as large as this one needs to be thought through carefully before you do anything.  Take your time.”

A pressing squeeze on her shoulder brought her sullen gaze to Momo.  She stood resolute and firm, a rock in this swirling storm.  She turned to Tsu.  She hunched protectively over her friend, almost like a tree that leaned and swayed with the wind and yet would not break.  She turned to Recovery Girl, who stood equal to her charge, ready to provide her with the tools and guidance to help her through this in whatever way possible.  She embodied the stars themselves, reminding her of consistent light and endurance.

Endurance she had to emulate now.

She had to try.

Ochako still felt numb.  She still felt as though she were one word away from crumbling into pieces. She still felt the presence of the emotional black hole that threatened to pull her in until there was nothing left.  She still felt fragile.

But through the pull of darkness and the promise of destruction, their hands were stretched out to her.  They wouldn’t give up on her.  Even through her weakness, her friends—both young and old—were reaching for her.  Telling her to stand and join them.  And as long as they fought, so would she.  She could try to resist the black hole a little while longer.

She would try.  Even if it was the last thing she would do, she would try.

She bowed her head.

“Thank you.”



The three girls trudged from Recovery Girl’s office, Ochako in particular with a fistful of gummies and a heart of wrung emptiness.  Distantly, the young woman was sure that all three of them walked slowly under the heavy burden they’d just been given.  For her, it was inevitable.  This was her sickness.  But Momo and Tsu…

She looked to them, the pressure in her chest intensifying.  Darkness clawed at her and the black hole demanded to be heard.  To be shown.  It threatened to consume her right then and there, to suffocate her with its all-encompassing power and destroy her before the flowers had the chance.  It demanded to be made known, to bring everyone in the vicinity with her into her spiral of helplessness.

They didn’t deserve that.  They never deserved that.

She needed to leave.  She needed to be alo—

“Well!” Momo clapped her hands, startling her fellow hero-in-training with her suddenness.  Ochako’s heart, so heavy before, began to beat violently in protest.  However, unaware of what her spontaneous action had caused, the hero of creation turned to the both of her compatriots with determined grey eyes.  “Recovery Girl said to speak it over with your parents, but it would seem as though they aren’t here yet.  Perhaps they’re busy?”

Ochako blinked.  Partly to banish tears that had come, unbidden, to her eyes.  Partly in disbelief.  Through the emotional haze of this morning, it was difficult to remember that she’d only heard yesterday of her parents’ attempted departure and subsequent cancellation.  How did Momo already know about their plans?  Or, wait, how did Momo know about their coming and not know about their cancellation?

The questions, however, were cut short by a pang of longing in Ochako’s heart.  It was different than her longing for Deku’s presence, which she now knew would trigger the evil flowers in her mouth.  No.  This longing was far more integral to her, far more primitive.

It was the longing of a hurt child for the safe embrace of her parents.

Ochako folded her arms around herself and curled in slightly, trying desperately to protect herself from the additional pain and ultimately failing.  She turned to Momo, who she could already tell was blaming herself for her less than tactful breaking of the subject.  Momo’s mouth opened and shut a few times, obviously grappling for something to say that could salvage the situation while Ochako herself could say nothing.

“I’m sure we’ll see them when they arrive,” said Tsu, her calm voice of reason breaking through the awkward atmosphere.  Ochako turned towards her friend, and it was obvious that what Tsu saw in her face affected her deeply.  The green-haired hero frowned in a way that tugged on her heartstrings as she reached out and took something off of her face.

Ochako could barely make out the water on Tsu’s finger.

Oh.

“The entire class is on the lookout for them, so we’ll know the instant they arrive, kero” said Tsu.  Ochako wasn’t sure what to do with the encouragement and the lump in her throat—thankfully flower-free—was making it hard to speak.

To correct the wrong idea her friends were attempting to comfort her with.

“Yes,” agreed Momo, stepping closer and putting a hand on her back.  “And when they do, you can count on Tsu-san and I to create an environment where you can talk without distraction.  I’m sure we can convince the rest of the class to give the three of you some space without letting them know anything you don’t want them to.”

To this, Ochako could only shake her head, the tears now flowing freely.  Her friends were trying to comfort her, and it was sweet, but it was also no use.  No good.  At that thought, the lump in her throat painfully dislodged so she could gasp out her denial.  “Not coming,” gasped she, still shaking her head.  But now that she had spoken, words came easier.  She clarified.  “They’re not coming.  Something happened at work…”

“I can’t imagine they wouldn’t come if they knew that you were having an emergency,” said Momo, her heartfelt words tugging at Ochako.  She turned to her friend, ready to inform her that her parents still had to work in order to provide for themselves and for her, when the look on the other girl’s face made her pause.  Warm and firm, her expression was not one to be quarreled with half-heartedly.  “I can’t say I fully understand the financial situation you and your family are in, but I do fully understand that both of your parents love you very much and would do anything in their power to guarantee your health and happiness.  For example, last year, before you walked with them to the train station, your mother and father spoke with us all.”

Ochako’s eyes widened.  A flash of something other than despair shot through her, leaving ripples of anxiety in its wake.

She felt a soft pressure on her arm and turned to see Tsu’s hand rested upon her.  She smiled.  “Don’t worry, kero.  They didn’t say anything embarrassing.”

A wave of the aforementioned emotion rolled over her.  She’d been caught and her thoughts so quickly identified.

But that was two emotions within half a minute that weren’t overwhelming anxiety or the pressure of doing and feeling nothing.  Trepidation and embarrassment.

She’d take it.  Even if these feelings weren’t happiness, she’d take them.  Anything to escape the black hole.

“What…” she asked, doing her best not to acknowledge the crack in her voice.  Her friends didn’t mention it either, and she was grateful.  “…did they say?”

Momo smiled, the steel of her leadership voice softening into something warm.  Comforting.  Nurturing.  “They thanked us for taking care of their most precious daughter.  Of course, we told them that we’re all good friends and that it is also you who takes care of us, but they were really quite insistent about it.”

“They called you their most important treasure, kero,” added Tsu.  Despite the claim, her voice sounded as though she might have been commenting on the weather with how matter-of-fact it was.  Ochako turned to her friends, looking for any hint of exaggeration in their eyes.

She found none.

Perhaps that was because of the tears, or perhaps that was because she was being so pointedly reminded of something she really should have known.

She loved her parents without a doubt.  She loved them and wanted what was best for them.  She wanted to take the harsher burdens of this life and of working and ease them from her parents’ weary shoulders.

But her parents loved her, too.

It was more than goofy phone calls or teasing about homework or laughing at the jokes she sometimes told that weren’t funny.  It was in telling her that she did a great job with her grocery shopping for the month after she regaled them with tales of her couponing adventures. It was in sharing with her their quick fix-its for aching stomachs or running fevers.  It was in her father’s encouragement to follow her own path and her mother’s help in figuring out how to turn that path into a reality.  It was in her parents’ determination to help her find her an apartment for her first year of UA that was close to the school and not in a scary neighborhood.  It was in every “Good morning, Ochako!” and “I’m so proud of you, kiddo!” and “How was patrol?  Did you learn anything new?” that she heard over these past few years.

Her parents loved her dearly even if they didn’t understand every aspect of her life.  And her friends were right.  They would come if they knew she was in the middle of a crisis.  Or help in whatever way they could.

This realization stirred… something… in her, and that something fought gallantly against the black hole.  Both her parents’ love and the attention her friends paid to that love wrestled with overwhelming darkness and pressure, forcing it to keep its distance from her heart.  How such a reminder could fight with the very forces of nature, she had no idea.  But it did.

It did.

And it wasn’t being snuffed out without a fight.

The idea bubbled in her chest, building and building until it burst from her in the form of a giggle through her tears.  This… energy… it wasn’t hysterical, but it wasn’t rational.  It wasn’t anything except what it was.  Which was strange, but present.  But she didn’t care.  It was something.  Something other than the darkness was fine by her, even if it made her feel and seem a bit crazy.  She used her free hand to wipe some of the tears from her eyes, her giggles now refusing to be stemmed.

“You guys…” she chuckled wetly, unable to get more out.  Words weren’t enough.  Instead, she reached to her friends and brought them closer, enveloping both of them into a hug that she didn’t know she so desperately needed.  She squeezed onto both of them, grounding herself with their presence and their reminder.

She wasn’t alone.

Her friends loved her.

Her parents loved her.

These facts created a warmth within her.  It was clumsy and pulsed irregularly, but it was warm and it was unstable and it was hers.  Some of the black hole’s power shirked away from this new warmth.

Some was enough.  For now, some was enough.

They didn’t waste a single moment in hugging her back, softly uttering soft and kind words in her ears.  The individual meanings of such words would lose themselves to the formidable power of time itself, but the impact they left behind would be felt well into the afternoon.  The warmth and comfort were what she clung to, and while it was hard to say if her friends knew of the great power their presence had, Ochako wouldn’t question this form of strength.

Strength.  Was this how she regained it?  Was this how she would remain upright from now on?

Well, this was something she could try.  For them.  For this warmth that they shared and were willing to prop her up with for now.

She wouldn’t run from them.  Or from this.  She wouldn’t listen to the black hole telling her to crumple on herself.

Not right now.

Not when her friends were still reaching out to her.  She couldn’t run from them or try to hide her problems.  She had to face them.  For them, at least.  When they were fighting so hard for her.

And she knew how hard it could be to fight for somebody you cared about.  Two years ago, a body in the air, writhing and in pain, shouting for help and for everyone to stay away.  How scared had he been then, with his mutating quirk and lack of control?

How scared was she now?

“Bwuh—”

Ochako pushed away from her friends as her mouth filled with yellow flowers.  She turned, running to a nearby tree in order to spit them out.  Shaking legs could not support her, and her arm was not fast enough to catch onto the tree itself.  As she fell to the ground, she was grateful that she didn’t land in her pile of flower vomit, but the sentiment was shallow at best.  She landed perhaps an inch away from the bright petals, a glaring reminder that her thoughts and reactions were no longer her own.

She had no control here.

“Ochako-chan!”

She had no control over any of this.

“Uraraka-san, are you all…”

No!

Ochako released a sound that was at once a roar of indignation and a grunt of pain, taking the useless arm that had not been able to catch her and thrusting it into the sturdy trunk of the tree.  It held, but she wished it wouldn’t have.  She hit it again.  And again.  And again.

And the stupid tree wouldn’t fall!  It wouldn’t just… knock over!

Just!

Fall!

Over!

Ochako wound her arm backwards and threw her entire torso into the punch from where she sat.  The torque ripped through her muscles, and the reverberation from the impact left a shuddering impression on her body.  Her entire being was coiled, ready to spring, ready for something to give

Only for her to see that her efforts did nothing.  The tree stood, tall and proud, just as it had before she’d taken her sudden aggression out on it.

This realization, coming so close on the heels of her previous one, stood defiant over the warmth she’d begun to cling to.  The kindness that had pierced through her hopelessness now seemed just as frail as she had first feared it would be.  Because she could throw her all at this tree and have it do nothing.  She could throw her all into this problem, and nothing would change.  Nothing she did would change anything about this.  She would throw up flowers until she died from it.

And that thought was effectively breaking her.  No villain could have done this.  No overly competitive classmate.  Not even her feelings on their own could have reduced her to this.

She could have laughed at the strength she had before.

She could have cried at her weakness now.

What she did was a messy mixture of both.

“Ochako-chan…”

“Uraraka-san…”

Ochako burst into tears, the warmth that she’d clung to quickly receding.  In its place, a cold that was quickly becoming familiar clung to her like a depressive foggy morning.  It tapped at her psyche and dug into her fragile emotional state, taunting her with her own ineptitude.  Mocking her with her own inability to hold it together.  Her friends, now crouched on the ground around her, continued to try soothing her, but the gestures barely registered in her swirling mind.  She couldn’t even get a sentence out…  She was too fragile.  It was too much.  She couldn’t do this.  She couldn’t do this.  She couldn’t—

“Yes, you can, kero.”  Tsu’s firm voice was a calm amidst her storm, but she couldn’t help but feel that such calmness didn’t belong here.  Not here, not now.  Not when everything was breaking apart.  She couldn’t.  “You’re stronger than you’re giving yourself credit for, Ochako-chan.”

The words sounded hollow.  If she was strong, why was that tree still standing?  If she was strong, where was her conviction?  Her determination?  Gone, that’s where.  Gone like her chances for the future.  Gone like she would be in a few weeks’ time.  Months, if she was lucky.

But what was lucky about living her life like… this?  How could this be lucky?  How could anything about this be lucky?

This was a curse.  And Ochako knew no cure for it.  She only knew that she wanted to hide.  Hide away from the world and not come out again.  Hide away until she died like she truly deserved.

Because death had to be better than the options she had right now.

“No.”  Momo’s voice was gentle, but even Ochako—in all her despair—could sense the return of the firm steel in her tone.  The hero of creation leaned backwards and forced Ochako to look at her.  What she saw was the expression of a fierce leader, a worried friend, and a ride-or-die supporter.  Her intensity was enough to scare even the very forces of nature into submission.  “Uraraka-san, you heard Recovery Girl.  You have options.  You have time.  And you have got to get your mind off of this.”

“But—”

“She’s right, kero,” chimed in Tsu, and Ochako was suddenly faced with both friends staring at her with a mixture of strong emotions that she couldn’t possibly name.  Tears ran down her face and hiccups captured her ability to speak, but these facts only allowed her friend to continue with her points.  “Even if your parents hadn’t asked us to look after you, we wouldn’t let you fight this on your own, kero.  We won’t.  We’ll find a way to deal with it one step at a time.  But the first step is exactly like Recovery Girl said.  You need a distraction, kero.”

Ochako shook her head.  If words failed, actions might not.  She wanted to be alone.  She needed to be alone.  She couldn’t take—

Instead of acquiescing to her silent request, her friends only seemed to hold onto her more tightly.

“Don’t ask us to abandon you, Uraraka-san.”  The word ‘abandon’ slapped Ochako in the face, rendering her still.  To abandon someone was to leave them behind and to turn your back on them.  As a hero and as a person, it was something Ochako herself strove never to do.  She’d told this to her friends time and time again when her anyone asked about her motivations.  They’d all made a silent pact, sometime in first year, to never do such a thing to one another.  The memory resounded with her even now.  Momo, using the opportunity she’d created, continued, her unwavering conviction punctuating every word she said.  “Because we won’t.”

She turned to her friends, almost certainly a mess.  They had their hearts in the right place, but they didn’t understand.  She needed to go.  She couldn’t stay here and feel… and feel…

“Ochako-chan, we’re heroes,” said Tsu simply.  The word ‘heroes’ stopped her again.  The pact…  “You’re a hero, too.  And you should know, by now, what that means, kero.  Heroes never turn their back on someone in need.

“Especially if that someone is a friend, kero.”

It was then that her mind understood even when her wounded heart wanted to refuse.  They didn’t want her to be alone.  They didn’t want her to face the unspeakable darkness and pressures of this terminal illness in a place where they couldn’t reach her.  Logically, she knew that neither of her friends would be able to empathize with this feeling of hopelessness, this… dread and sickness of the heart.  They’d all been through harrowing experiences, but this was one she knew that the others had no living experience with.

But, even so…  the more she dwelled upon it, the more her heart began to see anew what her brain was still somehow missing.  They wouldn’t give up on her.  They would never give up on her, even in moments where she gave up on herself.  Just a little while ago, she’d marveled at how they held their hands out to her.  She’d vowed to fight as long as they did.  She’d broken her promise so quickly, wishing to hide away and die, but here they were.  Still here.  Now, she marveled once more.

How quickly she’d forgotten.  How quickly she’d been willing to cast them off to the side to do this alone.  To be alone.  To die alone.

How could she have repaid their kindness with an intention so cruel?  Fresh tears, ones of sorrow and regret and shame, broke.

“I…” Ochako choked on air, trying desperately to breathe through the emotional resurgence that had just taken place.  Her friends waited patiently for her as she took a breath, seemingly unfazed by the increase of tears.  “I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean…  I…”

Quickly, she grabbed for them again and latched onto them.  Her friends hugged her back, matching her ferocity.  They may not have realized just how close their friend had been to giving up, but now, with her friends beside her, she vowed not to ever, ever, ever make that mistake again.

Never again.

She would get through this, somehow.

She had to.

They sat there, unspeaking, for a while.  Ochako didn’t know if it was seconds or minutes, but she eventually became aware of the fact that they were in front of the UA building in broad daylight with several hundred students roaming around somewhere on campus.  Any one of them could walk across this trio of girls, hugging and crying together in a puddle of limbs at the base of a tree, at any moment.  And, in a school full of heroes, questions would be inevitable if they were discovered.

And she really didn’t want to deal with any questions about it.  Not right now.

“Do you want to go somewhere else, kero?” asked Tsu, somehow reading Ochako’s growing discomfort with surprising preciseness.  However, all too used to her friend’s uncanny ability to see through to the heart of any situation and with no true emotional energy left over from her most recent conviction to be surprised anyways, Ochako only nodded.

“I think I have an idea,” said Momo.  “There’s somewhere we can go where we should just be able to blend in with a crowd.”

Ochako, too tired to even think of not trusting her friend, nodded.



The first half an hour was spent on a subway in silence.

It wasn’t as though no one spoke, though.  Tsu and Momo were both excellent conversationalists when the skill was required, but Ochako couldn’t help but allow the exhaustion of the morning to pull her into a state of unconsciousness.  The last thing she remembered was Tsu asking Momo where she was taking them.  Momo’s answer had been lost to a black void.

A black void that soon turned into swirling colors for Ochako.  Saved children screamed.  Her parents were bent over a table, working hard with cricks in their backs and bags under their eyes.  And someone… was out of reach…  so far…  there was no way she could reach…

“Ochako-chan…  Ochako-chan!”

Startled out of her dreamscape, Ochako’s breath caught in her throat and she was forced to cough in order to reset her breathing and gulp down some much-needed air.  It was a moment before she felt the comforting hand on her back and realized that she’d hunched over to clear her windpipe.

It was half-a second more before she recognized that shade of yellow on the subway floor. 

Blearily, she stared at it, the feeling from before throbbing under the skin of her knuckles and tensing her shoulders.  While her rest had been good for recovering some of her stamina and wits, waking up to the problem directly kicking her in the throat hadn’t settled her volatile emotions one bit.

Dark thoughts and angry thoughts, inspired by that ever-present black hole and her continuing fight against it, swirled inside her.  The forces of nature would not be denied, but nor would Ochako allow herself to slip into that hopelessness and despair.  While those good thoughts of the morning had helped her find a semblance of peace, this anger gave her something to do.  Some physical way of beating back the tide of emotions that threatened to swallow her whole and snuff her out.  As such, she clung to that anger, refusing to let it go.  And in that moment, a wayward thought hit her.  Maybe this was why Bakugo was constantly yelling.

The thought was so random and so funny that, for a moment, she was startled from her anger at the flower on the floor.  Almost involuntarily, she chuckled.

Damn emotions, not making up their mind. 

But even erratic and crazy like this, she would prefer all of this life over the harrowing emptiness she’d felt in Recovery Girl’s office.  She’d grab it by the reins if she needed to in order to feel alive.

“Ochako-chan, you have a scary look on your face, kero,” said Tsu.  The comment, she knew, was not made to be anything other than observational.  As such, she took it as a compliment.  Scary was better than dead.

“I’m going to do my best,” she growled. Vaguely, it reminded her of her of her first year at UA when she had been pumping herself and her classmates up for their first Sports Festival.

She’d done her best there and failed.  This time, she’d do her best and succeed.

She had to.  And she would.  She would.

“Uraraka-san, I believe you’re frightening that young child over there.”  Momo discretely pointed to a small child with flowers in his hair, clinging desperately to the skirt of a woman Ochako could only assume was his mother.  The woman patted her child reassuringly and elected to ignore the outside factor that was Ochako, focusing all of her attention and love instead on the boy who trembled beside her.

She watched, for a moment, the sweet interaction.  The mother kindly wiped the tears of the child until he was assured.  She smiled at the boy, inspiring him to smile in return.

For a moment, she wanted to be jealous.  That little boy didn’t know how lucky he was, right then, to have his momma banish the fears of the real world for him.  A scary person on the bus?  Never fear, momma’s here to keep away the bad thoughts.  He had his protector with him.  She…

Ochako sighed, turning away.  She wanted to be jealous because she wanted her parents here.  But they weren’t.  And they couldn’t be.  But there still wasn’t a reason to be jealous.  While her parents weren’t here, she was surrounded by amazing friends who had sat through three of her crying spells already and had watched her throw up flowers just as many times.  Throughout the morning, even with her crying and screaming and her wanting to run away, they’d stayed by her side.  And they were helping her to the best of their ability.

Her parents loved her.  Her friends loved her.

Now she had to love herself.  She had to help herself.

But by no means did that mean she had to do it alone.  Suddenly, she threw her head back, resolutely staring in front of her.  She was a hero.  Heroes helped people in trouble, even if it was themselves.  She briefly looked to either side of her, Tsu and Momo watching her warily.  Perhaps they were trying to predict her next move; perhaps their glances were out of simple worry.  Either way, she was going to try not to worry them any more today.

She had to let them in.  She had to let them help.

And she had to start helping herself.

After all, her parents didn’t raise a quitter.

“I think…” said Ochako, forcing herself to look ahead.  The future wasn’t guaranteed, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t fight to make it happen anyways.  “I need a plan.”

“Good idea, kero,” said Tsu.  Her tone was as observational as ever, but Ochako didn’t imagine that hint of pride behind the words.  It fueled her.  “If you don’t mind, Momo-chan and I were discussing what Recovery Girl told us about the hanahaki disease while you were asleep, and we thought a few ground rules would be helpful, kero.”

“Of course, we don’t want to pressure you into accepting these rules,” clarified Momo instantaneously.  She, too, was making no attempt to hide her pleasure at the turn of events.  She looked as though she were going to say more, but Ochako stopped whatever other justification the girl would have given her with a nod.

“I know,” she said, keeping herself serious and yet upbeat.  It felt harder today, but she couldn’t let that get her down.  Instead of focusing on the effort, she focused on her friend.  “You guys have done so much for me already, but if you have any extra ideas, I’m all ears.”

It was as though a breath of fresh air had washed over all of them.  After a horribly rough start this morning, Ochako was still fighting, not yet down and out.  The disease may have won the first round, but she was back up and ready for round two.  Her friends could clearly see that and were in her corner all the way.

Both girls nodded their understanding, and Tsu pointedly looked to Momo.  Ochako followed her lead.

“First things first,” stated Momo, an air about her as though she were leading another class exercise.  Ochako, even in her swirling emotions, couldn’t help but find the comparison at least a little bit funny.  Perhaps it was because of her swirling emotions that she could find such things funny.  She hoped these kinds of surprises would keep happening.  She was keenly aware that she needed a bit of happiness today.  “Recovery Girl stated that accepting one’s feelings can lengthen the time frame from two weeks to three months.  We think it would be a good idea for you to admit that you are in love.”

Immediately, the amusement she felt vanished.  In its place, a cold fury, a frigid anger, began to spread slowly through her veins, and she pierced Momo with a glare.

“I’m notkhuh!”

As Ochako coughed, the feeling of ice in her veins burned her, and the walls of her mouth throbbed in protest.  Her denial hadn’t made it far past her lips without making her pay dearly.  But still!  These thoughts were private!  These feelings were private!  If she admitted them…  no, she couldn’t!  These were thoughts for the dark of night when she could hide and handle them!  No!  She couldn’t—

“Ochako-chan,” said Tsu, her voice breaking through her friend’s frenzied panic.  Anger, embarrassment, and desolation swirled together in one horrible cocktail that Ochako wished she could say ‘no thank you’ to.  As it was, she could only turn to her friend, who pierced her in turn with wide eyes.  “You do not have to confess to him, kero.  Only to yourself.  But it’s obvious, especially now, that you feel deeply for him.”

Ochako opened her mouth. Closed it.  Opened it again.  No words came to mind.  Or too many at once.  Either way, there was nothing she could say.

“We know you have your reasons for not wanting to confront these feelings or acknowledge them,” said Momo.  Ochako knew her friend was being careful with her words, though she could not tell if it was due to the situation or due to how Momo normally spoke.  She had mixed feelings the possibility of being treated carefully now, in a time of crisis.  “However, for your health, it would be more beneficial for you to face these feelings head-on.  They are here.  For now, they are your adversary, and each adversary needs to be acknowledged and given appropriate respect if they are to be defeated.”

Momo’s careful wording gave her pause.  An adversary.  Just like any villain she’d take down during patrol on any of her internships.  She never won any of her battles by ignoring them and hoping they’d go away.  She was a hero.  She fought villains.

But this was also a part of her.  A private, vulnerable part of her that had real potential of damaging her.  That was already damaging her.  Could she really treat it like just another enemy?

But when it was hurting her, how could she not?

“It’s a little more complex than that, kero,” said Tsu, addressing Momo’s analogy.  She then turned to Ochako, who was clearly mulling over the idea with seriousness.  Tsu sighed.  “But if thinking of these feelings as an adversary that you need to defeat helps you to accept them as real regardless of the circumstance, then it’s a start.  Kero.”

It was clear from her voice that she didn’t agree with the concept, but Ochako could already feel herself warming up to—no, accepting—Momo’s proposed idea.  For now, these feelings were an obstacle.  They were in her way.  They were a wall between where she stood now and the life she wanted to have.

And every good adversary needed to be measured up in order to be taken down.

“Okay.”  Ochako glared in front of her, visualizing… something… to help her.  Anything, really.

This was a fight.

Fighting was something she could do.

She just… needed a place to start.

Ochako’s gaze faltered at that reminder, and she looked down, puzzling.  Start…  start…  how did one start?  She glanced at both of her friends.  “How… do I even start?”

Ochako looked first at Momo, who faltered herself at the question.  They both knew who would be the most helpful for this matter and turned, simultaneously, to Tsu.  The frog-themed hero blinked calmly.

“Why are you both staring at me, kero?”

“Well, you seem to have the most… emotional… expertise among us,” said Momo.

“You basically sound like you know what you’re doing here,” added Ochako.  “I know I don’t, and Momo-chan doesn’t look like she knows either.  No offense.”

Momo smiled when Ochako turned to her with her apology, already waving it off.  “None taken.  It’s an accurate statement.”

Ochako, relieved she hadn’t accidentally hurt her friend, refocused on their only hope.

Tsu sighed.  It was somehow both patient and exasperated at once.  Ochako vaguely wondered if such a sigh was a skill only unlocked by children who had siblings.  Either way, her friend didn’t waste any more time in helping her.

“If you’re hoping to look at your feelings as a whole, then you should start by looking at the differences in yourself, kero.”  Tsu’s words of wisdom were welcomed by two bewildered stares.  She kindly elaborated.  “For example, have you been acting differently since you got these feelings?”

Ochako winced.

“And if you’ve had these feelings for a long time, how do you feel they are impacting your daily life?  What do you spend your free time thinking about?  Have these feelings influenced you to do or say things that you may not have done otherwise?”

With each question, Ochako could feel herself being weighed by an invisible ton.

Because she knew the answer to every single one of these questions without thinking twice.

Aoyama pointed out these feelings out to her in their first year.  The first long while after that had been rough for her when she’d tried interacting with Deku, but they’d found their rhythm again.  After months of tip toeing around each other, they’d found a rhythm.

If that rhythm meant ‘we can have perfectly fine conversations about anything in the world that will suddenly be interrupted by an insane urge to hold him close and/or kiss him and/or give him the entire world’.  Then yeah.  Perfect rhythm.  Absolutely perfect rhythm.  He was her best friend, and they had a working rhythm.

He was just also a best friend that she couldn’t help but act like a twitterpated fool around sometimes.  Sometimes she had her brain with her when they talked, sometimes she didn’t.  It was always a toss-up, and it very rarely mattered what situation the two of them were in when her brain decided to go kaputzie.

As for her daily life, her feelings didn’t really affect her when she wasn’t thinking about them.  And her free time was spent thinking about them… a lot.  She’d spent many days caught up in daydreams and almost slipped up in saying something about them so many times.  But when she wasn’t thinking about them, they didn’t really impact her.

But then again, they also did.

Her original goal was to make money for her parents and to protect people’s smiles.  Obviously, in order to get into UA in the first place, she had to imagine herself giving up so much in order to make those dreams a reality.

But knowing him…  admiring him as she did… 

She almost couldn’t help that she’d started going on morning jogs during their second year, hoping to run into him while she strengthened herself.  Even though she didn’t meet up with him every day that she ran, it was a habit she’d cultivated and eventually kept for herself, finding that she enjoyed the brisk morning air and faint stars of the morning along the way. 

Because he gave it his all, she found herself ramming wholeheartedly against limits she otherwise would have lightly shoved against in order to improve. She’d thrown herself into the air, increasing her weight and time limits alike at a pace that she never would have believed in junior high school.  And while her success was its own reward and a new move was always a treasure in and of itself, it was his smile and admiration of her that always drove her when she wanted to call it quits.  When she was throwing up her lunches on shaking knees and ready to rest, his earnest encouragement always gave her the strength for at least one more honest effort. 

Because she admired his strategic mind, she’d found herself pushing her own planning into overdrive, almost frantic in the act of catching up.  Her mind was an important tool at her disposal, and it had taken her a while to realize just how valuable such a resource was.  Again, he’d sped the process along by just being himself.  His plans were always rapid and effective, but he’d always respected her mind.  He thought the world of her plans, even with as straightforward and last-ditch as they could sometimes be.  Over the past two years, she’d worked to make plans that were more complex, and she’d been rewarded.  Her victories against him while sparring and moving forward in their respective tracks, though infrequent due to the nature of their competitive natures, were always greeted with great sportsmanship, unabashed awe on his side, and a feeling of accomplishment that only came with feeling the pride of someone you cared deeply about.

Because he had a tendency to stand alone when he thought he was in danger, she had fashioned a new goal of supporting her fellow heroes on and off the field.  Every time that he had grown by leaps and bounds, she could see that his progress had come at a price.  Broken bones.  Dogged secrecy.  A mangled body.  Incredible fear.  She never knew why he felt the urge to take all of these burdens on by himself, but she’d made herself stronger, faster, and more versatile in response to what she saw.  Her first blatant attempt of this, her grappling hook, had served her well even in situations where he was nowhere near involved.

But all of these improvements and more had their origin.

Though each of these elements had served her well, she hadn’t made such changes and improvements solely for herself and for her own improvement.

She’d done them for him.

Without even noticing it, he’d integrated himself into her motivations and goals, had bolstered her resolve and drive in so many ways, and had become one of the ones whose smiles she yearned to protect the most.

She’d improved so much over the past few years, but how much of that was due to her fervent desire to stand on equal ground with him?  To catch up, to support, and to be supported?

How far would she have come without that extra motivation, as selfish as it was?

She turned to Tsu, who said nothing.  She turned to Momo, who likewise held her silence.  Both were looking to Ochako as the subway rattled and shook around them, carrying them further and further away from where they’d begun their journey.  Despite the shaking, the rattling, and the other passengers that surrounded them, Ochako felt as though they’d entered into a small sphere of silence.  A moment, suspended in time, that belonged to them and to her new discovery.  A new perspective on her feelings that she had known somewhere in the back of her mind, most certainly in the depths of her heart, but one that she had never gave proper credence to.

She’d pushed herself on account of this crush.  She’d changed the trajectory of her life and chased experiences in order to remain equal.  His motivation had fueled her, his progress had baited her, and her high school experience had been spent either on his coattails or looking backwards to find him not far behind her, seemingly just as eager to stay on equal footing.

As much as she’d pushed her feelings down, she hadn’t realized just how much she’d relied on them to move forward towards her goals.  The same goals she’d been afraid that they would derail.

Being faced with this thought knocked the wind out of her, and she was forced to breathe deeply.

“They…”  Her voice would go no louder than a whisper.  And in this moment, she faintly supposed that was a good thing.  “How can something so destructive and distracting also be so…”

Ochako could feel it.  Unwillingly at first, but the more she considered them…  she could feel the presence of her feelings.  She could see the effect having them had on her life.  She’d tried to suppress them, thinking that the only thing they could do was slow her down.  Now…

She looked at Tsu, her eyes wide with realization.  “How did I never notice that feeling this way made me work harder at what I already wanted to do?”

Instead of answering, Tsu shook her head.  “There are answers for that, but that’s not the focus right now, kero.  Right now, the question is ‘can you accept how you feel?’.”

“She’s right,” interjected Momo.  Ochako turned to her and saw her chin resting in her hand as she gazed in front of her, thinking over the issue.  “You’ve had a great deal of time to dwell upon the negative aspects of having romantic feelings, but there are positive sides to it as well.  Accepting both sides…”

Momo turned to Ochako, the final piece clicking into place for both of them at the same time.  “Accepting all of it means that I won’t only be focusing on the ways that my feelings inconvenience and frustrate me,” gasped Ochako.  “That’s why people live longer when they accept them!  Their feelings aren’t just that longing and frustration, then!  It opens them up to a whole range of emotions!”

“That may be why the time limit increases by a substantial amount as well,” added Momo, a smile on her face mirroring Ochako’s own relief.  She turned to Tsu, who seemed to equally share in their happiness.

Ochako felt so much lighter, as though the black hole had been dealt a devastating blow and was being forced to retreat.  This wasn’t the final solution, but this step wasn’t so hard after all.  Yeah, her feelings had distracted her and made her slip up sometimes, but they also pushed her and made her stronger when she let them.

Her feelings could be good for her.  She just had to use them right.

“They’re not an adversary,” she said at last.  “They’re a weaponMy weapon.”

“More or less, kero,” agreed Tsu, her observational comment going nowhere as her smile revealed her true feelings.  At this, Ochako turned to her with a grin.

“Tsu-chan, you’re a genius!”

As her friend pinked under the praise, Ochako turned to her hands, balled up in her excitement.  She grinned.  They could do something about this, after all!  The realization, the hope, set a fire in her gut.  She could do something!

She turned to her friends, far more energetic than earlier.

“Okay,” she said, matching—okay, so maybe surpassing, so sue her—Momo’s businesslike demeanor from before.  “What are the rest of these rules?”

Chapter Text

The subway slowed to a stop an hour later.  Ochako honestly had no idea where they were, nor did she care.  Instead of reading the signs around her, she focused intently on the simple rules she, Tsu, and Momo had talked about on the ride over.

The first rule was that romantic talk was officially off the table.  Banned.  Exiled.  Not to be brought up or mentioned ever

This rule was one that they would have to talk about with Mina and Toru specifically.  All three of them knew that if it were only Ochako asking, they would get questions.  Questions that Ochako, quite frankly, didn’t want to have to answer just yet.  However, since it would be her and Momo and Tsu asking, the other two probably wouldn’t fight the ban so much.  Jirou, to be honest, probably wouldn’t be too invested in it.

But if they did ask ‘why the sudden gag order?’, they decided that their cover reason would be that, with graduation a scant six months away, everyone in their class would need all the focus they could get on their classes, internships, and job searches.  If that didn’t work, the three girls decided that they would probably call Iida in for backup with the new rule.  The decided they could probably get him on their side if they said it was for ‘encouraging professional behavior on and off the field’. 

Ochako really hoped it wouldn’t come to that since Iida was a really good friend who was both earnest and hard-working, but she knew that, even as a last resort, Iida could be pretty effective when he needed to be.  Hopefully Mina and Toru would just go along with it for now.

Hopefully.

The second rule was that Ochako had to start keeping a journal for her symptoms. 

At first, Momo and Tsu had wanted to have daily meetups to discuss her condition.  Ochako had countered with the idea of weekly meetups instead, but Tsu had pointed out that, with such fast-acting symptoms, it was important to keep on top of any changes that happened as soon as they happened.  The Hanahaki disease was just too quick to ignore for six whole days.  In the end, Ochako had admitted that she just didn’t want to have to talk about it every single day.

Her admission had been met with silence while they had figured out what to do.  After a few minutes of puzzling it out, it was Momo who had come up with the compromise of a journal.  The journal, of course, had to have a few rules in order for it to be a fair compromise.  She had to write in it every day, she had to write down any symptoms that she had during each day, and she had to talk to either one of the girls or Recovery Girl if the symptoms worsened in any way.  This gave Ochako the chance to talk about the disease whenever she wanted to and drop the subject whenever she needed to.  Grateful in one case and satisfied in the other, both Ochako and Tsu had accepted this compromise.

Ochako had vetoed their next rule, though.  There just wasn’t any way she could find a compromise for it that would have worked for them all.

Momo and Tsu had suggested that they could chaperone any interaction she had with Deku from then on.  It wasn’t like they hadn’t thought their suggestion through, though.  They’d figured that it would be easier to extract her from any sort of situation that could possibly lead to any hanahaki-related mishaps.  The thought was sweet, but Ochako had been firm in her decision.

“Even if you could monitor us all the time—even in class!—that would be like punishing Deku-kun for something he didn’t even do,” Ochako had explained while frowning.  “We’re best friends; we hang out literally all the time.  What would he think if, all of a sudden, I stop hanging out with him whenever you guys aren’t around?  He might think that he did something wrong, and I don’t wanna do that to him. 

“Besides,” she added with what she had hoped would be a disarming smile, “I don’t want to wake you guys up at 2AM.”

She was met with the confused and questioning gazes of her two friends, and Ochako was suddenly reminded why she’d never let those meetings be known to anyone else before.

Oops…

“What do the two of you do at 2AM, kero?” asked Tsu, puzzled.  Ochako flushed at the polite question, happy memories of floating pencils and extensive mutterings and comparing class notes and fieldwork notes and disastrous cooking meetings coming to mind.

“Th-that’s private…”

A moment of fear pricked at her heart, and she brought her hand up to her face, ready to catch flowers if needed.

But the memories continued to float in her mind, one smiling face after the next, and she found that it didn’t hurt.  There were no flowers, there wasn’t even any pain.  She actually felt… contentment.  The kind she’d rarely felt before.

She marveled at it a little.

Even before today, such close and intimate memories had always come with a pang of longing in her chest.  Almost as though that tantalizing taste of aloneness and togetherness was so entirely removed from her reality and so utterly impossible that it couldn’t been anything other than as painful as it was.  Now, however, it felt like she was free to focus on the happier aspects of these precious memories. 

Like Deku-kun’s completely unappealing face when said floating pencil had smacked him in the face by accident.  Or the time she’d caught him misspelling ‘Orca’ in his notes and he’d let her tease him about it for a while.  Or the time they’d tried to make a cake in the middle of the night and had spent hours cleaning up the mess together because neither one of them had wanted to leave the other to do it on their own.  The memories weren’t painful.  They were reminders to her of the type of person her best friend, her crush, was.

And they didn’t hurt her.  Physically or emotionally, they didn’t hurt her.

The fact made her grin.  It made her feel warm and it made her feel safe.  In fact, it made her feel downright powerful.

The hanahaki disease might have surprised her and scared her, but this was a moment that was hers.  Heartfelt memories were hers to cherish now, and she vowed to cherish them for as long as she could.

Determined and feeling bold, she stepped off the subway. She could feel a rod in her spine and a fire in her eye.  She turned to her friends with a grin.

“So,” she asked, looking between the two of them, “What’s first?”

She watched as her two friends observed her for a moment.  She knew they were both looking for signs of distress or of pain.  But there weren’t any to see.  Not in her smiling face, not in her stance, not in her anything.  She had this.  She could do this.  And, from the way her friends looked so relieved, they knew it.

“Right!” exclaimed Momo, taking charge with a strong stride.  “This way!”



Ochako matched pace with her two friends as they walked, laughing as she’d thought she wouldn’t be able to.  This morning had been filled with so much despair and pain that it was almost surreal that she was now walking down the sidewalk, laughing so hard that her sides hurt.  Yet here she was.  Here they were.  Listening to one of Tsu’s funnier stories about her younger brother.  Laughing like the world was still moving forward.

And, in a way, she guessed it was.  It was moving forward.

“What did he do then?” asked Ochako, watching as Tsu placed a finger atop her chin.  She knew that her friend could probably remember the incident perfectly, but she was probably just making the two of them wait a little bit so she wouldn’t have to talk over their laughter.

Which, fair.

“Kero.  We had to wait fifteen minutes for our father to arrive with some cool water,” explained Tsu, a twinkle of mischief in her eye.  “Normally, I would have brought water with us in the first place, but Samidare-kun insisted that we didn’t need to bring any for just a trip to the store.  I suppose he wanted to impress our parents with how grown-up he could be doing an errand like that, kero.  He looked so proud while saying it, too.  I probably shouldn’t have encouraged his behavior, but I think he’s thought twice about not listening to my suggestions ever since, kero.”

“Oh my,” said Momo, giggling from behind a polite hand.  “What an interesting way to find out that your tongue can go that far.  It’s a shame that such an event happened in winter, though.”

Tsu nodded in reaction to Momo’s concern, a smile on her face.  “Even though he had his tongue stuck to a pole for fifteen minutes, Samidare-kun wasn’t too bothered by the whole thing, kero.  He bounced back fairly quickly.  In fact, he keeps telling me that, soon, he’ll be able to reach his tongue further than me without any Hero training, kero.”

Ochako chuckled, trying to imagine anyone surpassing her friend without the training they’d all gone through.  They had exercised and pushed their limits almost constantly under the watchful eye of teachers and mentors alike.  Going further than them without putting in the effort was difficult to imagine.

She said as much to Tsu, who smiled knowingly while nodding.  She understood.

“Ah!” said Momo, interrupting the conversation.  “We’re here!”

Ochako turned away from Tsu to find…  “A secondhand thrift shop?”

It was true.  In front of the three of them stood a single-story building, ramshackle kanji spanning the top of the store and weakly advertising the clothes and merchandise inside.  The signs that spanned the relatively clean windows ran along the front of the establishment.  They would have once been bright yellow and red, but as it was, the large 20, 30, and 40 percent off signs were clad in lackluster yellow and burned reds.  A single green ‘clearance’ sign stood askew in front of the open door.

The entire building seemed so very out of character for Momo.  How did she know about this place?  Why were they here?  She turned to her friend, confusion clearly colored on her face, for answers.

To her credit, Momo seemed to realize just how strange the place she’d brought them to was.

“I—”  Momo was fidgeting with her fingers, a nervous habit that she hadn’t quite outgrown of when she was among friends.  “I thought of the last time I had to blend in and not be noticed.  We stopped at a store very much like this one and got some disguises, and no one bothered us after that.  So, after this morning, I thought that perhaps you might like to… well, pretend to be someone else for today.”

Ochako blinked owlishly at her friend’s explanation.  Part of her wanted to ask why she would have ever needed to shop at a secondhand thrift shop and what kind of circumstance had led her to needing a disguise in the first place, but that part of her was very small indeed.  Everyone had their secrets, and she was more than willing to let this one be.

On the other hand, a very large part of her was touched by her friend’s thoughtfulness.  A little literal and straightforward, but the plan was solid enough for what Momo had decided that Ochako needed.  And given Ochako’s state when she’d crafted the plan, the girl couldn’t blame her in the slightest.  Momo had said a place to ‘blend in’, and this definitely fit the bill.  She felt the gentle rays of kindness warm her soul, the act alone giving her more strength than all the clothes ever could.

“Thank you, Momo-chan.”  Immediately, the hints of trepidation that could have been in her friend’s face melted away, leaving in its wake an expression of pure joy.  What came out of her mouth next, however, was a response that she’d spent the past two years using.  “But…  I’ve been saving a lot.  I don’t feel comfortable spending too much, even though you went through so much trouble to find me a store to shop in.  I still want to have enough for… you know…”

In that moment, her words halted.  They stuck in her throat.  Though there were no physical flowers, Ochako could feel their presence anyways.  Phantom sensations tickled in her mouth, taunting her with one very obvious fact that she hadn’t wanted to consider, especially after their breakthrough on the subway:

‘After graduation’ wasn’t guaranteed anymore.

The hard work of the past hour and a half crashed around her ears.  Her air was stolen, and she was suddenly forced to grapple with ideas that she wanted to reject.  Even with this step that she’d taken, with accepting her feelings as part of her now, could she guarantee a future for herself?  Could she promise herself that she would see the fruits of her labor one day?

Would saving for herself still be worth it?  She would always save for her parents and for their house and for their vacation; that was an intrinsic part of her by now.  But for herself?  For an apartment?  For cooking pans and furniture and bills…  was that a future that she could invest in?

That she even should invest in?

The thought clamped onto her soul, forcibly beginning to drag it back to the reality she’d done so much to escape.

The reality where she threw up flowers when the feelings got too much.

The reality where those feelings would only grow, and the flowers would only show up more and more.

The reality where she’d only bought herself a little time.  She hadn’t saved herself at all.

The reality where she didn’t know what her future held.

The reality where she didn’t know if she had a future anymore.

That reality.

“Enough for when you move out on your own?” asked Momo, finishing the thought that Ochako could not.  Despite her voice being gentle, the stark contrast was enough to startle Ochako from her thoughts.  She turned swiftly to her friend—when had she looked away?—and saw a soft smile on her face.  Her eyes looked…sad. Apologetic, almost.  “That’s a noble goal, Uraraka-san.  It would be foolish of me to hinder that.”

Ochako Uraraka looked at her friend and knew that she was many things.  She was a Pro-Hero in the making.  An average student.  A dependable leader.  A capable fighter.  A young woman.  A daughter.  A friend

None of those things implied that she didn’t have the brainpower to figure out what Momo was trying to do for her.

And, even a moment ago, Ochako might have grabbed onto her friend’s attempt and offering with both hands, smiling as she thanked her for being so understanding with her long-term goals and life choices.  She would have grabbed both girls by the arm and dragged them into the store, chattering about all of the different bargains she could find anyways or about how they could always window shop and just not buy anything, or she would chatter about anything and everything that would help her hang on to her delusion of normalcy for a little while longer.

But the words wouldn’t come to her mouth.  They couldn’t.  Here, roughly taken hold of by reality, she was rooted to the spot.  As she watched Momo pretend for her sake, she knew that  she couldn’t allow this to continue.  She couldn’t allow her friends to treat her like glass; that was a surefire way of breaking her.  She couldn’t let them help her try to escape from reality itself over and over again.

If she did that, then she lost.  If she did that, then the hanahaki won.

Right.  This was her new adversary.  This was something she couldn’t give in to.  Her feelings could be accepted, but that wasn’t going to work here.  She needed a new strategy.

Regardless of her new reality and the terror it brought her, she had to meet it somehow.  She had to do something other than run away.

So instead of doing all that she wanted to, Ochako shook her head.  She had finally realized the gift, the true gift, that Momo had been trying to give her.  The chance to run away and to not deal with this problem for at least one day.

It was a gift she had to refuse, even if it was so tantalizing.  Momo’s face, now filled with her own confusion, fell a little at her actions.  “Uraraka-san…”

Momo looked lost for words, and she turned to Tsu.  Their friend looked equally confused, but her eyes were piercing Ochako, silently asking for an answer.  Ochako took a breath.

“I don’t even know if I’ll live to after graduation.”  Ochako’s voice, as wobbly as it was, sounded much stronger than she felt, but she had to see the truth for what it was.  She had to say it out loud.  She looked from Momo to Tsu, hoping they would lend her just that much more strength to keep her going forward.  No running, no hiding, no disguising.  They both had creases on their foreheads, worry at the tips of their lips.  She could see it.  And she had to tell them what was on her mind and on her heart.  To share this vulnerable part of herself, even if it hurt. 

Especially since it hurt.  It hurt so much.

“I want to run away from all of this,” she said, her voice no more than a whisper.  “My legs are shaking, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to go through all of today without crying again.  But I can’t run from it.  I can’t just pretend it doesn’t exist.  I did that with my feelings the first time, and it didn’t help.   I don’t have the luxury of trying that for two years.  I don’t even know if I have the luxury to try that for one month or one week or one day.

“So… please… don’t promise me something we can’t guarantee right now.”  Ochako wasn’t sure if her feelings—confused and muddled and hurt and angry and hopeful as they were—showed through her cracking and wobbly voice.  She hoped it would show in her bow, her eyes closed to stop a fresh batch of tears coming through.  “I want to live as real a life as I can right now, and I don’t know how to do it without being able to see my future.”

The air between them all stood still, and Ochako could feel the weight of her words even as they left her tongue.  They pressed on her, showing her even more of a reality that she still had no idea what to do with.  A reality where she was afraid.

She was afraid.

What was she going to do now?

What was she going to work for?

What did she have to fight for?

Her future was everything to her.  A future where she was a Pro-Hero.  A future where she could pay for a vacation for her parents in-full.  The future was the place where all of her dreams would come true.  Now that it wasn’t there… Now that a bleak and misshapen void had taken its place… she felt so lost.

How could a few hours steal her very foundation?

“Ochako-chan,” said Tsu.  “You can still have your future, kero.”

But did she, though?  Ochako couldn’t help but feel that she didn’t.

“Tsuyuu-san is right.  Uraraka-san…”

Ochako felt Momo’s firm hands.  One pushed upwards on her shoulder, the other cupped her chin.  Momo guided her gently into standing straighter and then to looking her in the eye.  She was frowning.  “Recovery Girl gave you your options.  You have choices to make.  Your future is still yours to decide.  It’s not lost.”

Ochako looked from Momo to Tsu and back again.  Momo’s grip lessened to allow her this movement, but the significance of that was lost on Ochako.  How could she get her emotions across?  How could she tell them what she needed to say?  How…?

“Ochako-chan,” prodded Tsu, her throaty voice commanding her attention.  She looked into eyes that were, at once, wise and patient and demanding to be acknowledged.  “Talk to us, kero.  You heard your options.  You know that your future isn’t lost, kero.  It’s not like you to give up like this.”

Ochako took a breath, shaking and wobbling.  Her emotions bubbled within her stomach, swirling into a tumultuous sea of broken dreams and dangerous what-ifs.  Confused, battered, angry, she spoke.

“No matter what I choose, nothing is ever going to be the same,” she choked out.  The tears she had been trying to hold back this time pushed themselves forward, slipping down her face in confusion and in mourning.  “I was going to graduate from UA and get a job.  I was going to find an apartment and live on my own or with a few friends to save on money.  I was going to use my internship experience to become a Pro-Hero and work to start my own company.  I was going to save money and give my parents a retirement that they’ve earned.  That was my plan!

“But now… Now I don’t really have that option, do I?” she asked.  The tears didn’t stop.  Couldn’t.  She ran four fingers through her hair, trying desperately to envision a future she had no control over anymore.  “If I confess and he feels the same way, my life is changed forever.  We’d both want to achieve our goals, but how realistic is that?  Really, how realistic is it?  How could he—how could I—make it as a Pro-Hero when we’re working on a new relationship at the same time?  A relationship that would have started—not because either of us are ready, but because my very life is on the line!

“And let’s say he doesn’t feel the same way—” Here, Ochako couldn’t help but shake her head, trying to rid herself of the feeling of pain before the flowers could reach her.  She wasn’t successful.  She buckled over where she stood, spitting flowers onto the ground and despising them with everything in her.  Momo and Tsu rushed to her aid, but their soothing actions did very little to help her stem the tide of pain. 

Bitter, she continued.  “—If he doesn’t feel the same way, I do this!  Can you imagine how much that would break him?  To watch me die like this right in front of his eyes?  And my parents!  I’d never be able to buy them a retirement!  I’d never be able to send them to Hawai’i!  Everything I’ve ever worked for would be gone!

“And—!” Ochako forced herself to stand up straight now, unwilling to look at the flowers anymore and unable to bear just how painful they’d become to her in just a few short hours.  The support of her friends fell away as she walked forward, trying anything to get this sudden burst of energy to just leave her.  Momo and Tsu matched her pace easily as she barreled her way forward.  “—Let’s say I take the safe route.  Fine.  I get this surgery, remove the part of me that loves and cares and has goals and dreams, and then what?  Why would I even become a Pro-Hero?  There are lots of safer things to do; why would I ever stick my neck out for other people if I didn’t care?  Why would I want to earn money if I didn’t feel love for my parents?  To pay them back and help them because I want to?  If I don’t have that, then what do I have?  And you two!  Everyone in class!  Everyone I care about at all!  If I do that, I won’t even—”

Here, Ochako’s voice broke.  Here, she could clearly see a future she could never convince herself to want.

Momo’s concerned eyes and motherly affection would be unnecessary.

Tsu’s inquisitive look and practical outlook wouldn’t be endearing.

Iida’s pride in his family and his strength would be useless to her life.

Mina’s love of people would be a useless fact that was better off being forgotten.

Her mentors would be people in her past, and she probably wouldn’t maintain contact with any of them, their lessons only being retained for their usefulness and not for their impact on her life.

Her parents…  she would feel no love for her parents.  She would have no reason to remember the day her daddy had told her to do what made her happy.  She would have no reason to dwell upon her momma’s careful instructions on how to prepare for the future and remember the kindness with which she had spoken.  She wouldn’t see a point in saving them from their work since she would probably convince herself that they would be fine when they weren’t.

And Deku…  Deku…  Could she imagine ever listening to his tangents about Pro-Heroes and finding them boring?  Could she ever look at him and not find his green hair or his freckled face beautiful?  Could she ever walk side-by-side with him and not treasure their time together?  Could she ever look at his hobbies and deem them unnecessary?  Could she ever, one day… just write him off as somebody that she used to know?

In her mind’s eye, the faces of the people she loved and cared for flashed in front of her, and she knew she could never give them up.  Not a single one.

But even if she chose not to have the surgery, the options were bleak.  Extreme.  Dangerous.  She had no solution that would lead her to the future she wanted.  She had no road map to follow.  She had no goals that she could see herself reaching. 

She had nothing.

“Uraraka-san.”  Ochako blinked.  When had she stopped?  When had she curled in on herself again?  When had she begun to hug herself?  When had Tsu and Momo begun to hug her, too?  She shivered, the cold suddenly pressing in on her like never before.  The warmth of her friends was there, but only, perhaps, to show her just how cold she’d become so quickly.  “I think it’s time to call your parents.”

Ochako balked.  Her head swiveled to Momo.  “But—they have work—!”

“Yes, but they asked us to take care of you, kero,” said Tsu.  Her hands clamped down on her friend, forcing the young woman to be still even as she wanted to reject the idea with her whole body.  Her parents had work.  They needed to do their jobs!  At least until Ochako could…

Could…

Could…

Ochako could feel coldness slip further into her core, reality setting in once more.  How much time did she have now?  Could she do anything for her parents?  Enough to make a dent?  To grant them even one well-earned vacation?  How much could she really do now?

As Ochako stopped struggling, she heard Tsu continue.  “And right now, that means calling them.  Even if you think they’re busy, kero.”

Her friends’ words echoed in her mind, compounding with her own fear.  How much time did she have with them?  How much time could she do something for them?  Work, call, make them proud…  how much time did she have?  Could she afford to be stubborn now?

And, if she were being honest, she really did want to talk to them…

“Uraraka-san.”  Ochako looked at Momo, her heart teetering.  The responsible part of her said that she shouldn’t call right now.  They had to work, and she’d always respected that.  Her daddy had called yesterday and told her that they had work.  But the part of her that was hurt and scared and lost desperately wanted to hear something from the two who had raised her and always loved her.  She wanted her parents, but she still needed to be responsible.  The two halves of her warred with each other… throwing their points back and forth, back and forth…

The other girl’s face softened in its worry, and she offered her friend a smile. 

“Why don’t you text them?”  Ochako opened her mouth, but Momo pressed on.  “You can tell them that you’ll be calling them within the hour.  This way, you can give them a chance to put some of their work away and not feel as though you’re disturbing them during something important.  While we wait, I’m sure we can find an establishment that will serve us brunch.”

Ochako blinked.  That…would work.  Daddy and momma always let her know, gently but firmly, when she couldn’t call.  This gave them a chance to do that and helped ease her own worries.  Ochako could feel herself calm down a little.  She could talk to her parents.  Not now, but soon.

She could feel the relief ease over her shoulders and sap some more of her strength.  With this, she felt as though one good wind might knock her over.  Not the best notion for a hero-in-training, but she’d been having a really rough day.

“That’s a good idea,” said Tsu, her voice somehow grounding Ochako and telling her that she couldn’t fall over quite yet.  “We didn’t eat before we left, kero.  Brunch would do us some good.”

Wait… Brunch?

Momo nodded, and it took Ochako a moment to realize she’d asked that aloud.  She slapped her hands over her mouth, but her sudden desire for food would not be silenced.  If her mouth wouldn’t ask, her stomach would gladly do it for her.

So it growled.  Loudly.

“Ahaha…” Ochako’s laugh couldn’t be more awkward if she tried.  Bravely, she tried to smooth over the awkward moment.  “Yeah.  Good idea.  I’ll just…send my parents a text, then?”

Thankfully, neither of her friends laughed at the social flop.  They did, however, each have a mischievous twinkle in their eyes.  With smiles, they nodded and began to turn towards Momo’s phone.  They were probably going to use an app to find somewhere to eat.

That’s fine, thought Ochako as she dug around in her pocket.  She quickly found her phone—still many years behind her friends’—and pulled it out.  I hope they don’t pick anything expen—

Ding.

Ding.

Din-din-din-ding.

Ding.

“Wha—?”

Ochako’s phone buzzed incessantly in her hand, nearly hopping to the ground with its racket.  With wide eyes, she quickly flipped her phone open and was greeted with several notifications.

 

Mina-chan:

12:02  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

12:02  Was I the first person to wish yo8u?

12:03  I bet I was!!!

12:05  Oh, you’re probably asleep.

12:05  puuuuu…

12:05  HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!

12:06  MESSAGE ME WHEN YOU WAKE UP!!!

 

Iida-kun:

5:30  URARAKA-KUN!!  A VERY JOYOUS BIRTHDAY TO YOU!!  AS I LOOK BACK ON THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS OF FRIENDSHIP, I AM ONCE AGAIN REMINDED OF HOW LUCKY I AM TO BE CONSIDERED YOUR FRIEND!!  LET US GO FORWARD AND IMPROVE OURSELVES AS HEROES AND AS PEOPLE IN THE YEAR TO COME!!

5:45  ADDITIONALLY, PLEASE DO NOT CONCERN YOURSELF WITH THE SMELL COMING FROM THE KITCHEN!  IT IS OF NO CONSEQUENCE!  ENJOY YOUR MORNING!

 

Todoroki-kun:

5:46  Happy Birthday, Uraraka.

 

Jirou-chan:

6:13  Happy b-day, girl.  You still wanna play guitar later?

 

Aizawa-sensei, Momo-chan, Tsu-chan:

7:15  Aizawa-sensei, may we leave campus for today?  It’s for enrichment purposes.

7:15:  Please, kero?

7:20  You girls have permission from the staff to leave campus for today.  Return by midnight.

7:20  Yes, sir!  Thank you!

 

Deku-kun:

4:30  Good morning, Uraraka-san!  I hope you’re well rested!  I know we both made it in pretty late last night and

4:30  Sorry, hit enter on accident!  I know you’re probably taking care of yoursel

4:32  SORRY!  I just know that you’re a strong and capable hero and I don’t have to worry, but I do anyways as a friend and I hope you got a good night’s sleep and

4:32  S;lkdjf

4:40  Anyways, I know I said this morning, but happy birthday!  I have training this morning, but do you want to hang out this afternoon?

5:01  You don’t have to if you don’t want to, of course!  I’m sure that everyone wants to hang out with you today!  We can do it tomorrow instead!

5:01  Or later this week!

7:17  Um, just got back from my training.  I don’t know what’s going on, but I saw you with Yaoyoruzu-san and ATsu-chan.  Yaoyoruzu-san waved me away, but I wanted to let you know that if you ever need anything, I’m here.

7:18  *We’re here.  The whole class.  We’re here for you if you need anything.

7:22  If you want, I can ask everyone around here to give you some space when you get back.  Yaoyoruzu-san and Tsu-chan messaged Iida-kun said that you guys would be gone for most of the day and to not worry, but if you need anything from us, all you have to do is ask.  Or we can all hang out if you don’t want to be by yourself with whatever’s going on.  Whatever you need.

8:42  Text me when you can?

Ochako bit her lip, the words showing in black print through her old screen.  Where did she even begin?  The happy support of her friends?  The well wishes?  Aizawa’s instant support?  They all touched her and made her feel loved, but…

But she knew where she wanted to start.  She wanted to start with the messages that touched her heart so deeply.  She loved her friends dearly, but his messages had a different impact.  Stronger, almost, but that wasn’t the right word.  More pulling, perhaps.

She didn’t realize that he’d already seen her while they were at the tree, that he’d already started wishing well for her while she had been hurting so much.  She didn’t know that she’d been worrying him.  She didn’t know that he’d been waiting for a text from her for almost ten minutes now.

If she knew him, and she did, then he was probably still staring at his phone.  Maybe using his grip tool to work off some of the anxiety or muttering up a storm.  He did that when he was worried.  He pushed himself harder and faster and stronger than usual when he was worried.  She’d seen him do it while they had all been on standby before rescuing Eri-chan in their first year and then again when his mom had been sick in their second year.  He hadn’t been able to go home and take care of her, and it had eaten him up inside to not be there for her.  Of course, Bakugo’s mom had helped out until his mother had made a full recovery, but he’d still worried until she was well again.

Knowing that she was on the other side of that kind of worry now… 

Deku-kun really cares about all of his friends, doesn’t he? she thought as she opened his message.  A wave of affection swept through her, and while she knew logically that it was okay for her to feel this way, a small portion of her chided herself for the rapid rise in her mood.  It was a habitual reaction to her own affection for him, and her body reminded her why it was a reaction she could no longer allow.

Ochako brought a hand up to her face and turned to find a convenient flowerpot nearby.  It was gross, but she shimmied closer and spat two tiny, yellow flowers into the dirt.  She glared at it for a moment, weakly angry yet again with the lot life had thrown her.  She was too tired, honestly, for the amount of rage she’d been able to produce before.

“Ochako-chan?”

Ochako whipped her head away from the flowers to find Momo and Tsu looking at her, their concern displayed openly.  For a moment, Ochako feared that they would ask her about the flowers.  They obviously saw them.

Thankfully, neither seemed as though they thought it necessary to bring up.  Tsu merely slid her eyes from the flowerpot to Ochako.  “Did you text your parents, kero?”

“N-not yet!” said Ochako, bringing up her phone and, like her friends, pointedly ignoring her floral contribution to the pot beside her.  “Gimme a moment.”

Ochako returned her attention to her phone, her thumb hovering over the buttons.  The device had shown her all of her messages instantaneously in a series of notifications, so none of them would be sent a read message, but…

Before she could talk herself out of it, Ochako found herself navigating to Deku’s name and opening their conversation history.  As soon as it opened, she reread his messages.  Each one sent a bit of courage to her heart, each one sent a bit of guilt to her soul, and each one told her that she had to say something.

In all the time she’d known him, Deku had actually rarely asked anything of her.  He was always an encouraging person, and sweet, and kind, and oh-so-understanding.  He suggested things often, but he rarely made actual requests of her.  So as much as his message tugged at her heart and made her feel weak in the knees and made her want him right there with her and subsequently make her throw up flowers and kind of made her want to run at the same time, she wanted to answer him.  Even though she didn’t want to tell him what was going on—he would probably do a lot of research if she told him what she knew and the idea of him doing that and knowing what was wrong might have been just embarrassing if she wasn’t 98% sure her life would be on the line—she wanted to let him know that she’d heard him.

That she’d never wanted to worry him.

That she was sorry she couldn’t tell him more right now.

Ochako felt the nippy air enter her lungs, revitalize her through a chilly shock, and leave her presence as a warm, ephemeral mist.  That was enough to break whatever trance she had come into and gave her the words she wanted to send.  Both to him and to her daddy.  She quickly tapped out a message to Deku on her old phone, sent it, then hurried to her daddy’s contact, pressed it, and sent a message to him.

Ochako pressed send before she could talk herself out of it, flipped her phone shut, and stuffed it in her pocket.  Both of the messages she’d sent had left her feeling uneasy for different reasons, but they’d needed to be sent.  Trying to huff away a newly building anxiety, Ochako shook her head and turned to her friends.

“So,” she asked, ready to move on.  “Where are we going?”

 

Ochako:

8:51  hi Deku! sry abt tht. stuf is goin on bt dw!  girls n i r workin on it!  b OK soon! :)))

8:53  daddy, need 2 tlk 2 u n momma.  can i call by 10?  >.>



It turned out that Momo and Tsu had found a café not too far from the thrift shop.  It was a twenty-minute walk, and the smell of eggs and pancakes encased her as she and the girls sat down.

“How did you find this place so quickly?” asked Ochako, stubbornly trying to place her mind in the here and now.  But it didn’t want to stay.  After all, how could it?  She’d basically lied to Deku.  How could she have told him she would “be okay soon”?  How could she have thought that was okay to send to her best friend?  Of course she didn’t want him to worry, but…  She didn’t even believe it herself…

“It’s an app called five square,” said Momo, tapping at her smartphone before bringing it before Ochako’s gaze.  The first thing she saw was green and her conscience yanked painfully on her heart.  The second thing she forced herself to look at was a list of cafes and restaurants.  “It helps you explore new areas.”

“And it has filters, kero,” interjected Tsu, mercifully bringing Ochako’s attention away from the phone.  “You don’t want to see Momo-chan’s normal filters.”

Ochako turned back to Momo, carefully ignoring the app in front of her, and raised an eyebrow.  The vice president flushed.  “They weren’t bad!”

“No,” agreed Tsu with a sympathetic croak.  “Just out of our budget.”

“B-but!” said Momo, bringing up the phone again.  Ochako didn’t look at it.  Her conscience couldn’t take the reminder of her foul deed.  The strained triumph in Momo’s face was hardly any better, but it was still somehow marginally better than being reminded of her own dishonesty.  “We can have something small to eat here for as little as 100 yen!  Meals can be as low as 500 yen!  That is an acceptable budget, correct?”

Ochako’s eyes widened.  That cheap?  She looked at the menu, eyes devouring its contents.

“Oh my—they even have specials going.  Two for one!  What sort of place is this—if I lived in the area, this would probably be my favorite spot—what’s a breakfast bowl?  Why is it so cheap—oh, ingredients!  How do they have potatoes and eggs and vegetables and charge so little!  Is there something wrong with the quality—no, I don’t think there should be.  But maybe they’re small sizes?  That would make sense, but a two for one deal would really help out in a pinch…”

Ochako was interrupted from her muttering by a buzzing from her pocket.  She froze.

Her phone had vibrated on the way over to the restaurant.  Of course it had.  She’d seen Deku’s name and had decided, for the sake of whatever good will she wanted to keep in her heart, not to look over his message.  Not yet, at least.  She didn’t want to see the hesitant ‘if you’re sure’ or the earnest ‘you can talk to me if you need anything!’ messages she was sure he would mean with all of his heart.  Not when she’d said something that wasn’t absolutely true.

But it could have just as easily been her daddy, finally responding to her text.  Either a ‘yes, you can call’ or a ‘not right now, Ochako’.  He usually didn’t take this long when getting back to her, but it could have been that she’d missed his message by holding off on looking at her phone because she knew that, somewhere on the device, Deku’s messages would be waiting.

Ochako frowned.  That could be it.

No, that was probably it.

“Uraraka-san?” asked Momo.  “Is there something wrong with the menu?”

With a start, Ochako realized that neither Momo nor Tsu had heard her phone go off.  She’d just frozen without context for either of them.

“No, no.  The menu’s fine.  Great, even!”  Ochako’s assurance was hurried as she put the menu down to look Momo in the eyes.  The other girl didn’t seem to believe her, so Ochako fished into her pocket for her phone.  She brought it out to show them.  “I just… got a text.”

Her two friends leaned in to read the black strip of kanji and hiragana.  “Your dad texted you back, kero.”

Ochako flipped her phone around.  Sure enough, ‘daddy’ read across the black strip in white text.  Quickly, she flipped the phone open and read the text he’d sent her.

 

Daddy:

9:17  you know you can call this old man whenever you want,right?

Ochako sighed in relief.  The responsible part of her quelled, her fingers were already tapping in her daddy’s phone number.

Her finger hesitated over the call button.  She looked up at her friends.  They smiled at her, encouragement clear on their faces.

“Call them, kero.”

“We can eat afterwards.”

Ochako smiled at them, the beginnings of guilt ebbing away at their verbal affirmation.  She looked down at her cell where her daddy’s phone number sat in the middle of the screen and fiddled with the controls just a bit more.  Volume adequately set, Ochako pressed the green call button and placed the device in the middle of the table.

“Are you sure, Urarka-san?” whispered Momo as the device rang, realizing that her friend had just put the device on speaker.  “We would understand if this is a call you’d prefer to make in private.”

Ochako nodded.  If she had the time, she would have explained to them that they were the ones who, when realizing something was terribly wrong, had insisted on accompanying her to Recovery Girl’s office.  They were the ones who whisked her away from the campus, where she would have most assuredly been swarmed by well-meaning classmates wishing her a happy birthday.  They were the ones who had done their best to motivate her and distract her.  They’d pushed forward over the past few hours and done what had been needed to keep Ochako in the present.  They assured her of a future and distracted her with funny stories.  Their presence alone had helped to combat some of the already tumultuous emotional storms.

They couldn’t solve this problem, but they’d tried.  And Ochako knew they would continue trying to the best of their ability.  They were heroes.  They all were.

Instead of saying all of this, Ochako only had the time to smile and mouth “I trust you both” before the ringing cut.

Her daddy, after all, almost never let her phone calls get to the second ring.

Chapter Text

It was strange to think of how things had changed so much in less than twelve hours.  Her love, now infected with flowers.  Her future, now so uncertain.  Her life, now in peril from forces she couldn’t have ever predicted.

But the one thing that didn’t change was the fact that her daddy never let her calls hit the second ring when he could help it.  Not before, and definitely not now.

“Ochako!  Happy birthday, honey!  You feeling okay?”

As soon as she heard her daddy’s voice through the speaker, Ochako felt a part of her settle.  The part of her that had been practically begging for her parents’ comforting presence was finally obliged.  After all, her daddy’s voice still carried with it that assurance that reminded her of how she’d felt when she was a child.  She’d been so small, so safe, and so eager to move forward in life to help him and momma.  His voice alone consoled her, assured her, and somehow brought to the surface some of the emotions within her.  The swirling, painful emotions that she never wanted to face alone.

When she was little, her daddy had always been the one to help her settle such emotions.  When big, fat tears had fallen down her cheeks, her daddy had come in with a great big smile to help chase the bad things away.  Over time, she guessed, she’d come to associate his presence as a sign of healing to come. 

So it made sense that the instant she heard his voice, she wanted to cry.

Still, she knew it was too early in the conversation.  She had to say something first.  Explain why she was calling.  There was too much to do to just… start crying again.  So, with a deep breath, she bore the multitude of emotions with as much cheer as she could muster.

For now, it was the best she could do.

“Thanks, daddy.”  Ochako leaned closer to the phone.  While there weren’t many people in the café, she couldn’t help but lower her voice in this public space, yet she still wanted her parents to be able to hear her.  “And… no.  Not really.  But before I get into it, I want to let you know that I’ve got a couple of my friends here with me, and you’re on speaker phone.”

“Hello, Uraraka-san’s father!”

“Kero!”

As expected from her daddy, he took this new information in stride.  “Hello, girls!  Thank you for being with my daughter right now.”  After a few returns of ‘no problem’ and ‘it’s no trouble at all’, Ochako could feel his attention return to her before he said anything. 

“Now, tell me what’s wrong, honey.”

The concern in his voice, even when he didn’t know the full extent of the problem yet, always made her feel safe.  His presence, his very voice, made her feel calm.  It made her feel like all of the world’s problems could be solved if she just tried hard enough.  She could banish everything bad if she just punched it hard enough.

She loosed a watery chuckle.  The tears hadn’t begun to flow yet, but she knew they were near.  Oh, were they were near.  Of course she’d gotten that belief from her daddy.  Who else worked as hard as he did and did as much as him?

A certain someone with green hair and scarred arms came to mind, and Ochako shook her head to rid herself of the connection.  Parallels could come later.  Thinking of him at all could come later.  Coming to terms with what she’d said could come later.  For now, she’d started a conversation.  She needed information.  Now, she had to follow through and actually get it.

So she took a deep breath and answered.

“I…  I started throwing up flowers last night.”  Ochako heard her daddy draw a sharp breath, but she knew she had to explain as best as she could first.  She hurriedly continued.  “So I went with my friends to Recovery Girl first thing this morning.  They went in with me and they’ve stayed with me all day so far.”  Here, Ochako looked to her friends and offered a weak smile.  She really did appreciate them being there for her, but this next part was something she had to do herself.  She took a breath, looked down at her phone, imagined her daddy sitting before her, and addressed him properly.

“She said I have something called the hanahaki disease.  Do you know anything about it?”

Over her lifetime, Ochako had grown to expect certain things out of her daddy.  Nothing excessive or out of his nature.  Just little things.  A caring voice.  A patient soul.  A strong sense of right and wrong.  A simple man.  An honest sense of expression.  Her daddy never claimed to know more than he knew and always did what he thought was right.  He was her daddy and she’d never asked him to change or wanted him to be any different than he was.

So while she knew that her father had written hanahaki disease on the chart, she still wasn’t sure if he actually knew what it meant for her.  She was almost expecting to have to explain how dire the situation was for her and how fatal the disease could be.  She almost expected questions.

Instead, what she got was silence.

But not quite silence.  She could hear it.  On the other side of the phone, muffled by technology’s own shortcomings and probably by his own hand, she could hear it.

An honest sense of expression.  Nothing was more honest than crying.  And nothing broke Ochako’s heart more than to be the cause of it.

Her voice cracked.  “Daddy?”

“We’re here, Ochako,” said her momma.  For a moment, her steady voice, quiet and firm as it was, drowned out the muffled sobs of her daddy.  She could practically see her arm draped across her daddy’s shoulders, her thumb rubbing circles into her husband’s arm as he cried.  He’d never been shy about crying before, but…  “He just… he needs a moment. But what about you?  I can’t imagine that was easy for you to hear.  Did Recovery Girl explain it to you?”

The pained nervousness and empathetic sorrow Ochako had felt in the face of her daddy’s tears were steadied by her momma.  Not gone, but definitely steadied.

While her daddy was the more expressive of the two, her momma was definitely the more level-headed. When her daddy had said to do what she wanted to do instead of what she thought would be best for them, it was her momma who had helped her narrow her choices down.  It was her momma who had helped her to work through the little details in order to make her big goals happen.  If her daddy had been the one to teach her to dream big, then it was her momma who had taught her how to walk confidently in the direction of that dream.

She took a steadying breath.  Just like her momma had taught her all those years ago.  Emotions were good and important, but there was a time and a place to react.  She’d had her time to do that.  She’d done that.  She’d been supported through that.

Ochako looked at Momo and Tsu, both of whom lent her their courage with their very presence.  They’d supported her.  She looked at the phone.  Now she could support her parents.  Her daddy was crying because he loved her, and her momma was already doing her best to pull the family together and move forward.  It was a different expression of hurt, but hurt nonetheless.  They were hurting—her parents were hurting—and it was her turn to support them now.

She wasn’t calling to cry or feel hopeless.  She was calling because her parents had always helped her move forward before.  She’d called needing their comfort and presence.  She still needed it, but now she knew that she also needed to give back.  They were her inspiration and her reason for going into heroics.

She would support them now.  And, along the way, she knew they would support her, too.  Eventually, she knew, they would all support one another.

It would take time, and Ochako’s heart wavered slightly in the face of that concept.  How much of it did she have to give them?

“Yes, momma; she explained it.”  Ochako’s words came out with a wobble as she heard her daddy try to pick himself back up and put himself back together for her sake.  She waited a moment to let her daddy’s cries settle, consoling him like he’d done for her over the years.  It was a few minutes of “I love you”s and “I’m here”s before she heard him take a breath and breathe it out.  When that happened, she knew that her daddy would be okay.

Her momma was a different matter, but she knew her daddy would be there for her when they got off the phone.  He would probably hold her close while she cried silently.  For now, what Ochako could do was show her momma how strong she was.  That was how her momma would rely on her.

Doing all of this, she knew, would get them all on the same page of healing.  For now, however, it looked as though they were on the same page in terms of needing action.  They were all ready to get back to the business of actually moving forward.  Together.  As a family. 

The Urarakas were strong that way.  Always had been; always would be.

With her daddy okay enough to listen and her momma ready to hear her answer, Ochako continued.  “Recovery Girl explained it to me.  What it was, how much… time… I should have, and some of my options.”

“Oh, baby…” soothed her mother’s voice.  No one commented on the concept of time that Ochako had felt herself stumble over.  No one acknowledged her daddy’s hiccup or her momma’s sorrowful tone.  No one acknowledged the different stages of healing they were all in.

And yet… despite the fact that this situation was so messed up and that she never wanted to make her parents cry over her, Ochako smiled.  A sad, little thing.  But she did.  She couldn’t help it.  And it was genuine.

She was so lucky to have parents who loved and cared for her like this.  It was in their nature to do so.  She loved them for it and more, and it was one of the reasons she tried so hard to achieve her goals.  She reached to her phone, pretending that her momma could feel her arm upon her shoulder, giving the comfort that she so desperately wanted to give.  Words, she knew, could only do so much.

But…

“Momma, daddy…”  She paused.  What could she say?  ‘I’m going to be okay’?  She’d already lied once, and she felt terrible about it.  She wouldn’t do that to her parents.  But still…  she had to comfort them.

She took another breath, reminding herself that she wasn’t alone.  She had Momo.

“Your future is still yours to decide.”

And she had Tsu.

“It’s not like you to give up.”

And she had her parents.

“We love you, honey.”

Even though she felt awful now, she had their support.  She wasn’t okay now, and she didn’t know if she would ever be okay, but there was one thing for certain.  She looked away from her phone and directly at her friends, offering them a smile.  “You didn’t raise a quitter.”

The looks Momo and Tsu silently gave her told her of their approval.  Of their relief.  Of their gratitude.  Her daddy barked a laugh through his tears.  Her momma chuckled, some of the tension easing off her shoulders.  With five words, Ochako felt her smile become more and more genuine.  Felt her network of support strengthen.

Success.

“You’re right,” said her daddy, water still in his voice.  Still, she could detect the pride in his tone.  Before he spoke again, he cleared his throat.  “You really are special, you know that?”

His words warmed her.  He would probably say so all day, every day if he had his way.  And she’d never tire of hearing it.  Though she’d stumbled many times this morning, she knew that she’d made her parents proud with that declaration.  She knew she’d reassured her frightened friends with the strength she was borrowing and slowly making her own.  She knew that this time…  this time… she’d keep her word.  It was almost everything she could ask for.

Almost.

She still had to ask what she’d called to ask.

“Daddy, momma, I want…”  No.  That wasn’t right.  She tried again, reminding herself that this was her life.  Her very life.  She needed to take the initiative and do something.  “I need to know if there’s anything else you can tell me about this hanahaki disease.  Who had it?  What did they do about it?  Whatever they did, did it help?  Recovery Girl gave me a pretty large time frame to work with, so I feel like I don’t have anything specific to work with here…”

There was rustling, a soft sound that told her exactly nothing of what was happening on the other side of the phone, before her daddy’s voice answered her.

“My daddy and his brother had it,” he said.  She knew he’d wiped his eyes and had cried what he could for now.  It hurt to think that he would cry again later and that she would be the cause of that.  She wanted to hug him.  For now, though, a flat chuckle came through the phone.  “I even wrote the number two on that piece of paper from your first year so we’d all know to keep an eye out for it.”

Oh.  That was what the x2 was for.  Two people in their family had had it.  But wait…  her daddy said that they were keeping an eye out for it.  Wait a minute…

“You asked me how I was feeling yesterday,” said Ochako, realizing what he’d meant by the question.  “And today, too.  You asked when I answered the phone.”

Another piece of the puzzle had clicked for her.  “You were looking out for the hanahaki.”

The realization was met with a moment’s pause.  Her daddy would never lie about this, and another moment proved it.

“Yes, Ochako.  I was.”  She could hear her daddy’s sigh.  It was a long, sad thing that he did whenever something hit the family hard.  Like that time that they had depleted their savings just to try and make ends meet without a contract in sight.  Or that time momma had gotten sick and she’d made him go to work instead of staying home to take care of her.  It was the sigh of her daddy suffering and nothing he could do about it in sight.  “But I’d hoped I wouldn’t find it.  I never wanted you to face this on your own, baby girl.”

Ochako swallowed a lump in her throat.  She wanted to reach through the phone and wrap her daddy and momma in a big hug.  ‘It’s not your fault,’ she wanted to whisper to them, then hug them tighter so they knew she meant it.  ‘It’s not your fault.  Please don’t blame yourselves.’

A hand rested atop hers.  Another hand atop that.

She looked away from her phone and towards Momo and Tsu, both of whom were looking at the device resting between them all.  Their hands laid on hers.  They each wore an expression of determination.

“We won’t let her face this alone, kero,” said Tsu.  Her voice was a level and steady rock in this conversation.  Her face matched.

“We’d never abandon a friend in need,” agreed Momo.  Her dedication truly shone through her voice, and it was something both of her parents heard loud and clear.

“Thank you, girls,” said her daddy.  “It…helps to know that you’re there for her when we can’t be.”

“But we do plan on going to U.A. as soon as this job is complete,” added momma.  “And staying through to graduation.”

Ochako’s eyes widened. 

She had so many questions. 

They were coming?  Coming to U.A.? 

How?

When would the job be completed? 

When were they coming?

“Can we afford that?” she blurted instead.  She slapped her free hand over her mouth, but the words had already been asked and the damage done.

“Dear,” said momma, her tone taking on that stern quality that always stilled Ochako as a child.  It stilled her now.  When her momma next spoke, though, the edge had lessened and, in its place, her momma’s natural warmth shone through.  “There’s a reason your daddy and I were working this contract so close to your birthday.  With enough planning, the money from this job will be enough for the two of us to take a small vacation to cheer you on for the rest of the year.  Don’t worry, I already ran the numbers.”

All was quiet for a moment.

“E-eeh?!”  Ochako couldn’t think.  That was—to take a trip to Mustafa—that—!  “Wh-what?  How?  T-that much?  When did that happen!?”

“That is… well…”  Her daddy coughed like he did whenever he had something to hide.  Ochako narrowed her eyes and opened her mouth to say something, but— “We can talk about it later, baby girl.”

Ochako wanted to push it, but she knew better.  Her daddy may be awful at hiding things, but he was also awfully persistent when he wanted to stay silent.  Whatever it was, he would tell her eventually.  If he said ‘later’, then it really did mean ‘later’.  She dropped it.

“Okay,” she said.  She wouldn’t get information on their mysterious client, but she would get the information she came for.  She took a breath and let it out. 

She knew the who.  Now she needed to know the how

“I still need to talk to you guys about granddaddy and granddaddy’s brother, though.  I need to know what happened.”

It was a moment before she was answered.  In that moment, she held her breath, waiting anxiously for the answer she knew in her head would be coming.

“Okay, baby girl.”

Ochako turned to her friends, loosed her hostage breath, and they looked back at her with expressions of equal determination.  Nothing about this was happy, they all knew, but progress was progress.  Any information would be helpful.  She nodded to them.  It was time to understand this disease just a little bit more.

Her daddy began.

“Your granddaddy and his brother were twins.  Identical twins, actually.  Back in the day when there weren’t so many quirks around, they had the exact same one. Shared, actually.  They were telepathic, but only with each other and only when they were close enough together.  Your granddaddy used to tell me that they’d get up to all kinds of tricks and fun when they were younger.”

Ochako nodded.  From what she remembered of her granddaddy, it made sense.  And… it made sense now why he’d always told her he was Quirkless.  She’d been too little to understand at the time…

“Well, one day, your granddaddy met your grandmomma.  It wasn’t love at first sight the way your grandmomma told it.  They were sixteen, and she used to tell me all the time not to be insufferable like my daddy when I met ‘the right one’.” 

Here, Ochako couldn’t help but chuckle.  From her daddy’s reaction on the other side of the phone, her momma had given him some sort of secret look.

It was nice to hear her daddy laugh a little bit.  Even if it didn’t last long, it was nice to hear.

“So he had a few years to be insufferable with her before the hanahaki hit.  During that time, she got to know him and he calmed down a little bit.  They found a balance that worked for them, and she eventually fell in love with him, too.  They started dating before anyone ever heard about hanahaki.

“Your granddaddy’s brother wasn’t as lucky as that.”

In her mind, Ochako had already known that the story of her granddaddy’s brother couldn’t have ended well.  His striking absence from her memories and the few stories she had heard about him were a testament to that. 

It still hurt to hear.

But she did need to hear it.

“What happened to granddaddy’s brother?” asked she, a frown on her face.  Her daddy sighed.

“Well, first off, your granddaddy’s brother knew about the hanahaki from your granddaddy.  You see, your granddaddy already had your grandmomma by the time they both turned eighteen.  The first time he thought of grandmomma after that, he started throwing up white flowers.”

Wait.  White?

“It confused all of ‘em for a while because grandaddy’s brother didn’t.  Everything weird that happened to one of them tended to happen to both of them.  This was the first time something happened to one of them and not the other.  So granddaddy went up to the local doctor that day.  Back then, everything was so new—quirks and hanahaki—that they weren’t sure what it was.  Everyone thought he was gonna die.

“Later that day, your grandmomma was trying to cheer up your granddaddy, and I guess that was the first time he’d heard her say ‘I love you’.  The flowers stopped after that.  Your granddaddy and everyone told the doctor; they thought it was a miracle, and no one thought twice about it until your granddaddy’s brother got it a few years later.”

“Wait,” said Ochako, trying to wrap her head around another new concept.  Different colored flowers?  Fine.  But…  years…?  “Why didn’t grandaddy’s brother get it when he turned eighteen like granddaddy?  Like me?”

The silence rang between them all for a moment.  Sharp and pointed and, Ochako hated to say it, accusatory.  Why did this unknown uncle of hers not share their curse?  Hadn’t he had hanahaki, too?  Ochako’s jaw was clicked shut after her outburst, its owner stubbornly demanding an answer.

“He hadn’t found love yet.”  The simple answer carried with it a weight that might have been embarrassing yesterday. Today, right now, it was just a weight to carry.  A heavy weight to carry.

The answer silenced her.

Her daddy continued. “My daddy told me that his brother fell in love when he was twenty-one.  She was pretty and kind and loved making mischief.  Evidently, she played a prank on him during her first day of work with him; he fell in love right there and starting spitting up purple flowers trying to introduce himself.”

Ochako tried to imagine it.  A faceless man trying desperately to impress an equally faceless woman.  Everything about it was unfamiliar, right down to the oddly colored flowers.  The image could have been funny if it weren’t for the flowers.  If it weren’t for the phantom pains she felt of a foreign substance clawing its way out of your mouth.  If it weren’t for the not-too-distant memory of panic about something so new and so abrupt happening. 

She winced in sympathy.

“What did he do?”

“Well, same thing your granddaddy did, at first.  He went up to the doctor and told him what was happenin’, but this time the doctor had a name for it.  Hanahaki.  He told your granddaddy’s bother that it was some sorta love sickness that was still pretty new.  Since there wasn’t any surgery yet, the doctor told him that his only choice was to confess and pray she loved him back.”

Ochako felt her heart fall for this stranger.  He’d had one option less than herself, and she knew she was struggling with her limited options as it was.  How much worse had he felt to only have one option open to him?

“Well, your granddaddy’s brother didn’t like the sound of that.  He decided he was gonna do something else.”

Wait.  Something…else?  Ochako’s brows furrowed.  What else was there to do?

“You see, your granddaddy and his brother were both the rebellious kind when they were younger.  Your granddaddy cooled off a bit by the time this happened.  He had a wife and a baby on the way, but his brother still had things he wanted to do.  Instead of confessing, that night he wrote a list down.  He wrote down all of his hopes and dreams.  The next day, he went around doing all of it.  Your granddaddy called it the three months of terror for the town they grew up in.”

“Wait—why terror?” Ochako tilted her head.  She knew better than anyone that learning that you had hanahaki could do horrible things to your mind.  It had almost convinced her to give up on everything.  At least twice.  Had it turned her granddaddy’s brother into a villain?

“Because no one really knew when they were next,” laughed her daddy, swept away by memories that were not his own.  Ochako blinked.  That laughter…  so…  not a villain, then?

Oblivious to her confusion, her daddy kept going.

“The way your granddaddy told it, he dyed the public drinking water three times, spent two weeks putting empty flower pots on top of houses, created a statue that was bolted to the middle of an intersection, and graffitied the town sign so it said that the animal shelters had free cats.  The shelters got a lot of business that week and no one ever got hurt, but your granddaddy said that the police station said it was the principle of the matter.”

“The police got involved?” asked Ochako, stifling her giggles, partly relieved that her unfamiliar uncle wasn’t a villain and partly because it was so funny.  The idea of someone being so bold…  It gave her a laugh.

It probably gave him a laugh, too.  And a lot of people in the town.  Had he been, in his own way, protecting the smiles of everyone around him, almost like her?  With pranks?

Ochako felt her giggles subside, but a smile of wonder remained on her face.  How similar were they, this great uncle and herself?

“Yeah,” said her daddy.  She could practically see his smile now, the result of an effort from a man long since gone.  How many different ways, she thought, were there of protecting smiles?  She felt more of a kinship with this distant uncle now than she ever had in the past.  More than when her granddaddy once told her that he’d had a brother, long since gone.  More than when her daddy asked her not to bring it up to granddaddy anymore.  Now… this distant uncle felt more like a part of her family than a part of some distant and tragic past.  “Your granddaddy even helped with a few of those pranks, but he’d married your grandmomma by that point, and they were expecting me any day, so he didn’t help out with many of ‘em…

Daddy always wished he’d been there for his brother’s last prank…”

Ochako’s heart sank.  She’d known it was coming, but not so soon.  Not after such a revelation…  After feeling so connected to this lost family… 

Still.  She had to know.  She had to ask.

“What…happened?”

Her daddy took a breath, and she knew he was steadying himself to tell what she already knew was the end of the story.

“Well, it was actually the day grandmomma went into labor. Granddaddy wasn’t gonna leave her side, and his brother wasn’t gonna ask him to.  So he invited someone else to go with him instead.  You see, over those few months, besides the flowers and all, your granddaddy’s brother and the lady he fell in love with became fast friends.  They both loved joking around and got along pretty well whenever he could hang around her without throwing up flowers.  So he invited her to go with her up to the water tower.  The way your granddaddy told it, they were planning on writing my name way up there in big letters.  Some sort of ‘welcome to living’ gift for granddaddy and grandmomma, I guess.

“Now,” said her daddy, his voice firm.  “Don’t any of you get any ideas, baby girl.  Your granddaddy never blamed me for being born that night.  The way he told it, his brother was gonna go up on that water tower no matter when I was born, and it was his way of saying that he was happy I was coming.  I think daddy was actually pretty happy that his brother wanted to greet me the way he did.  Said it was like I was carryin’ a bit of him forward.”

Ochako blinked at her phone before turning to her friends.  Her confusion was settled when she saw Momo rubbing at her neck with shame and Tsu croak in understanding.  Of course, her friends had never seen her granddaddy dote on her daddy and her while he was around.  They might have thought that.

But Ochako knew better than that.  She remembered gentle hands and soft laughter and being given a very large cookie to hide from her parents.  She knew her granddaddy would have never, not for an instant, blamed her daddy for anything that wasn’t his fault.

“I never thought he’d blame you, daddy.  Granddaddy was never like that,” assured Ochako.  She heard her daddy sigh on the other side of the phone and understood just a little bit of his feelings.  He must have really wanted her to understand that his daddy had always loved him, and she hoped she’d never done anything to make it seem like she would doubt that.  Theirs, of course, had always been a family of love and support.  It was what made an Uraraka an Uraraka.  She knew this and knew it well.

And if granddaddy’s brother had been an Uraraka like the rest of them, then under his pranks and fun, he must have known and felt that as well.

She wondered, then, what could have happened at the water tower that night.

“Now,” continued her daddy, picking up the story now that he’d made his point.  “Even though granddaddy was waiting for me at the hospital, he was also checking in with his brother.  Every thirty minutes or so, the way he told it, through the night through their link.  His brother and his friend had been working hard at the water tower for a few hours by the time grandmomma, after hours of labor, had me.  Granddaddy told his brother about it and then went into the hospital room to welcome me into the world.  He was just a few steps out of range.

“He got a phone call a few minutes later.  The way your granddaddy told it, his brother’s friend was in hysterics.  Apparently, after he’d heard from my daddy about me, he’d asked her about families.  Settling down and all that.  She thought he was joking and laughed, apparently.

“Daddy guessed that that was enough to trigger it.”

Ochako’s eyes widened.  It felt like her heart was beating too fast.  It felt like her heart was going to stop.

Just that.  Laughter.  That was it.

“That was all it took?” asked Ochako.  She looked at her hands.  What could they do?  What could she do against that?  “Just… all she did was laugh.  That doesn’t sound like a rejection—it—”

“Baby girl,” said her daddy, cutting in.  “He’d had the disease for three months.  No one before him had lasted for longer than two weeks.”

Wait…

“So… he was the first?”  Ochako narrowed her eyes, again trying to concentrate on this uncle she’d never met.  What was he like?  How did he make it so far?  How did he push what had already been known and create a new opportunity?  How did he make it so far and give her hope for three months?  “How did he do it?”

How can I push it?

“Well,” said her daddy.  “On the side, it looked like your granddady’s brother was keepin’ tabs of his condition and sending information to the doctors.  Writin’ it down and such.  The doctors thought he was only gonna last a couple of weeks.  They kept tellin’ him to tell her before it was too late.  Nope.  He was the first person to live three months past getting the disease.  His journals helped the doctors figure out how he did it.  Most of it is published now in big, fancy scientific journals, but the main thing is that he accepted how he felt and decided to pursue his own life goals.  One of them was to confess eventually.  Looked like practicing and pretending that she reciprocated helped, too.”

Ochako blinked.  But…

But that…

That was something she’d been doing…

Well, she hadn’t accepted her emotions before…

“Most of his goals didn’t pass a week or two,” said her daddy, oblivious to her swirling thoughts.  “He’d told daddy he was going to make a new list of goals after I was born, but he never did…  the water tower was the last goal he had.”

“So—” said Ochako, her mind whirling “—if he’d had more life goals.  Do you think—?”

“There’s no way of knowing that,” said her momma.  From her tone, Ochako could tell she had an inkling, at least, of where Ochako’s mind had gone.  “He fought his hardest against this, and he gave so much to his family and to his community in his last few months, but it wasn’t something he could ignore.  And he never tried to.  If you can find ‘em, read the journals.  I’m sure they’ve got ‘em online nowadays.  You’re a smart girl, Ochako; you’ll know what to do.”

Ochako stayed silent, processing the information.  Her great uncle had set the path for her.  Sure, he’d done it differently, but if…  if, at the core of it all, he could do it…

“I understand,” said Ochako.  Both of her friends looked at her, questions in their eyes and guarded hope in their expressions.  She smiled at them.  “Thank you daddy; thank you momma.  I’ll see if I can find them.”

Momo smiled at her, an encouraging thing that told her that, whatever she was planning, she would support her.  Tsu nodded, a critical look on her face that told her that she wouldn’t let her do what she needed to alone.  Over the phone, she could almost hear her parents’ silent and exchanged look of trepidation.  She moved to reassure them.

She picked up the phone, took it off speaker phone, and held it closer to her ear.  While she knew logically it wouldn’t bring them any closer, she hoped that, somehow, her feelings would reach them.

“Momma, daddy, I love you guys so much,” she said.  Please don’t worry about me.  You’ve given me so much.  I’ll do what I can here.  “I want you guys to know that, okay?  No matter what, I’ll make you guys so proud.”

“Oh, baby girl,” said her momma.  Her daddy was probably crying again and trying not to worry her.  He was probably asking her momma to speak for both of them.  “We already are.”

Ochako smiled.  She’d almost made it through the entire conversation without crying.



“Are you sure about this, kero?” asked Tsu.  The three of them, after an entire day of crying and planning and researching her great-uncle’s journals, were returning to Heights Alliance.  “I thought you said you didn’t want to ignore this.”

“And I’m not,” argued Ochako.  There was an identifiable spring in her step and a look of fire in her eyes.  She brought her fist up and clenched it in front of her, almost identical to how she prepared for battle.  And, in a way, she was preparing for battle.  But this time, it felt like a battle she could win.  “After hearing about my great-uncle, I think this will work.  I didn’t think it would before, but I’m sure it will now.”

“Well…  it’s certainly true that he was able to exceed the life expectancy of his time…” said Momo diplomatically, “But do you truly believe that just…”  Momo gestured vaguely, and Ochako could sense that she wasn’t willing to put the plan into words quite yet.

Ochako, however, was ready.  More than ready, in fact.  She marched boldly forward.

“My great-uncle was able to extend his life by about six hundred percent,” said Ochako.  “According to his journals and to all the scientific stuff we found, he did it by accepting his feelings and working towards his short-term goals.  He hadn’t found another specific goal before daddy was born, so there wasn’t anything to help tie him to the future.”

“That’s true…” interjected Momo.  “But… isn’t this exactly what you were doing before?  Ignoring your feelings so you can concentrate on your goals?”

“No,” disagreed Ochako.  “Well, yes— but—!”

She tore her eyes from the road in front of her to smile at her friend.  Grey eyes were framed in concern, and Ochako sought to clear that away.  “This time, I’m going to break it down into short-term goals.  Ones, like my great-uncle, that I can achieve with a bit of extra work.  I’m going to use those little goals to get to my long-term goals, which are gonna help tie me to the next goal.  And this time…”

Ochako let herself smile brightly.  This was the cinching piece.  The part she could not forget.  It was key to her survival. 

“This time I won’t lie to myself about how I feel.”

Ochako nodded to herself.  This was the biggest change she had to make, both for herself and for the future she wanted.  And she would do it, too.  She would.  “I won’t tell myself I don’t love him anymore.  And maybe I’ll practice confessing.  That’s what my great-uncle did.  Who knows, that may end up being one of my goals after my long-term goals?  But that helped him, and it’ll probably help me.”

Silence reigned among them as they walked, and Ochako was grateful for it.  She could feel her determination build upon itself.  Brick by metaphorical brick.  She could do this.  She could do this.  It wouldn’t be so bad.  It was something she could do.

“Ochako-chan…”  Tsu’s voice cut through her inner mantra.  She turned and saw that her friend had stopped walking and was staring at her.  Piercing her with those eyes that always seemed to know at least one thing more than she did.  Ochako and Momo stopped as well, looking back at their friend with curious eyes.  Tsu observed for a moment, looking for something, before nodding.  Whatever she’d been searching for, Ochako hoped she’d found it.  “Don’t forget to rely on us.  We’ll always be around to help.”

Ochako swelled, relief and happiness bubbling within her.  She wasn’t naive.  She knew that her friends weren’t thrilled with this plan.  But it was what she had.  It was what she could do and what she could handle.  The fact that the offer was still there…

Ochako quickly walked the few steps between her and Tsu and threw her arms around her, engulfing her in a hug.

“Thank you, Tsu-chan.”  Ochako smiled, then to Momo, whose visible concern could not be chased away, even by Ochako’s new confidence.  Still, she tried.  She released one arm and gestured to her friend, who, despite her uneasiness, quickly ran into the circle and was hugged as well.  Ochako held on tightly.  “Thank you, Momo-chan.  I won’t let you guys down.  I promise.”

The girls hugged her back just as tightly.

The three eventually made their way back to Heights Alliance, where they were greeted at the gate by most of their classmates, chaperoned solemnly by a watchful Aizawa.  Iida held a cake in his stiff arms, Todoroki putting away a single heated finger from lighting the candles.  Ojiro was stuffing a box of something into his pocket.  Maybe candles?  Ochako couldn’t tell because Mina, Toru, and Jirou all crowded around the girls, demanding to know why they hadn’t been invited along and playfully shoved to show there was no harm and no foul.  Sato’s cooking apron was a mess, and Aoyama looked as though he was about to positively beam ‘Happy Birthday’ into her soul.  Koji stood with his bunny and quickly passed the creature off to Ochako, who beamed with delight at the creature’s soft fur.  Shoji and Tokoyami each wished her a happy birthday and Ochako could swear that she heard muffled screaming from inside a dome Shoji had made with his arms.  Sero and Kaminari had told her not to worry about it, and Bakugo tsk’ed with the same irritation that seemed to follow him everywhere.

“Uraraka-san.”

Ochako, with Mina hanging off one shoulder, a bunny in her hands, and cake to her side, turned to look at him.  Even though he was carefully positioned to show everyone else that he was just as excited at their return as everyone else, she could see the worry.  In his eyes, along the slope of his shoulders, even the way he held his own hands.  He couldn’t hide it well.  Still, he smiled at her.  For her, she knew.

The guilt in her soul eased.  While she hadn’t been sure when she’d texted him earlier, she was sure now.  She smiled.

“Deku-kun,” she said.  Though he’d been looking at her before, she could feel his attention sharpen somehow.  “Thank you.  For your text.”

I’ll be okay, she wanted to say.  And she hoped he would understand.  I’ll be okay.  I mean it this time.

Ochako watched as the worry began to leave her best friend’s eyes.  She watched his shoulders drop, the tension leaving them.  His hands still squirrelled in front of him, though.

“N-no problem!”

A warmth blossomed in her to see his reaction.  His abashed face and his kind gestures.  She felt his modest reaction warm her very soul even as Mina began to complain that Ochako hadn’t read or responded to her texts and was she the first or not and Ochako were you listening?

She was, of course, but she was more preoccupied with the fact that the warmth Deku brought to her hadn’t brought with it any of those cursed yellow flowers.

Day 0



Day 1

“Are you sure about this?” asked Recovery Girl.  Her face yielded no emotions to Ochako, no hint if she was taking the correct path or not.  But Ochako felt confident.  With everything that had happened yesterday, finishing off the day with that sense of victory, she couldn’t help but feel so.

“I’m sure.”

Recovery Girl nodded, then took Ochako’s file and placed it back with the other folders of class 3-A.  When she had finished, she turned back to Ochako with a steady gaze.  “You understand that this will not be easy.  Imitating Uraraka’s techniques won’t necessarily guarantee you the future you’re looking for.”

Ochako looked down.  Her hands were clenched atop her knees.  The fact that they didn’t shake gave her confidence.  She lifted her head.

“Even so,” she said, her voice unwavering, “if there’s a chance.  Even a small chance that I can achieve my goals on my terms, then I’ll do anything to do that.  To gain control over my life…  I’ll definitely go beyond for that!”

Ochako was determined.  She refused to be talked out of her decision.  Recovery Girl seemed to know this and merely sighed.

“The door is always open to you, Uraraka-chan.  I can’t stop you reckless children from making your own decisions, but I’ll be here if you ever decide anything different.”

It was a warning.  A word of caution.  Ochako knew it well, but she was grateful that caution was all she was receiving instead of a giant stop sign.  Respectfully, she bowed her head.  “Thank you, Recovery Girl.”

The heroine was silent as Ochako left the room.



Day 5

“I can’t believe you guys are serious about this…”

“I know!  It’s so unfair…”

Ochako stared dutifully at her essay as Mina and Toru grumbled.  Unsatisfied with being ignored, the pinker of the two walked casually to her and then sat down beside her, leaning and leaning and leaning until all her weight was rested atop Ochako in what had to be an uncomfortable manner.

“Ochako-chaaaaaaaan,” whined Mina.  “Tell Momo-chan and Tsu-chan that it’s unfaaair!”

“I don’t think that’ll help, Mina-chan,” pointed out Toru before Ochako could say anything.  “She’s in on the conspiracy!”

“That’s right,” gasped Mina, slumping even further against Ochako’s form.  One pink forearm rested daintily across her forehead, and Ochako might have snorted at her friend’s dramatics in any other situation.  “Ochako-chan has betrayed us!”

“I never talked about it to begin with,” defended Ochako, now forced aside from her work under Mina’s weight.  “’Sides, it’s not that bad—”

“Not that bad!?” yelped Toru, squeezing beside Ochako with incredible speed.  Her stealth training must have included that somehow…  “How else are we going to talk about the fact that Jirou-chan is dat—eep!”

“That’s enough, you guys!”

Ochako looked up to find the woman of the hour standing behind the couch, one earjack plugged into each gossipy girl.  Her cheeks were dusted red, but her scowl was eternal.  “The others are right.  We can definitely go about our own romantic lives, but it’s not cool to sit there and talk about others.”

“Boo!” Mina jumped up, turning to Jirou quickly.  “You used to help us with this, you know!  What was it you used to say, a lighter sentence?  Oh!”  The frustration melted away in favor of a grin.  “Is it because you started going out with—eep!

“L-like I said, knock it off,” pouted Jirou as she withdrew her earjacks, Mina and Toru rubbing their afflicted skin with matching pouts and equal amounts of grumbling.

Ochako sighed as she righted herself.

At least she didn’t throw up any flowers.  Still going strong.



Day 13

“And that is how you would use a cosine in this situation,” explained Iida, his arm chopping as he attempted to help Ochako learn what she hadn’t been able to understand.

And… honestly… still didn’t understand.

Math was hard.

Ochako puzzled over the numbers, but none of them made sense to her.  She sighed and looked at her friend, who was resting his chin upon his fingers, clearly in thought. 

“Iida-kun?”

“Ah!  My apologies, Uraraka-kun!  It looks as though I have been unable to assist you!” said Iida, his head habitually sinking into a bow as he apologized.  Ochako’s hands flapped in front of her as she tried to wave away some of his formalities.

“Th-that’s fine, Iida-kun!  You don’t need to bow, honest,” stammered Ochako.  She looked away from her friend and down at the dizzying amount of math and strange symbols on her paper with a frown.  “I’m just sorry I wasn’t able to understand it even after you tried to explain it to me.”

It wasn’t like she didn’t want to get it.  She did!  It was one of her new short-term goals to get to her long-term goals!  “Do better in classes so you look better to agencies!”  She had to work hard for it!  But…

“I wonder…” said Iida-kun from the seat in front of her, drawing Ochako’s attention again.  She curiously tilted her head.  “Have you considered asking Midoriya-kun?”

Ochako gasped, planting a closed fist on an open palm, as Iida continued.

“His test scores have been consistently admirable, and he has that certain trait which I lack that allows him to explain concepts in an easy-to-understand manner.  Perhaps you would benefit more from asking for his guidance in this subject?”

“That’s a really good idea, Iida-kun!”  The flowers hadn’t been too much of an issue, honestly, and with the step of accepting her feelings and creating little goals, she’d actually had a couple of days where she hadn’t spat any out at all!  It felt like such a non-threatening issue at this point that she couldn’t quite remember why she’d freaked out so badly after hearing about it.  “I should go ask after class.”

“Splendid!” said Iida, pleased to have helped his friend.  Ochako turned her face to find him sitting in his seat at the opposite side of the classroom.

To be honest, he was actually using study hall for what it was meant to be used for.  He always had, which was probably why he typically had such high grades.  Normally, she would have used this time to daydream or think of new upgrades or text her friends, but her new goals had kept her from doing that.

And… it was a nice day today.  The sunlight was still cold, as was typical of winter, but he managed to make it look warm somehow.  The yellow danced with his green hair while he himself was bent over a notebook, pencil scratching away at the math problems she was having such difficulty with.  It looked like he was flying through them, comfortable and confident as you please.  It warmed Ochako’s heart, to be honest, to see him moving through the paper with such precision.  Was he really working on math problems? Or had he finished them?  Was he working on his hero notes now?  He looked so in his element that she wouldn’t be surprised if he’d moved onto his favorite hobby… 

Confess… a part of her whispered.  Walk up to him and confess…

Part of accepting her feelings also meant more moments like this.  Accepting her feelings as real also meant a bleed through into her reality.  There were times where it felt like confessing wouldn’t be a burden on either of them, but a confession of the truth.  That nothing really had to change, just as long as she let him know.  It felt… possible, almost…

A blush rose in her cheeks, though the past two weeks had been spent telling herself that it wasn’t bad.  No, it wasn’t.  She was going to confess.  Eventually.  That’s what her great-uncle had said so often.  Sometimes it was the knowledge that confession was going to happen that kept the flowers at bay.

Was it a lie?

She didn’t know anymore.

All she knew was that it worked.  She could watch him write with that focus that meant he was working towards something important, admire his tenacity and grit, and not hurt.  She didn’t have to shame herself into looking away—this time, she even had a question!  She had all the reason in the world to look over at him and see him work hard and feel happy.

So…  no, she wouldn’t confess right now.  Later, though.  Later.  She would confess later.

Something soft invaded her mouth, and her eyes widened.  Wait.  This wasn’t…  but…

“In fact,” said Iida, his voice coming into sharp clarity now that Ochako’s trance had been broken.  “Would you or Midoriya-kun mind if I observed his tutoring style?  It would be great training in order to further my own efforts in communication.”

Ochako, suddenly daunted by the idea of going to speak with Deku on her own, smiled and nodded.  Iida brightened considerably.

“Excellent!  I hope to learn as much from this as you,” said he with a determined look.  Ochako’s smile couldn’t help but falter.

Math suddenly seem as important as it had been a few minutes ago.

Chapter Text

“Uraraka-san!”

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.”

“N-no problem!”

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.

“Uraraka-san.”

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.



Day 18

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.

“Dark Shadow!”

“On it!”

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.

Damn it.

“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.

“Shit—!”

“Gwuh—!”

“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—

Shit—!”

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.

Almost.

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!”

“Fumikage, above!”

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—

“Uraraka-san!”

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.



Day 23

“Uraraka-san…”

“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.”

“I know.”

“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.



Day 30

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.

“Damn, girl.”

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 everybodyhold 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. 

Deku.

“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.

Wait…

Wait, no…

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.

“Ochako-chan!”

“Uraraka-chan!”

“Uravity-chan?!”

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…

“Uraraka-san!”

…and Deku.

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?

“Uraraka-san.”

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.”

…oh.

Chapter Text

“Kill…?”

Ochako’s mind spun.  It was true that she’d felt hopeless for a month, and, yes, she was scrambling and desperate for answers, but… she had to have misheard.  Never had she thought such a suggestion would ever pass the lips of this boy.  This kind, determined, heroic person.  His entire life goal was to save everyone, no matter the obstacle or hardship.  His whole being was centered around saving every life he could, so even now, she wasn’t sure that she’d heard him correctly.

But no.  The grim set of his expression told her she’d heard right.  The guilt on his face made sense, but she couldn’t understand his thought process.  She just couldn’t.  She stared at his profile, hoping his face would give her a hint.  A sign.  Anything to tell her what he was thinking.

Her question took a moment for him to process; he was so lost in thought.  But when he’d registered her, she knew it.  He blinked back into awareness and turned away from the flowers on the ground.  Only to find her staring at him.

His following yelp of surprise would have startled anyone else into panicking.  And the sudden noise did startle her, but she was used to it at this point, having known him for so long.  As it was, she was already recovered and silent as he massaged his heart, his eyes averted as he moved past his own scare.  She didn’t look away.  She wanted answers, and she was going to get them.

All she had to do was wait.

“Um…” Surprise, abashment, determination, curiosity, and sombriety flew across his face, each emotion flitting through almost too quickly to name.  She was sure that she’d missed a few despite how closely she was watching his changing features, too.  She didn’t have much time to dwell on it, though.  He kept going.  “When I was younger, my mom liked to try lots of different crafts at home.  She was really good at sewing and embroidery and baking, but she also tried other things like scrapbooking and crocheting and knitting.  And she tried gardening, too.

“It… ah… didn’t go so well, though.”  As he always did when he talked about his mom, a smile graced his face.  His hands fidgeted on themselves, and despite the situation, she couldn’t help but smile, too.  That’s just the kind of person Deku was.  “At first, Mom thought it would be nice to have some flowers around the house or some fresh vegetables to try cooking with, but they kept dying, so it didn’t last very long.” 

Deku’s face twisted away from the memory and into a grimace, his attention returning to the… evidence.  Ochako’s expression mirrored his, but probably for a different reason.  While he was probably remembering massacred flowers, she could only think of the flowers that were massacring her.  She refused to look at them.  Instead, she continued to focus her vision on Deku’s expression.  It flickered, his green eyes twitching ever so slightly as he looked at the flora on the ground.  She couldn’t make sense of it.  “These, though…  they’re small, but it’s like they’re in full bloom.  I can’t imagine that’s doing you any favors…”

She wasn’t going to look at them.  She wasn’t going to look at them.

“What…do you mean?” she asked instead.  She was not going to look.  Deku’s face did not lose any of its pain; it simply gained more of a contemplative nature.  He tilted his head, which made it slightly more difficult for her to get a read on his expression.  Difficult, but not impossible. 

Still, the change made her frown.  She tilted her own head to make sure she could still see the thoughts that crossed his face.  Better.

“We never actually had flowers that were in full bloom at our apartment for very long, but they were always at their biggest then,” said Deku.  His nose furrowed as he frowned.  “After a while, though, they always died.  They’d always shrivel up, and they just got smaller and smaller until they just fell over.  Mom kept trying to save them, but, in the end, they just kept withering away until they were at least half the size of when they were in full bloom.  If these flowers are at full bloom, it means they’re at their biggest, and there’s a much bigger chance of…  well…”

Ochako nodded.  That… made sense.  The pieces clicked for her pretty quickly, and she voiced the realization aloud even as her friend faltered.  “If I keep throwing them up when they’re at their biggest, there’s a bigger chance I could actually choke on them.”

“Right,” said Deku quickly.  Ochako’s mind was racing, and she felt herself stand straighter as the neurons in her brain fired, making connections and letting hope spark to life again.  Was this… another chance?  As the possibility…as the idea of being able to keep going forward… solidified before her, Deku continued to murmur.

“I don’t think you’d be in this sort of situation if you could get rid of them at their source right now, and I’m sure Recovery Girl has talked to you about that anyways.  I don’t know anything about where they’re coming from, but if we manage to kill the flowers before they reach your throat, you should be able to breathe easier or be able to manage to spit them out without hurting yourself too much.  We’d have to deal with you actually having to spit it out after we figure out how to kill the flowers, cause throwing up flowers in the middle of a fight or something important would be just as dangerous, even if you wouldn’t…  Well, it’s not a guarantee right now anyways; it’s just a theory.  But first we have to figure out how to kill the flowers without hurting you at all.  Right now, you’re kind of like the environment.  So, if we wanted to kill plants without hurting the environment, pesticides are definitely out.  Or are they?  We could ask Yaoyoruzu-san if she could create an organic pesticide that could work with your body to kill the flowers faster, but who knows how much study that would take.  But if Yaoyoruzu-san, Iida-kun, and I all worked on it, maybe we could find something?  No, it could still take too long to think of a chemical compound, but what if—”

Ochako’s body moved before she’d consciously made the choice to.  But if she’d thought it over, truly thought it over, she knew in her heart of hearts that she would have hugged him anyways.

“U-Uraraka-sa—”

“Thank you.”  She couldn’t put any more emotion into her voice.  She wasn’t sure how.  How could she tell him just how much his intention to help her fight through this meant to her?  How could she make it clear that he’d just given her back the world when it was the world itself who’d stolen it from her?  How could she express that his solution, as much buying time as her own had been, was exactly the sort of comfort she needed when she’d most desperately needed it?

She couldn’t.  So, this was the next best thing.

She tightened her arms around him, burrowing her head into the juncture between his shoulder and neck.  Despite herself, she felt grateful for his presence.  The past month had been torture, and she’d avoided him so as to not make the situation worse.  Now that he was here, making things better like he always did, she couldn’t keep from feeling the warmth and reassurance that swept through her.  She couldn’t miss the relief at finally being able to stand with her best friend and know that he had her back.

Even though he was at the heart of the issue, he was never the issue himself.  How foolish she’d been to entertain the thought.  Her voice cracked with emotion.  “Thank you.”

It was another moment before she felt his arms settle against her back, returning her hug with just as much strength as she gave.  She didn’t dare loosen her grip, even if her back hurt, and she heard his voice in her ear.  “We’ll figure it out, Uraraka-san.”

His voice was calm and soothing beside her, and she could feel his determination emanating from his entire body.  Even without those two extra words, she could tell how much he meant them.  She knew a promise was being made.

And if she hugged him just a little tighter, then that was their business.

She didn’t know how long they stood there, hidden from the world’s cruelties and from her personal battle.  All she knew was that he stood with her, holding her in his arms as though he could protect her from her own foolishness. 

But… it wasn’t foolishness, was it?  This was another chance, wasn’t it?  A chance to move forward?  To live her life?

It wasn’t foolish…  was it?

Ochako’s grasp around him loosened, and she could feel him mirror her unintentional action.  Heat rushed to her face.  What was she doing?  Seeking refuge from a love-infected curse in the arms of the boy she was literally in lo—

Ochako quickly withdrew from the hug, coughs wracking her body as she turned away from Deku.  She spat several more flowers onto the ground, heaving and exhaling harshly to make sure she got them all.  As she did, a gentle pressure, a warmth on her back, steadied her.  Strengthened her.  Grounded her.

And how sick was it that, even while coughing her lungs out from this, she still felt reassured when he hesitantly put his hand on her back and began to rub circles into it?  How despicable was it that she was clinging to comfort from the very person she’d been trying to avoid with this entire mess?

How sad was it that, even with all this mess, she wouldn’t have wanted anyone else to see her at her lowest like this?  When Momo and Tsu were around, she was thankful when they ignored her upheavals.  When Jirou found her, she’d felt a tired relief, too exhausted to keep up her fight for long and returning right back to it when she’d gotten even a scrap of energy back.  Now that Deku was here… even with her body railing against her, she felt safe.  Hurt, but also reassured, somehow.

She had it so bad…  Even without the fire in her throat and the burn in her aching muscles, the depth of her longing couldn’t be tempered.  It coursed through her, punishing her, hurting her.

“…Uraraka-san?!”  Deku’s worried voice cut through her self-depreciating thoughts.  She blinked, the ground, littered with tiny yellow flowers, swimming before her.  She must have spat them up.  All of them.  She must have looked absolutely disgusting; she must have seemed so weak.  But here he was.  Still by her side, hand on her back, and ready to help.  She knew he would go so far for many people, but that knowledge didn’t cheapen his actions.  No.  It made them all the more impressive and compassionate.  His concern, his compassion, his presence touched her in the worst possible way.

She retched.

Flowers upon flowers poured out of her mouth, and for three seconds, she could only feel her barely empty stomach convulsing and her lungs screaming.  Everything in her body was forcing the foreign objects out, out, out, and it hurt.  Her eyes squeezed shut as the episode struck her with the weight of a mighty blow.  Her knees were weak, and she could barely hold herself up.

The pain of it all made her want to scream.  Flowers blocked the way.

Ochako would have collapsed if it weren’t for the support of one Izuku Midoriya.  She was lightheaded and dizzy, and she had little choice but to lean onto his steadying frame.  It was that or the ground, and the ground was currently covered in flowers.  Ochako blinked.  Oh.  Oh, no.

“Sorry,” she murmured, a sense of sad despondency leaking into her as she took note of his shoes and hers.  It was gross.  She’d tried to avoid this, too.

“Don’t worry about it.”  How could he sound so concerned and so comforting at once?  She was so tired.  “Let’s get you back to the dorms.”

“But—”

Ochako lifted her head to see Deku shaking his.  When his eyes met hers, she saw a melting kindness framed by immovable steel.  She saw hope grounded in reality.  She saw a myriad of contradictions, each one of them as hauntingly reassuring as the last.  She was so tired.  “Your body needs rest,” he said firmly.  His eyes softened.  “Please, Uraraka-san.  Let me help you.”

Even if the episode hadn’t weakened her body, his gentle words would have done her in right then and there.  Her heart lurched, a traitorous portion of it seeking something while the larger and more sensible part was simply grateful for the caring nature of her friend.  Of his determination to care for and protect everyone he considered worthwhile.  When he looked at her like that…  when she knew he was focusing that determination and care on her…  who was she to refuse?

It wasn’t quite with resignation that she nodded her assent, but she was still embarrassed when he scooped her frame into a stable hold.  She rested against him, too tired to do anything else.

“Deku-kun?”

“Yes?”  She could feel his chest move with his reply.  She tried not to think about it.  About how safe it made her feel.  How secure.

“Do you really think… we’ll be able to stop the flowers…?”

Her eyelids waged a war against her, and as crippled as she was by the emotions of the day and the subsequent attacks, her consciousness was losing.  The battle was won, however, when she heard his reassurances before passing out.

“I think if it’s us…  all of us…  then we can find a way.”

It was all she needed to hear.



Ochako didn’t remember getting into bed.  She didn’t remember placing the bin right next to her bed.  She didn’t remember setting a glass of water in easy reach.  She didn’t remember putting a pen and paper by her bedside.

She used the bin first, spitting out the flowers that had come with her dreams.  Dreams that wove real reassurances with fantastical fantasies, placing before her heart a future she couldn’t have beside a reality she could only strive for.  Her mind and heart were so bogged down that she couldn’t have been more grateful for the shedding of her unconscious adventures.  As the memories faded, the flowers slowed, and Ochako was finally able to breathe again.

She’d passed out without meditating.  And this was the result.

Desperate to escape her misstep, she spat out the last flower, grabbed the water, and sipped at it.

It helped.  A lot.  She guzzled the entire glass within a minute of reaching for it, desperate for the relief it brought.  Once she was done, she set her attention on the paper and pencil.  She often kept it with her phone on the other side of her room.

A quick glance told her that her phone was not plugged in where it usually was.  A quick hand to her pocket told her that someone had put her mittens on her but hadn’t retrieved the phone from her front pocket.

Her shoes were off, too.

Ochako flushed, already knowing who would be so considerate towards her and done all of this for her.  Taken her shoes off, tucked her into bed, knew exactly where she kept her mittens, left her phone exactly where it was despite knowing where she kept it.

An icy wave of dread rolled through her, and her face drained of color.  She had one hand on the bin, prepared to use it.  Her body was wound like a coiled spring, prepared for punishment, as the minutes passed.

But nothing happened.  Not for one minute.  Not for two minutes.  Not for three minutes.  Slowly, the tension eked out of her, and she slumped against her mattress.  This was exhausting.  Waiting to spit up flowers, only for nothing to—

A moment of sharp clarity hit her, and it brought with her a dawning horror.  As much as she’d complained about and hated the flowers and what they’d come to mean to her, she’d only ever spat them up in batches of ten or less before.  She’d always been able to hide them for a short while.  Close her mouth, grit her teeth, and spit them out when she’d safely escaped notice.

In the grove, she’d puked.  One hundred percent retched.  It was something her body had forced out of her and something she couldn’t hide.

It’s getting worse again… she realized.  The flowers were getting more forceful now.  But… if they were forceful back in the clearing… why hadn’t she spat anything out as soon as she’d felt flattered by Deku’s attention?  It had worked that way, steadily and with increasing invasiveness, for the past month…  And it wasn’t like she’d confessed or anything.  That would have been a death sentence.

She was missing something…  She just didn’t know what.

“Ugh,” she groaned.  “This is a nightmare.”

The silence in her room seemed to agree with her, and it threatened to worsen a budding headache.  Groggy, aching, and emotionally vulnerable, she decided that she did not need another thing to hurt today.  She gingerly rocked her head from side to side, a slow version of shaking her head, before doing her best to cast off the contradictions.

She’d deal with it later.  She couldn’t deal with it now.  She didn’t know how.

Ochako sat up, tilting her chin upwards in order to let herself take in a deep breath of air.  She inhaled.  Oxygen rushed into her system, inflating her lungs and opening her core.  She exhaled.  Her body fell a little as the air left her, forcing her shoulders to relax as she opened her eyes.

Okay.  What did she need to do next?

She saw the pencil and paper.  Right.  She still needed to read Deku’s note.  Gingerly, she picked it up and decoded his familiar, messy scrawl.

Uraraka-san,

You were asleep by the time we made it to the dorms.  I hope you don’t mind that I brought you to your room.  You seemed like you really needed the rest.

I wish you could wake up, rested and feeling better, and not have to do anything else today.  I get the feeling  You must  Today must have been hard.  When we got back, though, some of our classmates saw that you weren’t feeling the state you were in.  I tried to tell them that you would talk to everybody in your own time, but Yaoyoruzu-san, Asui-san Tsu-chan, and Jirou-san were very insistent that everyone wait for you to wake up if they had any questions.  They all seem very worr  They want to make sure you’ll be okay.  So, when you wake up, please don’t be surprised if we’re still downstairs.

But I’m going to keep my promise!  I don’t know how long it’ll take for you to wake up and see this, but I plan on talking to Yaoyoruzu-san to see if we can figure out a way to kill the flowers before they damage your system like we talked about.  Please have faith  We’ll do our  We’ll find a way.

Deku

P.S. I put some water out for you.  I hope it helps.

Despite herself, Ochako chuckled.  Even though she wanted to panic at the notion of all of her friends waiting for her downstairs—well-meaning but almost certainly going to demand an explanation out of her (an explanation she wasn’t ready to give)—the last line of Deku’s note couldn’t have done anything but brought a smile to her face.  ‘I put some water out for you.’  She chuckled.

Yeah, she thought as she put the paper where she’d found it, and put my mittens on for me and took off my shoes and tucked me in.  Deku-kun…  why do you have to make it so easy and so hard to lo—

Whatever grace had befallen her earlier, allowing her a brief respite from the flowers, was gone now.  She grabbed the bin and spat the cursed yellow flowers into it, disturbed at the fact that she was now grateful that it wasn’t worse.

What was her life?  This was sick.

No.  She was sick.  And she needed to do something about it.  She looked at Deku’s note from her place beside the bin.

‘We’ll find a way.’

Even through a hastily scribbled note, he was somehow inspiring.  Somehow convincing.  Even though she knew that it couldn’t be that easy, a part of her wanted to believe.  Believe in him.  Believe that this nightmare could be managed, at least.  If it couldn’t end, then maybe it could at least be manageable.

God, please let it be manageable.

Ochako set the bin down with a final thud.  This was her last shot.  Her last chance.  Even if everyone was downstairs like the note said, waiting for answers, answers she wasn’t in the slightest bit ready to give yet, this was something she couldn’t put off.  This was her last shot to try and keep some semblance of normalcy.

She needed to do this.  And she needed to do this now.

She got out of bed.  She needed to go downstairs and face everyone.



The common room immediately quieted.  Hushed whispers of urgency fell quiet, and all heads that had been leaned together in conspiracy turned to her.  The opening of the door, soft as it had been, had disturbed them all.

That moment of quiet did not last very long.

“Ochako-chan!” 

“Ashido-kun, do not run!  Do not—!”

Mina slammed into her with all the force she could muster, which was quite a lot.  Ochako normally would have been able to take it, her own stance and reaction time having become stronger and faster over the past years, but drained as she was, the two of them tumbled to the floor.  She could hear the clatter of classmates rushing upwards to help them, but her immediate attention was captured by the pink-skinned girl, who pulled away from her to pin her with a glare.

“Jirou-chan told us that you’ve been puking flowers!?  For weeks?”  The accusation was clear as day, but Mina never was one to leave anything unsaid.  “Why didn’t you tell us?”

“I—”  Ochako looked around.  Her eyes met with Jirou’s, fierce and determined and worried.  She saw Tsu and Momo, apologetic yet unwavering and worried.

Their gazes pinned her, arresting her for a moment.  She could hear the pleas laden in their tones and the desperation in their eyes.  ‘Why didn’t you say anything?’  ‘You can do something about it.’  ‘Let us be here for you!’

Oh, how badly she wanted to listen to them.  How much she wanted to believe.  But just as her friends were before her now, there was another presence asserting itself.  Stronger.  Darker.  As familiar to her by now as the flowers were.  A presence within herself.

It was an ugly presence.  It reached into her heart, hardening it with fear and with pride.  Its hold on her was great, and shame warred with this thing within her.  It was too much.  Too much.

She broke her gaze with her friends, a frown on her face and a feeling in her throat that she had to swallow to get rid of.  The irony wasn’t funny.  She answered them with her hardened heart.  “It wasn’t a problem.”

“Bullshit.”

“Until now,” she corrected harshly, already tired of Jirou’s abrasive care.  She knew that her friend was worried, but she had no idea.  She had no clue what she’d been going through for the past month.  Yet as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t look her friend in the eye as she said it.  The presence coursed through her veins; it was powerful and angry and ugly.  It made her want to fight and hide all at the same time.  She felt herself trapped in a hard situation, but she couldn’t see a way out.

She couldn’t.  So she kept talking.  “I had it under control.  It just got worse recently.”

“But you weren’t going to tell us, were you?”

Ochako opened her mouth.  Closed it.  What could she say?  Mina was right.  She had had no intentions of telling anyone who didn’t already know.  Everyone found out by accident, and she wasn’t sure how she felt about it.  Frustrated?  Mortified?

Ashamed?

“Mina-chan, you should get off of Ochako-chan now,” said Toru, her voice gentle as indentations of her hands appeared on their friend’s upper arm.  Ochako watched as she tugged lightly at her.  Watched as Mina’s scowl didn’t leave.  Watched… “Come on…”

…as she stayed exactly where she was.

“Why?”  Mina demanded, her voice soft and low even as tears dripped down her face.  The girl was always one to wear her emotions on her sleeve, even—and perhaps especially—the unpleasant ones.  Everything the girl was feeling was laid bare for Ochako to see.  The hurt.  The anger.  The pain.  The worry.  It all showed clearly on her proud face.  “A couple of days, I get.  Hell, I can even understand keeping it a secret for a couple of weeks.  But a month?  And you still weren’t going to ask for help?  Why?”

“Mina-chan…”

No!” Mina ripped her arm out of Tooru’s grip, her frown severe.  “I demand answers!  We’re your friends!  You were going to just… suffer in silence!  You never had to do this alone!  You could have told us!  You could have— hey!

Ochako breathed in sharply as Mina was forcibly removed from her.  She blinked as a solemn Kirishma held his friend back, gingerly passing her over to Toru.  Once the transfer had finished, he turned and held a hand out to Ochako.  She looked from it to her friend’s face, his sunny disposition nowhere to be found.

“Come on,” he said.  He tried for a weak smile, but even she could see how forced it was.  “It’s not manly to ignore a helping hand.”

The words were innocent, but she felt a strike against her soul all the same.  The press of darkness shook her hands and furrowed her brow.  She placed her palms flat behind her and pushed herself upwards.  She looked up to politely decline, but she saw his eyes.  Even more worry.

She looked around the room again, looking more closely this time.  Toru was holding Mina, the girls hugging each other for support.  Momo’s hand was on Jirou’s shoulder, but Ochako could see the pressure being applied.  She was holding her back.  Tsu stood by the table, arm out to prevent Iida and Deku from also rushing over.  Tsu’s wise eyes observed the situation, and her body followed through in order to keep things from getting worse.

But, looking at her friends, Ochako couldn’t help but feel that it was much worse already.

Iida’s face was broken.  Not physically, but she could see the emotional fractures through his clenched teeth, the pinch of worry between his arrowed brows, and his prepared stance.  Her heart broke.  How many times had he been there, encouraging her through his loud announcements and insistent nature?  When she’d admitted to becoming a hero purely for financial reasons, he’d applauded her and her determination and called her reasons noble.  He’d been one of her friends since the beginning, and she could see that Tsu’s arm was the only thing keeping him from marching up to her and assisting her himself—assisting her or interrogating her, just as Mina had done.

And Deku.  While Iida’s stance was powerful, ready to rush in at a moment’s notice, Deku’s was physically alight.  His Quirk was active, and he was ready to jump over Tsu’s arm in a heartbeat.  She couldn’t blame him.  He’d seen her in the grove, when the disease had been arguably at its worst.  He’d had to carry her limp form back to the dorms.  He knew how hard this was on her and her body, even if he didn’t know the reason for its existence.  His expression was clear.  He was worried.  One motion from her, and he’d be at her side in a minute.  That was the kind of person he was.

Ochako sighed.  She’d come downstairs for help and here she was, being stubborn again.  Her friends were worried—of course they were!  She was throwing up flowers, and they didn’t know why.  She had been for a month.  Of course they were upset.  Of course they were worried. Of course they wanted to help.  Because that’s what heroes do.  And they were all heroes.  Or at least trying to be.  How hypocritical would it be of her to ask them to ignore their very nature for her sake?

She looked up, meeting Kirishima’s gaze.  His weak smile was still there, still encouraging her.  While she didn’t think she’d open up entirely about the problem…  he was right.

It wasn’t manly at all to refuse help when it was being offered like this.

“Here you go,” said Kirishima, pulling Ochako to her feet as soon as her grip was sturdy in his.  She wobbled a little, but she was soon steady enough to let go.  Kirishima let her hand drop, but the worry in his eye remained.  It had eased, but it had not been vanquished.  But that was all right.  She hadn’t expected it to be.  Not this time.

They were heroes, and heroes did what they could to keep everyone safe.  She knew as well as everyone else in this room did that she wasn’t safe.  Not yet.  It wasn’t fair to expect them not to worry.

“Thanks,” said she.  Though she wasn’t exactly sure what for.  The hand, the advice, or the epiphany it triggered.  Either way, Kirishima’s smile brightened just a little bit, and the worry seemed to retreat even further.

“No problem.”  Kirishima cocked his head sideways, and his smile dimmed a little, growing somber.  “Ashido didn’t mean any harm, you know.  She’s just worried; we all are.”

Ochako closed her eyes.  Took a breath.  Let it out.  She opened her eyes, though she looked at the ground.  She didn’t know why.  She just did.  She had a heavy feeling that made it hard to look any one of them in the eye.

Though she knew where the worry was coming from, and she knew that she couldn’t stop it, there was only so much of it she could take in at one time.

“I know she is.  I know you all are,” she said.  “And I know that I need help.  I know I kept it from you guys for a long time, but I really was trying my best.  I was doing everything I could do on my own.  It’s just that now…”  Tears stung at her eyes, unbidden and unwanted.  Hot, painful, bitter reminders of how she couldn’t power through it on her own.  A blistering and scathing whisper of how she wasn’t good enough to do it alone.

But that wasn’t right.  It wasn’t that she wasn’t strong.  It’s that she was stronger with support.

She was stronger with support.

She was stronger with support.

Perhaps if she thought it enough, it would feel true.  Somehow.

But…  somehow… it still felt like a bitter loss.  In the grove, it had just been Deku to see her crumble.  Deku, who’d safeguarded many of her secrets before in the darkness of early morning exercises and late-night study sessions.  Deku, who had not judged her or assaulted her with his worry.  Deku, who’d only offered himself as her support, and she’d accepted with the same zeal of a dehydrated man offered an oasis.

Here, though, it was different.  Her friends were worried, and they were demanding in their worry.  They wanted answers, answers she wasn’t one hundred percent ready to give.  But…  but they deserved better from her.

And she needed their help.  If it took the lowering of her pride in order to get it… so be it.

“I…”  Still, the words wouldn’t come easily, even with this epiphany.  She shook her head.  She needed to say it.  Even if her face was covered in tears, even if it hurt, she needed to say it.  “I can’t…”

The floor blurred in front of her, and she squeezed her eyes shut.  Tears flowed down her face, and pain stabbed in her heart.  It hurt, but this was right.  And that was the only reason she had to continue, to blurt these words out into the darkness, knowing that her friends could hear them.  Even if they couldn’t fully understand, they could hear them.

“I can’t do it on my own anymore.  I can’t keep pushing you away.”  Momo and Tsu, who had been there from the start.  Jirou, who was aggressive but loving.  Mina, who was so open and so loud that her worry was clear from the get-go.  Deku, who she had physically and emotionally run from.  She bowed her head, an apology to the friends she’d shunned.  “I… I need your help.”

The room hurt her with its stillness.  She didn’t know what her friends were doing, or if they even believed her.  But she was earnest.  She was hurting.  And she wanted it to stop.

Crisp steps sounded, making their way across the room.  Kirishima shuffled out of the way, giving Ochako and her friend some space.  It wasn’t long before she could make out a pair of slippers in front of her.  Hunched over as she was, they were almost the same height.  Yet the distance somehow still seemed so vast.

“Ochako-chan.”  Ochako winced.  She was crying, too.  Yet…  somehow…  somehow, her voice was strong.  Stronger than Ochako felt.  “We want to help you, but picking and choosing what you want to hear won’t help you anymore, kero.  If you say you’re going to let us help, please mean it.”

Ochako winced.  She knew.  Her uncle’s journals had bought her precious time, but that well had dried up.  Still…  Her voice was broken in a whisper as she confessed to Tsu.

“I’m not ready…  I…  I can’t tell…”

“I know, kero.”  Tsu’s comfort was whispered as well, her tone low and hushed.  It would be a struggle for anyone else in the room to hear their murmurs, even as silent as the room as was.  “But you will be.  And we will keep you with us until you are, kero.”

Tsu said nothing else.  She didn’t need to.  Ochako nodded her understanding, grateful beyond what words could express.

She wasn’t going to have to tell.  Her friends were here.  And despite her distance, despite her secrecy, despite her stubbornness…  they were here to help.

She loved them so much.

She didn’t register the shuffling of feet until someone’s hand rested upon her arm.  Blinking a few more of the tears away, she turned from Tsu’s face to Momo’s, then from Momo’s to Jirou’s.  Mina and Toru stood behind them, close and reaching their hands out, too.  Kirishima stepped back in closer, flanking her side so as to allow room for Iida and Deku to stand before her, ready and willing to assist in whatever way they could.

“So… you’re not going to explode if we all hug and make up, right?”

The laughter that erupted from her mouth might have been the most choked up, tearful, twisted thing she could have ever possibly imagined.  But any embarrassment was drowned out by Mina taking her answer and surging the crowd forward from behind.  Within moments, Ochako was surrounded by warmth, her arms unable to hold everyone at once, but damn if she wasn’t going to try.

They stood for a moment, piled together in a clumsy, misshapen bundle of warmth that was barely standing on its own sixteen feet.  It was the best feeling Ochako had had in a month, and she allowed it to strengthen her for a moment.

Before the buzzing of someone’s cell phone caused that person to shift.  And, being near the center, that person’s movement was enough to shift everyone.

Feet scuttled around and bodies moved quickly to regain their balance.  Thankfully, no one fell as Kirishima reached for his phone, a bashful smile on his face.

“Aw, come on,” pouted Mina, sounding far more normal than she had before.  Ochako never thought she’d feel so relieved to hear over exaggerated whining.  “We were having a moment!”

“Sorry, sorry!”  Kirishima’s apology came with a smile, and everyone in the group was too soft-hearted to even imagine not forgiving him immediately.  The small bow he made as he managed to extract himself from the hug pile helped a little.  “I promised Bakugou and Kaminari that we’d train today.  I have to go, but is everything going to be okay here?”

Kirishima’s gaze was entirely on Ochako as he asked, double checking out of concern for his friend.  Given all that had happened in such a short amount of time, she didn’t blame him.  However, knowing whose hands she had left herself in, she nodded.

“Yeah,” she said, smiling.  “Good luck training.”

“You’re gonna need it!” crowed Mina, shooing her friend away.  Kirishima grinned as the rest of the group also wished him well, ducking out before he could be any later.  Once he was gone, Ochako was—once again—at the center of attention.  Mina plopped her chin on Jirou’s shoulder, making sure she was in Ochako’s direct line of sight as she continued.  “Now, what’s our game plan?”

Ochako blinked.  “Our…”

“Game plan, yes!  You can’t seriously think that we’re not all gonna help as much as we can, right?”

“Um, I didn’t—”

“I heard Midoriya-kun talking about pesticides.  Are we going shopping or what?”

“I—”

“No, you’re not swallowing pesticides,” said Jirou, scowling.  She turned.  “Midoriya-kun, that’s a terrible plan!”

“Um—”

“Wait, wait, so the flowers are coming from inside Ochako-chan?  What, are they just growing really fast?”  Toru’s questions came too quickly.  Ochako couldn’t keep up.  “Can a pesticide even act that fast?”

“I’m not sure. Guys, can we just—”

“Wait, but—”

Enough!”  Iida’s voice cut through the cacophony, and everyone immediately stilled.  If his voice didn’t grab their attention, his chopping hands most certainly would have.  Ochako was grateful for the silence, but her ears rang with his voice for a moment before he continued.  “Please.  We have gathered together in order to support Uraraka-kun in her time of need.  If we are to construct a plan of action, we must be organized!  That being said, I do believe Midoriya-kun and Yaoyoruzu-kun have constructed such a plan based on what Uraraka-kun appears to need at this time.  We must respectfully listen to what they have to say!”

“Okay, okay,” grumbled Mina, rubbing her ears.  “You don’t have to yell.”

Iida’s face contorted as he absorbed his classmate’s words, and Deku reached over quickly to pat him on the shoulder.  The two shared a look before Iida appeared appeased and Deku withdrew his hand.  Ochako turned her attention to Yaoyrouzu, whose iron-clad eyes hadn’t shifted—now that she was looking—from Ochako herself.

Ochako remembered the last time she’d spoken with her friend.  She remembered the way the other girl had reached out to her, respecting her boundaries even while Ochako was barreling down a path of self-destruction.  The reminder sent shame sweeping across her neck and ears, and she recoiled slightly from the sting of humiliation.

But…  this was Yaoyoruzu.  Her friend.  Everything she’d done, she’d done to help.  Ochako took a breath.

“Still,” Ochako said, her voice cutting through the tension.  Both in the room and in herself.  She didn’t break her gaze with the hero of creation.  “I’m sure whatever plan they’ve come up with is a good one.  I want to hear it.”

I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you.  I need your help.

The unspoken words carried across the room, and Ochako hoped that they made it to her friend’s heart.  Her prayers were answered as Yaoyoruzu’s eyes softened, as her smile brightened, and as her posture straightened.  She nodded, and Ochako knew they were okay.

“Thank you, Uraraka-san.”  Momo’s voice was strong without yelling, compelling without demanding.  Everyone paid attention.  “As many of you are aware, due to medical complications, Uraraka-san has been throwing up flowers.  This is a very painful process and obstructs her breathing when it occurs.”

Iida’s hand shot up.  Momo rose an eyebrow—and Ochako could get it; they weren’t in a classroom setting, after all—and gestured towards him.

“Are we aware of what is causing the flowers?  Is it a Quirk?”

Ochako swiveled her head towards Iida, eyes wide.  She wasn’t ready!  What was she gonna sa—

“It’s a form of intrusive thought, kero.”  Ochako turned to Tsu, eyes wide.  Everyone else did, too.  She seemed to take the attention in stride.  “Momo-chan and I went with her to Recovery Girl when this first began.  Ochako-chan’s been doing her best to keep the thoughts away, but it hasn’t been working as well as she’s hoped, kero.”

“I see,” said Iida, absorbing the information with a hand to his chin.  He nodded, accepting the answer, and Ochako breathed, the overwhelming relief too much to keep in.

Tsu was the best.

“W-well, it’s worked a little bit,” said Ochako, relieved that she can bring her classmates up to speed on the progress she had made.  Now that she everyone had an explanation that was almost true, she could give them more information.  And…  well… the more information they had to work with, the better…  right?  “It’s getting worse when the… thoughts… appear again, but when I get in the right headspace, it’s like there’s no way for those thoughts to even appear in the first place.”

“Are they thoughts you can get yourself out of easily?” asked Deku.  She turned towards him, his brows already furrowed and a pencil already pressed against a notepad.  Was that… the same paper he used for the note in her room?

Her heart fluttered, and her eyes widened.  Not now, please not now…  “Or once they start, are they hard to stop?”

“Uh…”  Ochako looked away from the paper, shaking her head.  Wait.  A question.  He asked a question.  She hurried to answer.  “I haven’t…  I haven’t really been able to get myself out of those thoughts by myself yet…”

“But you also haven’t been letting anyone else help intervene when you get them either.”  Ochako turned towards Mina, who stood confidently with her arms crossed.  A look of open curiosity filled her face.  “You’ve been locking down even harder and trying to deal with it on your own, right?  Like fighting the good fight inside your mind and not really letting anything or anyone else help?”

Mutely, Ochako nodded.  Mina grinned.  “So whatever plan needs to happen needs to have some sort of ‘wake up Ochako with something so distracting that she can’t think of anything else.’  Something like—hey!

“It’s a good idea, kero,” mused Tsu, who had discreetly stepped on Mina’s foot to keep her from saying anything more.  Ochako blanched at where the girl had been going, but Deku seemed to be absorbing what had been said instead of what had almost been said.

“It is,” agreed Momo, taking back control of the room.  Everyone turned to her, even the scowling Mina.  “So, as you can see, we cannot currently address the cause of Uraraka-san’s ailment.  Midoriya-san, however, appears to have an idea of dealing with the symptoms.”

Momo turned to Deku and nodded.  He nodded back, taking up where she’d left off.  “Earlier today, I saw the flowers that Uraraka-san’s been throwing up.  It looked very painful, and it was really easy to see why.  When they come out of her mouth, they’re in full bloom, but if they weren’t in full bloom, then spitting them out might not hurt as badly.”

“So that’s why you were talking about pesticides earlier,” mused Jirou.  She narrowed her eyes at the two presenting.  “But wouldn’t that kill Ochako-chan?  Not exactly helping there.”

“That’s where we’re running into trouble,” said Deku, frowning.  He removed his pencil from the notebook and flipped it around for everyone to—oh.

“I didn’t grab a sample of the flowers, so I sketched them out,” explained Deku as he held his illustration up for everyone to see.  Ochako backed up while everyone else leaned in, examining his penmanship.  As they all took in the details, Deku’s eyes met hers.  His emerald irises held an apology, and the smile she returned was a grimace at best, but it was the best she could do.

She honestly never wanted to see those flowers again.

“Yaoyoruzu-san and I discussed it, and we agreed that if we can find the name of the flower, we can probably find out what it needs.  If we can figure out how best to keep it alive, we could do the opposite of that and figure out what kills it faster.  But neither of us—”

“I know that flower!” Toru’s voice halted Deku in his tracks, and everyone turned to the floating shirt and shorts with wide eyes.  It took a moment, but the girl eventually realized she was the center of attention.  “A-ah!  Sorry, I interrupted you there, but I know what that flower is.  It’s my dad’s favorite flower.  Mom gets him a sprig every year on their anniversary.”

“A…sprig?”  asked Mina, her head tilted.  “You mean these don’t just grow on stems?”

“No,” said Toru.  Even though she couldn’t see for sure, Ochako was certain the girl was waving her hands in front of her.  Then she was pointing.  Ochako wasn’t sure how she knew.  She just knew.  “They’re reeeally tiny, so it kind of makes sense.  They’re called verbascum, actually.”

“Verbascum…”  Ochako glanced to Deku and—yup.  He was writing it down.  He lifted his eyes from the paper and back to Toru.  “Do you know anything else about it?  How does your dad take care of it?”

“Oh, he just sorta pins it to his shirt until it dies on its own.  Takes about a week and a half.”  Here, Toru’s voice took a sad turn.  “It’s… actually a really tough plant.  Leave it alone and it lives for a pretty long time.  Sorry.”

Ochako startled as she realized Toru had been talking to her.  Immediately, she began to wave her hands.  “No, no, it’s fine!  In fact, since we know the name of it now, we can do a bit of research and figure out even more.  That was really helpful, Toru-chan!”

“Indeed!”  Iida held up his smart phone, the blue light shining knowledge upon them all.  Ochako blinked.  That’s right.  Most of her classmates had the internet on their phones.  “Thanks to Hagakure-kun’s enlightenment, I was able to discover this!”

It took a moment for their eyes to adjust to his phone, but when they did…

“Uh…Iida-kun, those are pink.” Jirou was right.  The flowers on the site were pink.  They grew in bunches, like Toru had said, but they were most definitely pink.  However, Ochako knew her friend.  He would never give them information he didn’t think they could use.  Her eyes quickly scanned the text before she caught what he’d found.

“It appears as though the web site has used a pink variety of the flower for aesthetic purposes,” said Iida, letting the rest of the group know what she’d just found.  He held his phone very still in one hand and chopped with the other, and Ochako continued to read.  “But the informational text states specifically that this type of flower is usually yellow.”

“Okay.  That’s good, right?” asked Mina.  “That means we can figure out what it needs so we can kill it!”

“I certainly hope it will be that simple, Ashido-kun, however…”

As Mina and Iida kept talking, Ochako started to screen them out, focusing on the words in front of her.  She reached out and scrolled on Iida’s phone until she got to the heading she was looking for.

Care

Fuzzy-leaved species prefer full sun, others will tolerate partial shade. Grow in any well-drained soil. Verbascums tend to flop in fertile soil.

Ochako blinked.  Read those three sentences again.  Then the last two.  Then the last one. 

No way.

“…validity of your sources, of course.  One must— Uraraka-kun, are you all right?”

Ochako tried to think.  It couldn’t be that easy.  No way.  She wasn’t looking at the web site anymore; she was trying to remember.

“Ochako-chan?”

The night it started.  She’d brushed her teeth and gone to bed.

The girls echoed Mina’s concern, reaching out to her as she remembered.

Before she, Tsu, and Momo had gone to Recovery Girl’s, she’d stopped by the kitchen.

Iida was asking the girls to give her space.

When she went to the bathroom after spitting up flowers, she always stopped by the faucet on the way back.

Deku was saying something…

Wait…  when he left her room…  Deku made sure she had a glass…

“…of water…”

“Uraraka-san…?  Are you okay?”

Ochako blinked, turning away from Iida’s phone.  Everyone was looking at her, worry clear in their eyes once more.  But this time…  this time, she could help alleviate it.  She wouldn’t be safe, but she had one more answer.  She smiled.

“Yeah,” she answered, pointing to Iida’s phone.  “But look at this!”

She watched as Deku’s eyes moved from her to the phone, and then flickered as he took in the information.  She knew when he made the same connection she did as his jaw dropped and his eyes widened.  He turned to her, his eyes sparkling.

“What?” asked Jirou, and Ochako turned to her, excitement radiating from her.  “What is it?”

“Water!  Verbascum die if there’s too much water!”  said Ochako.  She lifted a hand to her forehead, smiling as the dots connected in her mind.  “I can’t believe I didn’t notice!  Whenever I drink water, the flowers don’t come back for a little while.  It’s only a few minutes, but…”

“But that’s enough time to distract you from whatever those thoughts are and get you back on track,” said Deku, finishing her thought.  Smiling, he dove into his notebook, scribbling away.  “If we can figure out how much water you need, maybe we can put a humidifier in your room to help in the night.  It might be uncomfortable, but it’s the best we have right now.”

“And I’m certain that our teachers will let you carry this around as well,” said Yaoyoruzu, drawing Ochako’s gaze.  In her hand was a freshly made water bottle.  Ochako’s eyes teared up as her friend passed it to her.  “I’ll start carrying one, too, so it’s not embarrassing or conspicuous.”

“Me, too!” said Mina, thrusting her hand in the air.  Momo quickly made another water bottle and passed it to Mina, who took it gratefully with a smile.  “It’s a good idea anyways.  But what about when you’re fighting?  You can’t bring a water bottle with you on the field.”

“I get really focused when I’m training or fighting,” said Ochako.  “So I don’t think it’ll be a problem then.  It wouldn’t hurt to make some sort of change to prepare for it, but I don’t think I’ll need it.”

“You won’t get them while patrolling?” asked Toru.  “I know my mind wanders a lot during the down time like that.  It’s not like we’re busy every minute of every day.”

Ochako laughed.  Oh, she felt so free.  She turned her attention to Toru, smiling.  “I don’t think I’ll have that problem.  Edgeshot isn’t one to give me a chance to let my mind wander.  I have to stay really focused while I’m on the job, even during patrols.”

“And we can hold your water bottle during Heroics class, as we rarely have full-class exercises this year,” volunteered Iida.  “You are incredibly focused during a fight, but having water nearby when you are meant to be observing can only be helpful.”

Ochako looked around.  Voices talked over one another, each one excited to contribute to this solution.  Momo was creating more water bottles.  Iida was offering opinions.  Mina was firing off questions.  Toru was personalizing the water bottles Momo was making.  Jirou was pointing out flaws and offering patches.  Tsu was patiently waiting and offering insight when needed.  And Deku…

He stood by, writing down every idea with intensity.  He nodded along, listening and occasionally interjecting ideas of his own.  He asked Tsu about humidifiers.  He talked to Momo about the water bottles.  He asked Mina if she would feel comfortable talking to Hatsume about some costume upgrade ideas.  He observed, wrote, interjected.

He was… absolutely amazing.

She shook her head, but the damage had been done.  She quietly walked away from the group and ducked into the kitchen, where she began to fill her water bottle.  With all the noise, she was sure that spitting out a couple flowers into the sink would go unnoticed.

It did not.

“Here.”  Ochako felt the water bottle slip from her grasp, it and the faucet moving to the side just enough to give her more room.  Ochako spat out the last flower before turning to her friend, who kept her eyes fixed on the filling water bottle.  Wordlessly, she handed the afflicted girl a rag.

“Thanks,” said Ochako, using the rag to wipe her mouth.  She watched her friend, who silently filled the water bottle as if it were the most important duty she’d ever been given.  Her lips were drawn, and her eyes were narrowed.  “Are you… okay?”

“You’re really going to ask me that?”  Jirou’s voice lilted, musicality almost overwhelming the scoffed hurt that ran underneath.  Still, Ochako nodded.  Jirou chuckled, a sad thing.  “Honestly?  No.  I’m not.  But I’m not okay because you’re not okay.  No, more like because you tried to tell us you were okay when you weren’t.  It’s just—”

Jirou exhaled, then turned to look Ochako in the eye.  Ochako could only hold the gaze she was being given.

“I know this is hard for you, but we’re here to help.  All of us.  We…  well…”  Jirou broke her gaze, shifting her attention to the group that had stayed in the common room.  They were all talking, pointing, and collaborating.  All of them looked energetic, and Ochako felt grateful when she knew it was for her sake.  “I’m sure I speak for everyone here when I say we really care about you a lot.”

Ochako stood for a moment, silent as Jirou finished filling up her water bottle.  It was a fact that she knew, but she hadn’t quite felt the effects of.  Mina and Jirou had been angry.  Momo and Tsu had been concerned.  Toru and Kirishima had taken the roles of peacekeeper.  Iida had done what he does best:  organize and redirect.  And Deku was doing what he did best: strategize and support.

The instant they knew something was off, they came together.  They worked together.  They supported her in their own ways.  And though she’d been afraid of letting them in before, she was reassured by it now.

Jirou pushed her water bottle into her hands, gaining her attention again.  Her lavender eyes were serious.  “So, you’ll let us know if this gets worse this time, right?”

 Ochako’s hand immediately grasped onto the bottle, her pinky out.  A week—no, a day—no, maybe even a few hours ago, she might have nodded and lied and gone up to her room, ready to barrel her way through another day.

But she couldn’t.  Not anymore.  If her friends gathering had shown her anything, it was that they were a true force when brought together, and nothing—not even she—could stand in their way.  They wanted to help.  She needed their help.  She knew that.  And she knew that part of acknowledging that meant that she had to be accountable this time.  She had to let them in this time.

So, even though there were some things she wasn’t quite ready to tell them, this was one thing she was willing to let go of.  Knowing this, she held the water bottle firmly, looked her friend in the eye, and told her the truth.

“I will.  Promise.”

Chapter Text

Day 31

The alarm sounded by her ear, effectively pulling her from unconsciousness yet again.  Her hand, muffled by mittens and further impaired by sleep, clumsily made its way upwards to the clock above her head and haphazardly hit the button.

“Erg…”

Sound had roused her, and now the rest of her senses slowly began responding as well.  Her breathing was labored—yet unimpaired—as she breathed in the moist air.  Tiny droplets of water clung to her skin, chilling her despite the temperature-controlled room of her dorm and the blankets that remained messily draped over her body.  Such slight discomforts caused her to pry her eyes open, and she was greeted with gentle sunlight cascading through her curtains.

Dawn, you beautiful goddess.

Bzzzt…bzzzt…

Blearily, the student groaned.  She kicked her blanket off with finality, hoping for some relief from the water that hung in her room.  She did not receive it as noise continued to assail her.

Bzzzt…bzzzt…

She took a deep breath in; then she exhaled.  The room was more humid than she was used to, but it wasn’t awful.  She could live with this.  She turned her head to the side, blinking languidly at the source of noise.

Bzzzt…bzzzt…

Her phone continued to buzz from its place on the desk, just as it usually did in the morning.  And despite being deprived from its job for the past month due to the fact that flowers and anxiety had been waking her instead, her phone appeared no more or less cheerful in resuming its duty today.

With one tired sigh, she allowed the realm of consciousness to fully claim her at last.  Bracing against the humidity, she pushed herself upwards and pulled her arms as far above her head as she could manage.  A myriad of pops and cracks walked up her spine, releasing the tension she had been carrying and then some.  As her body relaxed into wakefulness, she eyed the bin next to her bed, placed there the night before as a caution, and prepared herself.

She allowed herself no more than a brief thought: a flash of green hair and a memory of worried, green eyes.  She tensed as warmth spread through her person, a little embarrassed at how lovestruck she could be at a mere memory of him.

But nothing came.

As the realization grew with the dawn, Ochako smiled.  Her shoulders remained raised, and her breaths were still shallow, but it didn’t matter.  It didn’t matter that the phone had fallen to the floor again, its warning calls ever-present.  It didn’t matter that she instinctually lowered her head above the bin despite no flowers arriving to punish her for having fallen in love.

Tsu’s humidifier had worked.

She didn’t waste time in disregarding her mittens, rising to her unsteady feet, and gathering her phone from the floor.  She took one last look at the bin before turning her attention to the time.

She had to tell everyone.



Day 34

“Costume upgrades?!”

Hatsumei’s eyes sparkled under the fluorescent lights, and Ochako refrained from taking a step back as Mei entered her space.  The mechanical girl hadn’t mellowed out over the years.  In fact, she’d only gotten more eccentric.

“Do you want more effective jetpacks?!  My babies are top-of-the-line, but there’s always room for improvement!  Or what about an endothermic suit?  You can never be too careful with the weather as it is; you might overheat!  I can make a baby that will keep you at the perfect temperature!  Oh!  Is it the grappling gun?  I finished a baby about two days ago that might work by holding more rope so you can extend your reach!  There’s a bit of gunpowder in there, but that just adds more bang!  And distance, but mainly bang.  Or do you want your helmet back?  I love the antennae; I can include them in my new baby!  And a shield that will withstand all manner of debris!  Yes, my baby will shine!    Oh, this brilliant baby can suit you!  I call it a gyro—”

“Um—do you really think I can have the helmet back?” asked Ochako, half grateful that Hatsumei brought the idea up herself and half terrified of how many ideas the young woman had.  The terror only grew as the support student’s yellow eyes gleamed.

Yes!” The cry was far too jubilant for Ochako’s tastes.  She liked the antennae on her costume upgrade.  “Don’t get me wrong, the antennae are cute, but they’re so impractical.  This new baby will have twice the range, even more protection for that pretty head of yours, and fire!”

“Is—is it smart to have fire so close to my hair?” squeaked Ochako.  Her stomach dropped as Hatsumei stopped, her finger twirling in the air as she considered the hero student’s point.

Was…  was safety even a consideration with this girl?

“You know, that’s a good point.”  Ochako paled.  Clearly not.  “Oh, how about water?  A small water jet with the power to cut through enemies who get too close?  Or ink!  I could create a jet that will spray ink in your opponent’s eyes!  That sounds…”

Ochako could only watch helplessly as Hatsumei continued to spitball additions to the return of her helmet.  Progress was going to be easier and harder than she thought all at once.



Day 38

“Got that?  Your internships are now your top priority, so make sure you give them due diligence.”

“Yes, sir!”

Aizawa grunted.  Normally, that would have been the end of it, but his eyes hadn’t yet slunk away from his class.  The students sat in their seats, invigorated and determined to make their marks upon the world.  Ochako felt herself felt sure and indomitable, a sensation she was relishing in feeling again.

“Now, would anyone like to tell me why half the class has been carrying around water bottles for the past week?”

The tone hadn’t changed, yet he might as well have thrown an ice-cold bucket of water over her  In a manner that she hoped was discreet, she glanced around the room.  She wasn’t the only one with a water bottle on her desk.  Iida had one, Tsu had one, Kirishima had one, Deku had one, Jirou had one, and Tooru had one.  She couldn’t see Momo or Mina, but she knew that both of them sported one as well.

Before Ochako could begin to wonder how to answer their teacher, Iida stood from his seat, blocking her view of Aizawa.

“Those of us who have water bottles have realized that leaving the classroom in order to drink at the faucet is at once disruptive to our peers and inhibits our own learning!  Therefore, we have crafted a pact to further our educational aspirations by bringing water bottles to class in a discreet fashion!  Please allow us to continue their use!”  Iida bowed deeply, and Ochako was allowed to look over him to see Aizawa’s face.  It was as bored and disinterested as usual.  His eyes flicked over to Momo’s seat.

“Yaoyoruzu?”

“I-it’s true, Sensei.”  Momo’s face showed a resolve that rivalled Iida’s.  “Please allow us to continue using them.”

Aizawa’s eyes slid from Momo to the other students in the classroom, languidly taking their time over each.  Ochako did her best not to squirm when they rested on her for a moment before returning to Iida.  She couldn’t help that she held her breath while Aizawa held his answer from them.

Please… she thought, hoping that the several times she’d used the water bottle over the past week hadn’t ruined all of her friends’ work and support.  Please allow it…

A weary sigh was all the warning they had before Aizawa’s tired voice answered their pleas.

“I’ll allow it.”

Cheers rang out across the classroom, a jubilation in progress.  Aizawa’s halfhearted dismissal could barely be heard above the noise, and those who were out of the loop either stared at their classmates in confusion or asked where they could get water bottles of their own.  One student simply shouldered his way out of the classroom before talking about stupid classmates and dumbass water bottles.

But Ochako didn’t care.  She was too relieved to.

She was safe.



Day 42

“I apologize!”

Ochako startled at the sudden exclamation, her head jerking upwards from her homework.  She, Deku, and Iida had been working hard together when All Might had called Deku out for a moment.  Both she and Iida understood—after all, All Might and Deku shared a bond that could almost be called familial in nature—and the two had been left to conquer their physics problems alone.  Ochako had just gotten into a rhythm when Iida’s voice surprised her, his head bowed over the page in front of him.

“You were in pain and I, as cla—no, as your friend…  I… I didn’t see… I did nothing…”

It only took Ochako a moment to realize what he was talking about.  Swiftly, she put her hands up, physics forgotten.  “Iida-kun, there’s no need to apologize!  I didn’t want anyone to know!  A-and you’ve already been helping so much!  You got Aizawa-sensei and Mic-sensei and all of the teachers to let us carry water bottles so I can keep it under control.  Momo-chan told me that the two of you spent two hours convincing Ectoplasm-sensei earlier today!”

“Those efforts don’t negate the fact that you were in pain, and I did not notice.”  Iida’s voice was tight, controlled, and yet somehow emotional.  Such a voice carried a depth that Ochako did not understand, but she felt an echo through it.  An echo of emotions that had aged and were powerful.  Such a voice begged to be heard.

So, she listened.

Iida took a breath, but he did not raise his head as he continued.  “In our first year, it was you and Midoriya-kun who noticed my behavior and called out to me before we left for our first internships.  I did not wish for either of you to worry about my pain, and I also said nothing.  Yet…  yet you still…”

Ochako remembered.  She remembered hearing about Iida’s brother, hearing about the awful condition he had been left in by the Hero Killer, Stain.  She remembered the devastated look on Iida’s face, and she remembered feeling so helpless in the wake of such pain.  She remembered thinking that there was very little she could do for him, but she also remembered the day they parted ways on that day.

While it had been Deku who had actually called out to him, she had offered her support.  Only a few nods, but she had meant each one.  An almost overwhelming desire to help with no clear way to do so.  A contribution that, she’d believed, had been lost to the sands of time.  Especially after she’d learned that Deku and Todoroki had gone to Iida’s side when their friend had been in the vicinity of the cause of his anguish.  Without their support, she wasn’t sure if Iida would have ever truly recovered as miraculously as he had.

But he’d remembered her offer.  Somehow, amidst everything he’d been put through because of that terrible event, he’d remembered that she’d wanted to help him during his hour of need. 

Now she remembered.  Remembered that aching need to help, even though there had been no direction to guide her.  The memory, faded gently by time, only allowed her the slightest glimpse into the emotions he had to have been feeling.  Her soul ached anew.  “Iida-kun…”

“You are my friend, and I am grateful for the opportunity to be of assistance to you when you require it.  I only wish that I had noticed, as a good friend should have, and been able to help sooner.”

Ochako was stunned into silence.  She had always known her friend to be earnest.  It was a trait that sometimes led him into trouble when teased, but it was also an admirable quality.  A quality that assured those who knew him that he would never give less than his all to any problem. A quality that had made him strive to be as good a person, as good a hero, and as good a friend as possible.  It was that earnestness that spoke then, and it was only then that she realized his head was not bowed over his homework.  It was bowed in apology.

“I couldn’t see your pain before, and for that, I deeply apologize.  I know what it feels like to want to push people away because of the storm within you.  I know how such emotions can tax the mind and the body.  I know how desperate it can make a person…”  Though Ochako did not know how desperate it must have made her friend, she did not doubt his words.  Somehow, she knew that he would probably be able to relate to the dark feeling within her that had been so strong when she had been so full of despair.

Without a doubt, he knew what that felt like.  She knew it as fact.

“If you ever need to confide in someone, or if those feelings begin to burden you anew, please know that I would like to offer my ear and shoulder if you should ever want to use it,” offered Iida, his head remaining low.  “It’s the least I can do for a friend.”

Ochako didn’t know that she could feel any lighter than the day her friends had pulled together for her and come up with a plan to help her combat the hanahaki.  She didn’t know that she could feel even more assured and at ease than she’d been made to feel.

She’d clearly underestimated the earnestness of one Tenya Iida, and a wobbly grin, shaken only by the amounts of gratitude she felt, made known that she would not do so again.

“Thank you, Iida-kun,” she said, her smile displaying the kind of strength that could only come from accepting help.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”

And when Deku returned to the session, asking if the other two had made progress on the homework and apologizing for taking so long, he was answered with one profuse apology, one relieved smile, and a murmured promise to be filled in later.



Day 47

“Oh my gosh!  You really outdid yourself, Satou-kun!”  Ochako squealed as she took another bite of cake, the dessert quite literally melting in her mouth.

“I agree.  This is very good,” added Shoji, the mouth that was not busy eating cake complimenting the chef.  “Your recipe for jelly cake gets better every year.”

“It does, kero,” said Tsu.  Her eyes gleamed in happiness as she ate her own slice.  Ochako smiled.  She may not have been able to enjoy Todoroki’s and Koda’s birthday celebrations to the fullest because of her flower problem, but she was happy that she could finally be able to enjoy her dear friend’s.  “Thank you, Satou-chan.”

“Aha, it’s no trouble,” said the chef.  He grinned.  “I’m glad you’re enjoying it!”

Ochako watched as Tsu’s smile burned even brighter, and she was glad.  Glad that everything seemed to be working so far.  Glad she could just… enjoy this.  Enjoy Tsu and Shoji and Satou talking.  Enjoy Bakugou getting dunked on by Mina and Kaminari.  Enjoy Kirishima laughing in the corner.  Enjoy Iida and Momo talking to Jirou about an interesting point they’d covered in class.  Enjoy…  well, not particularly enjoy Toru flirting with Ojirou, but at least be able to be in the room as it was going on.  Romance had been particularly hard to stomach lately, but knowing that she had a failsafe made the concept more bearable than it had been becoming.

“Uraraka-san?”  The voice was soft, happy, and gently inquisitive.  It fit the festive atmosphere naturally, and it typically would have taken her just a second to respond properly.

But for that one unguarded moment, she froze, her eyes absorbing the scene before her and her mind traitorously replacing the images.  For a split second, she could see herself having the courage to flirt.  She could see him smiling at her like she was the world.  Her heart began to beat with insubordination in her chest, and she jerked her head away, a hand already up as she coughed.

Caught off-guard, her failsafe had not been fast enough.  The flowers were coming!

Steady hands led her away from the crowd, and she could hear Tsu tell everyone not to worry and that she would be okay.  To give them space.  She was grateful when she and her companion made it out and a bucket was passed to her.  She spat the flowers out, and a glass of water was placed gingerly into her hands.  Dutifully, she drank.

The relief was near instant, and while her own mind and body had scared her, she was relieved to feel the episode passing much more swiftly than before.

“Thanks,” she said, a tiny shrivel of a flower on her tongue.  She hadn’t even felt it come up.  She spat it into the bin, sure that was the end of it for now.  “You really saved me.”

“Sorry, Uraraka-san.  I didn’t mean to scare you.”  There was the barest amount of hesitance before he continued.  “The intrusive thoughts?”

Ochako nodded.  Over the past two and a half weeks, she’d grown accustomed to calling those feelings ‘intrusive thoughts.’  It helped her to be able to discuss them with the classmates who knew, and it particularly helped her discuss the problem with Deku, who had taken it upon himself to keep track of the thoughts’ comings and goings.  While she still feared he would stumble upon the truth sooner or later, he’d been nothing but attentive and kind about the whole ordeal, and she wasn’t sure if she could have handled it without some sort of way to tell him—however indirectly—what was happening to her.

It was confusing.  Keeping him at an arm’s length while also letting him in.  She was too grateful for the relief his presence and help brought, though, to overthink it.  She refused to overthink it this time.

“Yeah,” she said, training her eyes on the water.  “They just sorta—” She glanced at Deku.  “—snuck up on me.  That’s all.”

His face held sympathy, and his brows furrowed.  “Do you need a little more time?  I can wait with you—i-if you want, that is!”

Ochako smiled.  There he was, caring again.  As much as it sent swooping feelings of unease through her stomach, she would never want him to be anything other than what he was.  It put her on-guard and calmed her in equal measure, which was also confusing at the best of times nowadays.  She could be fine talking to him one moment, sharing secrets and discussing day-to-day activities, and then be suddenly swept with such affection for him that it nearly pulled her under the next.  The storm within was powerful and pulled her in every which way it possibly could.  Sometimes, it felt as though it was all she could do to keep her head above water.

This time, however, she simply chose to hold to her glass with one hand and to the bucket with the other.  It was just an episode.  The water had helped, and she would not allow herself to be defeated.  Not today.  Today was to be spent with friends, happy and laughing.

And that’s exactly what she intended to do with her time.

“That’s okay, Deku-kun,” said she with a confident smile.  She held the bucket aloft.  “Just need to toss these out, then I can go back in.”

Deku blinked.  She wasn’t sure what it was about the situation that put such a look on his face, partially relieved, it seemed, and partially prodding, but he opened his mouth to say somethi—

“Ochako-chan!  Midoriya-kun!  Tsu-chan’s opening prese— oh!”  Ochako swiveled her head to see Mina leaning through the doorway, a grin on her face.  The confidence she had began to eke out of her at the sight.  “Are you two busy?”

Oh, if only the ground could swallow her whole!  Ochako turned and drank some water, hoping the measure would help her now that she had some warning.  Mina’s knowing chuckles abruptly stopped with a soft, “Oh.”

“She’ll be back in a minute,” said Deku, coming to her rescue.  Her face flushed, and ice flooded her veins.

It’s just Mina-chan being Mina-chan …  Just drink some water, and it’ll be fine…  There won’t be any more flowers.  There won’t.

“Oh.  Well, don’t take too long, okay?  Tsu-chan wants to open your present first, Ochako-chan.”

Mina’s tone had changed.  Gone was the knowing giggle or the sly insinuation.  Ochako looked up to find her friend boring into her with piercing eyes.  Mina rarely frowned, but intensity could show itself through other ways.  Knowing what she saw upon her friend’s face, Ochako made sure she was smiling.

“Okay.  Be there in a sec.”

The other girl glanced from Ochako to Deku and back again one last time, then blessedly left without any more sly comments.  Ochako breathed a sigh of relief.

She was probably going to need more water to get through the teasing later.

“Um…”

Ochako turned back to Deku.  His cheeks were flushed, and his seemed to barely be able to make eye contact.  Honestly, she could relate.  “I should probably…”

He was gesturing back to the room.  Wha—oh!  She nodded quickly.  “Yeah, and I should…”  She gestured vaguely with the bucket.  In the opposite direction.  Yeah.

“Um, Uraraka-san?”  Ochako watched as his cheeks returned to a normal color, his freckles not sticking out as much as they had a moment ago.  While he regained his composure, Ochako felt desperate to do the same, hoping that their friend’s off-hand observations wouldn’t make things worse for her.  The feeling flooded into her, however, when Deku continued with a soft earnestness that only he could manage.  “Are you okay?”

Ochako smiled.  Only he could rile her and calm her in such a short time.  If only he knew…  But he couldn’t.  Not yet. 

“Yeah,” she said.  “I’m okay now.”

Deku’s brows unfurled at her affirmation.  He seemed to relax, and he glanced away.  How could he be so confident one moment and so bashful the next?  The complete dichotomy made her giggle, just a little bit.  Her friend was wonderful, and she’d never change him for the world.  Never.

“Um, I’ll save you a seat?”  His voice went back to the way it had been before her episode.  Soft. Inquisitive.  Was that happy or hopeful?

She’d thought it was happy before.  But could it have been…

“Yes, please!”  Ochako couldn’t help the answer that blurted from her lips.  She had to stop thinking about him being hopeful to sit by her.  They were best friends.  Of course he wanted to sit by her.

Thoughts like that were dangerous.  She knew it as Deku smiled at her, promised her the best seat in the house, and returned to the room.  The smile she wore was shaky as she quickly left to dispose of the flowers.

She’d also have to stop and refill her water before watching Tsu open her presents.  Heavens knew she would need it after this.



Day 49

All in all, she was pretty glad that she had her internship today.  She’d managed to distribute her friendly chocolates, give out her handmade cards, and move on without too much of a hassle.  Even handing Deku-kun his chocolates and card hadn’t been that hard once she had realized that today was the day she and Edgeshot would make a move on a representative of a thieving ring they’d been going after ever since they’d accidentally caught that sub-group a month-and-a-half ago.  The tight-knit group from December had turned out to be following the orders of an even larger organization.  When that organization had failed to bail them out of jail, they’d complained about the shady puppet master, and the Edgeshot agency had been investigating the possibility of its existence ever since.  Today was their big break in the case!  She didn’t have the time to embarrass herself or overthink a friendly gift.

Between two friends.

On Valentine’s Day.

Yup.

She shook her head.  She needed to focus on the present situation, and she didn’t have Hatsumei’s helmet to help her with those thoughts yet!  She needed to focus on the here and now!

After almost two months of researching and confirming the presence of an underground ring of Quirked thieves, the Edgeshot agency finally had one of the lackies within their reach.  A low-level thief by the name of Sora Rakka who had gotten clumsy.  Who had cast his eyes on too big a prize and had snagged the wrong purse today.

Who had just fallen into their trap.

“Heads up, Uravity!”

The Hero-in-training twisted in the air, her gravity removed, in order to avoid the oncoming villain.  Edgeshot had cornered him in an alleyway, and the criminal had had no choice but to use his Quirk if he ever hoped to escape the hands of justice.

Unfortunately, his plan of escape had been anticipated, and Uravity was not going to let anyone slip past her grasp.  Not again.

The villain’s Quirk was an ability known as Vector.  He could choose any direction and go rapidly in a straight line.  It looked as though he’d never professionally trained it, and their research showed that he never appeared to have found a way to change direction that didn’t include releasing his Quirk entirely and restarting in another direction.  So, when he thought that his chance to freedom was a straight shot in the air, he used it.

Uravity knew that gravity did not affect this criminal while he was using his Quirk, so the trick was to affect him and disorient him in that moment between the release and the restart long enough to get the cuffs on.

Easier said than done.

“Outta my way!” cried the criminal as he tried to continue upwards.  Unfortunately for him, Uravity had quick reflexes.

She clamped with one hand onto his arm, effectively being pulled along for the ride.  The sudden speed strained her shoulder, but it was nothing she hadn’t already gone through in grueling Heroics classes.  Shrugging off the pain, she grabbed onto her prey with her other hand, attempting to force him into a position where she could cuff him.

“Gerroff!”

Uravity grit her teeth as the villain tried to dispel her grip.  The only stipulation that their agency had found with his Quirk was that he had to face the direction in which he was going.

No one said he couldn’t spin while he was doing that.

Uravity clung to the villain as he attempted to spiral her off.  Faster, faster, faster.  The rotations increased, but she could tell he was slowing down vertically.

Shit, she thought, forcing her way through her newfound dizziness, if he releases his Quirk and activates it again before I cuff him, things could get bad!  He’ll take control of the direction we take going down, and I could be stuck without backup when we get to the ground!

She pushed her nausea back and exhaled through clenched teeth.  Gotta end this quick!

The first thing she had to do was push past the nausea.  That was easily done now.  While her costume was already hitting the pressure points to relieve nausea on account of her Quirk, she knew that not all of them were activated.

She struggled a moment with her hand, forcing the other to grip tightly to her quarry, before rapping the button quickly.  Her costume worked only slightly faster than she did, pushing away the terrible feeling only milliseconds before her entire grip was restored.

With the need to puke removed, she could fully focus.

“You’re gonna make us fall!” cried the villain, true fear bleeding through the adrenaline in his tone.  “Get off!  I don’t know how to do this with passengers!”

His fear caught her off guard.  Uravity took a moment to truly look at the man she was grappling with.  Middle aged.  Obviously not well off.  Stolen bag in his clutches.  Scared.

He worked for a criminal organization, and he was scared.

The idea flickered in her mind for a moment before roaring to life with fervor.  He was her opponent, yes, but he was also someone that, right now, she needed to save.

Because Heroes saved people.  And she was a Hero.

“Let go of your Quirk,” she said.  While she was not warm, she was also not unkind.  “I can get us down.”

The villain’s eyes widened.  “Are you crazy?  We’re fifty meters in the air!  I’ve never even been this high before!”

Uravity turned the man around, maneuvering both of them in the air and taking note of his petrified state.  His Quirk ran them higher, and he was becoming hysterical.  Right now, he wasn’t just a criminal.  He was a scared person, and she needed to save them both.

“Rakka-san!”  Hearing his family name seemed to snap him out of his growing panic, as ironic as it was.  Still, now that she had his attention, she did not intend to waste it.  “Everything is weightless in front of me.”

“H-huh?”

Confusion was better than hysteria.  Uravity smiled, infusing confidence into her posture and willing him to trust her with his life.  “It means that I am a Hero.  It’s my job to save people.  Right now, I need you to trust that I can save you.  Can you do that?”

The villain looked at her, then down at the rapidly disappearing ground.  Then, she saw him look at his hands.  More specifically, the stolen goods in them.  He released a shaky sigh even as they continued to ascend.  “I’m going to jail, aren’t I?”

“Yes.”  Uravity didn’t see the point in lying to him.  If she did, there was a chance he wouldn’t trust her, and she wouldn’t be able to save his life.  The man winced at the news, but he nodded.

“Okay.”  He raised his eyes to hers, and she could see the barely suppressed terror within them.  “Get us down, Hero-san.”

Uravity nodded, pulling out the Quirk suppressing cuffs.  Rakka jerked away, but she quickly placed one link around his wrist.  Immediately, the two of them stopped moving.  Rakka looked around in disbelief.

“Wha—?”

“I told you,” Uravity said, grabbing the purse and securing it to her belt.  She then brought his arms behind his back and finished cuffing him.  “Everything is weightless in front of me.”

“I guess…” said the man, struck speechless by the fact that he was floating in the air.  It was quite possibly the first time in his life he’d been unafraid of falling.  Uravity let him have a moment to absorb it before making sure she had him in a firm grip.

“Okay.  Are you ready to get down?” asked she.  He only nodded, and she released her Quirk.

The effect was instantaneous.  Gravity reclaimed the two souls in the air, accelerating them back to the earth so fast that her companion shrieked with terror.

Quickly, she pressed five fingers to her charge and to herself, removing the accelerating force of gravity.  They drifted downwards a little farther, the resistance of the air slowing them to a complete stop, and half the journey back down was nearly complete.

“Y—you sure you can land us safely?” asked Rakka, his voice trembling.  Without his Quirk, his trust had to remain entirely in her abilities.  Uravity wouldn’t let that trust be misplaced.

“I’m sure.  Believe in me.”

Rakka pressed his lips into a line but said nothing more.  He closed his eyes and nodded, which Ochako took as a sign that he was ready.

“Release.”

The swooping feeling reclaimed them once more, determined to finish the job in bringing them back to terra firma.  Uravity wasted no time in returning both of them to a weightless state, and she readjusted her hold on the man in her arms.  With his own arms behind his torso, he would be unable to adjust himself or brace for impact.  Uravity would have to protect him from any pain the fall would have caused.

And protect him she did.  The earth crashed into her boots, and her equipment absorbed most of the landing shock.  The criminal jostled in her hold, but her grip remained firm.

“Look,” she said.  He opened his eyes slowly.  “We’re on the ground.”

And even as the cops came to take him away, even as Uravity returned the goods that had been stolen, even as she accepted thanks after thanks for a job well done, even as she reviewed the techniques and procedures of the operation with her mentor, she knew she wouldn’t forget the relief in a criminal’s eyes and the knowledge that so many of them didn’t know that they, too, were worth saving.

A hero saved people’s hearts, and she now knew that those hearts could belong to anyone: civilians, heroes, and even villains. She knew from experience that not every villain could be saved—some were too far gone. But today’s experience had taught her that not every villain was beyond saving either.

Even without Edgeshot’s quizzes after the mission, she wouldn’t be forgetting that revelation anytime soon.



Day 52

“Ochakooo!”

“Daddy!  Momma!”

There was once a time when her daddy could hold his own against his daughter when she ran to hug him.  There was once a time when she could try with all her might to bring him down, and he would only laugh.

He still laughed, but now he did so from the ground after he’d been tackled.

“You two,” said her mother, an exasperated and fond smile on her face.  Though she knew the smile by heart, Ochako couldn’t see it at that moment.  She was too busy trying to wrestle away from her daddy, who had decided that it was time for revenge.

“Not the hair,” laughed Ochako, trying to evade his affectionate noogie.  This time, as opposed to so many others, she was successful in wriggling out of his grasp and standing tall.  She grinned widely before helping her daddy to his feet.  Though he still stood a head taller than her, it didn’t take much of her strength to get him on his feet.

When did he become so light?

He smiled warmly at her and placed his hands on her shoulders.  He beamed at her with a sense of pride only a father could convey.  “When did you get so strong?”

“She’s always been strong, dear.”  Ochako turned to her momma, who was smiling at the two of them.  “Must run in the family.”

Ochako beamed at her parents.  They were always like this, showering everyone in their tight-knit family with affection and praise.

She’d missed them so, so, so much.  But still…

“Are you sure that the company can go without you until I graduate?  That’s still three and a half months away.  What about—”

“Woah, slow down.”  Her daddy’s laughter didn’t slow down.  Not even a little.  In fact, he seemed to just smile brighter.  “Your momma ran the numbers, remember?”

“We’re taken care of, Ochako,” said her momma.  She stood next to her husband, a steadying presence amid Ochako’s frantic double-checking.  “I promise.  We’re here to support you to graduation, so we’re counting on you to do your best.”

To many children, that might have been an enormous burden to bear.  To Ochako, though, it was permission.  Permission to focus on her studies, her hero work, and her graduation.  Her parents had moved closer for her sake, and it only inspired her to hurry her progress along. 

She would graduate.

She would give her parents the lives she knew they deserved.

She would.

“Yes!”



Day 55

“Uraraka-saaaaan!”

Ochako almost couldn’t stay upright when she was taken by surprise by one support student.

“Ihopeyoudon’tmindmeborrowingherbye!”

With that, Ochako could only wave numbly to Mina, Iida, and Momo as she was carted away.  Iida’s cries of not yelling in the hall could only faintly be heard above the incessant chattering of her new captor.

“You’re going to love the baby I have for you!  I finally figured out why you got rid of my baby helmet the first time!  Understandable, of course. You must have upgraded due to a lack of peripheral vision—makes sense, after all, you have to be aware of all of your surroundings—so I decided to integrate your little bunny ear antennae and create a radar system for you!  You’re going to love it!  You’ll be able to see—well, not see—but you’ll know when enemies are coming within a 100-kilometer radius!  It even removes civilian presences by automatically registering heartrate, movement patterns, and gunpowder!”

“G-gun—”

“Of course!” Hatsumei either didn’t see or didn’t acknowledge that her hostage had lost all color in her face.  “And don’t worry, the visor is crafted with the most durable and transparent material I could create—”

“You made—?!”

“—and I even included your little hydration system!  And I even modified other aspects of your costume, too, in case you need to use the restroom.  I haven’t tested it out yet, but after today’s field run, it should be good to go!  Or it could explode, but that’s what testing is for!”

Ochako’s hair was windswept and her mind was overloaded by the time Hatsumei triumphantly dragged her into the costume department.

“Well?”  The excitement and expectation blended in Hatsumei’s voice so terrifyingly well.  “What are you waiting for?  Try it on!”

Ochako gulped.  How did she ever let herself get talked into this?



Day 60

“This is the information we got from Rakka.”  Edgeshot gestured to the folder that Uravity had open in front of her.  She let her eyes scan the information silently for a moment, then she glanced up at her boss.

Ah, she realized, looking down to the folder again.  Another test.

Her internship with Edgeshot had taught her many things.  The utmost importance of information gathered, and the necessity of verifying every piece gained.   The skill of thinking on one’s feet, and the ability to remain flexible with any course of action.  Now, however, she caught what he had left for her.

Gathering the most useful information from dense packets.  Interpreting vital information from dry, legalistic words.

“The scope of this area… it wouldn’t be smart for only the two of us to ambush.”  Uravity surveyed the crudely drawn map.  “And there aren’t enough details given to plan an infiltration mission.  The only information we have is of the outer perimeter and vague guesses about what’s inside.  We have the name, Quirk, and description of his employer, but no verification that this person is in charge of the entire operation.  For all we know, this could just be an outpost to a much larger operation, like the group of four we took down back in December.”

“So what should be the next course of action?”

Uravity thought.  The most obvious course of action was to find and speak with the employer, but a rather large note at the bottom of the page told her why that would be a bad idea.

“If these notes are right, then this base of operations is moving soon.  We only have time to either ambush the base or find the employer.”

Edgeshot nodded, gesturing for Uravity to continue her train of thought.

“If we follow the employer, we risk the chance of losing the rest of the group during the move.  We’re also not sure how much this employer allegedly knows or if they’re truly connected to what we’re after.  If we infiltrate the base, we can find more people who are guaranteed to have some information, but we risk losing the employer.”

“So which risk is worth taking?”

Uravity looked to Edgeshot, his face giving away nothing.  That was okay, though.  She knew the answer.

“We’re going after the base, aren’t we?”

He nodded.

“And—” she said, remembering the initial problem “—we’re not going alone, are we?”

He nodded again.

Uravity returned his nod before looking back at the folder.  She briefly reviewed the employer’s name and Quirk, but she also reviewed every other name and Quirk combination she could find on the page.  There were approximately twenty-five of them in total.

“So when do you have the raid scheduled?” she asked, already wise to her teacher’s ways.  “The moving dates are too close for us to start planning now.”

Edgeshot might have chuckled, but he might not have.  If you asked him, he would deny it.  If you asked her, she would tell you that he did.  He absolutely did.  Regardless of the matter of chuckling, he did answer her.

“Our debriefing about the raid begins in nine minutes.  The raid itself begins tomorrow morning.”

Uravity herself would never deny chuckling.  Whenever she laughed, it was with pride.  She turned the page to find the dates of both the raid and the meeting printed on the back.  She really should have checked that first.

“And our teammates?”

“Should be arriving any minute.”

“And by that, you mean you’ve asked them to wait outside of the agency until five minutes before the meeting to give me time to figure all of this out?”

Edgeshot didn’t suppress his smile, and Uravity grinned.  If this was his test, then she had just passed with flying colors.

“So,” she said, confident.  “Aren’t you going to invite them in?”

“No need,” said a new voice, a voice she had not heard for a long time.  It sounded amused behind the gruff exterior, and she turned to verify who she thought she’d heard.  “My intern was very adamant that she would exceed expectations and suggested that we let ourselves in so we could listen.  Please excuse the interruption.”

Gang Orca…  and…

“Uravity!  Let’s work well together!”

Deku.  Her cheeks flared.

“Y-yeah!”

She could do this.

She could totally do this.

Chapter Text

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.



Day 61

“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.

“Police!”

“Cops!”

Heroes!

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.

“Gotcha!”

“Uravity!”

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—

Pop!

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.

Shi—

“Uravity!”

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—

Urk!”

She clamped onto the rope in front of her, willing herself not to lose focus.

“Uravity?”

She had to cuff this villain.

“Damn y—fuck, get away from me!”

These cuffs just needed to…

“Criminals apprehended!  Good work, Deku, Uravity!”

there!

“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…

“Uravity!”

…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.

“I’m sorry.”

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.

“Deku…” 

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?”

“Jirou-ch—”

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—!”

Thud.

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.

Chapter Text

Ochako couldn’t say for how long she sat there, surrounded by her friends, as the tears continued to flow from all of them.  She felt so alone, yet she felt so connected.  She felt hopeless, yet she felt hopeful.  She felt lost at sea, yet she felt so at ease.  So many contradictions in her mind, but one thing was absolutely certain.

She had to make a decision.  Even without Deku’s affirmation, it was a truth she already knew.  One that she now had to act on.  Tonight.

It was that thought which drew her, ever so slowly, out of the lull she’d found herself in.  Time slowly began to make sense again.  The thrumming warmth between her and her friends began to feel less like an ephemeral presence and more like the constant reminder of her own heartbeat.  The breaths they all took slowly came back to her, reminding her that the rise and fall of their chests could also mark every second that was oh-so-slowly passing.  The stemming of tears from them all brought her back to the reality that tears could be cried out of.  Over time.

As the last of her ephemeral bubble cracked and fell away, time surged forward for Ochako.  She looked around her.

Tooru and Jirou had fallen asleep in a pile on the couch in front of her, their tears having worn them out.  Mina rested on the ground, hunched over Ochako’s hand, with Iida by her side.  The two supported one another as they slept in some…weird way.  The fact that Iida hadn’t made them all leave was a testament to how much he knew Ochako needed them all around her.  She wearily smiled at him before turning her head to peer behind her.  Tsu and Momo had come to rest there; both of them slept deeply while leaning against her back, the strain of the past two months finally pulling them both into a deep sleep.

A constant pressure on her hand brought her attention to the only other person who was awake in the room.  His green eyes sought her out with an intensity that she knew he’d somehow never lost over the course of the evening.

“Deku-kun.”  It was a whisper.  A recognition.  Somehow, from her heart, an apology.  She didn’t know if he’d heard her; her voice was so quiet.

He surprised her by moving forward.  His head lowered, and his mouth parted, a soft utterance barely passing his lips.  “I’m here,” he whispered, so soft that she could barely hear him.  “What do you need?”

Ochako’s eyes widened.  How did he…?

Then, despite herself, a chuckle escaped her.  Of course.  This was Deku.  He’d known to text her on her birthday when all this began.  He’d always been available when she needed help in schoolwork or anything else.  He’d chased after her the moment he knew that something was terribly wrong.  He’d strategized and set in motion a plan the instant he had enough information to work with.

The question was never if Deku would help her.  The question was never how he would know that she’d need his help.  The question had only been when she would allow him to.

She leaned closer to him, his hand feeling scarred and scared and warm beneath her own.

“I—”  A moment passed, the words all fighting to come out at once.  She needed to confess, and a part of her wanted to do it now.  Now, with the support of her friends, all unconscious in their vicinity, when she felt strong.  Now, with Deku looking at her with such an intensity that she knew he’d understand every word.  She needed to.

And yet…

Her parents flashed across her mind’s eye.  She couldn’t do something this dangerous without saying goodbye.  She felt warm pressure from all around her, and she knew that her friends slept without realizing that their last conversation could possibly be as a puddle of tears and catharsis.  She thought about Recovery Girl and how she would never know that Ochako truly appreciated her.  She thought of Edgeshot and Ryukyu and Nejire, all of whom had helped her grow to where she was now and would never watch her become a full-fledged hero.

“I…”  She couldn’t hold off confessing—the hanahaki would only get worse and she had no idea when might be her last chance to save herself—but she also needed to say goodbye just in case.  But there wasn’t enough time.  She couldn’t capture this moment and give it to them to keep forever…

Or…

Or

Ochako thought, an idea coming to her mind.  It was reckless, and it was desperate, but…  She looked at Deku, who seemed to be waiting for her.  Ready, as always, to help.

“I need to confess, but I want to say goodbye first,” she whispered, the ludicrous idea planting itself firmly within her mind.  It wouldn’t leave.  It wouldn’t let go.

But it was a good idea and she was desperate, so what the hell.  “Will you help me?”

Deku nodded, his mind already turning at an incredible rate.  Ochako smiled.  It was wan, and it was burdened with the weight of what they were going to do, but it was there.

Carefully, she untangled herself from her friends, letting each of them rest for a while longer as she finally took action.  Once they were situated, she turned to Deku, who was waiting for what she had planned.  Taking a breath that was only interrupted by one single flower, she told him what she had in mind.



UA was known for its tight security.  Everyone knew this.  What everyone didn’t know, however, was that even the tightest security tended to have the smallest holes that only the right people could exploit.

Ochako and Deku both knew that the front door to the main building was locked.  There wasn’t any reason to try that.  They’d both been scolded in their second year for trying, so they knew that the door had an alarm system on it to boot.  What didn’t have an alarm system, they’d found, was the roof.

“You ready?” asked Deku.  He didn’t have his Hero costume and neither did she, but what they were about to attempt made the best use of both their natural skills, so it wasn’t like they’d need it.

“Ready.”

Deku nodded and got into position.  She, from a few meters away, hopped on her toes for a moment.  Normally, she’d feel adrenaline and a giggle might escape her.  Under normal circumstances, they’d be doing this to grab items they’d left in the classroom during the day that couldn’t wait until the morning.  Homework, a lucky pen on one count, and even a key chain.  They’d done this a few times before and it was always an exhilarating experience rife with the perpetual threat of being caught.

Not tonight, though.  Tonight, they were on a mission.  A mission that suddenly seemed so much more important than a lost keychain.

Ochako didn’t allow herself to dwell.  In fact, she couldn’t.  Deku was incoming.

Ochako focused as she held out her arm, all five fingers spread.  Lightning shot across his body as he rushed towards the most reinforced section of wall, and she waited…

Waited…

Waite—

Now!

Ochako hopped lightly and let herself be swept away by the moving force that was Deku.  They’d discovered it was best to let him get a bit of a running start if they wanted to make it to the roof quickly, and this was the best way to get her on board.  The speed made it easier for her to swing around and onto his back, and she was well in place by the time he dipped to make jumping easier.

Her fingers pressed against him only a moment before he jumped, and lightning shot after the both of them.  The proximity to his Quirk never failed to set her skin aflame or increase her heartrate, and being swept away by it…

Being swept away by him…

Typically, the journey from the ground to the roof lasted far too short a time for Ochako.  Feeling so close to him under the cover of night—even for something as silly as a pen—was usually a blessing.  Now, however, they couldn’t reach the roof fast enough.  Once they hovered above the concrete, she released her Quirk quickly and clambered off, turning away to hack up petals of yellow and blue.

He was at her side instantly, murmuring apologies that she waved off as soon as she was able to.

“You don’t need to apologize,” she groaned, spitting out the last flower.  Blue.  She turned away from it, glancing upwards at her friend instead.  “’S not your fault…”

“I know, but—”  Deku fretted.  Ochako smiled.  She hoped that his caring heart never changed.  Even after all of this.  She made herself stand straight up.

“No buts.”  The reprimand was gentle, and she made sure he could see her smile.  “It’s not your fault.”

It’s not your fault I fell in love with you.  It’s not your fault I have hanahaki.  None of this is your fault.

The thoughts teetered too dangerously close to a confession, and she doubled over as the wind was stolen from her lungs.  Deku moved her hair as she gagged on more Verbuscum and the mystery flower.  It was another moment before she could breathe again.

She was running out of time.  There were too many things to say and do, and she didn’t have much time to do them.

She looked back at Deku, and she knew his resolution matched her own.

The needed to get into the recording room.



The hallways of UA were dark at night.  If the two students were any less familiar with their school, they might have set off the security laser on the fifth floor (like they did their first time) or been caught by the camera near the hospital room (like they did their fifth time).  They might have tripped or gotten lost or been caught by a patrolling drone (like they did their second time).

But no.  They were Pros by now.  They worked as a team.  And since they often passed the recording room on the way to their usual destination—their homeroom—they made better time than normal.

Deku watched for security drones as Ochako picked the lock.  Then they quickly stole away inside, letting the door latch behind them.

Any other night, this would be the moment of celebration.  Of exhales and “I can’t believe we’re doing this again” titters.  They’d grab what they need in the darkness and leave through the window, feigning ignorance the next day during class.  Any other night.

Tonight, however, Ochako changed the script.  She turned on the light.  The room was instantly illuminated, and it took a moment for them both to adjust.  The minute she did, though, she felt as though the wind had gotten knocked out of her, no flowers necessary.

“Wow…” said Deku, stealing the words right from her mouth.  “That’s… a lot.”

A lot was an understatement.  She’d never been in the recording room before—there hadn’t been a need to—but she hadn’t realized that creating the holodisks UA sent out to incoming freshmen had needed so much equipment.

“Think they have any instructions in here?” asked Ochako, somehow unable to tear her eyes away from a nearby camera.  It was sleek and shiny.  Was she even allowed to touch that?

“Um…  maybe?  I can’t see why they wouldn’t.  I mean, what if they had new trainees that needed to make the holodisks?  They have to make at least a hundred of them every year for the new freshmen that pass, maybe more if they pass holodisks out to the students who don’t get in, so it would make sense to have instructions around here somewhere.  Maybe if we try the desk?  If not there, maybe on the walls or something?”  Deku’s fast-paced murmuring was something she was glad she could decipher, and the soothing sound of his voice in thought helped her feel a little more at ease in a room that absolutely screamed affluence.  She nodded at his conclusion and forced herself to turn away from the camera.

She should have brought a bucket.  She did not want to throw up on their expensive equipment.

Deku was already looking into the desk, opening drawers and carefully looking through them before replacing everything and moving to the next one.  If he was going through there, then she needed to look around the walls.  It was probably laminated, like a booklet or something.

As she edged closer to the wall, she could already tell that there wasn’t going to be any sort of booklet anywhere on the wall.  Instead, the surface was covered with messy sticky-notes and to-do lists.  Talk to Lunch Rush.  Record Present Mic.  Request Iida-senpai for handbook reading.  Meeting at 4.  Instructional video for 2-C.  Throw out botched holodisks (can record over, but sensei said to throw out ugh such a waste)

“Botched holodisks…?” asked Ochako, studying the note.  She turned, this time looking for anything that might—  “Oh.  That was easy.”

And indeed it was.  Next to her was a box that was very clearly labelled.  From ‘blank’ disks to ‘botched’ disks with several scribblings all over the front of the cardboard container.  It looked like an argument between a student and their teacher, but the gist of the matter was that the teacher wanted the botched disks to be disposed of instead of recycled.

“That’s a bit harsh…” said Ochako as she reached out and grabbed one.  She flipped it over in her hand.  It didn’t seem broken at all. 

Then again, neither did she…  Maybe using these—already doomed to be junked—would be like a good sign or something.  Like, if they could get a chance after being doomed, maybe she could, too.  At the very least, she’d be helping the planet, right? 

Well, it wasn’t like anyone was going to mind either way.  She’d use these.  She wiped her eyes.

“Found it!”  Ochako turned to see Deku pulling out a simple sheet of paper, a triumphant look on his face there for only a moment before he frowned.  The heaviness of why they were there couldn’t be kept away forever, after all.  He scrutinized the paper.  “Huh.  Seems pretty easy, actually.”

“Really?”  Ochako grabbed the box and edged around the fancy equipment as her friend nodded.

“Yeah.  Basically, we’ll need…” Deku looked up from the paper and around to the different equipment.  He spotted what he was looking for and pointed towards it.  Ochako followed his finger and gulped.  It was the sleek piece she’d been looking at earlier.  “…that.  And all we need to do is put the holodisk in and press record.  Once we’re done, we can just pop the disk out, label the disks with markers, and do the next one.  Now all we need… huh?  Where did you find those?”

Ochako turned back to Deku, who was looking at the box in her arms with wide eyes.  Ochako kind of wanted to laugh at how surprised he seemed.  She turned the box of holodisks in her hand, showing Deku the argument that had taken place on the front side of the box.  His brows furrowed, and this time she did smile.

“Found these on the floor over there—” She gestured as well as she could with full hands.  “—and I think they might do more good for us than just… being thrown out.”

She looked at the holodisks in her hands.  Some of them were probably too broken to use—the teacher had to have a reason for tossing them out, after all.  She didn’t even know if they would work.  She didn’t know if this would work.

Through blurred vision, she saw a hand reach into the box.  She didn’t realize she’d teared up again, but she couldn’t wipe the tears away now.  Instead, she could only watch as Deku gingerly took one of the holodisks and inspected it.  He took it to the camera and placed it inside.  He looked at the instructions, then he pressed a few buttons on the machine.  It whirred to life.

“Uraraka-san.”  He turned from the machine to her, a smile on his face.  It was worn, and it was clearly for her benefit, but… somehow…  “I think this will work.”

Ochako hiccupped.  She knew she’d cried earlier, but her emotions were a tide she refused to stem any longer.  She was afraid.  She was sad.  And she was tired.

But now…  now she was determined, too.  Her parents, her friends, her mentors…  they all deserved a goodbye.  No more running.  No more hiding.  Just her facing what she should have faced a long time ago.

Just her, a camera, and the truth.

“Okay,” she said.  Though tears were streaming down her face, never had she felt so strong.  She nodded to Deku.  “I want to talk to my parents first.”

He nodded, turning to the camera. “Um… do you want me to stay?  If it’s too personal… I mean, I want to be here for you, but I don’t want to intrude…”

“Deku-kun.”

He turned back to her, and she could see the nervousness on his features.  He, who had been her best friend for three years.  He, who had never pushed her emotionally and had always encouraged her to be a better Hero.  They’d shared secrets in the late hours of the night and in the early hours of the morning.  They’d laughed together, cried together, worked together.  They’d lived life together.

“Please stay.”  She said it knowing that things could get very personal.  She said it knowing that he might figure out her love for him before she said anything about it.  She said it knowing very well that he would probably watch her fall apart over and over and over again as she said her goodbyes.

But she couldn’t help but want him there.  Want him with her.  And if she were about to bare herself to the world again and again and again, she’d rather not do it alone.

She wanted him with her.

Deku blinked, but his features relaxed after a moment.  Determined green orbs promised to help her see this through, and he nodded.  She smiled.

It was time to get her affairs in order.



She watched as Deku signaled to her.  The camera was on and rolling.  She was being recorded.

Ochako took a deep breath and let it out slowly to relax.  She had a bucket nearby in case…  just in case.

But she couldn’t think about that right now.  She could only think of her parents.  Of what she wanted to say to them.  Of what she wanted them to know so, so, so badly.

“Oh no…” she whispered through a watery chuckle.  “I didn’t want to start off by crying.”

“Do you want me to start it over?”

“No, no,” said Ochako as she took another breath.  She met his eyes.  She in front of the camera, him behind.  “I kind of want this to be as real as possible.  Feels like I’ve been giving everybody nothing but a fake smile lately, you know?”

As understanding as he was, he nodded.  Relief flooded through her heart.  She didn’t deserve how understanding he was, after everything.  She nodded to him, then took another breath.  She couldn’t do anything about the tears, but she wasn’t here to only cry.  She turned her attention to the camera, imagining her daddy and momma somehow behind the lens.

The thought of their faces, smiling, worried, or anything in between, made her smile.

“Hi, daddy.  Hi, momma.”  She waved, feeling silly and genuine at the same time.  “I…  I promised myself I’d speak from the heart, and I know that the people I want to talk to most in the entire world are you two.  Right now, you’re staying on-campus in the dorms.  Deku-kun and I got in too late to greet you and let you know what happened, but…  it was bad.  Really bad.  The hanahaki… it…  evolved?  Changed?  Got worse…”

Ochako looked down to her hands.  The ones had had held a villain’s life within their grasp. The ones that had nearly lost that life.  “I made a mistake in trying to push through it, and it nearly got me and someone else killed.  It… it was horrible, and I don’t want to do that ever again.  But—!”

Ochako turned her gaze up, momentarily startled by the camera in front of her.  For a moment, she could imagine her daddy there, encouraging her with a gentle smile.  She could imagine her momma standing beside him, emotional strength rolling off her in waves.

She could imagine their reactions.  But more than that…  she could imagine how much they loved her.

“I can’t give up on the life of a Pro-Hero.”  Her voice was firm, and she hoped that her parents would be proud.  She hoped.  “I can’t.  Not anymore.  It’s been my dream since I was small, and that was only possible because of you two.

“Daddy, momma…  I hope you both know how much I love you.  How…  How happy I was…  no,” Ochako shook her head, then returned her vision to the camera.  It didn’t seem as intimidating anymore.  It was a transport, and she hoped it did its job in transporting her feelings to her parents.  She needed them to know.  “How happy I am to be your daughter.  You’ve loved me since I was very small, always making sure I ate and playing with me when you could and telling me I could be anything I wanted to be.  You didn’t eat for a week so you could buy me a Thirteen doll for my thirteenth birthday.  You’ve always been encouraging me, always supporting me even when it was hard.  I never would have gotten as far as I have without you.

“Every time I fight in the Sports Tournament…” Memories of blistering explosions and being thrown around and knocking other competitors out of the competition flickered through her mind.

“Every internship I take…”  Gunhead and Ryukyu and Edgeshot.  All of the sidekicks she’s worked alongside and all of the hours she’s patrolled out on the streets and all of the policemen and women she’s helped to lead.  They were locked safely within her memory and heart.

“Every technique I learn to fight with…”  Martial arts, Quirk evolution, and strategy.  Parrying away knives and neutralizing enemies.  Every time she felt powerful and got stronger raced across her mind’s eye, and her true eyes shed more tears.  Not of sadness.  Not of sorrow.

Of pride.

“That’s me being proud to be your daughter.”  Her confession was bold, heartfelt.  It rang true in this space, and she hoped it rang true on the disk.  “I work hard because you guys gave me the chance to work hard.  Because you two showed me how, and because you wanted me to be the best person I could be.

“So… I hope you two will be proud of me and my decision.”  Her words wavered with uncertainty.  Would her parents be proud?  Or would they be sad?  “It’s not a choice I made lightly, and I wish I felt like I had more time so I could give you two another hug…  I…”

Ochako took a deep, shuddering breath.  This was it.  She’d been crying the entire time, but the sob that ripped through her now was so raw and heart-wrenching that she couldn’t have stopped it if she’d even tried to.  The camera blurred in front of her face as she continued.

“I love you both so much.  So much.  You’ve given me the entire world.  I wish I had the chance to give it back to you, to give you the lives you deserve, but this is the best I can do right now.  Thank you both for bringing me into this life.  I love it, and I want to keep living it.  For now, though, everything you’ve given me is enough.  I’m happy, and I have you to thank for it.  Thank you for pushing me to my dreams. Thank you for raising me and keeping me happy.  Thank you for giving me this wonderful life.”

Ochako bowed her head, knowing that she would give her parents this respect if they were there in the room with her.  She could imagine them asking her not to, but she—selfishly—wanted to.  She wanted to give her parents all the respect they deserved.  All the love she could.  She wished things were different, but this was it.  This was her goodbye.

“Daddy, momma, I love you,” she said through her tears.  “I want to say it over and over again, and I know I’ve said it a lot, but I really, really do.  Thank you for this life.  Please don’t be sad for me.  I’ll be with you however I can.”

Ochako’s voice broke, and she crumpled in on herself.  She couldn’t say any more.  What else could she say?  What else could she do?

She felt rather than heard Deku’s presence, and she latched onto him as she sobbed.  He was warm.  His hand rubbed comforting circles into her back, much like that day he’d discovered her in the grove.  Their grove.

Ochako felt herself heave and blindly reached out.  Her hand smacked against the bin before she grabbed it and pulled it forwards.  Thankfully, only a few flowers—some yellow and some blue—fell past her lips.  Still…

“How many of these do you want to do?” asked Deku.  His voice was soft, but the question brought into question the one factor they both knew they didn’t have a lot of:  time.  Ochako sighed.

“A lot.”

She pulled back, away from his embrace.  If she wanted to be romantic, she might have imagined that Deku wanted to let her go about as much as she wanted to let him go.  But she owed this.  To herself, to her mentors, and to her friends.  She looked at Deku, who looked back at her.

“I’ll change the disks out.”

Ochako nodded, turning back to the bucket.  She spat out more flowers as Deku did just that.



The hours passed.  Ochako wasn’t sure if she were following a mental list, but Edgeshot followed her parents.  Then Ryukyu and Nejire.  Then Gunhead.  Next was Tsu.  Tsu’s was long and difficult to get through.  How do you condense three years of close friendship into a few moments of goodbye?  How do you pass on your gratitude?  Your sorrow?  Your joy at having shared so much time together?

Momo was next.  Apologies.  More tears.  More thank-yous.  Ochako hoped she’d been adamant enough about how sorry she was and how grateful she was that Momo had been there for her.  She’d apologized about that day in the hallway, making it clear that she knew Momo had only been doing what she’d considered the best for her friend.  Thanked her so, so, so much for being the kind of friend who would do something like that for her.

Mina, Tooru, Jirou, Iida.  Kirishima, Mei, Aoyama, Todoroki.  Tokoyami, Bakugou, Kaminari.  Shouji, Ojirou, Satou, and Kouji.  She’d made a short one for Mineta, threatening him with a haunting if he so much as gave the other girls trouble.  It was the one time she’d laughed.

Aizawa was next.  And Present Mic, Midnight, and All Might.  She finally told Thirteen how excited she had been to learn under them, how they were her favorite Pro-Hero and how they had helped to inspire her to make it this far.  She made a video of apology and thanks to Recovery Girl.  An apology for being so bull-headed.  Thanks for always coming the instant she knew something was wrong.  She had no doubt that Recovery Girl would find her once she heard the news.

So many tears had been shed by the time she made it to the recording that she knew would be the most difficult to make.  Not only because he was in the room, but because this was the recording.

This was the one that would change everything.



“Deku-kun?”

He looked away from the camera, one blank holodisk in his hand and the one for Recovery Girl in the other.  Ochako had grabbed a chair to sit down in.  She’d needed it around Bakugou’s holodisk.  It was amazing how much she’d had to say to the guy who’d solidly beat her ass in first year and hadn’t let up ever since.  But that was done with.  Everyone else’s holodisks had been recorded.  Recorded, labelled, and ready…  ready to go…

Now, she was concerned with what was to come.

“Yeah?” asked Deku, bringing Ochako’s mind solidly to the present.  He was looking at her.  “Is there something you need?”

Ochako nodded, taking a moment.  The night had worn on, and they were almost done.  This… this was…

“Deku-kun, this is the last recording…” Ochako took a breath, hoping she was doing the right thing.  But there was no going back now.  She exhaled.  “It’s for you.”

It shouldn’t have been surprising that he looked surprised himself.  Yet it was.  Ochako rose an eyebrow.  “You thought I wasn’t going to leave you one?”

“I-I mean,” spluttered Deku.  “Y-you’re right here a-and I’m right here and if you need to tell me something I promise I’ll listen to what you have to say.”

“I know,” said Ochako.  Despite herself, a smile bloomed on her face.  Despite everything…  She looked at him, keeping her eyes squarely trained on his face.  “I know, but I want to give you a recording, too.  I don’t want everyone else to have one and not you.  If everything goes wrong and you don’t have it…  There are some things I really want you to not forget.  Things that I would feel better if they were on a recording for you to hear instead of just remembered.  But I just need you to do something.”

The look on Deku’s face was something that hurt Ochako.  It struck her down in her soul.  There was surface level confusion, but there was also something deeper.  Something raw and painful.  Something in her resonated with that pain.

The pain of an oncoming goodbye.  The knowledge that… this could very well be her last.

“What do you need me to do?”

Ochako’s heart twisted on itself, and she—once again—reminded herself how lucky she was to know him.  He wasn’t only patient, but incredibly understanding.  She took a deep breath to dislodge the lump that had formed in her throat.

“There are two parts to yours,” she said.  “One part that I need recorded, and the other part…  we can record or not record that part.  I’ll leave that up to you.  But I have a lot to say, and some of it is really, really important.  I think it might get a bit too personal, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but please.  Please let me finish.”

Ochako searched Deku’s face, looking for even a hint of uncertainty.  But what began as a search transformed into simply observation.  Observing him.  In the waning moonlight, he looked pale.  His freckles stood out sharply against the pallor of his skin, and so close, she could see there were bags under his eyes.  She didn’t know of those bags were from lack of sleep or from the puffiness that came from crying earlier.  She knew she had ones to match.

His eyes, though, were so wide and expressive.  She typically had no trouble telling what was hon his mind; his eyes had almost always offered her a front-row seat to his vibrant emotions.  So it was his eyes rather than his face that told her what she needed to know.

He was scared.  She knew he was scared for her.  Hell, she was scared for her.  They both said so earlier: neither of them wanted her to die.  And this…  this helped make that possibility real.

More real than he knew.

Deku gulped, and she waited for his answer.

“I will.”  His words were resolute.  Firm.  His eyes blazed with sincerity.  “Promise.”

Ochako nodded, and Deku put Recovery Girl’s holodisk with the others.  With his back turned, Ochako bent over the bucket.  Heavens knew she would need it most for this one.  When Deku placed his own disk into the camera and turned around, she hoped she looked ready.

She didn’t feel ready.

She nodded anyways.  Deku pushed the buttons.  The light turned on.

Ochako took a deep breath, and then she let it out.  This time, she didn’t need to imagine her audience in the camera lens.  He stood right in front of her.  The difference made her a little nervous, and she chuckled.

“Sorry, sorry,” she said, squirming in her seat just a moment.  “It’s just…  you’re right there.  It’s a little different.”

“Is… is it okay if I stay?” asked Deku, his face concerned behind the equipment.  Ochako nodded.

“Yeah, just gimme a second.”  Ochako shook her hands out, took one more deep breath to situate herself, and tried again.  “Okay.”

Ochako looked upwards, but she didn’t bother looking into the camera this time.  This was for Deku, and he was right here.  She was going to talk to him like it.

“Deku-kun, I wanted to say thank you.”  Ochako could see his mind immediately turning, searching for what she could be thanking him for now of all times.  She smiled.  It was sad, honestly, that she wouldn’t get more time to get him used to compliments.

Better make this count, then…

“Thank you for everything,” she pressed, an emphasis on the last word.  “You were my first friend here at UA, when I was new to this big city and to the school.  You showed me what it meant to go Plus Ultra on the first day I met you when you punched that zero-pointer.  You didn’t laugh at me or scold me or look disgusted when I told you why I wanted to become a Hero.  You pushed me forward and improved me every time you’ve passed me up on our road to becoming Heroes.  We’ve competed and raced to be better than one another, always somehow getting better together.  We’ve had late nights and early mornings and good times and bad times.  You’ve always believed in how strong I am, and you make me want to be a better Hero every day.  A better person.   The longer I’ve known you, the more I feel it.”

Her poor friend looked so red, but he didn’t say a word.  Gratitude swelled in her heart, and she smiled.  “Deku-kun, I need you to know that you’ve become so important in my life, and I treasure our friendship very, very much.”

Confusion swept across his face, and he seemed almost taken aback.  Ochako smiled sadly.  How many opportunities had she missed to tell him that?  How many times could she have told him or let him know how much he meant to her?  How many missed chances to just… tell him how much she treasured him?  Not as a romantic partner, but as someone in her life?  Someone she’d met and enjoyed time with?  How many times had she lost the chance to make him feel as special as she felt, knowing that he had gifted her with even friendship?

How many?

“Promise me you won’t forget,” Ochako said.  She looked past the camera.  Deku’s eyes were always so expressive.  They had to tell her when he understood this.  They had to.  “No matter what.  Even though I didn’t tell you about the hanahaki, and even though I didn’t handle it right, you have to know how important you are to me.  You have to know that.  Promise me you won’t forget.”

His eyes flickered, his emotions hurling past her.  She grabbed as many as she could.  Bashfulness.  Confusion. Epiphany.  Joy.  Sorrow.  He finally settled on resolution, and she could see the look of a Hero settle around him.

No, not just a hero.  The look of Deku.  Her friend.  He smiled at her.  It was a smile, she was sure, that no victim of a natural disaster would ever see.  No scared civilian would ever see this smile.  No innocent bystander ever will.  Those people, after all, should never see when such a smile covers pain.

He nodded at her, a silent answer to her plea.  Ochako could have wept in relief.

But the job wasn’t done yet.

“Um, that was the first part,” she said, looking down at her fingers as a shuddering breath ran through her.  “That’s what I really want you to remember more than anything.”

“But you have more to say, right?”

The gentle curiosity of his words took the edge off their truth.  She nodded.  She had more to say to him.  Much more.

“Then, is it okay if I keep it on?  I don’t want to forget anything.”

Ochako blinked.  He… didn’t want to turn it off?  Even though…

Well… it wasn’t like he knew what was coming, so it made sense…  and she did say…

“Yeah,” she said, taking a breath.  “And if you don’t want this part later, you can cut it out.  I promise I won’t mind.”

He looked so aghast at the idea of it.  Ochako’s chest stung.  He really had no idea, did he?  “Uraraka-san, I would never.”

He looked so earnest.  So heartfelt.

She felt too far away.

She pushed herself out of the chair, her balance unsteady as she staggered.

“Uraraka-san!”  Deku moved around the equipment, abandoning his station to get to her.  She only managed to take two steps in his direction before he was in her space, holding his hands under her arms, ready to catch her.  “Are you okay?”

Ochako opened her mouth, ready to tell him that she was fine and that it was a little stumble, but the words caught in her throat.

They weren’t true.

She wasn’t okay.

She hadn’t been okay in two months.

She shook her head.

“What is it?” asked Deku, his voice so close and somehow so far away.  “Can I help?”

Ochako kept herself from squeezing her eyes shut.  Part of her wanted to run away from all of this and pretend it wasn’t happening.  To desperately cling to the life she had wanted to happen instead of the life that was happening to her now.  That part of her wouldn’t die, it seemed.

But the part of herself that was determined to do this… to see this through…  to face reality and do what had to be done…  that was stronger now.

And it was stronger because of her friends.  Her mentors.  Her teachers.  It was stronger because of Deku himself.

She was stronger now.  She could do this.

“Deku-kun,” she said, her entire form trembling, just an inch away from his steady hands.  But she had to say this first.  She took another breath.

This was hard.

“Deku-kun, I—”

Suddenly, Ochako’s body wracked with coughs, and the trembling she’d already succumbed to grew worse.  Her entire body shuddered, and she desperately looked for the bucket.  She found it not a moment too soon as she turned and heaved the entire contents of her esophagus out.

Flowers fell.  Flowers that were attached to sprigs.

There were stems and leaves now.

Ochako’s face went white.

“Uraraka-san.”  Deku’s voice was hoarse.  She turned to him.  There was a sense of horror on his face, of a fear that she hadn’t been able to see clearly before.

He’s horrified, she realized, the pit of her stomach dropping.  He knows and he’s horrified.

Ochako’s body shook violently.  She coughed.  More flowers.  More sprigs.  It was getting worse.  She needed to talk.

But…  would there be a point?  With that look on his face…  if he knew, then rejection—

Flowers forced their way into her throat, cutting out any desire to talk whatsoever.  She couldn’t breathe.  She couldn’t breathe!  She felt her body begin to convulse.  She didn’t have her balance.

Her knees buckled beneath her, and black spots danced in her vision.  Something sturdy kept her from falling completely, and the pressure moved from her arms to her stomach.  Pumping motions against her stomach helped her choke out more flowers.  The back of her throat squeezed, forcing it out, out, out.  Out!

One last pressure against her stomach, and more flowers came out of her mouth.  A moment’s respite was what she got, and blessed air rushed into her throat.  Into her lungs.  She gulped it greedily.

“—raka-san!”

Ochako knew she didn’t have much of a window.  In a moment, she knew.  The extra flower.  It wasn’t a mutation to tell her she was running out of time.  It was a mutation because she had already been out of time.  She should have been dead by now.  Probably would have been without her friends and all their efforts.

She knew that if she looked down, she’d see a mixture of yellow and blue littered around her.  Some in the bucket. By now, some had to be on the floor.  And while Deku wasn’t in sight anymore, she knew the feel of his scarred arms anywhere.  The arms that kept her upright and the hands that kept applying pressure to her stomach.  The ones that had helped her force the flowers out.

Even now, when she was sure he was horrified and didn’t return her feelings, Deku was doing his best to save her.  She shook her head.  He hadn’t rejected her yet.  It wasn’t certain yet.  She needed to help him help her!

“Deku-kun, I lo—”

The flowers returned, this time with more force.  More of them came out of her, and it was impossible to breathe.  Impossible to talk.

No.  It couldn’t end now!  No!  No, she was so close!

Tears filled her eyes, and she couldn’t help but weep anew as the flowers fell in a stream of unjust fury.  Fell towards their deaths.  And led her straight to her own.

No!  As long as her heart was beating, there was a chance!  As long as she was alive, she could—

Deku’s arms squeezed around her, and more flowers left her system.  But this time, there was even less of a break.  As soon as she gasped for air, there were more flowers.  More and more in her system.  Not fast enough to instantly suffocate her, but too fast to do anything.  Anything!  Come on, come on—

Thu-thud thu-thud thu-thud

Her heart pounded in her ears, blocking out all of the noise in the room.  The sounds of her retching.  The panicked cries of Deku.

Of Izuku.  Trying so hard to save her life.

She had to do something!

Thud-thud- thud-thud thud-thud

She couldn’t breathe.  She was shaking too hard.  There was too much at once.  There was no end to it.  She grabbed the arms around her.  She felt the rough texture of scars long since healed.  She couldn’t see, but she felt her way—hastily and clumsily—to fingers that had broken too many times, and she pressed her own against them.

This was the only comfort she could take now.  Now, as yellow and blue monstrosities killed her from the inside out.  Now, as they ripped away the only words she needed to say.  Wanted to say.  Silently begged to say.

Now, as she slowly began to lose her grasp on reality.

Her body, deprived of oxygen, tried to force her to breathe in.  She’d gone too long without.  Somehow, somehow, more flowers flooded into her system.  She was breathing and hacking all at once, and neither of the two functions were doing their job.

It hurt.  It hurtIt hurt!

Izuku-kun

She wanted to say it.  More than anything.  But her mouth was blocked.  Her vision was gone.  She couldn’t feel her legs.  Everything was spinning… spinning…

If only she could turn back the clock.  If only she’d taken the chance when she had it.  Now… now it was too late.  Now, she would never…

Never be able to say…

“I love you!”

Yeah.  She’d never get to say that.

The darkness finally claimed her.

Chapter Text

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.  They were supposed to be working hard to become Heroes.  Studying together, learning together, laughing together, fighting together.

Not…  Not this…  Not fighting alone.  Not terrified.  Not…  just not like this.

Izuku Midoriya held her like he’d been taught to.  His hands made a fist under her ribs; he forced One For All away so he could perform the maneuver without breaking her.  He jerkily pressed beneath her diaphragm, and she retched flowers.  Yellow and blue came spiraling out of her mouth, and he saw…

Oh… Oh no

“I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry, Uraraka-san.”  He didn’t know if she could hear him.  He didn’t know what else to say.  He didn’t know what else to do.  There were yellow flowers and blue flowers.  There were strong and unyielding green sprigs and leaves.  Sturdy and terrible.  He’d thought that was the worst of it…

But then… then he’d noticed something more.

“Uraraka-san!”  He couldn’t keep the horror from his voice when he saw it.  The red.  The blood.  Specks of it littered atop the flowers and greenery.  The color of it burned against his eyes.  Her throat had to be raw.  Everything that was coming up…  It had to hurt so much…  She had to be in so much pain

He tried to focus on his hands.  Tried to focus on getting her air.

But could he?  After wasting so much time, could he do enough to save her?

He had to.

He had to.

He pushed.

She gasped in his grasp.  Coughed.  Spluttered.  Breathed.  He’d bought her time, but how much?  How much air could she get?  How could he help her?  He needed to know what to do.  Whatever it was, he would do it!  Please!  He just needed to know what to do to help her!

“Deku-kun,” Uraraka gasped. Izuku kept his attention focused on her.  He needed to know what to do!  Anything!  “I lo—”

She was cut off.  The flowers did it.  The terrible, horrible, evil flowers that he didn’t know how to make go away.  He was just as lost as before—just as confused and terrified—and Uraraka was convulsing in pain.  Tears streamed down her face.  She couldn’t wail for the flowers in her throat.  Every choked sob wrecked him, and he felt so useless to her.  All he wanted was to make it go away.  Make it stop.  He didn’t do enough before, and now…

Now…  now, Uraraka was choking, and he didn’t know how to save her.  All he could think to do was just try to force the flowers out alongside her.  All he could think to do was add his strength to hers and just keep trying.

“I’m sorry.”  The words came as blubbering sobs of his own.  But he wouldn’t stop.  Couldn’t.  He had to keep trying.  He pushed, and more flowers came out, and he cried for the agony she had to be going through.  “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry…”

Uraraka was able to gasp precious little air this time, but the flowers returned, their vengeance stronger than before.  Izuku couldn’t help but sob alongside her.  All he could do was hold her and try desperately to get her to breathe.  It was all he could think to do.

She had to keep breathing.  She had to!

“What do I do?” he asked.  Uraraka could not answer him.  Terror clawed within him, and he could barely restrain it.  He couldn’t think.  Uraraka was… She…  He didn’t know how to save her!  He didn’t know…  He didn’t know what to do!  “Uraraka-san, please, how can I help?”

The flowers didn’t stop.  They were cruel, and Izuku hated them.  He hated what they were doing to her.  She’d inspired him, pushed him, saved him more times than he could count.  A million times in a million ways.  But now that she needed help, he couldn’t…  couldn’t…  He hated that there was no way for him to stop them.

How could he, after all?  The only way to stop this was for Uraraka to know that the person she loved—he choked back another sob—loved her back.  It was a mind-boggling notion—that romantic love could cure her—and he was still coming to terms with it.  He had to push past the unsaid rejection of his own unrequited feelings and do what he could to save her life.  After all, if she’d fallen for him, he would have noticed, right?  Either one of them could have said something by now.  This wouldn’t have even happened, right?

Right?  He would have known, right?

The question unlocked something.  Where panic had forced his brain to stop, this question now kicked the vital organ into high gear.  The cogs in his mind began to spin at top speed.

Who was it, then?  She hadn’t even come close to making a romantic confession to anyone who’d gotten a disk.  She’d made disks for everyone in their class, all of her mentors, her parents…  She’d made disks for everyone that they both knew, several names he recognized but hadn’t met in person, and a few names he’d never heard of before.  Names, he’d assumed, from her hometown back in Mie.  If any one of them were the person she loved, she would have confessed in the recording, right?  Or she would have wanted to talk to them in person, so they wouldn’t have needed a recording in the first place…

His mind worked at a frantic pace, making up for precious lost time.  He did his best to keep his arms from trembling.  He needed to figure out who the person was and bring her to them, and explain to them what was going on…  She would probably hate him, but she’d be alive to do that, at least—

Izuku felt something.  Uraraka’s hands were suddenly on his arms, and he lost his footing.

“Uraraka-san, don’t—!”  His warning was too late.  Her Quirk was active.  It would only make her more nauseous, he knew, and he wasn’t sure if her throat could handle any more abuse.  She was already bleeding, already throwing up way too much.  Any more, and…

He held onto her, trying to figure out a way to get her the air she needed and get her to release her Quirk at the same time.

And… she held onto him.  Izuku felt her hands pass over the dulled skin of his scars until they reached the fingers he’d interwoven over her sternum.  Once there, she gripped his hands.  Tightly.  Her pinky wasn’t extended.  She wasn’t showing any restraint.  She was just holding on.

Holding on to hands that couldn’t save her.

Mangled hands that, at this point, might as well have been clasped in prayer.

She held onto them, trusting him.  Like he was a lifeline or…

Or her last chance…

But… last chance for what?

“I need to confess, but I want to say goodbye first .”

She’d gone through so many disks…  why was his the last?

“There are two parts to yours…I have a lot to say, and some of it is really, really important.  I think it might get a bit too personal, and I don’t want to make you uncomfortable…”

His eyes widened.  No way.  She couldn’t have meant—  But who else…  But if it had been…  But—

No.  They were out of time.  He couldn’t doubt or argue with himself.  She couldn’t tell him anything now, and she was fading fast.  Her body’s reactions were getting weaker, and the maneuver wasn’t working anymore.  The flowers kept coming, demanding her life.  There wasn’t any time left.  Not for doubt, not for shame, not for anything else.

Only one desperate, truthful confession.

“I love you!”

Silence followed Izuku’s cry.  No words, no retching, no breathing.  All was silent for one single, impossible moment.

Then, the moment passed.

The two of them crashed to the ground.  Izuku pulled her backwards so he would cushion her fall.  They landed with a harsh thud on the floor, and Izuku only had a moment to assure himself she hadn’t hit her head.  More flowers fell out of her mouth, dull and slick with saliva and blood.  There was a gurgling noise in the back of her throat—a sickening sound that moved Izuku into action.

Black tendrils shot out from him, powerful and insistent, shoving aside anything that was too close.  He needed to clear a space for Uraraka.  He ignored the clattering of equipment and laid her out straight, stripped his jacket off, and crafted a crude pillow for her head and neck.

He remembered something.  A lesson in their second year.  Choking persons.  Recovery Girl had taught it.  Kaminari had fallen asleep, and he didn’t think a lot of people had taken it seriously.  He was glad he had.

First step:  remove any obstructions from the mouth and throat.

Izuku moved to Uraraka’s head and opened her mouth as wide as it could go.  There were too many flowers.  Far, far too many.  He reached in and pulled them out, doing his best not to wince at how much blood covered the debris.  Yellow Verbascum.  Blue flowers.  Stems.  Leaves.  He pulled three handfuls out, using his fingers to make sure nothing remained.  He didn’t care where the flowers ended up when he tossed them aside; they just needed to be out.

He hadn’t done enough before.  He hadn’t known, but…

He could do something now.  And he would.  He would.

Second step:  listen for breathing.

Izuku leaned in close, holding his breath.  Time was precious, and he wanted nothing more than to just get her to breathe.  But if he didn’t do this right, he would have to do it over.  He would lose more time.  He could lose her forever.

He would not lose her.

One second…  two seconds…  three seconds…  four seconds… five seconds.

Nothing.

Third step:  begin rescue breathing.

“Please forgive me,” he murmured to her motionless form.  She laid there, still and unresponsive.  It was wrong.  So wrong. 

He plugged her nose, took a deep breath, and then sealed her mouth with his own.  He exhaled, pushing the air into her.  He rose, took another breath, and gave that to her, too.

Take it, he silently begged, turning his attention to her chest.  Nothing.  It hadn’t risen.  He took two more breaths and gave them both to her.  He’d give her anything to just live.  To work and learn and laugh and fight.  He would do now what he so stupidly hadn’t done then.  Please…  please take it.

He looked.

Nothing.  Still and ashen and…

No.  This wasn’t done.  He wasn’t done!

Fourth step:  begin compressions.

Izuku hustled to Uraraka’s chest.  He placed his hands where they needed to be.

He hadn’t done enough for her.

“One, two, three…”

Not on her birthday.

“…four, five, six, seven…”

Not when they talked after class two weeks after.

“…eight, nine, ten…”

Not when he checked on her after she and Jirou had sparred with Tokoyami and Kacchan.

“…eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen…”

Not when he’d learned that she was throwing up flowers.

“…fifteen, sixteen…”

Not even today!

“…seventeen, eighteen…”

He’d been chasing so many red herrings.  He hadn’t known…

“…nineteen, twenty, twenty-one…”

He hadn’t seen

“…twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four…”

But that wouldn’t stop him from doing everything in his power…

“…twenty-five, twenty-six, twenty-seven…”

…to bring her back!

“…twenty-eight, twenty-nine, thirty!”

Izuku took his hands away, and he looked at Uraraka’s face.  More flowers were around her mouth.  He didn’t waste any time taking them out.

Last step:  repeat until help arrives or the person starts breathing again.

Izuku kept working, focusing his mind and energy on the task at hand, yet his mind, traitorous as it was, had other plans.  It replayed for him the opportunities he’d had to help her.  Opportunities that he’d missed.  That he’d been blinded to.  That he just hadn’t taken.

He could have said something the night before her birthday.  When she’d inspired him with her progress and challenged him with her presence to be better every day.  He could have said something when he saw the moonlight in her hair and the confidence in her stride.  He could have said something when he met her eyes and was struck dumb for a moment before remembering his question.  He could have told her how much he admired her and respected her.

He hadn’t.

He could have said something on her birthday.  When he’d seen her and the others in the early hours of the morning.  He could have ignored the warning glances from Yaoyoruzu and Tsu and gone up to them, offering his strength and support and telling her that he was always there for her.  He could have done so much more than just send a text and fret all day and pass along one message that hadn’t been meant for him.  He could have asked her more questions about what was going on instead of just… letting it go.  He could have done more than just smile at her like an idiot.

He hadn’t.

He could have said something when he noticed her pulling away from everybody.  Pulling away from him.  He’d said…  something.  Not nearly enough.  He’d thought she was going through internship-related troubles.  He’d said as much as he’d dared, and then he’d said no more.  He should have said something more.  He should have done something more.

He—

“Uraraka-kun!  Midoriya-kun!”

Izuku didn’t look away from what he was doing.  He was back on compressions again.  He couldn’t lose count.  He couldn’t!

“Midoriya-kun!  Ochako-chan!  Mi—Oh my god!  Iida-kun!  They’re in here!”

Izuku heard the frenzied footsteps a moment before a crash.  “Twenty-nine, thirty!”

Izuku didn’t spare a glance to his two friends as he returned to Uraraka’s head.  There were more flowers, and there was even more debris.  He started removing it all immediately.  There was a lot, though.  There was too much.

He couldn’t stop taking it out, though.  He couldn’t.

“What on—” Iida’s exclamation was loud and immediate.  Still, Izuku didn’t look away.  Uraraka was the priority.  He needed to do this.  “I’ll go to get Recovery Girl!”

“Get Sensei, too!” Ashido shouted. Izuku didn’t know if Iida had heard her. He was gone, and Ashido was next to him, eyes focused and alert. Her movements were quick and efficient as she placed both hands over the center of Uraraka's chest. “I’m starting the compressions now.”

It was only then that Izuku looked over, and only for the barest of seconds. Ashido’s face already had a light sheen of sweat, and she kept her eyes on Uraraka with a determination that could only just cover her fear. She couldn't have known how long he’d been at this, but her focus and haste told him that she didn't need to know. She was willing to help him keep fighting.

For Uraraka.  All for Uraraka’s sake.

Izuku nodded, turning his attention back to their friend.  With Ashido on compressions, he could focus on removing the obstructions as they came out, and he could give her the breaths every thirty counts.  He pulled the final flower—blue with terrible red streaks—out of her mouth and leaned in close.

Izuku breathed in deeply, sealed Uraraka’s mouth and pressed her nose shut, and breathed air into her with as much force as he could.  He did it again, silently begging her to just take what he could give her now.

I didn’t give you what you needed sooner.  Izuku watched her chest as Ashido’s hands kept working diligently on the compressions, desperate for her to breathe on her own.  Please…  just take what you need now!

Nothing.  Ashido’s voice wasn’t at all steady as she counted the consistent compressions she gave Uraraka, but the numbers were clear enough for him to understand.  Izuku hadn’t known that she’d paid attention to Recovery Girl’s lecture, but he was grateful for it.

Izuku turned his attention to Uraraka’s face.  Lax in the worst possible way.  He used his hands to keep her jaw open as wide as possible, and…  and…

How much pain had she been in all this time?  The flowers had caused significant damage.  They were still slick with blood, and it was getting worse.  He reached in and pulled the new carnage out, but the worst were the stems.  He reached in quickly to stop one from stabbing Uraraka in the roof of the mouth, but the attempt forced him to see.  To notice.  It hadn’t been the first stem to make it that far.  There was already damage lining the top of her mouth.  Damage he hadn’t seen before.

Just how much pain had she gone through without him seeing?  How many times did he have to find her only after the damage had been done?  How many times would he try to be there for her, only to be too late?  The day she’d sparred with Tokoyami and not said something about her throat.  The flowers in the bathroom.  Throwing up in their glen.  Just barely catching her during the raid…  Seeing her unconscious on the asphalt…  so still and so pale…

But this was worse.  Much, much worse.

Earlier, in her paleness, at least she’d been breathing.

She wasn’t breathing now.

“Thirty!”

Izuku took out the newly ejected flowers and sealed her lips with his.  He gave her air.  And again.  And he stood watch.  He cleared new debris.  More flowers.  More stems.  More, more, more…

“I’ve brought Recovery Girl!”

Izuku didn’t look to see the woman or what she had brought.  He only knew that she was there to help Uraraka.

And he was willing to do anything at this point.

“Don’t stop what you’re doing,” instructed the Pro-Hero as she quickly made her way to where they sat.  He sensed more than saw when she knelt on the opposite side of Uraraka.  “How long has she been unconscious?”

“Um, about three and a half minutes,” said Izuku, glancing up to make sure she needed the answer in time and not in number of compression cycles.  The second version was on the tip of his tongue, but Recovery Girl nodded and immediately drew a vial out of her coat.  She opened it, revealing a scalpel, and reached within her coat again.  She took out another container.  She opened it and a smell of sanitation hit Izuku’s nose.

“When Ashido-chan gets to thirty, I need the both of you to back away immediately,” said the Pro.  Her voice was somber.  Izuku understood.  He didn’t know why, but he knew that whatever she was going to do, it would be the best chance of saving Uraraka’s life.

Izuku managed to extract five more flowers and two more sprigs before Ashido’s cry of “thirty!”

--warning, warning--

The two students immediately backed up, and Izuku was horrified to watch as Recovery Girl deftly used the scalpel on Uraraka’s throat.  An incision, precise and painful-looking, in the middle of her throat.  A protest rose on his lips as Uraraka didn’t even respond to the pain of being cut open.

“Uraraka-san!”

Izuku could only watch as his horror was ignored.  He forced himself to remain still.  Recovery Girl had to be helping her.  She had to.

The Pro-Hero took a small instrument that she’d withdrawn from the sanitized container and peeled a portion of his friend’s skin backwards.  Thick layers of skin and who-knows-what-else moved easily.  She removed the scalpel expertly and exchanged it with the instrument.  It looked bulky on one end with a curved tube at the other.  With practiced expertise, she maneuvered the tube into the newly made hole in Uraraka’s throat.  As soon as it was in place, a whistling of air sounded throughout the room, and Izuku cried as Uraraka’s chest rose on its own.

--warning, warning—

She was breathing!

“Midoriya-kun, Ashido-chan, we have to move quickly,” said Recovery Girl, standing from her handiwork and examining the two students before her.  “What I’ve done is only temporary, especially for Uraraka-chan’s condition.  If the flowers are still growing, we have even less time than I’d like.”

A weight dropped in Izuku’s stomach, taking with it whatever relief he might have felt at seeing Uraraka’s chest rise and fall of its own accord.

“Still grow—”

“Iida-kun has gone for the stretcher,” continued Recovery Girl urgently, “but we’ll need to move her onto it and get her to my office as carefully and as quickly as possible.  I have to perform surgery, and my tools are there.”

Izuku’s head whirled with information.  The flowers were still growing.  The flowers were still growing!

Had he failed her again?  Wasted the precious little time she had with a stupid, stupid

“Here’s the stretcher, Recovery Girl!” Iida’s entrance was abrupt, and Izuku shoved his thoughts to the side.  He could panic later.  For now…  for now he would actually do something useful.  He wouldn’t waste any more time.

“Good.  Midoriya-kun, Ashido-chan.  Move Uraraka-chan to the stretcher without jostling her neck.  Time is of the essence; let’s move!”

Izuku didn’t need to be told twice.  Neither did Ashido.  Together, they lifted their friend and placed her on the stretcher.  Izuku fought a shudder as he was face to face with what Recovery Girl had done to keep Uraraka alive.  He had to keep her stable.

He couldn’t…  He…

“Let’s get her to my office!” commanded Recovery Girl.  “Iida-kun, I need you to take me there so I can prepare.  Midoriya-kun, Ashido-chan, don’t jostle Uraraka-chan, but move as quickly as you can.”

The three students didn’t hesitate before leaping into action.  Recovery Girl had barely grabbed onto Iida before she was whisked away.  He and Ashido, with Uraraka’s stretcher between them, were close behind.  Izuku’s gaze shifted rapidly between Ashido’s back as she led the charge and Ochako’s pale face.  It was lax.  And pale.  And still.

Izuku knew that she was getting air, but her face was so still.  There wasn’t any sign of life.

There wasn’t any fight showing in her.

It was terrifying.

The three of them turned with as much haste as they could into Recovery Girl’s office.  Uraraka was moved from the gurney onto a table.  The instant her weight had begun to settle, he felt himself being pressed against his two friends.  They were all being shoved to the door.

Away from Uraraka.

Who was on the table.

And too still.

“Wait—!”

“No time!”  Recovery Girl’s voice brokered no argument.  Even if it had, Izuku wasn’t sure of what he would say.  “I have to perform surgery.  Wait in the hall.”

“But—”

Ashido’s protest was met with a glare.  “Out!”

With a mighty shove, all three students were cast into the hallway.  The door slammed shut behind them.  Izuku could hear Recovery Girl moving quickly, doing her job.  Saving Uraraka.

Saving her like he couldn’t.

In a way he hadn’t.

He hadn’t done…

Here, on the other side of the door, with Uraraka in the hands of someone more capable, his legs trembled and shook.  The day’s events finally caught up with him.

The raid.  The explanations at long last.  The confrontation.  The tension of watching over her as she broke down.  Breaking into the recording room.  The disks.  The last disk.  The…  the… 

Everything made sense and didn’t all at once.  Pieces were falling together faster than he could comprehend the entire picture.

The whole affair was stitching itself together abruptly and painfully in his mind.  The number of times he could have ended it…

There had been so many chances, and still…

Still…

Still…

He’d been…

“Midoriya-kun?”

“Hey, are you okay?”

Useless.

His knees buckled, and the world disappeared.



The world came back to him slowly, like a terrible dawn with its first slivers of ice-cold daylight.

Memories trickled in painfully, each one crafting an overall picture he was finally able to understand.

Uraraka had been dealt a terrible blow by fate.  She’d been punished over and over and over again, and he’d stood idly by.  He hadn’t seen her suffering—hers!  She who he thought was so near to him, and she who he thought he knew like the back of his own hand.  Even more horrible, he’d probably made things even worse!  If not by ignorance, then by sheer audacity.

Who was he to waste her last moments of consciousness with a worthless confession?  He should have put more effort into figuring out who she actually loved.

Her needs should have come first.

He shouldn’t have panicked.

He shouldn’t have failed her.

He—

“Hey, are you awake?”

—wasn’t alone.

Izuku’s eyes shot open, and he tried to sit up.  The quick motion made him dizzy, and he was forced to stop.  Colors swam in front of his eyes, and he squeezed them shut yet again.  A large hand held him firmly in place.

“Easy, easy…”

The voice wasn’t familiar.

Who…?

Izuku tried opening his eyes again, this time more slowly.

A man knelt in front of him, his arm reached forward to keep Izuku steady.  It was clear from the callouses on his fingertips that the man did hard work, and the muscles he had were a result of repetitive manual labor.  The physique was different from a Pro-Hero’s form, but no less earned.  However, what captured Izuku’s attention was the man’s face.  Sandy-brown hair was peppered with shades of grey, and the wrinkles in his face—both of well-worn laugh lines and creases in his brow—were deep set.  It was a face that had carried booming happiness and joy the last time he had seen it.  Now, those eyes were worn, and the tear tracks down the man’s face were the most prominent signs of emotion he could find.

Despite everything the man had to be going through himself, he looked at him with a concerned compassion.

“Don’t try to go too fast now, kiddo,” said Uraraka’s father, his brows knit together.  “Aizawa-sensei and your friends went to the cafeteria to grab some food for us all.  He said it would be good for them to walk around.”

A lump formed in Izuku’s throat, and he nodded.  Instinctively, he looked around.  Someone had moved him from in front of Recovery Girl’s office door to a set of nearby chairs.  He could see the bubbly lettering of her sign from where he sat.  In front of him knelt Uraraka’s father, who was still staring at him.  Behind the man, now that Izuku was looking, sat Uraraka’s mother in another chair.  Her eyes were red and puffy, and they were closed.

Izuku knew that she wasn’t sleeping, though.  She was only resting.  She was too tense to truly be asleep.  He could see that much from where he laid awkwardly.

He sat up, slowly this time, with the help of Uraraka’s father.  Once up, he turned his attention back to the bubbly letters that spelled out “Recovery Girl.”  A pit formed in his stomach when he finally realized he could see.

Day had broken.  Shafts of cold sunlight lit the space of the hallway.

“H—how long…” Izuku started.  He wanted to face Uraraka’s father, but…  but Uraraka was still in there.  He knew it.  Just as surely as he knew he could have done something sooner, he knew she was still behind those doors.  “How long has she been in there?”

Uraraka’s father exhaled, and he sounded like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders.  Looking at him, knowing how important Uraraka was to her parents above all else, Izuku could believe that idea.  “Three hours.”

Izuku startled, turning to the elder man.  Three hours.  Uraraka had been in there for three hours?

The elder man stood fast under Izuku’s look, and the younger man felt a hollow pit in his chest crumble.  He turned away, facing the sign again.  Uraraka was in there, fighting, and had been for three hours.

For three…

Izuku kept looking at the sign.  Never before had the pink lettering seemed so imposing.  Not when he broke his arms nor when he came here in a full body splint.  Not even when he passed by the room for months after learning that Recovery Girl wouldn’t heal his arms anymore.

No.  Now he had to sit.  And wait.

Because he hadn’t done enough.

And the color of the sign somehow burned that reminder into his brain.

He forced himself to swallow past the lump that formed in his throat, and more tears spilled onto his cheeks.  After all that had happened, he wasn’t sure he could restrain them if he’d tried.

He knew he didn’t want to.

“Recovery Girl’s not,” he started, his voice warbling, “giving Uraraka the surgery, right?  The one that takes away all of her emotions?”

He was met with silence, and his heartrate quickened.

“Uraraka-san…  Uraraka-san didn’t want the surgery.  She wanted to do her best and confess, but she wanted to say goodbye to everyone first.  That’s what we were doing last night, making recordings of her saying…  She made one for you two; she loves you both so much.  I always knew that, but she wanted you to have a recording in case…  But she planned to confess when she was done.  But before she could, she…  the flowers, they…”

The bright pink, bubbly letters of Recovery Girl burned against him, mocking him.  He hadn’t done enough.  Soon, he couldn’t see past his own watery haze.  He looked down to the hands that hadn’t been strong enough to save her.  Hands that were attached to a wannabe Hero who couldn’t even save his best friend.  He couldn’t even see such failures for hands.

“She was trying so hard,” he said, voice thick.  “She was trying so hard, and she was so close.  She was almost there, and I couldn’t…  I tried, but I…”

Overwhelming waves of failure crashed against Izuku, and he lost himself to it.  Repeated whispers of ‘useless’ rang in his ear, and the opportunities he’d missed to make a difference for her mocked him.  He didn’t have the strength to resist, and he sobbed.  Sobbed because his friend had been in agony.  Sobbed because he hadn’t helped her when she’d needed it most.  Sobbed because of his own broken heart.  Sobbed because of her broken heart.

The grip on his shoulder tightened for a moment before he was pulled away from the chair.  Shock dulled Izuku’s already blunted senses, and it took him a moment to realize that the older man had pulled him into a hug.  It was warm and solid.  Izuku’s arms reacted quickly then, wrapping around the older man.

Was it selfish to be comforted by someone who was hurting just as much as he was?  Someone who, realistically, probably hurt more?

“No,” Uraraka’s father said, his own voice warbling.  “No.  We already knew how Ochako felt ‘bout that surgery, so we asked if there was another way.  Anything, really, to give her a fightin’ chance.”  The man chuckled, and Izuku could hear the tears in his tone.  “Recovery Girl said we’re as bad as our daughter.”

Izuku might have chuckled along at that in any other circumstance. From what he knew, Uraraka respected and adored her parents almost on the level he admired All Might. He wouldn't be surprised if the traits she were proudest of—compassion, practicality, cheerfulness, bluntness, honesty—were ones that she'd inherited from her parents. It made sense that she'd gotten her stubbornness from them, too.

But this wasn’t any circumstance.  This was Uraraka’s life.  Tension riddled his entire body.  He needed to know.  “So…  Recovery Girl is trying something else?”

Uraraka’s father withdrew, and Izuku could see the man’s face—now filled with fresh tears—as he nodded.  There was a shaking smile that was so clearly meant to reassure alongside worried brows that were so honest that it hurt.

Uraraka was like that.  Honest and bright and wonderful and…

And…

Izuku gulped.  She was too important to let go without a fight.

“She is,” said Uraraka’s father.  “We arrived only a little bit after Ochako went in; Recovery Girl told us a lot of medical stuff, but it all boiled down to the basic idea that the flowers aren’t growing as fast in Ochako’s system as they were supposed to be growing at this stage.”

Izuku stopped, his eyes wide.  He tried to piece the information together.  His brain, as tired and exhausted as it was, had a hard time keeping up.

He did his best anyway.  “So,” he said, “the flowers… stopped?”

Uraraka’s father gave Izuku a smile that the young man was sure Uraraka had seen many times in the past.  Beyond the assurance, he could see the fear.  And, somehow, the hope.  “We don’t know if they’ve stopped yet, but they’ve slowed down.  What Recovery Girl is doing is going into her lungs to remove them herself.  If the flowers have slowed down, then that means she gets another chance.

“And if we’re wrong…”  Uraraka’s father didn’t stop the tears from going down his cheeks.  His large shoulders trembled, and Izuku didn’t hesitate to return the favor he’d been granted a few moments ago.  He didn’t need her father to finish the thought.

He got the picture this time.  And it was horrible.

The two of them sat like that in mutual comfort for a time.  A father terrified about the very large chance of losing his only daughter, and a friend in despair over the real possibility that he could lose one of the most important people in his life.  Time became neither a comfort nor a burden; it was but an existence where they individually confront such fears together.

It wasn’t the best scenario.  Not by a long shot.  But Izuku was glad that he wasn’t alone.  He hoped Uraraka’s father felt the same.

Soon after, the man withdrew with a nod of thanks, and Izuku returned it.  Both were worn.  Both were barely hanging on by a thread.  But, for some reason, crying with someone who understood had helped to alleviate some of the tension that fear had brought to them both.

Uraraka’s father returned to his wife’s side, and she immediately placed her head on his shoulder.  He returned the gesture by threading his fingers through hers.  It was clear that they were both gathering strength from one another, and Izuku could see how their bond had inspired such a brave and compassionate daughter.

He turned back to the pink, bubbly letters of Recovery Girl’s office, his mind and heart recovered enough to hold onto that double-edged sword called hope. 

Uraraka was strong.  In his heart, he knew that for a fact.  She’d gone through so much just to make it to their third year.  Even more since the beginning the year.  And, honestly, too much in the past two months.  To have made it through everything she’d gone through, that person would have to be strong in body, in mind, and in spirit. 

And, to him, Uraraka was strong.

If anyone could make it, it was her.  He had to hold onto that hope with everything he had.  And when she made it through—not if, but when—he would help her find that person.  He’d help her explain the situation if she wanted him to.  Everything would be fine, and she would live.

She had to.

She had to.

Everything would be okay again, and he wouldn’t make her carry the burden alone anymore.  He’d confront her and help her, leaving nothing unsaid and doing his best to help her live.  He’d go Plus Ultra.

“You know, in our business, referrals are our lifeblood.”

Izuku startled out of his thoughts, the comment throwing him for a loop.  He turned back to the Urarakas, and he was met with brown eyes that seemed to pierce directly into his soul.  Yet Uraraka’s mother wasn’t accusatory at all.  Her face was lined with worry for her daughter, but alongside the set wrinkles seemed a sense of… Izuku wasn’t sure exactly what.  Contemplation?  Knowledge? 

Hope?  But… hope for what?

Heedless of his confusion, Urarka’s mother continued.  “We work very hard to give people comfortable and sturdy buildings to live and work in.  If the buildings don’t break, we’ve done our job well, but that means we have to find new customers.  Usually, we have to do this ourselves with a bunch of advertising.”

Her eyes were tired and worn, but Izuku could feel as though they saw through him.  A few seconds of this burned through his brain, and he suddenly felt as though he were being evaluated.  Scrutinized.  He brought up a hand to rub at the back of his neck.

“Th-that makes sense,” said Izuku, trying not to let his voice crack.  A thoughtful hum came from the adult, and he knew that she knew something.

What it was, he didn’t know.  But she knew something.

“Yes,” she said.  “Sometimes, though, we get referrals.  That takes the advertising pressure off of us for a while, so referrals are very helpful.  So whenever that happens, it’s only polite to send out some kind of thank-you.  Some businesses like sending out emails, but we’ve always liked making and sending out handmade cards.  It’s simple and straight from the heart.”

Here, for the first time since he saw her today, Uraraka’s mother smiled.  It was tired and worn, and yet Izuku couldn’t help but feel as though that smile had him cornered.  It was the sort of smile that all mothers had that made you know that they knew something. 

What, though, he still wasn’t sure. 

“I’m sure you can imagine how nervous I got when I realized I had to send a thank-you note to Pro-Hero Gang Orca.”  The woman chuckled.  “Poor Chaba thought something was wrong for a while, there; my hand couldn’t stop shakin’.”

Izuku dimly realized she was talking about Uraraka’s father when the man in question seemed to squeeze her hand lightly.  An abashed smile was on his face, sure, but Izuku was more concerned with the fact that Uraraka’s mother hadn’t turned her eyes away from him once.  Suddenly, he knew exactly where she was going with this.

“Thought that might be the end of it, honestly,” she continued.  “Pro-Heroes, ‘specially ones as high ranking as Gang Orca, must get thousands of thank-you notes every day.  Lots of fan mail and ‘thank-you’s from people he’s saved and even people askin’ for favors.”

The glint in her eye told Izuku that it was not, in fact, the end of it.

“So I come into the office one day and find a fancy letter waiting at our desk.  All typed-up and fancy, with a signature at the very bottom.  It says that the referral was his pleasure and that we did good work.  He’d done some work in the area with an intern of his, and that his intern had recognized a sturdy building when he saw it, and that that intern had been able to use the building to his advantage in coming up with a strategy to rescue several hostages, defeat a Villain, and keep damages to a minimum.”

By now, Izuku knew the look he was receiving.  He got it from his own mom a lot.  Usually after he did something nice for her when he thought he was being sneaky about it.  A clean kitchen after a long shift.  Brand new fabrics for sewing being shipped to the apartment as a surprise after he’d saved up some extra money from his internship.  He’d get home or see her later and she’d have that look.  It was a look that said, “I know what you did.”  He flushed and turned away, his hand still on the back of his neck.

“I didn’t mean to make ya self-conscious,” said Uraraka’s mother, a small bout of laughter on her voice.  It didn’t help Izuku’s nerves.  He’d been caught.  His face burned.  “It was just a very sweet thing you did, asking Gang Orca to make a referral for us hard-workin’ folks.”

Izuku withdrew his hand so as better to bury his face into both, embarrassment painted on his cheeks for the world to see.  Or, if he were being less dramatic, for Uraraka’s parents to see, which was only a slight improvement over the entire world.

No.  It wasn’t much of an improvement at all.

“And I’m sure that if Ochako knew about it,” continued Uraraka’s mother, a soft firmness in her tone that brokered no argument and no sidetracking, despite the pang that her name sent through his very heart.  Izuku risked a look back at Uraraka’s mother, and he found that her smile had the same quality his own mother’s took when she was telling him something important.  Something steely, strong, and secretive.  “Then she would have thanked you for it.”

Izuku returned to the safety of his palms.  If she knew about it?  If she knew?  But…

“Hitasu’s right,” said Uraraka’s father.  Izuku looked up again, unable to stop himself.  “Our daughter’s bright, but she’s never been one to look for what she doesn’t know is there.  She’s not one for puttin’ words in someone else’s mouth, but that means she won’t always catch hints you may be leavin’ out.”

Uraraka’s father was smiling at him, the expression worn and yet…  and yet…  The two of them looked…  happy, Izuku supposed.  No, not happy.  They were still sad, but there was a definite upbeat in their expressions.

Hopeful, his mind supplied belatedly.  They look hopeful.

“But,” he said, too tired to even try keeping his thoughts to himself, “Uraraka-san probably doesn’t feel the same way I do.  A-and I’ll be okay with that a-as long as I can help her; she deserves happiness, but I already told her th-aaaaat…”

Izuku’s brash, insensitive, and definitely inappropriate confession came back to him, and he another wave of hot, embarrassed shame washed over him.  He turned away from her parents, not really sure why he’d almost told them that he’d confessed to their daughter and had nearly killed her in the process with it.  He could have helped her instead of wasted her time! 

He hurried to correct his mistake.

“B-but I’ll help her get to whoever it is!  S-she wanted t-to c-confess anyways…” This was not the time for his voice to crack!  He cleared his throat awkwardly before continuing. “…s-so I’ll definitely help her get to whoever it is!  I promise!”

Izuku didn’t look back at Uraraka’s parents, and they thankfully didn’t push him any further on the issue of his own terrible confession.  Instead, he kept his gaze trained ahead of him, watching the pink, bubbly letters with interest.

Uraraka was there, fighting for her life.

When the time came, he would help her.  Not ‘if’, when.  He’d help her and then beg her forgiveness and then deal with his own broken heart.

But until she was safe, until she was happy and fully alive, he wouldn’t let the rejection stop him.  Before everything else, before crushes or rivalries or competition, she was his best friend first.  He’d always put such friendship above anything else, and he would help her in whatever way he could.

He wouldn’t be useless to her anymore.

Chapter Text

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.

“DAMMIT!”

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.

Gone.

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.

“Aah!”

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?

What…?

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.

“Ochako-mei?”

“I…” she said slowly, tears pricking at her eyes yet again.  She let them fall.  “I didn’t.”

“Didn’t what?”

“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.

It hurt.

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?”

Daddy…

“Ochako, sweetie, can you hear us?”

Momma…

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.

“Ochako!”

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.”

Ochako blinked.

“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.”

“But—”

“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!”

“Uraraka-san!”

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.

“Deku-kun…?”

“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.

Not when…

“Uraraka-san?” whispered Deku from the next bed over.  Ochako blinked, only barely seeing his face in the moonlight.  She smiled.

“Yeah?”

“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.

Chapter Text

Click!

Ochako had to blink a few times to reorient herself.

“Hey, why’d you leave the flash on?” 

“So bright…” 

“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.

“Congratulations, Ochako-chan.”

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?”

“Indeed.”

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.”