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how my poor heart aches

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They’re just outside of UA’s gates when someone steps into their path.

“Hi,” the man says with a nervous smile. He’s tall but lanky, wearing a simple button-down and slacks. Plain brown hair. Non-threatening. The hairs on the back of Ochako’s neck rise anyways. “You three are UA students, right? I think I remember seeing you in the sports festival.”

“Yeah,” Deku says. He and Iida are both tense, lined with the kind of instinctual wariness that comes with being a hero student. Ochako is, too, but she’s also a different kind of tense—the kind that comes from years of wearing bike shorts under her skirts and keeping her keys tucked between her fingers. “We are. Do you...need something?”

The man chuckles. “No, no, I just wanted to say congratulations! You guys were great.” His eyes flicker over Iida and Deku, and then land on Ochako. “Especially you. That fight with the explosion kid was...well. Impressive.”

Both Iida and Deku relax, just a bit. To them, the threat is gone. But there’s something in the man’s dark eyes that makes the alarms in her head scream.

“Thank you, sir.” Ochako plasters a smile on her face and hopes it looks genuine enough. She grabs both of her friends’ hands and begins heading for the gate. “But we really should be going now. Class begins in a few minutes, and we wouldn’t want to be late!”

“Oh, well, good luck with your classes,” the man says. He bumps into her as she passes, and the feeling of his hand against her hip, even with her jacket and shirt and phone between, sends shivers through her veins. 

“Uraraka, that was rude,” Iida hisses as soon as they’re through the gate and out of earshot. “Heroes have a responsibility to be polite and civil to—”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she says with a forced casualness. “But we also have a responsibility to be in class on time.”

“Class doesn’t start for twenty minutes,” Deku says. When she looks over at him, his eyebrows are drawn together, concerned. 

“You never know what kind of foot traffic there will be.” She tugs them closer in as they make their way down the main path. “Besides, we could all use a little study time for that quiz, right?”

“Quiz?” Deku switches gears so quickly it nearly gives her whiplash. “We have a quiz?”

“For math,” Iida says. “Weren’t you paying attention yesterday? It’s on—”

Ochako smiles as they fall smoothly into their usual banter, but when she glances over her shoulder, it drops. 

At the gate, the man still stands, unmoving, hands in his pockets.

His eyes are on her.

She turns her head back around and doesn’t take another full breath until they’re indoors and out of sight. 

 

Every student at UA has a personalized account with the school’s official scheduling app. At the beginning of the year, Aizawa told them all that it came preloaded with their class schedules, but they would be responsible for inputting their assignment due dates and other deadlines. He’d rolled his eyes immediately after saying it, which, at the time, Ochako had taken a bit of offense to. Now, though, knowing less than half of the class actually uses the app—she gets it. 

Well, her classmates may be snubbing school resources, but if she’s learned anything, it’s that if someone offers you something for free, you take it. Ochako uses her calendar religiously, updating it between classes and checking it first thing when she gets home. 

It’s how she knows immediately upon signing in that something is different.

Every one of her classes is sorted into a specific color. A pale pink matching her costume for heroics, blood red for art history, dark blue for math, and so on. But one of them is different, now; ethics, normally a bright and harsh yellow, is light brown. 

Ochako frowns. Maybe the brightness of her screen is messing with how it looks—but no, she checks, and the color is different. Weird. Her thumb must’ve slipped at some point, or maybe she left her phone open and Kaminari or one of the others thought it would be funny to mess with her settings. Bit of a small prank, in Ochako’s opinion, but she’d take it over getting her lunch electrocuted. 

And then she opens her assignments for the day to see Sleep well in the last slot.

me 4:29 p.m.

please don’t mess w my phone.

pikachu 4:30 p.m.

lol wot

Her fingers clench around her phone. Kaminari is nice and funny, sometimes, but also sometimes she just wants to deck him. 

me 4:30 p.m.

my phone, ik u wrote in it and i’d really rather u didn’t

pikachu 4:30 p.m.

idk what ur talking about

Two counts to inhale. 

(Kaminari on the sidelines, face red from holding back laughter, phone out as all of them had to just stand there, polyester uniforms itchy and tight and exposing far, far too much—)

Four counts to exhale. The glass screen doesn’t shatter under the pressure, even though she’s afraid it will. Even though she wants it to. 

me 4:31 p.m.

somebody put smth in my calendar

pikachu 4:31 p.m.

damn wasnt me but thatd be a sick prank owo

She could say no it wouldn’t, or that’s so creepy, or please, for once, just try to think like one of us. But she doesn’t. She just turns the phone off, sets it down, and tries to keep breathing.

 

Living in an apartment on her own presents a few unique challenges, Ochako will admit. For one, there’s cooking her own meals, especially on her extremely limited budget. There’s also having to catch and move bugs outside herself instead of yelling for her dad. But the most difficult thing, she’ll admit, is waking up on time without her mom. 

Three separate alarms, and she curses every single one of them for not breaking through her unconsciousness as she stumbles out the door, backpack sliding off her shoulder, tie still undone. She’s so busy muttering that she almost misses the soft click, sort of like a camera shutter, in the stairwell above her.

Almost. 

Ochako stops on the landing and looks back, her tie slipping out of her fingers and hanging around her neck. “Hello? Is someone there?”

No one responds, but her phone buzzes in her pocket. Probably Iida, wondering why she hasn’t met up with him yet. She takes one last look around, but doesn’t see anything. With a shrug to herself, Ochako hurries away, strange noise forgotten. 

 

“Hey, Midoriya, what’d you get for number three?”

“Todoroki, it is inappropriate to share the answers to our worksheets if you haven’t completed them yet, even if—”

“Here you go, Todoroki!” 

“Thanks.”

Ochako snorts quietly as Iida starts a lecture, his usual hand gestures only somewhat restricted in the small cafe booth. Beside her, Tsuyu smiles, and then picks up her empty mug. “I’m going to get another drink. Do you want anything, Ochako?”

Her heart says yes, but her threadbare wallet says absolutely not. “Um, no, but I’ll go with you anyways. I need to use the restroom.” 

Tsuyu makes her way to the counter while Ochako follows. The cafe’s not too crowded, thankfully, but Ochako watches herself anyways, sidestepping chairs and tugging the hem of her skirt down with one hand. At the front, Tsuyu gives her a little wave, and Ochako starts to walk around when something catches her eye.

Outside, through the windows, there’s the cafe’s patio. At the table right by the window—one with a direct line of sight to where she and her friends are sitting—is the man who ran into them outside of UA. He’s flipping through a magazine, not looking up, but on the table, next to his cup of tea, is a camera.

Clicking in an empty hallway. A flash, just out of the corner of her eye. Bile rises in Ochako’s throat, so quickly, so violently, that she can barely push it back down. 

You’re being paranoid, a voice says in the back of her head. Cold. Rational. It almost sounds like Aizawa. It’s a popular cafe. This is just a coincidence. And yet, it doesn’t stop the way her knees shake, as though she’s a stumbling fawn, realizing seconds too late that she’s caught the hungry gaze of a predator.

“Ochako?” Tsuyu asks behind her. A soft hand touches her shoulder, and Ochako only just manages not to flinch. 

“Yeah, I- I’m going, just thought I saw something,” she says as she turns, brushes past, and walks as quickly as she can into the bathroom. 

When she comes back out, Ochako waits until she’s standing in line next to Tsuyu to dare a glance over her shoulder, outside. But when she looks, the table is empty. The man is gone, no tracks left, not a single sign that he was ever there in the first place. 

Paranoid. The voice in the back of her head is right. She’s just paranoid, and that’s why she still feels eyes on her even as she sits back down, even as she studies, even as she walks home, phone out and in her hand, open to her friends’ contacts. Just in case.

 

It’s almost nine o’clock at night when it happens. She’s sitting at her desk, tapping her pencil against the English worksheet due tomorrow, and behind her, the door knob rattles.

For a moment, she thinks she misheard. The entire time she’s lived here, Ochako’s never had a visitor, not even from a neighbor. In fact, she’s pretty sure the other apartments on her floor are vacant, considering she’s never seen anyone go in or out of them. And she’s certainly never told anyone in her class where she lives, so she must just be imagining things.

And then, right as she’s looking at it, it happens again. Harder, this time.

Her breath hitches. An old fear rises in her throat, that childlike instinct that says if she stays very, very still, the danger will pass. All of the hero training she’s received in the past month can’t override it as Ochako freezes, eyes fixed on the door.

A moment passes. Then another. Behind her, music plays quietly from her dingy laptop speakers, but she can barely hear it over the war-drum pounding of blood in her ears.

The door knob turns.

She locked it. She knows she locked it, and she also knows it’s probably just someone trying to get into the wrong apartment, and when they realize their key doesn’t fit the lock, they’ll leave. None of that stops Ochako from bursting into motion. She scrambles out of her desk chair and goes right for the kitchen. Sitting on the counter is her knife block—simple, cheap, dull, but she feels more secure as soon as the biggest one is in her hands. 

When she turns back to the door, she’s half expecting it to be open. To see a shadowy figure standing there, waiting. But there’s nothing. The door knob is still. There aren’t even footsteps in the hallway. 

One minute. Two. Three. Ochako stays still, watching the door with the knife stretched out in front of her, ready to defend. Her mother always called her an impatient child, though, and she was right. Eventually, Ochako breaks, and with a bone-deep shaking, flings open the door.

No one is there. She pokes her head out slowly, cautiously, and looks up and down the hallway, but there’s nothing. 

Ochako spends the rest of the night sitting on her bed with the knife in her hands anyways.

 

(The next day, Ochako nearly falls asleep standing up during training. Her friends notice, and shake her awake, but they don’t say anything. They have their own assumptions, born from the misty purple fog they can all still feel brushing over them. 

A few feet away, Yaomomo notices too, and frowns.)

 

On Sunday, Yaomomo calls and asks if she wants to go to the mall. For stationary, she says, though they can go other places too. 

Ochako wasn’t aware the two of them were on hanging-out-by-themselves level of friendship, but, well, she’s down to her last pen and half her socks are more hole than sock at this point, so she says yes. It’s actually fun, at first. Yaomomo is the kind of person who has a particular taste in stationary, so there’s plenty of time for them to chat and gossip about their classmates. And then she suggests that they go get something to drink. 

They’re halfway through the food court when Yaomomo grabs her arm and whispers, “We’re being followed.”

Ochako stamps down the instinct to turn her head and check. “Are you sure?”

“The same man has been behind us since we went into the athletic shop,” Yaomomo says, tone firm but starting to slide into panic. “He’s stayed outside, but he’s definitely been there.”

“Okay.” She takes a deep breath. “It’s going to be fine. It might be nothing, but we should head for the security guard just in case.”

Both of them know better than to let their anxiety show on their faces. If it is a villain, they don’t want to tip them off. Still, it’s easy to feel how tense Yaomomo is at her side, muscles coiled, ready to fight if need be. Ochako, on the other hand, feels ready to run. 

They duck and weave between the tables, every movement taken at a careful pace. There’s a security guard standing on the other edge of the court that the two of them make a beeline for. 

As they’re about to approach the guard, Ochako can’t help it. She glances over her shoulder, heart between her teeth. She doesn’t see anyone suspicious but—there. A flash of almost familiar brown hair, disappearing into the crowds. 

It’s like one of Bakugou’s explosions going off behind her ribs. Something inside of her—the switch, the instinct, flight to fight, prey to predator—shifts violently. Her fist clenches so tight around her bag that her knuckles go completely white, and then, without thinking about it, Ochako is running in the opposite direction of the guard. Any thought of being subtle goes out the window; she pushes and shoves past people, eyes trained only on that flash of brown that she can barely keep track of. Behind her, Yaomomo calls her name, but she doesn’t respond. 

“Hey!” Ochako yells as she just manages to sidestep a couple with a stroller. “Hey, you!” 

The man doesn’t react, but Ochako’s caught up now, and her anger, her exhaustion, is a beast perched on her tongue, ready to pounce. She’s not letting him go. With her free hand, she reaches out—barely, barely remembering to keep her pinkie up—and grabs his shoulder.

The stranger turns, eyes wide. He looks nothing like the man Ochako saw outside of UA, nothing like the face haunting her shadows both waking and dreaming. There’s a few bags in his hands, none of them from the stores her and Yaomomo visited. “I’m sorry, can I help you?”

Ochako gapes, anger turning to corpse-ash in her mouth. “I—”

“Uraraka,” Yaomomo says, hand curling gently around Ochako’s arm as she finally catches up. She glances between the two of them, and then continues quietly, “That’s not him.”

“Oh,” she says, even though she knows. “I- I’m sorry, sir. I thought you were someone else.”

He looks at her, a mixture of confusion and suspicion dancing across his features, before nodding and walking away. Ochako lets out a breath as the adrenaline pumping through her veins stutters and stops, leaving her hollow. 

“What was that?” Yaomomo guides her to a bench nearby, her class rep instincts clearly kicking in. She sounds more concerned than angry, though. “Why would you go after him like that?”

Ochako hides her trembling hands in her lap and tries to swallow back the tears pricking in her eyes. “I...I don’t know.”

Yaomomo takes a seat next to her, and is quiet for a moment. Then, gently, she puts one hand over Ochako’s. When Ochako looks up, Yaomomo is staring at her with furrowed brows, an almost-understanding in her eyes. “Uraraka, are you alright? You’ve seemed...off, lately. More jumpy.”

“I’m fine,” is the programmed response that falls out of her mouth. Yaomomo frowns, so Ochako sighs. “Really. It just...freaked me out, a little bit. But I’m okay.”

Yaomomo still doesn’t seem convinced, but she nods. “Alright, but if that happens again, please don’t put yourself in danger. We don’t have provisional licenses; we have to leave it to the law, for now.”

“Yeah, yeah, sorry.” Ochako breaks eye contact, turns her head towards the crowds. On the other side of the concourse, a woman guides a little girl past one of the shops, her hand locked around the girl’s thin wrist like a chain on a bird’s cage. The girl tries to stop, wide eyes flitting around as though she’s seeing color for the first time. When something catches her interest, she tugs on her mother’s hand, but the chain holds tight. 

(This is what Ochako knows that the girl doesn’t: the cage is not there to keep her inside. It’s to ward off the hunters prowling, the ravenous shadows, for as long as possible.)

Yaomomo squeezes her hand gently, until she’s got Ochako’s attention again. “Uraraka, I know we haven’t known each other very long, but I wanted to tell you...if you need to talk, or if you need help— ” and this, she emphasizes, that same almost-understanding behind her gaze “—you can come to me. For anything.”

The hand on top of hers is not a chain. That lock has been long broken, Ochako knows. This is something different; an anchor, or a shield. Whatever it is—it doesn’t make the shaking stop, but it does make it retreat, just a bit.

“Thank you,” Ochako says quietly. Yaomomo smiles, a small and sad offering but still genuine, and together they sit, two birds hiding in plain sight.

 

There’s only a minute left before the start of homeroom Monday morning when her phone buzzes. Something in her blood runs cold when she picks it up and sees the message from an unknown number.

??? 7:59 a.m.

How are you?

Ochako frowns, and quickly types an answer.

me 7:59 a.m.

srry but i think u have the wrong number

She’s about to turn her phone on do not disturb and toss it in her bag when it buzzes again, twice.

??? 7:59 a.m.

I don’t think I do.

Seemed like you were doing fine this morning. I like your hair like that. 

Ochako freezes for a moment, and then slowly brings one hand to her hair. All of the girls had agreed to wear braids today, just for fun. Hers was too short for a full one, but she’d put a tiny side braid in anyways. 

me 8:00 a.m.

who is this???

Three dots in a bubble appear, and—

“Uraraka.” Aizawa glares at her from the podium when her head snaps up. “Phone away. Now.”

“Y-yes, sensei,” she says, clicking it off and shoving it in her bag without looking at the screen again. “Sorry.”

(As soon as class is done for the day, she takes her phone out again. There’s one message, and it reads, Just an admirer.

Ochako doesn’t run home, but it’s a near thing.)

 

The thing is: she knows she should tell somebody. The police, probably. Aizawa, definitely. Her parents—well, this isn’t really something she ever wants to tell them, but they should probably know, too. One incident is a mistake, a second is a coincidence, but anything more than that is a pattern, and she knows— 

(Everyone knows someone. Her mother, on the phone in the kitchen as she cooks dinner. Yes, the neighbors’ daughter is gone. It’s such a tragedy. They called the police and the heroes who were patrolling in the area, but they couldn’t find anything.

Yaomomo doesn’t go anywhere alone. Tsuyu holds her hand tight when they walk down the sidewalk, like she’s afraid any second it might not be there anymore. Mina brings a sweatshirt with her when she has to ride the train. Jirou only uses one of her jacks to listen to music if she’s in public.

In the family photos hanging on the Urarakas’ wall, there is a cousin that gets to age thirteen, and no older. No one has said her name in a long time.

Everyone knows someone.)

—she knows patterns are dangerous. If the near break-in hadn’t been enough proof, then surely the text messages are.

Except...Ochako’s a hero in training. And heroes, she’s learned, push through things. Aizawa in the USJ, refusing to blink even when blood pooled over his eyes. Deku, continuing to fight even when most of his fingers were already broken. Her dad, though not a hero in the traditional sense, going to work even when he had the stomach flu. 

(And, a second voice reminds her in the back of her head, women in this field need to learn to push through, because she’s seen the stories. She’s been familiar with the keen awareness of her position that’s burrowed into every pore, every bone, since she was twelve and the rumors about the hero Citrine, about her accusations, about her virtue, broke loose.

This may be the first time this has happened to Ochako, but it won’t be the last.)

Besides, her enrollment in UA is dependent on being able to stay here on her own, hours away from her family. She can’t jeopardize that, especially not when her parents have sacrificed so much  to make this possible for her. It’s not like this stranger has tried to hurt her, anyways. If it starts to get to that point, then she’ll tell somebody. 

With a deep breath, Ochako blocks the unknown number, and gets back to her homework. 

 

She spends the rest of her week looking over her shoulder, both metaphorically and literally. They’re supposed to be thinking about internships and who they want to get placed with, but Ochako’s barely slept, let alone tried to consider an internship. She’s doing everything she can to manage the situation—deleted her schedules off of her phone, goes right home after school instead of hanging out with her friends, drags her nightstand in front of the door for extra protection. 

The one thing she can’t avoid is Friday study session. 

Ochako gets home late that evening. The meeting had gone an hour longer than it was supposed to, mostly because of Kaminari and Mina’s constant conversation detours. Still, it was a fun time. For a little while, the ominous presence that she’s been feeling around her like a dark cloud has faded to the background. 

Then she steps into the lobby of her apartment building.

Something is wrong. She can feel it, deep in her bones. Hackles rising. A scent on the wind. Prey animals are always hardwired to know when they’re being hunted. 

She ascends the three flights of stairs to her floor slowly, checking around every corner before progressing. Every footstep echoes in the empty, dingy space. At each landing, she looks over her shoulder, but no one’s there. 

The door to her hallway screeches as she opens it, hinges crying out, but she forces herself not to flinch as she looks up and down the hallway. Once again, it’s empty, but knowing that doesn’t erase the feeling of eyes on her. The fluorescent lights flicker in and out, humming their own quiet tune as she approaches her door, one careful, quiet step at a time. Every bone in her body is begging her to leave, but this is her home. She has nowhere else to go. 

One deep inhale to steady herself, and then Ochako puts her hand on the doorknob.

She doesn’t have to twist it. The door is already cracked, just slightly, and when she touches it, it pushes inward with a soft groan. Her heart pounds a jackrabbit beat in her chest, but she dashes inside anyways, immediately grabbing for the baseball bat she keeps right by the door. With it in hand, she scans the room. 

None of the lights are on. Through the blinds, the slowly setting sun just barely lights the room, casting long shadows from the few pieces of furniture adorning the space. For once, Ochako is grateful for how little she owns as she looks over every nook and cranny, searching for the monster she’s sure is hiding here. But there’s no one. The apartment is empty.

For a moment, Ochako wonders if she’d imagined it all. If she really, truly, was just paranoid. And then she notices her bed.

Stashed in the corner of the one-room apartment, her bed is usually a mess of tangled sheets and blankets. It takes so long to get to UA that she never bothers wasting time on making it, especially without her mother here to bug her about it. Now, though, it is perfectly made, blanket spread out and folded at the top, pillow fluffed and leaning against the headboard. On top of the comforter is something else, another throw blanket of some kind, but it’s not hers. Ochako steps closer to inspect it and—

The baseball bat slips out of her fingers and thuds once, twice against the floor.

It’s not a blanket. It’s photographs. Dozens of them. Some are glossy rectangles, ready to be scrapbooked; some are printed on pristine white paper; some are older, wrinkled. There are even a few polaroids mixed in. But every single one of them shares something in common.

They’re all of her.

Walking to school. On the train. Picking up groceries. At the mall. In the stands of the sports festival, after her fight, after she was out of sight of the televised cameras. They go back two weeks, and they cover almost everywhere she’s been that whole time. There are even a few of her on UA’s campus, angled from above, like they were taken from one of the rooftops next to the school. This whole time, that paranoia that’s been following her hasn’t been a bad feeling. It’s been a reality.

Ochako turns on her heel and runs.

 

She stumbles down the stairs, taking them two out a time, and out onto the sidewalk. There’s enough people out for the dinner rush that has to dodge between, giving half-stuttered apologies when she accidentally pushes someone, but she can’t stop. Not when she can feel those eyes on her still. 

After a minute, she catches sight of a small cafe on the corner and ducks inside. There are a few people sitting around, snacking and having conversations, but she doesn’t slow down. Instead, she goes for the bathroom at the back of the cafe. 

It’s a single stall. Ochako slams the door shut behind her, locks it, and for the first time since she entered her apartment building, takes a full breath. In here, no one can see her. No one can take pictures of her. She’s safe. But that safety is dependent on a door that can’t stay shut forever. There isn’t a choice anymore. Someone has to know what’s going on.

Leaning against the wall facing the door, Ochako unlocks her phone and goes right to the contact list. At the top is Aizawa. He gave everyone in Class 1A his phone number at the beginning of the year and said it was for emergencies only—and this is an emergency. 

When she goes to press the call button, though, she hesitates.

(A few weeks ago, Mineta snuck into the girls’ locker room and snapped a picture of Yaomomo in her underwear. They’d gone right to Aizawa, expecting an expulsion. He sighed and gave Mineta two weeks of detention. 

The next time Mineta tried to glimpse up one of their skirts, Tsuyu tripped him, and nobody bothered saying anything about it.)

Ochako bites her lip and keeps scrolling down.

There’s another number, further down in her contacts. This one was also added at the beginning of the year, but it wasn’t given to the whole class. Only the girls. She’s never used it before, but if there’s anybody who can help her right now…

The phone’s ringing echoes off the bathroom walls. Her leg bounces rapidly, practically vibrating, as she prays. When the call connects, she has to keep herself from sobbing in relief. 

“Hello?”

“Midnight-sensei.” Her voice shakes. “It’s—it’s Uraraka.”

Midnight doesn’t hesitate. “What’s wrong?”

“Somebody, um, somebody broke into my apartment.” Ochako forces herself to take a breath and ignore the hot tears welling up in her eyes. Even though she’s alone, she drops into a whisper. “I think—I think he’s been following me for awhile.”

There’s a moment of silence, and then a soft curse. A rustling of clothes, movement. “Uraraka, where are you? Are you safe?”

“A- a bathroom,” she says. “I’m sorry, I’m not sure which cafe, I was running too fast but it’s—it’s close to my apartment.”

Someone else on the other line says something, but it’s too muffled for her to hear. “Stay put,” Midnight says, voice edged with steel, “and don’t hang up. We’re on our way. Just keep breathing, kiddo. It’s gonna be okay.”

Ochako doesn’t reply. She doesn’t ask who “we” is. She doesn’t ask how long it will take them to get here. She just nods as the tears begin to spill and drop, one by one, onto the dirty tile.

 

Time passes in that strange, hazy way it does when reality feels two steps away: an eternity and a lightning strike wrapped up in one. All Ochako knows is that one moment she’s choking on sobs and trying to listen to scratchy reassurances and the next, there’s a knock on the bathroom door and a, “Uraraka. It’s Midnight. We’re here. Can you open the door for me please?”

She doesn’t hesitate, just yanks the door open and flings herself at the heroine. Midnight lets out a surprised oomph , but wraps her arms around Ochako anyways. 

“Hey, hey, you’re safe now, okay?” she whispers to Ochako, hands gently rubbing small circles on her shoulder blades. “We’ve got you. I’ve got you.”

All at once, Ochako remembers that leaving the bathroom means being back in the line of sight. She pulls back just a bit, enough to look frantically around the now nearly empty cafe. “Wh- where is he? Did he find m—”

“No, no, honey, I checked around the entire cafe before coming in. He’s not here. But your Aizawa-sensei is out looking for him, alright? And the police are on their way. It’s over. It’s all over now.”

The words don’t quite sink in, at first. Even though it’s only been a couple of weeks, it feels like she’s had these iron jaws clamped around her heart forever. She takes a shallow breath, trying to focus on the warmth of her teacher’s hand pressed against her back, and then a deeper one. Slowly, slowly, it’s all over now makes its way around the iron. Begins to pry it loose. 

She’s safe.

Ochako turns back to Midnight and cries long past when the sirens arrive.

 

They spend hours in the police station. Midnight’s by her side the entire time, even (especially) while Tsukauchi takes her statement. So is Present Mic, who’d stood guard at the cafe doors while Midnight calmed Ochako down. 

Aizawa shows up after the statement. He doesn’t say anything as he approaches, just nods at Midnight and then takes a seat next to Ochako. Without looking at her, he asks quietly, “How long has this been going on?”

“Since—um. Since after the sports festival, sensei.”

He stiffens, eyebrows drawn tight, jaw clenched even tighter. Secondhand experience has taught Ochako what her teacher’s anger looks like, but this is something beyond that. “And you didn’t—” Aizawa starts, voiced strained, but then stops. After a breath, he seems to change direction. “We caught him. They’re interrogating him right now, but his bag—he was carrying evidence. Combined with the security tapes around your neighborhood and UA, it shouldn’t be hard to put him away for awhile.” He glances at Ochako, expression unreadable. “Call your parents, Uraraka. Let them know that you’re safe.” 

Safe. Not okay. On the surface, a small difference. Beneath, a chasm. Ochako watches as he gets up and walks away, and then she turns to Midnight.

“Is he mad at me?” She doesn’t mean for it to be, but it’s small. Childlike. Her own voice makes her cringe inside. 

“Sweetheart, no,” Midnight says, lips pursed, leaning over to put her hand on Ochako’s shoulder. “No, he’s not angry at you.” Her eyes flicker in the direction that Aizawa’s gone. “Someone else, maybe, but never you. Okay?”

“Okay,” she repeats, even though deep down, it doesn’t feel true. “Okay.”

 

“Alright, kid, welcome home.” 

Ochako nearly drops her duffel bag on the floor as she looks around, jaw hanging. Midnight’s apartment is beautiful. Wide open space, floor-to-ceiling windows around the living room, classy decorations. It’s not purely black and red like she’d expected; instead it’s mostly neutral tones with pops of colors here and there. “Wow.” 

“I know, right?” She winks at Ochako. “Advertisements and sponsorships are a pain, but they sure do pay.”

“Y-yeah,” Ochako says, still somewhat in shock. With a shake of her head, she brings herself (mostly) out of it. “Thank you again, sensei. You don’t know how much this means to me, and—”

Midnight waves a hand lazily. “Quit offering to pay rent. And you know, you can just call me Kayama here. No need for formalities.” 

Ochako nods, even though just the thought of not addressing her teacher the proper way makes her heart skip a beat. Honestly, anything Midnight says right now, Ochako will go along with. She owes her teacher. Big time. 

When her parents heard what happened, they took a train down to Musutafu right away. Aizawa pulled some strings and got UA to cover the cost of their tickets and a pair of hotel rooms, luckily, but their thoughts were clear: Ochako living alone was no longer an option. And if she wasn’t able to live alone, well—bye bye, hero dreams. 

Yeah. Ochako spent a not insignificant amount of time crying in the hotel shower at that thought. 

Then, ever her savior, Midnight stepped in and offered a different solution. Something involving temporary wardship granted by UA, blah blah, lot of legal jumbo. But that’s how she ended up here, moving into her teacher’s guest room in one of the most beautiful, expensive apartments she’d ever stepped foot in.

(An expensive apartment with an expensive security system. Midnight went through all of it in depth with her. There’s a special ID to swipe just to get into the lobby without being buzzed in. All of the windows are bullet-proof and tinted on the outside. The door has three different manual locks in addition to its electronic system. It might not hold out a powerful villain, her teacher explained, but it will keep the rest of the creeps at bay.)

“Your room’s down that hallway, second door on the right.” Midnight starts back towards the door. “I’m gonna go pick up our food. Aizawa should be here in a couple minutes with the rest of your stuff.” Before she closes the door, she smiles warmly over her shoulder. “And Ochako? Make yourself at home. Please.”

The door clicks shut behind her, the only sign of its electronic lock the quiet whirring of the mechanism sliding into place. Ochako doesn’t release her breath until it finishes. Only people with the passcode or an incredibly strong Quirk are getting through that door. 

She’s safe. She’s safe.

The guest room is just as shocking as the rest of the apartment. Some people probably wouldn’t think that way; it’s not overly big and it’s a bit sparse, but there’s a full sized bed, a closet, and a desk in here. Just sitting here, spare furniture for other people to use. 

Ochako sets her duffel bag on the floor by the bed, and then pats her hand on the blankets. Soft. Incredibly so. She’s not even sure how—

Through the open door, in the living room, there is the unmistakable sound of the front door opening. 

Her first reaction is to reach for her baseball bat, but it’s not there. Confiscated as potential evidence, though she would think her own fingerprints would mask her stalker’s. Panic rises in her throat, but she forces herself to breathe. Right. Midnight said Aizawa would be coming. Not like that’s any less scary. 

Ochako walks out slowly, hands tucked into fists, just in case. But her assumption was right. Right by the meticulous leather sofa, Aizawa is setting down her box of schoolbooks and random knickknacks like it’s full of porcelain. When he straightens up, he sees her right away. 

“Uraraka.” That expression from the police station is gone, hasn’t returned since, but there’s a line of stiffness to his shoulders that sets Ochako on edge. “How are you settling in?”

“Um,” she scratches the back of her head, averting her eyes to the floor, “I’m doing okay. How are you, sensei?”

“Fine,” he says, sounding about as truthful as she did. There’s a moment where she thinks he’s about to turn and walk out of the apartment, but then he takes a deep breath and looks her right in the eyes. “I need to apologize to you, Uraraka.”

“Sen—”

He holds up a hand, cutting of her shocked protests before they can even begin. “No. Let me say this. You have been my student for almost two months now. In that time, I should’ve been building trust with you and the rest of your class, so you would feel comfortable enough to tell me when you’re in danger. Somehow, I have neglected to do this, and this is my fault and my fault alone. And for that, I’m sorry.”

“No, sensei, I should’ve told you,” Ochako says, shaking her head. “It’s my fault, I was just being—”

“You’re a sensible girl, Uraraka. I don’t believe that you would make a decision about something without thinking about it first. Which means you had your reasons for not telling me.” His brow furrows, his eyes dark. “I think I know why, and I promise you: I will do better. And if you choose to come to me, I will believe you.”

Coal hot tears prick at her eyes. Ochako blinks a few times, trying to keep them back, and all she can get out of her mouth is a meager, “O-okay.”

He nods solemnly, turning back towards the door. Finally, Ochako manages to find more words to get around the aching hope in her chest: “Thank you, sensei.”

Aizawa stops. With the barest hint of a smile, he says, “No need for thanks.” 

Before she can reply, the door swings open again, and in walks Midnight, three plastic bags hanging off of her arm. “Got the food! Oh—hey Shouta! Glad you finally made it, slowpoke. Go grab the paper towels. Uraraka, a hand?”

“Yes, sensei!” 

(As she floats the bags over to the table, as Midnight cracks jokes and soda cans, as Aizawa eats quietly but every once in a while takes a jab at Midnight that makes all three of them laugh, as they eat together, the first pinks of sunset beginning to fall over them, Ochako thinks maybe the distance between safe and okay is beginning to close.)