Ochako sits at Ryuuko and Rumi’s dinner table, casting furtive glances in their direction, trying to not outright stare . She’s eating too fast, a bad habit of hers when she’s nervous. And she is nervous - being invited to the house of her mentor and employer is no unimportant feat. Officially, this is a casual get-together to celebrate their success assisting in the infiltration of Overhaul’s underground mafia base, but Ochako suspects that more is afoot. She’s uncomfortably aware of being scrutinized, of being asked about school and her plans for the future, of how her every action could count towards or against a permanent position in Ryuuko’s hero agency. Ochako’s attached enough to Ryuuko’s hero philosophies to seriously consider accepting if she were offered such an opportunity after graduation. Plus, Ochako’s quirk works well with Ryuuko’s; she’d be a valuable addition to the team.
To Ochako’s left are Nejire and Yuuyu, both Ochako’s seniors and thus another source of anxiety. Ochako knows Nejire fairly well at this point and knows how to behave around her for the most part, though she’s still often unpredictable and some of her stunts can throw Ochako for a loop (such as all the times Nejire’s asked Ochako to make her float so Tsuyu can grab Neijire with her tongue and fly Nejire around like some kind of kite, Nejire flapping her limbs all the while - fun, Ochako must admit, but she considers herself too polite to ever attempt in public ).
Nejire’s made it clear that Yuuyu’s her best friend (on top of stating it loudly and frankly in her characteristically disarming manner, Nejire has been all over Yuya since they arrived, hugging Yuuyu’s arm, burying her face in Yuuyu’s hair, even sitting on Yuuyu’s lap - all gestures that Ochako can only interpret as intensely intimate; they must be childhood besties or something of the like), but that’s about all Ochako knows about Yuuyu, although she’s been friendly and calm thus far, only losing her composure briefly when Neijire wrapped her hair around her neck like a long feathered boa and started prancing around the living room, leading Yuuyu to squeal excitedly and call her adorable; hugging ensued, which Ochako smiled at politely from a distance, uncertain what to make of it but sure it was a commonplace occurrence since neither Ryuuko nor Rumi appeared at all surprised.
To Ochako’s right is Tsuyu, someone Ochako can relax and be herself around at least - Ochako considers Tsuyu to be her closest friend -, but Ochako’s also been wrestling for the last couple of months with the possibility of being infatuated with Tsuyu - romantically infatuated -, so being seated next to Tsuyu is a mixed blessing in this situation, one Ochako is trying desperately to not ponder right now. She’s in no state to add agonizing over potential lesbianism to her list of active worries.
There’s another important player in today’s function, one Ochako could not in her wildest dreams have anticipated. Ryuuko’s never discussed her living arrangements around Ochako, so when Ochako was invited over, she just assumed Ryuuko lived alone and there’d be no one new to meet (besides Yuuyu, but Ochako had at least heard of her from Nejire). When Ochako found herself being welcomed into Ryuuko’s house by Rumi Usagiyama, also known as the Rabbit Hero: Miruko, Ochako entered a state of bona fide shock. She’s still shocked, although managing to mask it. Being in the presence of two of Japan’s top heroes - Japan’s top female heroes - is nothing short of an honor.
Of course, there’s another reason for Ochako’s nerves, a reason she resists bringing to the forefront of her thoughts but nonetheless acknowledges the existence of, looming in the periphery of her vision like an unaccounted for shadow. Each time she glaces frightfully at Ryuuko and Rumi, seated opposite to her, her heart swells with guilty hope.
Ryuuko and Rumi are housemates, Ochako’s figured out that much. She’s only seen the living room and kitchen, but she imagines that there must be at least two bedrooms in the building, one for each occupant. They probably live together because splitting the rent is cheaper and this is a nice place in a nice part of the city. They also appear to be friends - enjoy each other’s company, know and respect each other’s boundaries -, so that could be an incentive. As much as Ochako wants to be satisfied with this hypothesis, however, there’s more it can’t account for.
First of all, there’s how Ryuuko and Rumi address each other. They use each other’s given names, which isn’t unusual if they’re close friends, but then there’s the pet names.
“Dear,” Ryuuko says occasionally, clearly referring to Rumi. “Yes , dear?” Rumi answers, a teasing tilt in her tone and a pleased smirk on her face. Is this just friendly banter? Ochako thinks so, until Ryuuko says, in a soft, affectionate voice, “sweetheart .” In that moment, Ochako’s breath hitches and her eyes widen, though she manages to look away from Ryuuko and Rumi. As such, Ochako does not see Rumi rub her cheek, along with her fluffy rabbit ear, against Ryuuko’s neck and Ryuuko respond by ruffling Rumi’s hair. Ochako does, however, hear Rumi whisper, “oh, don’t get sappy around the kids.”
Sweetheart. Sappy. The kids.
Ochako knows her face is bright red. The hand holding her chopsticks is also shaking. She is suffering, trying to digest this conflicting development, until Tsuyu places a soothing hand on Ochako’s shoulder and all the tension drains from her body. She breathes - in, out - and then looks at Tsuyu, smiling reassuringly. Tsuyu nods and does not press for an explanation, which Ochako appreciates. What dream of domestic bliss has Ochako just glimpsed? She forces herself to dismiss it.
Now Nejire assumes her usual role as runaway train during group conversations, rambling about any number of things, following a logic clear only to her. She has the most to say about their recent mission, being endowed with a photographic memory and a near perfect recollection of just about her entire life. She remembers more about Ochako during that time than Ochako herself and hasn’t hesitated to describe it several times already, which both embarrasses and heartens Ochako, since Nejire’s blunt honesty convinces Ochako that all the compliments Nejire includes must be genuine and not just exaggerations to make Ochako feel better about herself.
Nejire pauses each time Yuuyu touches her shoulder, turning with an open mouth to accept the food at the end of Yuuyu’s chopsticks. Nejire chews happily, rocking in her seat all the while. Never a still moment with her. Yuuyu seems to enjoy making sure Nejire doesn’t forget to eat. What a good friend, Ochako thinks.
Rumi’s best suited to contribute to Nejire’s spiels, asking questions and supplying information based on what she knows, Ochako assumes, from Ryuuko. Of what Ochako’s seen, Rumi’s louder and more talkative than Ryuuko, although she seems to possess a sixth sense that alerts her, without fail, whenever Ryuuko wants to speak, and Rumi respectfully quiets down to let her. Their dynamics, Ochako must admit, remind her a little of Nejire and Yuuyu. Maybe this is the secret to a long and loving friendship.
Ochako, of course, can’t help comparing and contrasting against her own relationship with Tsuyu. Do they also encourage each other’s passions? Are they good at guessing what the other is feeling, what the other wants? Do they hold hands and hug and call each other personalized pet names (perhaps not quite as intimate as Ryuuko and Rumi, but special nonetheless)?
Ochako’s awed to realize that the answer to all of those questions is a loud, confident yes .
Ochako glances at Tsuyu. Tsuyu’s spoken little thus far but appears content just to listen. She’s rocking like Nejire and the one thing Ochako wants most in the world right now is to gather Tsuyu into her arms and rock with her. They’ve rocked together before and it’s always an intimate occasion, a testament to how deeply Tsuyu trusts and feels comfortable around Ochako. As a general rule, Tsuyu isn’t shy - or even self-conscious - about stimming in public, but she only stims with Ochako. She’s told Ochako this. Ochako has a special place in her best friend’s world.
If only Ochako had some way of sharing her feelings with Tsuyu - her real feelings. Maybe Tsuyu would understand.
“You’re being awfully quiet, Uravity!” Rumi exclaims unexpectedly. She addresses all of the students by their hero names but Ochako’s still startled to hear it - well, she’s startled to be addressed at all.
“Ryuuko here tells me you’re curious about what it takes to be a pro hero. Well, go ahead - ask us anything!” Rumi continues in a more levelheaded voice, puffing out her chest proudly and, Ochako sees through the corner of her eye, wrapping an arm around Ryuuko’s back.
No. That’s not quite right. Rumi’s arm is around Ryuuko’s waist .
“H, h, how did you two meet?” Ochako blurts out clumsily, trying and failing to look at either of them directly. She settles for staring at her plate, which has been empty for a while.
“Through the hero rankings, of course!” Rumi answers. “Now people have gotten used to seeing two women among Japan’s top heroes, but it hasn’t always been that way! We made it around the same time, Ryuuko first, but then I appeared higher than her, so naturally people kept trying to pit us against each other!”
“Back then, it felt like there was only room for one woman among the top ten,” Ryuuko says. “We didn’t like it, but it seemed like our only option, so we were constantly competing.”
“I moved into Ryuuko’s turf and everything!” Rumi says with a twinge of nostalgia. It’s something they can both laugh about now, even if back then it was quite serious. “Kept showing up wherever she did, aiming to upstage her. I stole villains from right under her nose a few times! Of course, I took an unfair amount of credit for those, but the masses were loving it and my popularity was soaring. I was only thinking about staying ahead of Ryuuko.”
“That’s how it was for a while. Until…”
Ryuuko looks at Rumi expectantly, a smattering of blush on her cheeks.
“I got hurt!” Rumi declares dramatically. “Luckily, none of those media hounds saw it, but Ryuuko sure did! She made sure I was back on my feet in no one. Normally, I don’t work with no one, but that one time I worked with her. We got the bad guys, too.”
Ochako nods, relief flooding her mind even as despair wafts right beneath it, like heat she can only temporarily relieve by fanning her face. If this is the end of the story, then she’s in the clear, she’s survived and has no reason to worry anymore. But it isn’t the end of the story.
“After that, the media got tired of pitting us against each other,” Ryuuko elaborates. “Instead, they tried to package us as a duo. Rumi had moved back to where she operated from before, so we weren’t seeing much of each other, except at hero-related events. But that’s what the media does when it sees two women in a room full of men: package them together. We tried resisting that, too, gave each other the cold shoulder, but then…”
“Then you fell in love!” Nejire exclaims, too excited to remain silent a second longer. She’s beaming and flapping one of her arms in the air. The other, Ochako notices, is squeezing Yuuyu’s hand under the table - but it doesn’t look like they’re hiding it, which is Ochako’s gut reaction.
Rumi bursts into zealous laughter, slapping her open palm against the table. Startled, Ochako looks up with bewildered terror in her eyes, as if she’s just been pushed onto a wooden raft and the raft out to sea, no idea when she’ll touch land again, if ever. Inside her chest, her heart beats as mercilessly as when she succumbs to a panic attack.
“I mean, a whole lot happened before that, but sure - say we just fell in love!” Rumi boasts haughtily, leaning forward with a conspiring smirk.
Ryuuko’s blushing brightly now but looks more relieved than embarrassed as she places a hand over Rumi’s. The gesture is unmistakable. Ryuuko and Rumi live together because they’re dating .
Ochako, however, still has questions - in fact, she’s starting to realize that she might always have questions. But maybe that isn’t such a bad thing.
“You’re lesbians ?” Ochako yells, still half expecting Rumi to shake her head and explain that by love she means platonic love . Ochako reminds herself that friends say they love each other all the time. Tsuyu and Ochako do it. Even Nejire and Yuuyu.
But Rumi does not shrink away from Ochako’s question, does not frown or shake her head or give any kind of sign that she’s displeased or even surprised by it. If anything, her smile widens.
And there’s a glint in Rumi’s eyes, like she’s just caught Ochako in a trap and can finally swoop in. Fleetingly, Ochako has to consider the possibility that she’s been set up. Is this a prank? Has everyone somehow figured out her feelings for Tsuyu and is now playing a mean prank on her?
Water threatens to squeeze through the corners of Ochako’s eyes, but she’s saved by the gentle way Ryuuko’s watching her. It reminds Ochako of her mother. It has the same reassuring effect on her, as if something that has always been beyond her control is finally being taken out of her hands and she no longer has to worry about it. This isn’t the first time Ryuuko’s had such an effect on her.
“We’re all lesbians here!” Rumi declares, thumping her chest proudly. Ryuuko nods in confirmation.
“W, what?” Ochako stammers, covering her mouth in embarrassment and turning, bug-eyed, towards Nejire and Yuuyu. “Hadou - Haya -?”
Nejire looks genuinely surprised.
“I told you Yuuyu and I are dating,” she says simply.
Ochako tries racking her brain, but she can’t recall this ever happening, and it’s not the sort of thing she’d just forget .
“You said Haya is your best friend, not that you’re dating,” Ochako says.
“Ohh,” Nejire says thoughtfully, only to smile obliviously again. “Well, those are almost the same, anyway!”
Yuuyu, however, clearly perceives how this misunderstanding has affected Ochako and offers a consoling smile.
“I always feel like it’s kind of obvious, so I’m not in the habit of telling people outright,” Yuuyu explains. In retrospect, Ochako can clearly see that this is true. This whole evening, they’ve been exchanging loving gestures, nurturing their romance in everyday life, without worry or fear. Their relationship has never been a secret. It’s only Ochako that failed to perceive it - because she did not want to perceive it.
“If I’d realized how important it was, I definitely would’ve said something,” Yuuyu adds.
Ochako feels tears forming in her eyes again but this time she makes no effort to restrain them. Yuuyu’s words have forced Ochako to confront the hope and fear and confusion that’s festered within her heart for years, but most intensely during the last couple of months, since she became aware of the intensity of her feelings for Tsuyu. Yuuyu sees the hunger that has plagued Ochako’s life: a hunger to see, know, and be recognized by fellow lesbians.
Fellow lesbians. The words are still too sweet on Ochako’s tongue, an overflow of flavor that makes her cough and shudder, but she understands now the magnitude of them. It’s true. Only by watching someone else live as she wishes to can she finally accept that desire.
“I… I,” Ochako mumbles, but while she’s struggling to figure out what else to say Nejire turns to give Yuuyu a peck on the mouth and Ochako’s mouth clamps closed. Flustered, she looks away. Her eyes land on Tsuyu.
Tsuyu’s watching Ochako intently, curiously. She’s stopped rocking but Ochako can feel her leg bouncing under the table. Ochako has to clench her hands into fists to resist embracing Tsuyu.
“Y… you, too, huh?” Ochako says, soft and cautious, as if any louder would make glass shatter and shower down on her. She’s afraid of hearing both yes and no, but more so the latter. If Tsuyu says yes, at least Ochako still has a chance. Maybe Tsuyu could feel the same way.
Tsuyu nods. Then, with visible effort, reaches for Ochako’s hand under the table.
This time, there’s no need for Ochako to ask any questions. She just lets herself squeeze back and smile, happiness carrying her mind so high it’s like she’s floating. It takes her a moment to realize she actually is floating - Tsuyu, too, since they’re holding hands. It’s a slow, gentle floating, though. Ochako likes it and lets it be, like her heart finally at peace in her chest.
Only one thing left for Ochako to do.
“I. I’m. I like girls!” Ochako declares - a nervous squeak, but with pride and certainty. Tsuyu wraps her arms around Ochako’s neck and their foreheads touch. They’re so close to kissing but Ochako doesn’t feel ready for that yet and Tsuyu respects this. They can go slow. For now, kissing can be something to look forward to.
“Woohoo! Yeah!” Rumi cheers, pumping her fist in the air and then clapping loudly. She looks like she’s just officiated a wedding - which, although far from what’s actually happening, is a suitable metaphor. It appears that Ryuuko and Rumi really have orchestrated this whole thing, though, judging by the triumph twinkling in Tsuyu’s eyes, Tsuyu also had a hand in it. Tsuyu, too, wanted to know if it was safe to share her feelings with Ochako.
Nejire’s right: your best friend can be your girlfriend.
“All we wanted was to give you a space where you could feel safe expressing yourself, if you chose to,” Ryuuko says. Although Ochako’s used to Ryuuko looking out for her, she’s surprised by the fierce protectiveness in Ryuuko’s voice. It occurs to Ochako that there are multiple reasons for Ryuuko electing to employ Ochako, not all of them related to her hero training.
From the bottom of Ochako’s heart, she’s grateful - to all of them.