Exhaustion was as familiar to Ochako as breathing. She was only fifteen but she felt more like she was edging on forty. But it was okay. She could just power through. She couldn’t stop now. Not when she was living her dream. She— Uraraka Ochako— was in UA! UA… which was expensive. She’d gotten scholarships. So many scholarships. Which helped, but that didn’t mean she could slow down. She was working two odd jobs after school, coming home and studying before completely crashing for a few hours. Her parents didn’t know about the jobs. She didn’t want them to worry. They already worked so hard and did so much for her, she couldn’t burden them any more than she already did. So she kept pushing on. Working more, studying harder, sleeping less. She just had to work harder, be better.
And if that meant she walked into homeroom after less than four hours of sleep completely dead, so be it. Maybe she could sleep through homeroom. It wouldn’t be the first time. She could get notes off of Deku.
She stumbled into class only two minutes early. She was the last to arrive besides Kaminari, who had no sense of time and was perpetually late. But he was working with an ADHD counselor to manage his tardiness, so the teachers cut him a bit of slack. In her sleep-deprived brain, Ochako completely missed Iida standing and greeting her with enthusiasm. She also missed the way his face fell when she ignored him. She doubly missed the concerned looks her classmates shared as she stumbled to her desk and slumped over.
Satou leaned over and tapped her on the shoulder. “Did you sleep okay?”
Ochako looked up and forced a smile. Satou was pretty sweet and, no, that wasn’t a pun about his quirk. He was empathetic and would always bake something nice when someone was feeling down. “I’m okay. I just had a long night,” she assured him before pillowing her head on her arms and closing her eyes for two minutes of rest.
Which was broken by Kaminari exploding into the classroom with the force of a hurricane. “I’m not late!” he screeched.
“By thirty seconds,” Tsuyu pointed out.
“We are very proud of your accomplishment, but please don’t use that as an excuse to disrupt your classmates,” Iida said.
Any other day, Ochako would have been happy for him— and she was— but she was so, so tired. The noise was making her head pound. Keeping her eyes open was almost painful. She needed sleep.
Mentally she calculated how far she could get her money to stretch if she dropped one of her jobs. She winced. That wasn’t going to work, no matter how she reworked it. But if she skipped lunch sometimes… Her face lit up. That might actually work. And if she skipped lunch, she could use that time to sleep. The only problem would be trying to keep her friends from asking questions. Maybe if she brought a bento box she could say she’s eating in the classroom? No, they’d probably still ask to eat with her. She couldn’t just say no. They’re all so kind to her. She couldn’t let them down like that.
With no solutions apparent, she let the matter go and drifted to sleep, barely noticing when Aizawa-sensei started class.
Shouta scanned his class as soon as he walked through the door. He checked the problem children. Midoriya— in one piece, eager and ready for the day— Kaminari— nearly bursting with energy and for once not a minute late— Kouda— looking calm and relaxed and idly playing with his fidget cube— Bakugou— wearing his perpetual resting bitch face but not exploding— Tokoyami and Dark Shadow— quiet and calm— and finally, Todoroki. All accounted for and whole.
Then his gaze fell on Uraraka all but passed out in the back row. Shouta’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t call her out on it. She had decent grades and her home life, as far as Shouta knew, was fine. If it had been a one-time thing, Shouta would have forgotten about it. But for the past week or so, she’d slept through homeroom almost every day. He was going to have to talk to her about it. But for now, he’d let her sleep.
All too soon, homeroom was over and Satou was shaking Ochako awake. She blinked blearily at him. He offered her a cupcake with a sympathetic smile. Where had he even gotten a cupcake from?
“Thanks,” she said, wincing at her scratchy voice.
Satou patted her shoulder and joined the rest of the class filing out. She hastily stood, blinking away the spots dotting her vision, and shoved her things in her bag.
“Uraraka, I need to speak to you,” Aizawa-sensei said. His tone was no indication of what was to come. Ochako shrunk into herself. She was going to be in trouble for sleeping— again. Oops.
Deku hesitated at the door, but Ochako waved him off.
“Go on, I’ll catch up to you guys later,” she said. He nodded and disappeared into the hall. Ochako stood slowly, swaying. There was a swooping in her stomach like when she activated her quirk on herself. Static roared in her ears. Oh no, she was going to—
Shouta watched Uraraka like a hawk. She was obviously exhausted, more so than just missing some sleep. Something was going on that he was missing. He called out for her to wait behind. She slowly— everything happened slowly when you’re that tired— registered what he’d said.
But as she tried to stand, Shouta was already hurrying down the aisle. Her face turned red and it had nothing to do with her blush. She swayed on her feet, gripping her desk like it was a lifeline. Then her eyes rolled back and she fainted.
Shouta just barely managed to reach her side in time. She slumped over. Shouta easily caught her. He adjusted her in his arms and gently lowered her to the floor.
“Dammit, Uraraka, I don’t need another problem child,” he grumbled under his breath. He used his scarf to pillow her head and then sat down to wait for her to wake up. It took less than a minute for her to come out. Any longer and Shouta would have gotten worried.
She blinked up at him groggily. “S-sensei?”
“How are you feeling?”
Shouta sighed. “Can you walk?”
She nodded quickly and started to her feet. Shouta gave her a hand, noting how much her hand trembled.
“Do you have a history of fainting?”
She blushed harder. “No, sir. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disrupt the class.”
“Class has already left.”
Uraraka blinked and looked around at the empty classroom. “Oh.”
Worry pinched Shouta’s heart. He was missing something, a big part of the puzzle that made up Uraraka Ochako. “Come on, I’ll walk you to Recovery Girl.”
“Oh, no! I couldn’t trouble you.”
“And have you pass out in the hallway? No.”
Uraraka clamped her mouth shut. Shouta grabbed her backpack before she could and led the way to the hall. They walked silently.
Shouta kept a steadying hand on Uraraka’s shoulder. When they reached Recovery Girl’s office, Shouta paused and turned to her.
“I want you to know you can come to me with anything. I gave you my number after the USJ incident for a reason.”
Uraraka looked at him confused. Then it dawned on her and her lips formed a small oh. “No, it’s not like that. The USJ was horrible—” she pointedly did not look at Shouta’s scar— “but I’m not traumatized or anything.”
Shouta didn’t like the way she said that. “It would be okay if you were. The entire staff is here to help you. You have people who care about you, Ochako.”
He nudged her to the door. “Let’s get you checked out.”
Shuzenji looked up when they entered. No matter how many times she told Shouta to call her Chiyo, he couldn’t get past the fact that she had been one of his teachers when he was in high school. It still seemed disrespectful to call her by her given name.
“Oh, I can’t say I was expecting to see you, dearie. Come here, have a seat.”
Uraraka perched on the edge of the bed, clasping her hands together with her pinkies raised.
Shuzenji rolled her chair over to peer at Uraraka. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I…” she blushed harder. “I fainted in class.”
“She’s also been sleeping through homeroom for a couple of weeks,” Shouta added.
“All right, when was the last time you ate, dearie?”
“Oh.” Uraraka blinked, seemingly genuinely confused by the question. She hesitated. Started to answer, stopped, then shrugged. “I think I had something last night. I don’t really remember.”
With that, Shouta sighed. Why did he always get the worst classes? He crouched down to Uraraka’s eye level. “Listen, you can’t be a hero if you don’t take care of yourself first and foremost. You cannot keep up with the level of training that we expect of you if you aren’t eating properly.”
Uraraka ran her fingers over the pads of her thumbs. She didn’t meet Shouta’s gaze. “I understand, Sensei.” But there was something defiant in her eyes like she understood what he was saying but had no intention of following through.
Shouta sighed. “I’m going to get you some food from Lunch Rush— which you will eat in addition to lunch. You’ll be excused from class until Recovery Girl clears you.” He waited until she acknowledged him with a simple ‘yes, sensei’, then he stood. “Shuzenji, can I speak to you outside?”
Shuzenji patted Uraraka’s knee and hopped off her stool. She followed Shouta outside.
“Do you think it’s a mental problem?” Shouta asked, pinching the bridge of his nose. Female heroes had a lot more pressure about their public image than male heroes did. The rate of eating disorders in the hero community— male and female alike— was alarming. Midnight worked hard with her class to instill a sense of self-confidence and self-love. But Shouta made sure to keep an eye out for the signs.
“I am not mental health professional, but my instincts are telling me there’s something else going,” Shuzenji said.
That was good, but it still left Shouta with too many questions. “I’ll speak to her friends, see if she’s said anything to them.”
“Good. Now leave me alone so I can examine her properly.”
Shouta nodded and left to go bother Lunch Rush for some food.
Recovery Girl performed a standard exam, but because Ochako’s problem was simple exhaustion, there wasn’t much she could do.
Still, Ochako thanked her for her time.
Recovery Girl smiled softly. She slide her stool forward to pat Ochako’s knee. “You’re very welcome, dearie. And, Uraraka? I want you to know you can talk to me or Shouta— Aizawa-sensei, I mean, whenever and for whatever reason. We’re all here to help.”
It was almost word for word what Aizawa had told her. Uraraka wondered if they prepared these speeches beforehand.
She knew, logically, what they were trying to tell her. But there wasn’t much they could do to help her family’s financial situation.
So Ochako just smiled and said she understood.
Shouta stayed late after school ended partly to grade assignments, partly to look over a certain troublesome student’s file. As soon as he opened Uraraka’s file, he knew he wasn’t going to like what he found. He heaved a deep sigh when he saw how many scholarships Uraraka had applied for. It was an all too familiar story.
Shouta could remember his days at UA, spending the day at school, working odd jobs all night, and studying every spare moment. His parents were never supportive of his heroic aspirations and refused to pay for his schooling. He’d had to work his way through high school. It wasn’t an experience he wished on anybody. If he hadn’t had Hizashi’s support and friendship, he was sure he would have dropped out.
Now it seemed like Uraraka was headed toward that path. She couldn’t keep this up. Her grades would begin slipping sooner rather than later. Or worse, she might make a fatal mistake during training. Shouta simply can’t allow this to continue.
He gathered up the files and headed for Nezu’s office. He knew the rat would still be here. Shouta wasn’t entirely sure Nezu ever actually left.
When he stepped into the principal’s office, there was already tea waiting for him. He raised an eyebrow at it.
Nezu shrugged. "Chiyo said you might be stopping by. I assume it has to do with Uraraka's visit to the nurse's office."
"It does," Shouta said gruffly. He sat opposite the principal and accepted the tea offered to him. One never refuses tea from Nezu.
"What have you found?" Nezu asked, barely containing the excitement in his eyes.
"I suspect Uraraka is working a side job to help pay for UA. You know as well as I do how demanding the hero course is. She can't keep this up without breaking herself."
"I see." Nezu stroked a whisker idly. "And she has the potential to be a great hero?"
Of course, she had potential. She wouldn't still be in Shouta's class if she didn't. Privately, Shouta considered her one of his more promising students. But it shouldn't matter if she would be a great hero or not, she was sixteen. She didn't deserve to have to work herself to the bone to achieve her dreams.
Shouta swallowed his anger. "Yes," he said at length.
"And her financial situation is detrimental to her schooling?"
"Well," Nezu chirped, folding his paws on the desk. Shouta wanted to strangle him. "We'll just have to do something about it then, won't we?"
When Ochako was called to the principal’s office the day after her fainting episode, she expected the worst. She was going to be expelled. That was the only possible explanation. All of her hard work, gone. She wouldn't see her friends anymore. Sure, they might meet up sometimes or text, but it wouldn't be the same.
And her parents, gods, her parents. They'd worked so hard, sacrificed so much, just so Ochako could go to this school and get a good education. They were going to be so disappointed.
She hesitated outside the office, shuffling her feet. Then she knocked. Aizawa-sensei opened the door, startling her.
“Aizawa-sensei?” she stammered.
“Ah, Uraraka, please come in,” Nezu’s voice called. Aizawa moved to Nezu’s side, his capture weapon hiding most of his face.
Ochako sat on the edge of the seat opposite the desk. She clasped her hands and swallowed hard. She blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “I know why you asked me here."
Nezu looked amused. “You do?”
She nodded. “You’re going to expel me. I understand.”
“Hmm, why would we do that?”
Ochako blinked. “Why? Isn’t that why you called me here? Because I slept through class, because I want to be a hero for money, because everyone else in class is so amazing and I-I’m… not.”
“One, sleeping through class is a problem, which I intend to fix,” Aizawa said. “Two, there are a lot of bad reasons for wanting to be a hero, making money is not one of them. It might not be as stereotypically noble as some others, but in the end, it is still just a job. And three, you wouldn’t still be in my class if you didn’t have potential.”
Ochako frowned, looking at her hands. “So… you’re not expelling me?” Then why…?
Aizawa moved around the desk and crouched down to Ochako’s eye level. “UA has scholarships in place for students if a hero decides to sponsor them. It would cover the majority of the expenses. A hero bets on a student’s potential. Uraraka, I would like to sponsor you.”
Ochako’s eyes widened. There was only one thing that made sense. They knew about her family and their struggling construction company. Tears welled in her eyes
Aizawa put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s all right to need help. It’s hard to put aside your pride to be able to ask for it. But, Ochako—” the use of her given name, jerked her attention up to meet Aizawa’s dark gaze— “you’re going to be an amazing hero. I can’t let you burn yourself out before you even graduate.”
Tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Will you accept the scholarship?” Aizawa prodded gently.
Ochako nodded not trusting herself to meet his eyes again. “Thank you,” she said quietly. “Thank you so much.”
Aizawa squeezed her shoulder before standing and letting Nezu address her.
“Uraraka, if you would like, you can call your parents and let them know. There’s just a bit of paperwork we need to finalize before this is official.”
Ochako stood and bowed deeply. “Thank you, Nezu, sir.”
Nezu’s whiskers twitched in amusement. “I had very little to do with this.” He inclined his head to Aizawa. “Your teacher is betting on your future and your potential. Don’t let him down, Uraraka.”
“I won’t,” Ochako said firmly, determination lighting up her face. She turned and bowed low to Aizawa. “Thank you, Sensei.” She could have sworn he was hiding a smile behind his capture scarf.
“You can thank me when you go pro,” he said.
Joy bubbled up in Ochako and she grinned. “I don’t care. You’ve given me a chance, Aizawa-sensei, I’ll thank you a much as I can.”
“Problem child,” Aizawa said but it sounded fond.
Ochako’s smile broadened. She skipped out of the office with a final bow to Nezu. She had a very important phone call to have with her parents.