Notes: Victorian era, aged up/adult characters, historical liberties

Warnings: Sexism, slight dark themes

A few things to keep in mind:

-It was taboo for people of different social classes to marry

-The Victorian Era was all about conformity (so: no individuality)

-It was not socially acceptable for a woman to deny a dance request unless she was already promised a dance by another man

-I'm taking liberties here because there are too many rules to take into account

With that said, hope you enjoy your gift, Lorito!


Dance Of The Century

SevenRenny

Ochaco gasped when the maid behind her tightened the corset, squeezing her ribcage. The straps would no doubt leave marks over her skin. She heard the strings stretch and tighten; imagining what stage of assembly her corset was at. Usually, she was the one at the back, helping Ms. Momo into her dress. She couldn't thank the woman and her family enough for the letter that had arrived at her parents' cottage, requesting employment. Ochaco had accepted out of financial desperation, not knowing how wealthy the Yaoyorozu family was. They'd even sent a carriage to pick her up.

Momo lived in an overwhelming mansion, with fourteen bedrooms, seventeen bathrooms, back and front gardens, two large ponds and five fountains, a wine cellar Ochaco only heard of but never saw (she never ventured down there), a massive library, lots (and lots) of dry tea in flower-decorated canisters, butlers, maids, gardeners, cooks, and plenty of work to do.

Determined not to waste this opportunity, Ochaco worked herself to the bone, dusting high and low, giving the expensive pottery extra care, shining the floors and windows, waking Momo in the morning then helping her get dressed, helping set the table, being on standby for anything, doing the laundry, feeding the many dogs the Yaoyorozu family had collected over the years.

Momo was a nice person. Nice, educated, somewhat unaware of her own wealth, and, perhaps, too friendly for her own good, making friends with workers around the building, something most visitors didn't agree with. Momo saw her as a friend instead of a maid, even lending her family enough money so they wouldn't need to cut down on food so much.

The money handouts wouldn't last forever, and Ochaco couldn't relay her parent's life on handouts. So, she risked it for a request: permission to attend a ball. It was a bold move on her part; luckily, Momo was kind enough, and even generous, to help her out, tailoring her old dress to fit her shorter stature, teaching her the rules of social interactions in those events, and even–

"Don't worry about how it goes. You can always try again later," Momo said with a reassuring smile, looping a necklace around Ochaco's neck. "People have parties regularly."

"Thanks," Ochaco managed through her nervousness.

She had a feeling Momo knew she was looking for a man. Ochaco didn't have much faith in that happening. She wasn't exactly of the same social class. No one would risk their reputation or wealth on her. But then, there were kind people, like the Yaoyorozu family. Maybe it was wishful thinking, to hope for a kind man who wouldn't mind lending a hand.

Wishful thinking. She'd have to lower her standards if she wanted to help her family.

"And don't worry about the dowry, either," Momo added. Her massive purple dress swooshed with every thigh movement. "Take a look."

Ochaco saw herself in the human-sized mirror. Her dress: round and long, pink and white with some black. Momo's hand casual came up to fix the rose in Ochaco's hair.

"I… I…" Ochaco's fists tightened, wanting to hug the woman.

Momo took a moment to figure that out and gently hugged her, brushing her fingers through the shorter woman's combed hair.

"Thank you thank you thank you so much!" Ochaco repeated.

This wasn't a regular event. It was probably one of the few Ochaco felt safe enough to visit. People attending parties were usually familiar with each other. They'd have questions. They'd ask which family she came from. She knew no one, that was why a masquerade would at least give her a ground to stand on. Everyone would be a stranger there. Well, mostly everyone. Masks only hid so much.

She heard the clacking hooves slow down and the carriage stopped. She wore elbow-length silk gloves to hide what she assumed was a deformity on her fingertips. Her fingers drummed the pink and black mask on her lap: a cat mask with feathers on the ears and where whiskers would be. Ribbons spilling from the sides were so she could tie them behind her head. Momo put on her own mask: a gold and purple eye mask with feathers on the left.

Ochaco knew Momo had eyes on a particular young man; one who was easily recognized even with a mask thanks to his unusual hair. Ochaco felt bad Momo would put that aside to focus on being her chaperone for the night.

Momo breathed in, held it, and breathed out for confidence. "Okay. Are you ready?"

Ochaco slipped on her mask. She wasn't ready. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm ready!" She couldn't back out, though.

The driver climbed down and held the door open for them.

A few more carriages were parked around the fountain in front of the white mansion, their horses shaking manes and clapping their hooves as they shifted weight from one leg to the other. Women and men in masks greeted each other outside, some with more extravagant masks than others, with larger feathers, peacock tails, ribbons or lines of jewelry and artistic patterns. Some with beaks or split-colored faces or an added crown shape at the top of the eye masks.

From plain masks to animal faces to jester designs; it was so crazy, she might actually blend in.

She swallowed that thought as soon as she followed Momo up the stairs. Music was leaking out of the building. Her nerves were acting up. Groups of people huddled together, already starting conversations before even making it to the ballroom. Half-filled wine glasses balanced on plates being swiftly moved and offered around. Ochaco couldn't stop looking everywhere. Decorative patterns were carved all over the walls, going up and contaminating the ceiling with more complex lines framing the chandeliers.

She accidentally bumped a lady with her shoulder.

"Ah! Sorry!" Ochaco yelped.

The lady glared through her facemask, hiding her mouth with a fan.

Momo hooked an arm around hers to encourage her forward. "It's alright. Let's go." She sounded nervous. but then, there were so many people crammed into one building where air that smelled like damp clothes and old carpets was trapped indoors. Not many windows were open and it was easy to start sweating despite the cool air outside.

The music became louder when they went down the carpeted stairs. An orchestra band consisting of violinists, cellists, along with bass, flute, trumpet players and an accordion performer, all neatly tied with to an orchestrator. Dancers circled the center of the room. Those who didn't dance gathered in one large ring around the dance floor, getting to know one another, guessing who was who. The sheer number of party-goers, combined with the extravagant, shiny dance floor and glass cups and glistening chandeliers, was overwhelming.

"Stay cool… Stay cool…" Ochaco whispered to herself, trying not to pass out over how over-the-top everything was.

"It's okay," Momo assured her, encouraging her forward into the crowd. "No one knows each other, here." – Which meant mistakes were forgiven more easily.

The dancers in the center exchanged partners, holding hands and spinning with slow, numbered steps. In the mess of glittery masks and flowing dresses, she caught a glimpse of white and red hair.

"Hey," she whispered to Momo. "Isn't that the guy you like?" Her words flew out without a filter.

"Oh… I…" Momo was blushing beneath her mask, covering her mouth with her fingers, embarrassed. "Was... it that clear?"

"A tiny bit." Ochaco lessened the blow. "You talk about him a lot," she said, giggling.

His mask was also a dead giveaway: half red, half gold; as if his hair and Heterochromia weren't enough. The girls who got him next when switching partners were visibly eager. They already knew who he was. He didn't seem to care. Or maybe he didn't notice.

At the end of the musical piece, the partners departed for now. The observers clapped. The musicians took a short break. The next round of participants would take a few minutes to assemble. Men already started asking around for dances. The number of women in the room outnumbered the men, Ochaco realized. According to Momo, unless she was already promised a dance by another man, she couldn't decline a dance offer. She didn't understand it. It was a social rule mostly only known by the higher classes.

The Todoroki fella talked with someone with a rabbit mask. Well, tried to. Shoto Todoroki was very popular with the ladies. At the same time, he didn't look interested in people. His friend kept fidgeting, fumbling with his cufflinks nervously. New here, maybe?

A tiny woman in a humongous dress clapped to bring everyone's attention. "Alright! Aaalright! Please a round of applause for our humble musicians." After the mostly-bored clapping, the woman continued, "Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers will be their next performance. Please line up! Ladies to the right. Gentlemen to the left."

The men asking around for dance partners took their temporary partners to the center where they parted to join the gender-segregated lines, facing each other.

Shoto and his rabbit-masked friend stood in the empty space between the dance floor and the observers, not really looking at possible partners at the moment. "I… I don't know what to do," she heard the rabbit-masked one say. "What if I do it wrong and I embarrass her?" Most likely beginner like her.

Shoto took a moment to think of a helpful suggestion. He landed with an unenthusiastic: "Do your best."

She imagined that wasn't as helpful as intended.

Ochaco flinched when a man in a golden jester mask stood in front of her, his hand refixing his bowtie. "Ladies!" He bowed with his hand out to Ochaco. "Shall we have a dance?" His eyes and smirk said he knew what he was doing, proud of himself.

She had a few seconds to question: why her? But then, they'd be switching partners regularly through the waltz, so it probably didn't matter to him. She must've looked stupid, staring at his hand while thinking, before snapping out of it in a panic. "Ah – yes!"

He led her to where the two lines of people stood, taking his place and letting her drift to her own spot. Okay. Just like how Momo taught her. No big deal. There was the sound of a stick tapping wood and the hall quieted.

She was not ready. She was not ready. She forgot everything – this was a bad idea, this was–

The musicians started the session. The sound was so low she almost didn't realize they were playing until she noticed the few lined-up participants begin to circle the other dancers next to them. The music volume escalated and the two lines took long strides to meet in the middle.

Her steps didn't match his. Picking up on her lack of experience, he looked almost smug, even with the fool's mask obscuring most of his face.

"New here, m'lady?" he asked with a smirk. She recognized that look. Was he that Monoma guy who'd stop by the Yaoyorozu estate just to mock the lineage and the property?

Judging by his comment, her unfamiliarity with the ritual was noticeable, then. "Yeah, kinda," she admitted meekly, laughing awkwardly.

His smirk turned into a grimaced when she accidentally kicked his shoe.

"Sorry! Sorry…" She bit her lip. This was not going well.

"N – Not that graceful, eh?" he commented, his eye twitching.

She blushed and looked down in shame. "S-Sorry..."

"I'd stick around and chat but I'm afraid we'll need to depart, right abouuut…" He released her hand to grab the other woman's next door.

This was all too fast. She took the next person's hand a bit late, all too aware people were looking, talking behind fans.

When being passed to another man, she briefly saw Momo in the dance as well. She must've been at the end of the line before they all formed the circle.

So far, Ochaco knew little to nothing of the men she danced with. Some tried to strike up conversation, but it mostly consisted of a guessing game of trying to find out if she was a person they already knew.

She couldn't tell them she started off has a maid. She tried to remain optimistic.

"Let's see… from the Komori family?" one man asked, holding her hands, practically dragging her with him.

"Nope," she answered, playfully popping the 'p' at the end.

It was mostly like that: from this family or that. The family reputation told them everything, so she didn't say.

Then, they switched again, and she bumped chest to chest with the new man.

"Ooof – I'm so sorry," he quickly said, stuttering.

"Sorry, sorry!" she unknowingly did the same. She took a look at him and realized – "Oh. You're Todoroki's friend," she blurted out.

The black, white and gold rabbit mask. The unruly hair that must've refused to be combed down. The messily made bowtie. He blinked at her for a second before looking down at their feet to make sure he didn't step on her when spinning. Getting used to her movements, he looked up with a shy smile.

"Yeah. I've been getting that a lot today. I'm sorry about that. I'm not good. First time here," he admitted embarrassingly.

"Same," she said. It felt nice to know she wasn't the only one lost.

"Really?" he sounded surprised.

"It's a long story," she said.

She yelped when he picked her up, turned, and placed her down to continue the dance. She'd been told during practice she'd get hoisted up at some point. It didn't lessen her shock when it did happen.

He looked mortified, flinching away; afraid she didn't want him touching her. "Did… Did I – I'm sorry! Did I do something wrong?"

"No, no! Just surprised me," she assured him, grabbing his hand again. "I kinda forgot about that part."

With his hand in hers, she felt unusual bumps across his hand through the fabric of her glove. Protruding lines over his skin. They'd switch hands and, when she had her back to his chest, they'd stretch their intertwined hands to one side and she'd spot the unnatural squiggles over the back of his hand. Unlike the few men she'd gotten to dance with, he had a more feather-like hold on her hand. He wasn't dragging her around or teasing her for her lack of experience.

Her dress opened like a flower when she spun, her eyes briefly catching Momo with a certain bicolored-haired man.

She also noticed people staring. Glaring. There was a whispered '–the Yaoyorozu riff-ruff, I'm sure of it.' She wasn't sure if they meant her or Momo.

Ignore it. Ignore it.

"Can I…" he started nervously. "Can I ask you some things?"

They usually did that: ask questions to figure out the person's identity. So far, the men had decided to only ask for the family name for an easy clue.

"Oh. Yeah. Sure."

"I don't know many people here," he said, maintaining the one-two-three struts. "So… uh, what do you like?" he asked smiling kindly, slightly nervous.

"What do I like?" The question caught her off guard. "Anything I like?"

"Yeah."

That was a broad question. She had to think. "Ahh… let's see…" Sometimes, visitors to the mansion brought food. The Yaoyorozu's would share them with everyone. The expensive and handmade kind. "Sweets. Cake or chocolate..." What else, what else. Something she liked. "The night sky? Does that count?"

"If you like it then yeah!" He seemed satisfied by that. The ballroom was a blur behind him. "Those are nice things." He gave her a genuine smile. She could almost see the pink tint on his cheeks peeking from beneath the bottom part of his mask.

It felt like they were missing something…

"How about you?" she asked.

"What do I like?"

"Yap."

His green eyes looked up as he thought it over. "Gosh, things have changed a lot recently. I like the new house. My mom can take it easy there, now. I like books. I learn a lot from them. I'm being taught how to play board games, now. I'm still not good at them."

He was either being vague with a few things, or she was not used to rich-people-talk.

"I need to pick you up soon. Can I do that?" he asked, warning her this time.

A humble man. A nice man. "Yeah. I'm ready."

They were missing something. A few of the female dancers (who she knew visited the Yaoyorozu estate) were giving them accusing stares. Had… Had they recognized her? A few seconds before they could depart and move to the next partner, a female dancer drifted past them, latching onto the next man Ochaco was supposed to partner with. Was the group trying to forcefully push them out? She realized they weren't in the circle anymore, but near the center of it. They'd either strayed away, or the circle had opened up to avoid them.

The rabbit-masked gentleman seemed to catch on as well, looking around, hearing the disapproving whispers from watchers. He looked down in guilt.

"I'm really sorry. I'm not making this easy for you..."

She gripped his hand. "Sorry? For what?" She pulled him forward with her and he gasped, surprised by the sudden move. "You've been nothing but nice." It was her turn to smile at him.

'It's definitely her, I'm telling you.'

'Sure looks like her.'

'Unbelievable. I know the Yaoyorozu girl spoiled her but this is preposterous.'

Her. They were talking about her. Her smiled turned into a mournful one. "I should be the one sorry."

He tilted his head, confused. "Why?" he sounded like a kid asking an innocent question only adults knew.

Tell him? Don't tell him? Would this nice man judge her? "I'm sorry. I can't tell you." It was safer this way.

It looked like he was thinking, absorbing her words carefully. For a reason unknown to her, he smiled gently. "It's okay." He drew her in, and she heard him talk near her ear, "Let's just dance, okay?"

She heard the kindness in his voice and the sincerity of every word. The permanent blush marks behind her mask must've turned a darker shade. "Yeah," she said, confidently.

The music picked up speed. She didn't remember what she had to do. He didn't correct her. She did what she felt came naturally, and he followed along, making up the rest of the dance while the dancers in the outer circle stuck to the 'proper' choreography, some switching from staring in disgust to looking outright shocked.

The gentleman spun her and she playfully turned two, three more times, going faster with the music. Picking up on her sudden enthusiasm, he dipped her and they took turns taking the lead, their shoes tapping, just avoiding collision, their steps occasionally giving a playful bounce. She never had to dance this fast during practice. It was a workout. The violins repeated the few final notes and the world was a blur of gold as she let him toss and turn her. A childish giggle escaped her. By the end, he pressed his scarred hand against her back to draw her closer, stopping at a half-dip, with his head hovering over her, and her eyes staring up at him. They both panted, sweating, chuckling.

The world had gone quiet.

His laugh eased and he stared at her. She saw the chandeliers behind him, shimmering. His eyes slowly widened. A soft gasp slipped out of him. He'd found something. She wasn't sure what it was… She'd been ready to ask, until–

"What is the meaning of this?"

They both snapped their necks to where the angry voice had come from. They were all watching them like they'd spilled wine over a prince. Accusing eyes. Hostile whispers.

"I told you it was her!"

Izuku let her straighten, still clasping her hand, looking around in confusion.

One of the bystanders – the one she'd bumped into earlier – marched forward, her fan closed, pointing it at Ochaco's chest. "I don't know who you think you are–" She jabbed the fan at Ochaco, who was slowly backing away in surprise. "–but someone here needs to draw the line." She flicked her fan at the entire room, addressing everyone else. "I hoped the Yaoyorozu daughter had more sense than this. Clearly not. Not when she strung her maid along for this."

So they did recognize her…

The Monoma boy blanched. "Wait – that's a maid?" His hands went rigid, like he regretted holding hands with her. Most of the male dancers looked just as offended.

The woman kept going. "This is a respectable event. I don't come here expecting riffraff and this – this – this mess!"

The rabbit-masked dancer looked like he wasn't sure if and how he should butt in, his hands raised and his focus going back and forth between the women. "Ahhh – ex – excuse me, I… I'm sure there's a misunderstanding? Maybe–"

"Oh, stay out of it, you – you–" her attention shifted to him, and she remembered something. "You! Have you no shame?"

"What?" He put his hands up in innocence when she directed her fury at him. "I…"

"Don't think I don't know who you are." She pointed her fan at his face, almost touching his nose. "I know that hair anywhere. It's bad enough you're here. Now there's two of you. I don't care what excuse Toshinori has to say. You're no son of his."

The men in the room 'oooohh'ed like children hearing someone was about to get the switch by the teacher. A few chuckled in amusement.

The gentleman looked down in shame. "I…I…"

Momo pushed her way through the crowd in a hurry, heading for the commotion.

"Ms. Yaoyorozu," the woman said, though her anger was hidden under forced politeness when addressing Momo. "You're a generous lady, but perhaps keep it behind closed doors and not bring it to this humble party?"

Momo stepped in between Ochaco and the woman, acting as a shield. "This party is for everyone," she calmly explained. "We all have the right to meet people and be happy. I hope you understand."

"What I understand is you seem to think everyone will be accepting of your views." The woman was now pointing her fan at Momo's chest. "I speak for everyone when I say they certainly do not."

A hand firm gripped the fan, lowering it. Shoto Todoroki's ever so calm gaze had a menacing undertone. The dance floor silenced. Even the gentleman Ochaco had danced with looked stunned.

"Please don't do that," Shoto requested, the look in his eyes sharp like an arrow.

The woman slowly backed away, suddenly not so confident. "Mr. Todoroki…"

He turned to address the three victims. "Do you want to leave?" His voice was more relaxed when speaking to them.

The three glanced at each other, all exhausted, disappointed, and ready to go home. Nods of agreement were shared. The crowd in extravagant dresses and professional suits parted as Shoto lead the way out. No one talked. Ochaco kept her head down. It had been a bad idea from the start. A stupid, stupid idea by a stupid, stupid woman wishing for a miracle.

They parted when reaching the fountain outside, with the two women heading for their ride home. The gentleman with the rabbit mask lingered.

"Hey," he called nervously, reaching out to her before she could mount the carriage. "It was nice dancing with you. Can I… Can I know your name?"

Ochaco stood holding the railing of the carriage, one foot on the step, ready to hop up but not doing so just yet. She wasn't sure of his intention at the moment. Maybe he didn't want her to leave feeling sour? "Ochaco Uraraka. Thank you… for the dance, I mean." She climbed in–

–And heard something brush the outside of her side of the door. He had his hand leaning against it.

"I'll... I'll see you sometime, is that okay?" He looked up at her hopefully.

She didn't want to get her hopes up, no matter how much she wanted things to turn out alright in the end. "…Yeah."

Best forget this night ever happened. Things could've turned out better. Much better, if Ochaco wasn't an Uraraka.

The moist clothes she scrapped against the washboard generated bubbles and rubbed her own knuckles red. Her mind had gone blank since yesterday's embarrassing failure. Momo had apologized extensively, assured her it was not Ochaco's own fault, and tried to cheer her up by listing other things that Ochaco could try that would benefit her future.

Squeezing the extra water out of the now clean undershirt, Ochaco huffed, swallowing down her regret. It happened. There was no changing the past. She had to move on – think of something else. Maybe take Momo's suggestions into consideration. Sacrifices were necessary if she expected any improvement.

"Ochaco?" Momo's distorted voice came out of the speaking tube used as intercom to communicate with workers around the large house. "If you're not very busy, can you come down to the lobby?"

Guests, most likely. She left the rest of the clothes for later, washed and dried her hands, and began her hurried trot down corridors, past large windows and flowered vases and down the carpeted stairs. The welcome chandelier hung over everyone's heads like a god. She stopped on the final step, staring wide-eyed at the open door, hearing the clapping hooves of impatient horses standing outside, still railed up from their earlier gallop to the Yaoyorozu mansion.

Momo was greeting the two guests standing in the doorway. Familiar men. Men Ochaco didn't expect to see here without notice. Maskless Shoto. He usually only visited with his dad. This time, he brought another man with him. The friend of Shoto's had recognizable curly hair (messier from being batted by wind) and a ridiculously tied bowtie. He was panting, like he'd done all of the horse's work. His worried eyes shifted from the homeowner to the maid standing on the stairs.

The nice gentleman, maskless and still the same.

It was him. It was his eyes; expressive as ever. He had no mask to hide the freckles and the look of hope and wonder on his face.

I'll see you sometime, is that okay?

Shoto and Momo stepped to the side after noticing the two had made eye-contact.

"It… It really is you," the gentleman said with relief. He took a step forward and hesitated, glancing at the owner of the mansion for permission. Momo gave him a smile and a nod. He took a few hurried steps to get to where Ochaco stood dumbfounded, gripping the railing with one dumb hand.

"How - How did you find me?" she asked.

"Shoto knew where Ms. Yaoyorozu's estate was. I… wanted to see you again. Can I talk with you?" he asked meekly. Please, I really want to talk.

He'd rode a horse to Momo's mansion to see the maid he'd danced with yesterday. She looked over at Momo for permission to temporarily leave her post.

"Would the two of you like to have a talk in the garden?" Momo offered. That was a 'yes' from her, then.

She'd relinquished her apron and cap, seeing as she was going for a stroll and a talk with a humble young man. The gardener always managed to make the place just as beautiful as the inside of the mansion, leaving natural formations as rounded as possible to preserve Mother Nature's craft whilst still keeping it clean of any sick branches and dried leaves. The gentleman offered her his hand to climb down a stepping stone, sinking her shoe into the soft grass. He had either not noticed her finger pads, or decided not to bring it up. They passed by the garden furniture that was usually cleaned regularly. Momo used to sit and chat with her with the white table between them and have some of the Yaoyorozu's famous tea.

He pulled out one of the chairs for her.

"Thanks. I never did get your name," Ochaco said, folding her dress behind her knees as she sat down.

"I'm Izuku. Sorry, I never got to tell you. It was hectic yesterday," he gladly said, taking a seat in front of her with the round table between them.

"Yeah. Yesterday didn't go like I hoped it would…" she said, disappointed with herself. "Sorry I caused a mess."

He looked surprised. "What? No, I was the one who should've paid attention. I embarrassed you in front of everyone. I'm really sorry."

She didn't understand what he meant by that. She'd been the unwanted guest who didn't know what manners were. The crowd had been against him, too, but she'd assumed it was because of being involved with her, or for interfering between two ladies, or, heck, for actually having fun. They hadn't been subtle about how much they'd enjoyed the few minutes of dancing together. They were supposed to be like everyone else: boring and pretending and putting a show for strangers.

There was one thing that didn't add up. The woman had called his father Toshinori. Ochaco didn't remember any guests by that name. Perhaps it was something mostly shared amongst families with good connections? Gossip between friends. This Toshinori probably had a reputation. Good or bad, she wasn't sure.

A tea set was arranged on their table. She looked up questioningly at her fellow maids. The two workers wished her luck and slowly retreated, giggling to each other. It looked like Izuku wanted to thank them but by then, they were too far to hear. Momo and Shoto were peeking from the open window. Their eyes were on her and Izuku, but their words were to each other.

"Does Shoto visit often?" Izuku asked. "He remembered where she lived."

"Yeah, he comes over sometimes with his dad, and…" She'd only heard rumors about Momo and him exchanging letters. It was only a rumor, though. "Yeah, he's been here, before."

He hummed, pouring them some tea, badly. His hand was wobbly. He didn't behave like most of the men who'd visited the mansion, who pretended to be smooth and gloated over things or knew what to do or say in every situation. He was unsure all the time, and utterly clumsy.

She remembered how they'd literally bumped into each other and the string of apologies that came out of him. An involuntary snort escaped her and she quickly cupped her mouth.

He chuckled. "What? What is it? Did I do something?" He didn't find her unwomanly laugh offensive.

"No, no. It's nothing. Just remembered something funny."

"Okay. If you say so." He let it slide easily, sipping his tea.

"So… why are you here? Not that I don't want you here – I mean, it's been great – You're nice and this is nice – I mean, it's all nice I just–" Midway through her speech, her brain gave up on her and she covered her face, leaning her elbows on the table.

"I wanted to make sure you were okay," he said, ignoring how dumb she must've sounded. "You looked really sad when you left. I never wanted to make someone leave sad."

He rode on a horse all the way here for this? "Oh." It was a nice feeling, knowing someone cared this much. overwhelming, even. "Hey," she said, picking up her own cup. "Can I know your full name?" It felt like he'd purposefully left that part out. She'd heard the woman call his father Toshinori, but it was strange for someone to not introduce themselves using the full name.

He hesitantly placed his cup down. "Toshinori, but people still use Midoriya when it used to be that."

"When it used to be…" She thought it over. Had his mother remarried? She wasn't well informed on this topic.

He saw the puzzled look on her face and continued, throwing her a bombshell: "Before my mom met Toshinori, my parents couldn't afford much. We lived with this nice family who let us stay with them," he told the story like it was a bittersweet memory. "I was too little so I don't remember my dad. Mom told me he found a job somewhere and he was going to send us money. She said we were getting money but… it didn't make sense to me. My mom started making clothes to sell. I knew nothing was being sent. She'd say he was either hurt or lost or late but… a few people in the area told us he'd gotten sick and didn't make it."

She completely forgot about the tea at this point. She'd assumed he was born into wealth and luxury. Her guilt borrowed and nested in her like it was the only home for it.

He flexed his scarred hand on the table to give her a clear view of the extent of the damage. "I took up a factory job when I was around ten. I was small so they had me crawl under the machines and clean them while they were still running. Someone's hand got stuck. Those took a few minutes to slow down. It was eating him up and I panicked. Pushed one of my tools in to stop it. It took my hand with it but it did stop." His fingers were crooked and uneven. It disturbed her how casually he told the story. "I was told they had to take a few mechanical parts out so they could get my hand free. I don't remember that happening. My hand swelled for a few days and I got sick. Toshinori brought a doctor over and he began visiting more. We moved to his place so it wouldn't be too cold for me. Even when my hand got better, we ended up staying. I guess he and my mom liked each other."

She didn't know which part of that to focus on. It all made sense when put together. He made sense. He wasn't sheltered from the cruelty of the world, but had been in the center of it. Someone offered him a chance at a better life and he was grateful for it. He had more humbleness in him than all the people at that party combined.

She stared in wonder, not knowing how to respond. She unconsciously felt the bumps on her finger, the ones the neighborhood kids used to make fun of. Seeing his hand now made her less hateful of her own fingers.

"I don't regret it," he said as if reading her mind. He said it with a sweet smile. "People don't like it because it looks ugly, but it's part of me." He held his hand open, palm facing up – a silent request to hold her hand.

She nervously placed her palm over his, and he turned hers upside-down to see her fingers. She held her breath.

"Do they hurt?" he asked.

"No. I was born with them so I don't know how fingers should feel," she admitted self-consciously.

He kept holding her hand with his injured one. "You're very gentle when you hold things."

"I do?"

"Yeah. I noticed it yesterday. You'd focus a lot on your hands." He held her just like the time he danced with her. "Can you show me again?"

"Show you?" she asked, confused.

Chuckling lightly, he stood up, still holding her hand. "Can I have another dance?" he requested, blushing.

Her brain went blank but her legs stood without her command. "Uh – wait, here? Right now?"

"Yeah, it's fine." He positioned the both of them, with his hand on her back and her hand on his upper arm, paying close attention to the hands that held each other.

"But there's no music!" she reminded him of the obvious fact.

He laughed. "I know, it's a little strange. Just imagine it. It's fine, see?"

The only music was her own breathing and the sounds of birds and brushing grass. She was still in her depressing maid uniform, and yet, he walked with her like she was an old friend he knew for years. They both blushed and smiled like idiots. If those from yesterday would see them now they'd curse them to hell and back. Was it really that bad to be happy? To be just a little selfish?

"Are you okay with this?" she asked, leaning her head down to shield her reddening face.

"With what?" His voice sounded over her head. She felt him peek down at her to try and see her better.

"With me. I'm not… you know…"

"It's fine. Really. I don't always get to meet nice people." He rested his head to the top of hers.

How did someone so clumsy manage to be such a charmer?

He and Shoto started coming around often, to the point other homeworkers started immediately calling her when they spotted the trotting horses outside. He was usually the one stopping his horse too late, often doing rings around the fountain before finally slowing down, because, as he explained, he was still going through horseback riding classes. The horse would clap the ground, agitated by how her rider gave her mixed messages. He'd stroke the horse's face to calm her down, apologizing to the animal, "I know, I know – I'm sorry. I know I'm bad at it. I'm sorry."

The other maids teased her; 'he seems nice', 'do you like him?', 'he sounds fond of you', 'he was flirting – that's how these young lads do it', as well as a few warnings, such as 'just be careful, he might be doing that with other young girls,' and 'unless he has a ring you don't do anything with him, okay?' and so on. By then, she'd already decided her heart had tied itself to this man. Her original goal of the ball took a backseat.

"My parents asked if I can invite her over," he said over dinner when he and Shoto came for another visit. Momo asked her to join them at the table Ochaco herself set. "Is that okay?" he directed the question at both Ochaco and Momo, then continued, focusing his eyes on Ochaco. "I know you have to work here so you might be busy."

"Your parents? I…" She looked over at Momo across the table. Her boss smiled gently and gave her a nod. Ochaco beamed. "Yeah, I'd like to visit!"

Maybe he was interested in her, just as she was interested in him. She pushed it to the side to enjoy the good things coming her way. It would hurt – a lot – if she heard he promised himself to another woman. It hurt to think about that possibility, so she locked that thought in a box and shelved it away so she could sleep at night.

A day later, Toshinori had sent a horse carriage to pick her up. Momo had given her the all-clear to leave for the day, even handing her the dress Ochaco had worn for the ball. The black carriage had two horses at the front, four tall wheels that lifted the passenger box high off the ground, gold decorative patterns on the door, and a single lantern that hung by the driver's seat.

It wasn't her first time in a carriage. She'd ridden in one to get to the Yaoyorozu mansion, and again to the ball and back. Something was different about this ride. His parents wanted to see her. Not Momo. Her. They knew of her, which meant Izuku had spoken of her to his parents.

Toshinori's home was as beautiful as Momo's, with a gate that needed to be pushed open by guards, and a very wide mansion that took up more land. He was already standing outside to greet her, with who she assumed was his mother. Izuku had inherited the woman's features. She didn't expect a biological father to be present, so she didn't know how much of Izuku's looks came from his mother. The skinny man with a walking cane was on a chair brought out to him. When the carriage slowed to a stop, the man stood on tired legs, brushing off all his family's requests to sit down.

She was almost sure she heard his mother say: "Oh, honey, she's lovely."

Knowing how his family had formed, there was less pressure in front of people who were more understanding of her living arrangements.

The mother held both of her hands. "We've heard so much about you. Its nice Izuku decided to invite you over."

Blushing, Ochaco responded, "Nice to meet you, Mrs…"

"Just Inko is fine, sweetie." Inko gave her a motherly smile that reminded Ochaco of her own mother.

Working as a maid (and greeting spoiled families that visited) had conditioned her to expect the worst out of strangers. Momo was quick to forgive mistakes. The guests weren't. It was kind people: like Momo, like Izuku, like this family, that reminded her good people were still around.

The inside of the mansion wasn't as extravagant as the interior of Momo's home. It was cozier than decorative; with more soft furniture and fewer vases. The few paintings around were of historical figures, nature, and that one family portrait at the top of the stairs, which included Toshinori, Inko, and Izuku. The home was for them to feel comfortable in, not one to impress guests with.

It gave her a familiar feeling, of being home and welcomed.

There was piano music being played throughout the mini-tour. It abruptly stopped.

"Any day, now."

"Oh, was I supposed to start now?"

"The music sheet is right in front of you, moron."

"I know – I just get all blurry-eyed when I focus!"

"So that's what happens when you think too hard."

"Hey!"

Two musicians – a pianist and a bassoonist – bickered. The quieter violinists at the back behaved themselves.

Toshinori chuckled. "Practice?"

"Trying to," the lady on the piano said, throwing her head back to look at the slowpoke behind her. "Kaminari here keeps spacing out."

"Hey, I didn't get enough sleep last night!" the other defended himself, hurt at being blamed.

"You kept knocking on my door every hour to tell me jokes. I had to call Iida on you."

"You're so cruel! I'm a sensitive human being. Have a little mercy on me," Kaminari pretended to be offended.

The composer with the glasses cleared his throat. "I apologize on their behalf." It looked like he wanted to say more but stopped when he caught sight of the new person amongst the Toshinori family. He suddenly straightened. "Good evening! I was not aware you have arrived. I apologize for the disturbance! We will commence at a later hour."

Ochaco waved her hands in front of her to get him to slow down. "Ah – it's fine! Really! You can keep playing."

Toshinori chuckled. "You can practice away. I happen to like some music in this house."

Inko laughed lightly. "Ochaco, honey, this is Mr. Tenya Iida," she introduced.

The tall man bowed respectfully. "Greetings!"

"Ms. Kyoka Jiro is on the piano. The young gentleman is Mr. Kaminari."

Denki turned to the woman on the piano. "See? Gentleman."

Jiro looked at Ochaco and pointed a thumb at Denki. "Watch out for him. He'll try every way to flirt."

Denki slapped a hand over his heard, avoiding the bassoon in front of him. "I don't do that–"

Jiro gave him a bored look.

"–anymore," he corrected himself. "You know my heart is reserved for one lady." He wiggled his eyebrow at her.

She turned back to her piano just in time to miss it. "I feel bad for her," she teased cruelly.

Ochaco wasn't sure if this was some sort of courtship she was unfamiliar with. Inko nodded at the violinists, introducing them from right to left. Each one either bowed, tipped a hat, or simply raised a hand as a shy greeting. "Tsuyu Asui. Yuga Aoyama. Mashirao Ojiro. The gentleman with the mask is Mr. Tokoyami." Inko placed a comforting hand on her arm. "Friends of Izuku. They and a few others moved in not too long ago."

"Moved in?" Ochaco asked.

"Yes, any friend of Izuku is family. This home has too many empty bedrooms."

They let nonrelatives move in, just like that. She never thought it was that easy. Her family's cottage had been inherited to her dad, and even then, they struggled with basic living conditions and shortage in food supply. Contaminated food was an on-and-off issue and the cold winters would seep right in. And here, in this house, strangers were welcomed.

She saw Toshinori give a nervous Izuku an encouraging pat on the shoulder. The skinny man gestured for Inko to hurry with something.

"Oh!" Inko seemed to remember something. "Okay, sweetie, I'll just – I'll be right back," she whispered to her before following Toshinori up the stairs. It looked like the man was giving Izuku a silent 'good luck' with his thumbs before continuing up.

It was her and him and the musical band; until they started playing. Now, it was just her and him. He finally came over and offered his hand. "I… I know we've done this before and you might… might not want to do it again. And it's okay, if you don't want to, I mean – I just–" He stopped and blinked in confusion when she giggled.

"Keep going. Sorry. Go on," she said.

Her tune calmed him down and he smiled. "Can I ask for another dance?"

She took his extended hand. "Yeah. Sure."

Had he planned this? Possibly. Most likely. They were all in on it, from the looks of it. If she wasn't sure of his intentions, she was sure now. Of all men to catch her eye, it had to be this clumsy, clumsy, charmer. He'd come out of nowhere, and he was determined to stay. His eyes spoke of gentleness - of silent adoration, like he was the one lucky enough to dance with this magnificent human being, like she was more valuable than a mansion of gold. He still had soft touch when he held her, letting her decide how close she wanted to be.

"Do you like it so far?" he whispered to her hopefully, nuzzling his head against hers.

"Yeah..." she whispered under the waves of music. "It's really nice."

"Would you like to stay longer? We… We have extra rooms."

There it was.

"Are you asking me to – to…" she couldn't get the words out, feeling her face go warm.

"Will you marry me?" he said it for her, his own face turning pink.

She wanted him. She truly did. With heart and soul, she did.

"I know it's sudden. You don't have to answer now," he added to lessen the pressure on her.

"Yes – I mean, I do – err… I'd… like… to," she repeated more quietly.

The sympathetic look in his eyes told her 'It's okay. Go on. What is it?'

"My family. The dowry. I know Momo said she'd help with that but…"

He gave her a soft smile. "It's okay. We can handle that. We're not interested in money."

She wasn't sure how he planned to do that. But then, his mother had been a widow with little to give. This family wasn't exactly traditional.

"I… My parents. Can my parents come?" she asked hesitantly. Come here. To this house, where they don't have to worry about expenses, about health, about everything.

"Yeah! Of course," he answered right away.

They weren't dancing anymore, but swaying in place. The musicians focused on keeping the mood slow and steady. His hand went up to cup her cheek, his thumb near the corner of her lip. "Is it okay if I kiss you?" he asked with his heart lodged in his throat, his eyes half-lidded.

A kiss by a man she wasn't married to. A taboo act. A forbidden act. If love was wrong, then so didn't want to be right.

She gripped his suit and pulled him down, their sways slowing to a stop as their lips touched.

Only the piano played, echoing the softest keys. Someone shushed the bassoonist.

When the sky had turned orange, the sound of an approaching horse caught the attention of the homeowners of a rundown cottage. Seeing their daughter hop out of a carriage in a dress was not what they'd expected out of a normally boring day. She'd brought more people with her: a young man who had ridden in the carriage with her, and two more people in a second carriage.

"Mom! Dad!" She ran as fast as her dress allowed her and collected both parents in one hug.

"Ochaco!"

"Missed ya, kiddo."

They squeezed her tight, making up for the nights and days of not being able to embrace their only child.

"What's going on here?" her father asked through chuckles. "Looks like you brought a cavalry." His eyes swept past every new person multiple times, not sure who to inspect first.

"Sorry for the sudden visit," Toshinori said. "Didn't think it'd take half a day to get here. Miscalculation on my part. Thought it'd be best if we all come over for this."

"It's not a problem. Just hope you don't mind the messy house," her mother said, assuring them in.

Everything was in one room. The kitchen was a living room, the living room was the washroom, the washroom was the bedroom, and the dinner table was in the kitchen. A rag hung from the backrest of a chair. Stoles wobbled when sat on. The fireplace was black with soot and the air around it was stiff from years of use.

"Sorry, we don't have seats for everyone," her dad said apologetically, opting to stand so the guests would have a seat. Her parents were understandably self-conscious about having such well-dressed people here.

"Oh, it's nothing to worry about," Inko said.

Toshinori introduced himself, his wife, and his son. "I'm guessing you have questions," Toshinori said.

"Oh, plenty," her dad said, laughing. "What's this all about? One moment I'm cranking up the water pump and the next I get called over and find all of you there with my girl in a dress."

Inko patted a nervous Izuku on the back. "Go ahead, sweetie," she whispered to him.

He cleared his throat and raised his shoulders. "Mister and Mrs. Uraraka," he started, clasping his hands together on the table. "I'd very much like it if you'll let me marry Ochaco. I promise I'll do everything I can to make her happy. I can't imagine marrying someone else. So, please, can I have your daughter's hand in marriage? "

To say her parents were shocked was an understatement. Of all things to be told so suddenly, it had to be this. She and Izuku had to explain everything from start to finish, feeling each other's sentences. Inko eventually pitched in.

"He didn't tell me much of what happened when he lift with Shoto. But he left early the next morning. Came back and told me he went to meet the sweet girl he danced with before. Insisted on visiting her every day."

He had. Every single day, like it was as important as eating and breathing.

"Ochaco," her mother asked, gesturing to Ochaco and then at Izuku.

She reached under the table to hold Izuku's hand. She gave them a firm nod. "Please, Mom, Dad? You can think about it! We can wait... We can..."

Her parents look glanced at each other, exchanging a silent conversation. They both laughed lightly. "How can we say no to that?" her dad said.

She wasted no time in hugging them tightly before going back to her now-fiancé for a hug equally as tight, not giving him time to stand and pushing him back, tipping his stole and falling with him, holding in a squeal of excitement. The family brushed off their worry when they heard the two laughing on the ground. They waited for the two to compose themselves.

"You don't need to worry about the costs," Toshinori assured them. "We can bypass that. There's another thing we'd like to ask you."

Her parents blinked, confused. "Do tell," her father said, interested. Like this wasn't enough of a surprise.

"It's two offers, really." Toshinori lifted a boney finger. "We buy your home. Dowry all pied." He lifted a second finger. "You move in with us if you want. What do you think? We have space for a few more families. You can see it yourself," he offered, chuckling.

"You… want to buy the house?"

"That's right."

"This house?" her mom pointed at the floor, wanting to make sure they meant the right home.

"If you're alright with that. You're very welcome to settle with us. We have eleven spare bedrooms, after all. Take your time to think it over. We can negotiate some other way if you're up for suggestions. You're free to visit us anytime."

While this home had served them as well as it managed and provided them the (leaky) roof over their heads, the family agreed it wouldn't fit this expanding family, and she'd rather have her whole family under the same roof. Everyone. Her and him and her parents and his parents and everyone. Sacrifices for improvement.

"Would you hold still?" the angry cameraman, Katsuki, yelled from under the curtain behind the accordion-looking camera on legs. "Do you want to have four fucking heads?"

"Sorry! Sorry." Izuku apologized and tried not to laugh. He really did try. It was just a black and grey photograph that would go on the wall. It was supposed to be simple: don't move. Take the picture.

But Ochaco kept giggling, which made him want to do the same.

He was being such a nervous wreck for the photo-shoot and she just couldn't take this situation seriously, from the over-the-top cameraman to Izuku's poor efforts to keep a relaxed expression to their dads throwing dad jokes on the side.

Oh, and that hat on Izuku's head Toshinori thought was a great idea. It was clearly battling with his hair for the winning spot.

It was all too much. They were supposed to stand still and not blink for minutes on end, and, because the camera and the flash weren't in sync, it was hard to tell when it'd go off. The bang from the flash made them flinch the first few times. Katsuki wasn't happy with their constant movement. He pushed the black cover away when he deemed the couple was centered enough, slipped a dark square plate into the mahogany box and returned the black curtain to hide his head and shoulders under it.

"This is your last shot, you hear? Don't screw it up," he warned.

"We won't!" Ochaco said, straightening next to Izuku while holding his hand, trying her darndest not to laugh through her nose. "I'm losing it," she whispered to him, hoping the photographer didn't notice her lips moving.

It was all it took to break Izuku. He laughed and instinctively tilted his head down. It was contagious. She and their observing parents caught it just as the flash and boom went off.

Katsuki was not happy. "For fuck's sake!"