A cold breeze blows through the empty park, threatening to steal away the ribbon that rests on Shouto's open palm.

He closes his hand, heart skipping for a short moment. The wind whistles against his ear; it masks the low creaking of the swings, that move as if a ghost sat on them and rocked gently. Their shadows are dark, deep against the orange glow of the street lights, stretching on the ground until they touch the tip of Shouto's feet.

Had the girl played on these swings once? She'd only been six; he often saw kids that age playing around in the park, laughing and challenging each other to see who could swing higher. Maybe she'd played here once, or in any of the other parks in Musutafu, and the dark blue ribbon she'd worn on her braids would have swayed in the breeze like it does now, held tightly between Shouto's fingers.

Silk digs into Shouto's palm along with his nails. He tilts his head back, gaze lifting upwards, resuming the position he's been in for the past hour.

Maybe, just like the midnight sky, her ribbon would have fooled people into thinking it was black. The light, the shadows—they would shift and trick the untrained eye, but if one were to look closer, they would notice the hint of blue against her hair.

Dark as the night sky. Dark as the ocean.

Isn't that what brought him here in the first place?

"Todoroki-kun?" a familiar voice calls out.

Shouto doesn't move his eyes away from the sky, even when the spot beside him on the bench is taken.

"Midoriya," he says.

"I saw your message." Midoriya shifts in place, arm rubbing lightly against Shouto's. "Is everything alright?"

What do you mean by everything? Shouto wants to ask. Objectively speaking, he's alright—his injuries from the fight with the villain that afternoon have been healed. His health is good. He has a warm futon waiting for him at home.

And yet, he can't sleep. There's a knot at the back of his throat, a cold pressure in his chest, and he doesn't even know why he messaged Midoriya in the first place when there'd been no guarantee that he'd be awake or that he would come.

He'd only felt like being alone was too much at the time.

"I don't know," Shouto answers truthfully.

Silence stretches between them. Shouto knows Midoriya is staring at him, but he continues to look at the sky. It's so wide, the immensity of it could swallow him whole—so why does it feel so hard to breathe?

"That ribbon," Midoriya suddenly says. His voice is unusually quiet, as if Shouto were a kitten he's trying not to scare away. "Is it..."

His unfinished question hangs in the air. Shouto forces himself to look at him, only to find his eyes are fixed on Shouto's right hand, where he's been twining the ribbon around his fingers.

Raising his hand, Shouto turns his palm up, letting the fabric stretch over the skin while keeping it in place with his thumb. Then he answers, "It's from the girl who died today. Her parents let me keep it."

He can still see it, blue against blonde, blue against pale fingers as she approached him at the fight scene—a civilian gone unnoticed, hiding during the fight, wanting to thank the hero who'd saved them by giving him a token. A gift.

And then the villain had risen, not defeated but only momentarily slowed down.

The ribbon had stayed between Shouto's fingers, but the girl had slipped through them like water.

"Todoroki-kun, I—"

"The color," Shouto cuts Midoriya off. His mind is elsewhere, torn between memories of that afternoon and others from a long time ago. "It reminded me of the night sky."

He looks up once more, holding the ribbon up against the sky. If it weren't for the artificial lights of the street, it would've blended in perfectly.

"When I saw this, I remembered a story my mother used to tell me before she went to the hospital."

Midoriya's hand rests on Shouto's wrist when he lowers his arm, a soft but encouraging touch for which Shouto is thankful. Perhaps this is what had driven him to ask Midoriya to come here—the need for someone to keep him afloat, to hold him together and keep him from drowning.

Even the wind seems to have quieted down when Shouto starts recounting the words his mother had shared with him many times before, words that kept playing over and over in his mind ever since that afternoon.

"She used to say the night sky was blue because it was like an ocean. Only, except of water, it was made of the tears of heroes who couldn't save someone."

Midoriya's sharp intake of breath reaches Shouto's ears, but he continues as if he hasn't heard it.

"The heroes would get sad," he says. He chokes on his own voice; his eyes are beginning to sting. He blinks rapidly, and the stars that litter the sky turn blurry. "They'd get sad, and they would cry, and those tears would gather to become the waves.

"I asked her once—if the sky was really blue, then why did it look almost black?"

The ribbon in his hand. Would the girl have smiled like his mother had, if someone told her it looked black, too?

"She said that was because the ocean was agitated. Because heroes never stopped trying to save others, even if their tears over the ones they lost continued with them."

The ocean, when in a storm, turns a blue so dark it looks black.

Shouto hadn't understood what his mother had meant then, but now, as the storm seems to rage inside him, he gets it. He looks at the night sky and he can feel the waves, crashing and pleading to be let out; it takes all the strength he has to keep his head over the water.

He doesn't realize how tight he's holding the ribbon until Midoriya gently pries his fingers open.

"You once told me even heroes must cry," Midoriya says. He peels away the ribbon where Shouto's nails have dug it into his skin; cradles the hand that holds it. "So it's okay to let go, Todoroki-kun."

A spot on the crumpled fabric turns darker. Then another, and another, and another.

The tears are silent at first, until they steal the air from Shouto's lungs and the first sob rakes through his body. Every pull of oxygen seems to tear through him with pain, and Shouto's vision is so blurry he can't make out anything in front of him. He can feel the ribbon in his hand, the soft touch of dampened silk, and though he can't see it anymore he can imagine it—pretty blue tied in a girl's hair, hanging from a girl's hands; pretty blue as dark as the sky, as dark as the ocean; pretty blue that was left behind like the ghost of a smile on unmoving lips.

Shouto cries and gasps through his grief, and all the while Midoriya holds him. One of his hands still grips Shouto's, while the other pulls his head into his chest and lets him soak his jacket with his tears, his touch a steady reminder to ground Shouto whenever the waves threaten to keep him down.

And this, Shouto realizes, this is why Midoriya is here—not to keep him from sinking into the ocean as he'd first thought, but to make sure he has an anchor to pull himself back out.

Shouto loses track of how long they stay like that. As he lets himself feel everything he's been bottling up since that afternoon, the pressure subsides, his mind clearing from rebelling thoughts to a reluctant acceptance. Breathing becomes easier, sobbing hurts less. Slowly, tension bleeds from his limbs and is replaced by exhaustion until he stills, the cold night air running freely once again through his lungs.

His tears aren't completely dry yet when he pulls back, meeting Midoriya's understanding gaze.

Midoriya squeezes his hand once more before letting go. He settles back on the bench, looking up at the sky. Shouto does the same, blinking against the glow of the stars—it could be his impression, but there seems to be more of them than before.

For a few minutes, they stay in silence, the only sounds coming from the wind moving the swings and the occasional passing of a car on the far street. Shouto plays with the ribbon gently, carefully—smoothing the fabric over his bruised skin.

"That was a beautiful story," Midoriya finally says.

"It's a sad story," Shouto retorts, wincing at the scraping on his throat. He wipes away a tear that clings to his eyelashes; the dried paths on his cheeks have turned stiff and cold.

"Just because it's sad it doesn't mean it can't be beautiful." Midoriya stuffs his hands into the pockets of his jacket, leaning forward with his neck craned towards the sky. "A lot of sad things are part of our lives, but it doesn't have to be all there is to it. You said the sky was the ocean, right? The tears?"

Shouto slowly nods, unable to see what Midoriya is getting at.

"Then what are the stars?"

The question takes him by surprise. Shouto had never wondered about that before, nor had his mother mentioned the stars in any of her stories. He looks at the sky, searching for an answer and finding none; when he looks back at Midoriya, there's a wistful expression on his face.

"I think the stars can be their smiles," Midoriya says. "The smiles of the people we couldn't save, telling us they still believe in us."

There's such certainty in Midoriya's voice that Shouto finds it hard to ignore. He searches the sky once again, ignoring the heavy call of the ocean-deep blue and looking for the bright shine of the stars.

Are you there? he wants to ask. It's such a silly thought—they're just stories, he knows that—but there's comfort in imagining that the girl is up there, listening to him. If you are, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I couldn't protect you.

It might just be his imagination, but the next gust of wind seems to resemble a laugh, playfully tugging at the ribbon in his hand.

I promise I'll work hard, Shouto thinks. To continue being a good hero. To save others, even if I couldn't save you.

The swings continue to creak. The shadows are still deep, the sky still dark, the stars still bright.

There's no answer, but Shouto isn't expecting one anyway.

"Thank you, Midoriya," he says when Midoriya stands up after a while, pulling his jacket closer to his body. "For coming here tonight. And… for everything else."

Midoriya shakes his head slightly. "Are you staying?" he asks.

Shouto nods. "Just a little longer."

"Okay. If you still need anything, if things get—difficult, you can message me again. Or call. Don't worry about waking me up or anything, no matter the time, I—I'm here, if you need to talk."

The cold of the night seems to wane with the warmth behind Midoriya's words, and Shouto nods once again as gratitude fills up his chest. He offers a small smile; it's the most he can manage, but it seems to be enough to make the remains of worry fade from Midoriya's expression.

"See you later, Todoroki-kun."

Shouto watches Midoriya walk away until he disappears off the edge of the park, blending in with the shadows. He'd forgotten to offer his place to stay or ask how Midoriya even got here; hopefully, he'll have a taxi waiting for him. Shouto will apologize when he sees him at the agency tomorrow.

Now, however, he turns his attention once again to the silky piece of fabric he holds. The tears have made it look almost black, but Shouto knows better; when he holds it up, it's the same color as the midnight sky.

Dark blue against blonde hair. A bright star against ocean blue.

He puts the ribbon back in his pocket, still heavy with memories but much easier to carry than it was before.