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The Hard Road

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Chapter 0: Losers Who Give Up

By the time they're 20, two years into what the reality of post-graduation life has turned into a rocky relationship, Katsuki and Ochaco begin to think about breaking up.

Career as a pro hero is no light matter. There are just too many things to think about and too little time for romance. Their patience for each other wears thin as their stress levels at work go up, and after yet another shouting match ensues between them about something that shouldn't even have been cause for a fight at all, they finally call it quits.

Katsuki heatedly yells at Ochaco that he's fucking tired of her shit, which prompts her to spitefully retort that they better just end things if that's how he feels. He strides out of her tiny apartment and slams the door without another word. She doesn't let herself cry until even the echoes of his angry footsteps have disappeared.

Although situated in the Shibuya ward in Tokyo far from the ocean, the agency Ochaco works for is called in by the Chiba police when an artificially induced tsunami devastates a town in the eastern coast of the prefecture. The SOS doesn't come as a surprise; after all, their agency is one of the best in the entire country in the field of civilian rescue.

Uravity is among the heroes sent on the mission to retrieve civilians that have been swept away into the Pacific. It should be simple given the number of their team members with Quirks that do well in water, the rookie Froppy among them, but the villain gang that had caused the tsunami proves difficult to subdue.

Their team is hard-pressed to accomplish the rescue in the midst of a battle, while the ocean is turbulent from attacks of villains and heroes alike. Needless to say, the operation gets messy, and by the time the villains are captured and all civilians have been secured, the pro heroes count multiple injured among their numbers, and Uravity is missing in action.

Uravity had last been seen attempting to levitate a boat full of rescued civilians to safety as the water became unnavigable. The boat had made it to shore, but Uravity was nowhere to be found after that. It's assumed that she had lost consciousness from the effort, fell into the water, and got washed away by the strong current.

A search party is assembled from the heroes on site, and after two futile hours, the team leader decides to call in Ochaco's parents. Tsuyu requests that Katsuki be informed as well.

He receives the call just as he finishes changing out of his hero costume after patrol duty. He almost lets it go to voice mail, disinclined as he is to entertain unknown numbers, but a part of him secretly hopes it's Ochaco and he changes his mind.

They haven't spoken in a month. He's too stubborn to initiate contact and too proud to even admit to himself that he misses her, but whenever his phone rings, his heart pounds wildly in his chest, and he has to suppress his disappointment whenever the caller turns out to be someone else.

He's already chastising himself for his wishful thinking as he slides a finger against his phone screen to take the call. He doesn't expect it to be a representative from Ochaco's agency informing him that she's currently missing in the ocean.

Katsuki arrives at the makeshift outpost in the coastal town half an hour later looking ashen, Kirishima in tow. He stomps straight to the team leader and demands to be included in the search party, but his request is flatly declined. He has little training in rescue, his Quirk is not strong in water, and his emotional state is feared to prevent him from making rational decisions.

He's made to wait in a an adjacent tent, where Ochaco's parents join him almost three hours later. They had made their way immediately after having been informed of the situation, but they live so far away it still took them several hours to travel even by bullet train.

Kirishima sits with them in the tent, keeping an eye on Katsuki, ready to leap into action should he show any sign of going rogue. But he's unexpectedly quiet and compliant.

At the eighth hour from the start of the search, six hours since Katsuki had arrived, he and Ochaco's parents are called into the outpost. The team leader greets them with a solemn face. He regretfully informs them that there has still been no sign of Uravity.

The search will continue for as long as it takes, but it's his duty to let them know that the likelihood of finding her alive is diminishing by the minute. He bows to them deeply. He's truly sorry. Uravity was a fine hero. This incident is regrettable. He speaks as though he has decided that she's gone.

Katsuki loses his fragile mask of composure. The emotions he had fought to keep under the surface explode all at once, and he has a shaking fist clenched around the collar of the team leader before anyone can blink.

Immediately, Kirishima tackles Katsuki to the ground, pinning his arms behind his back. Katsuki thrashes wildly, but Kirishima has activated his Quirk to protect himself from explosions. A litany of insults rain down on Kirishima, but he doesn't waver.

In the background, Ochaco's mother has begun to sob against her husband.

Katsuki continues to writhe on the floor, yelling at Kirishima to get the fuck off him. Let him up! Let him talk to that team leader, he's got something to say! He's fucking useless! They're all fucking useless! Ochaco deserves better than this. She deserves better than fucking losers who would give up on her.

Kirishima feels his stomach jolt when he sees the tears falling freely down Katsuki's face.

It's a little past the twelfth hour of the search operation when Uravity is finally found on a beach several miles from where she had been last seen. She's injured and dehydrated, but alive, and they load her into a chopper bound for the nearest hospital.

It turns out that after falling into the water, Ochaco had managed to lift herself onto a chunk of floating debris, which then got swept away by the raging current. She had hung on to it with the last of her strength until she washed ashore, nauseated and disoriented.

Fearing a villain ambush in her vulnerable state, she had dragged herself to a rock outcrop and used her Quirk to collapse it safely around herself for cover. She fell unconscious while extremely well-hidden, and the search party could not find her until she came to hours later and managed to alert the choppers overhead to her presence.

The hospital is lively with activity for many hours after Ochaco's rescue. The media has picked up the incident, and despite stern warnings from the police and the medical staff, they crowd at the lobby trying to get statements from the heroes involved.

Ochaco's room is beset with visitor after visitor, and it takes a while before she and Katsuki are left by themselves.

After her parents retire to a nearby hotel, Katsuki stays in her hospital room, even though he too is exhausted after almost 24 hours of keeping vigil, first while waiting for news of her rescue and then by her bedside while waiting for a chance to talk. He needs to tell Ochaco something, and he's not leaving her side until he's able to tell her.

Before he can even start talking though, Ochaco is already in the middle of her own speech, tears running down her cheeks.

She loves him! She's sorry for suggesting that they end things! She's sorry that she's been taking out her stress on him! While she was in the ocean, she had prayed hard to all the gods not to let her die without speaking to him again one last time. She was so afraid she wouldn't be able to see him again and tell him that she loves him. She loves him. She doesn't want to break up.

Unable to hold it in, Katsuki feels his tears start to fall too. It's the most he has cried since he was four, but he's beyond caring at this point.

He feels the same. When he thought she was gone, he had almost lost his mind from grief. He doesn't know how he would have coped if she had died and he hadn't been able to tell her he still loves her. He loves her. He's sorry for everything he had said. He's sorry that he's been a fucking asshole to her all this time. He doesn't want to break up either. He's never going to give up on her again.

He leans down onto the bed to kiss her. She hugs him with the arm that isn't attached to the IV drip.

When Katsuki gets home later that night to finally get some rest, he sleeps soundly for the first time in more than a month.