Notes: aged-up/adult characters, experimental writing, manga spoilers (Joint Training Arc Spoilers)

Warnings: Moral ambiguity, description of abuse and violence, child abuse, bullying, kidnapping, imprisonment, hostage situations, emotional manipulation, victim-blaming, PTSD, panic attacks, paranoia, gaslighting, sexual assault, reference/mention/threats of rape, sexual content, suicidal thoughts, non-consensual piercings, vulgarity, mentions of torture

When Walls Talk

SevenRenny

Chapter 1: To Survive

Beta-reader: Madam_Chauncey

He was fourteen when he first met her.

It started with his notebook being tossed around.

"Come on guys," he complained, breathless, leaning over his knees. "Seriously, give it back." He didn't sound confident with his command. Not at all. Like a mouse holding up a twig as a weapon against a pride of lions. Lions that happened to be middle school kids in uniform.

They played with the Hero Analysis notebook he'd been writing in for two weeks, throwing it amongst themselves like it was a baseball. They kept it just out of his reach, high enough over his head for his fingers to graze a page but not catch it, even if he jumped; and to them, it was the funniest joke on earth. Hilarious.

Their leader, Katsuki, stood with a smirk on his face and watched with his hands stuffed in his pockets, letting his underlings try and impress him. Izuku knew someone like Katsuki would never be impressed by people the boy deemed invisible, unworthy. They were, as Katsuki called them, Extras. Extras were never impressive.

Other kids stayed away from the circle, making sharp C turns to avoid Katsuki's gang on their way to school. Best not interfere. The bell rang. Izuku's dirt-smeared notebook hung from one of the goon's hands by the corner of a page. There was a rip as the cover slid down via the force of gravity.

"Whoops," the boy holding his notebook said in a sarcastic manner, messily stuffing the ripped page back in between random pages.

"Please, give it back," Izuku begged, giving up the chase and just lingering in the center of the circle of boys in uniform. His wish for them to not treat his belongings like trash fell on deaf ears.

Katsuki began to move, adjusting the strap of his bag. "Hurry up, extras. You're gonna make me late. I'm leaving you behind."

"Coming!" a few said, losing interest in Izuku.

The one holding his notebook gave one last throw to satisfy him for the day. He aimed it to fly over the school's brick fence. To Izuku's horror, it went over and he heard it smack a bush on the other side.

"That was fun. See ya' in class, Deku," the boy said before hurrying after his friends.

Izuku still held a shivering hand up, like the notebook would somehow obey his mental command, climb over the fence and get back in his hand. Sighing, he dropped his hand in defeat and began searching for his backpack with his eyes. Katsuki had picked him up with it and it'd slipped off his shoulders. Ah. There, flat on the dirt with the straps facing up, the contents spilled over the dirt floor just outside the school building.

His knees (especially the left one) stung cold. Had his clothes ripped? He was too afraid to check. Mom would see it. A list of excuses ran through his mind. He was going to be late for class. Hopefully, the Math teacher would be late today, as he had a habit of not coming to class on time.

Collecting his books and zipping up his yellow backpack with a sigh, he took a moment to relax his stiff nerves. The sound of trickling water rippled rings on the surface of the miniature koi pond.

"Hello?" a young, feminine voice called.

Momentarily forgetting his backpack, he searched in the direction of the voice. The wall.

"Is someone still there? You dropped something!" the person said on the other side.

He recovered from his confusion. "It's me. I'm here! I'm…" He remembered his notebook fell right over there. "Did it fall on you? I'm sorry, I should've taken it back before–"

The girl on the other side giggled. "Relax. I can give it back! Give me a minute."

As grateful as he was, he took note of how young she sounded. Possibly his age. As far as he was aware, there was no other school on that side of the wall. "Ah – wait, aren't I making you late to class? You don't have to do it now – we can–" He lost his voice when a square shadow blocked sunlight from his eyes. Looking up, he saw his notebook, slightly open, floating, drifting overhead.

"Is it there?" the nice person asked.

He snapped out of his trance and leveled himself underneath it. "Ah – yeah. Yeah, I see it!"

She was taking the time to hand it over; help a stranger – a nobody like him.

"I'm gonna drop it, kay?" she warned.

He anticipated where and how fast it would fall. "I'm – I'm ready!"

"Alright. One. Two. Aaaand–"

His notebook dropped, flapping. He caught it in his clumsy hands, hugging it after it got abused so badly before. He hadn't realized how fast his heart had been beating until he had the cover pressed to his chest. 'Deku' was written in highlighter pen on the cover and possibly inside, because kids did that a lot – wrote on his desk and books and pretended they spilled their drink on whatever he owned.

"Didja get it?" she asked, still having to yell from the other side.

His fingers ran over the book's wounds, as if to say sorry to it. "Yeah…" He cleared his throat and raised his voice. "Yes! Thank you so much."

"You're welcome! Did you write all that?"

Oh. She must've taken a peek. She saw his nerdy habit. "Yeah…" he admitted, embarrassed.

"They're really neat! You sound smart," she said delightfully.

Something within him bubbled up, like feathers puffing up within his chest. You sound smart – she'd told him. She said it without knowing just how much weight those words possessed, how much weight hit him all at once.

"I… Thanks…"

"It's a lot of Hero stuff! Are you planning to be a Hero?"

He swallowed nervously. "Yeah…I want to try…"

"That's so cool. Me, too! Well… I wanna give it a try, anyway." It was her turn to be unsure.

Someone on the same boat as him. Someone who wasn't talking him out of it. "Then, let's both give it a try? Try to be Heroes?"

She giggled. "Yeah. Let's give it a try!"

It was… surreal, talking to a wall, and having it agree with him. A stranger, not his mother, not his teacher. A stranger understood.

"Hey, is your name Deku?" she asked.

She either heard the boys, or was referring to what she saw written, or both.

"No. That's…" Would he admit to a stranger it was an insult? "That's just a nickname."

"I think it's cute," she said, not realizing the impact her words had – would have in the future. "Deku. It sounds like you can do it!"

There was another sound in the background. Another girl's. "Oh – I have to go now! Good luck!"

"Wait!" he slapped his hand against the brick wall. "Excuse me, can I know your name? Hello? Excuse me… What's… your…" Name.

He was fifteen when he failed UA's exam. Despite all the hard work All Might had put him through, in the end, he wasn't going anywhere near UA. Not with zero Villain points and zero Rescue point. He had to settle with his second choice: Ketsubutsu Academy High School. He would've benefited greatly if All Might had been one of his teachers. But, unfortunately, All Might was a UA teacher, and the two had to meet after school hours. Izuku kept getting mistaken for a family member of another student: Yo Shindo. He honestly couldn't blame them. His homeroom teacher, Ms. Joke, managed to be both overly friendly and tactful by surprising them with pranks or leaving bits of information out for them to figure out.

He won second place in Ketsubutsu's sports festival twice, then finally got to first place. It had all gone mostly unnoticed. The media had its eyes on UA, after all.

He was sixteen when he took the Provisional Hero License Exam. Katsuki should've been there. Izuku and his classmates had only ambushed a select few of UA's students scattered about. He'd passed by tagging a few students, as well as performing fairly well on the latter stages of the exam. Katsuki had to have been around, but Izuku hadn't been able to find his name on the result board. He had theories as to why, but Katsuki wasn't a problem to him anymore, so whatever the answer was, it had nothing to do with Izuku. Something within him felt sympathy for his old bully. If Katsuku had indeed failed, but seen Izuku's name up there, then that would've been a crushing blow to the boy's ego.

While he hated Katsuki's guts, he wished the boy had missed Izuku's name.

His name. Deku.

He was twenty-one when he was mistaken for a Pro and not the Sidekick he was. He was twenty-four when he was promoted to Pro. His name was already a known one. Came out of nowhere – he'd read online. People were expecting UA graduates to be on the top popularity ladder. Deku had slipped into the list so fast it spun heads. Being a Hero was his life. He lived to work. Even if the nature of some of the crimes he witnessed sometimes drained him.

"There's one!"

"Mr. Hero, over here!"

He was aware of how the world – the people in it – could be cruel. If there was a possibility for a horror to fall upon someone, then it was assumed it had already happened.

"I heard it coming from here."

Between two buildings, the civilians gathered in a worried circle as Pro Hero Deku went on all fours and pressed his ear to the sewer drain, then tried to peek through the holes and saw blackness. The six or so strangers looked at each other. One paced and another was making the emergency call Izuku had requested she do. He stood up and flexed his shoulder.

"I heard it in there – I swear!" the old man who owned a store nearby said, thinking the Hero didn't believe them.

On the contrary, Deku believed every bit of it. He'd even called for backup through his earpiece. "Everyone, please, stand back. You might fall in." Green electricity flashed over his limbs, crawling past his face. He gripped the lid, heaved, popped it open, and moved it to the side. Its bottom scraped the pavement, dirt from the underside slipped into the damp manhole.

That's when his ears rang with the cries of an infant.

It was echoey, raw, worn-out and painfully dry. But it was there.

The crowd tried to get closer. One clamped his mouth shut, horrified. The person on the phone quickly unformed the person on the other line, "Yeah, it's cryin' again! I can guarantee you it's not a bloody cat. I know what a baby sounds like!"

Izuku didn't remove his eyes from the manhole as he spoke, "Can someone shine a light for me?"

The old man did with his phone, pointing it down, revealing a rumpled purple sheet at the bottom and a dirt-yellow onesie briefly moving its limbs. The baby's hat was abandoned on the side, flat on at the bottom of the hole, to the left, also dirty.

Izuku lowered half of his body down the hole, gripping the staircase firmly. "If you see another Hero, can I ask you to call them over? Thanks."

It wasn't a long way down. It was, however, difficult to breathe. Moist air with years-old stench stuck to the walls. The tight walls closed in on him, reminding him how lonely the underground world was. The clanking of his iron-protected boots hitting the steps echoed in his head, slightly louder than the baby's cries. The infant sucking in air after every cry sounded higher pitched than its disparate cries to be held.

Izuku was thankful for the people shining their phone lights down the hole, helping him see. He had to part his legs so as to not step on the baby in this cramped area.

It was disgusting down here. Ropes of spider webs, flying insects, and what looked like a cockroach or two waved antennas at him. Flies swam in circles and dust particles floated through the weak lights being shone downward.

The baby's cries lowered in volume the second his large gloves touched its arms. Izuku searched it for injuries with his eyes, his own shadow blocking his view.

"Shhh… it's okay. I'm here. It's okay now," he spoke in a hushed voice. He gently turned the baby on its side to check the back of its head, being very careful with where his hands landed. "How did you get down here? You must've been very lonely," he kept talking, offering the baby the attention it starved for. He gingerly picked the baby up and its cries turned into tired hiccups. "It's okay, now." He pressed the baby's face against his cheek, feeling, hearing, examining its health. "You're so cold…" he cooed sympathetically. The child was now whimpering, exhausted but finally relieved to have the security of an adult.

"Holy crap, you weren't kidding!"

Izuku squinted to look up where the voice came from. A few helpers turned off the light from their phone so he could see. The Taping Hero was peeking down at him from the opening with the mask of his helmet flipped up.

"Cellophane?" Izuku called out to make sure. With the baby cradled in one arm, he used his other arm to protect his eyes from the annoying dust particles that drifted down.

"Need any help?"

"Yes, please. I can't climb up like this." Like this, holding the baby.

"Got you covered!" A line of tape dangled, slowly being lowered into the manhole. "Watch your hair. Don't wanna make you go bald," Cellophane warned in a joking manner.

Wrapping the tape around his midsection, being mindful of the delicate bundle in his arms, he gripped the tightened rope over his head and planted a boot on the wall. "I'm ready!"

And grunts were heard as he was slowly heaved up. He had to straighten his back and clench his abs to stay upright. Fresh alleyway air refreshed his now-sweaty skin. It had been unbearable down there. He wasn't sure how the infant had survived for who knows how long it had been left there.

Cellophane clapped a hand over his back to help him up. "Nice work!"

Izuku gasped. "Thanks for the help."

Now able to see much clearer, he examined the whimpering baby in his arm, carefully running his oversized glove over the contaminated onesie, over the exposed delicate skin. Hairless and toothless, skin a disturbingly pale color, eyes not developed enough to produce tears. Gray dirt had collected around the eyes. With less sewage smell attacking his nasal cavity, he made out another odor; a soiled diaper that had leaked and stained the yellow onesie and had possibly gone cold, chilling the skin. A cockroach crawled off the baby, crossed his arm, went down his leg and escaped the scene of the crime. Izuku was thankful sewer rats hadn't found the baby first.

Cellophane sighed. "Dang. Looks so young, too."

"The poor thing…" the old man of the group said.

"Who'd throw a baby down there?" the woman who'd called him over asked in silent horror.

"I don't think the baby was thrown," Izuku whispered, keeping his voice down. The baby was in enough discomfort. "There's no injury. I… I think someone lowered the baby with the blanket." For now, he worried about potential sickness and foreign bacteria this newborn had no protection against. He turned to face the citizens who had gone through the trouble of locating the baby's cries for help and flagging Deku over. "I can't thank you all enough. Can I ask you to stay for a bit? The police might want to talk to everyone."

It disturbed him, how such a defenseless being was dumped in a hole to die. It was small enough for the head to fit in his palm – his scarred hand, the hand he swore to protect people with. He brushed dirt off the baby's cheek, and it turned its head to try and suck on his thumb. Starved and disappointed, it began making tiny noises of discomfort. Izuku tried every trick he knew: shushing, pacing, telling it promises in a soft voice, until the expected vehicles arrived. All stressed adults had to retell the events, and Izuku had to quickly hand the baby over to the medical unit. He grabbed at his heart when it began crying, upset over the noise and being given to other people. The sound disappeared with the white van. He reminded himself, while some liked to hurt, others liked to help.

"Hey, Deku," Cellophane called. "Surprised to see you here. Heard you were in Osaka."

"I was. Just came back."

Cellophane pointed at himself with his thumb. "Cellophane, if you haven't heard of me. Nice to work with you, Deku!"

"I've heard of you!" Izuku said, glad to meet another Hero in person. "I read about what you did last week. You took down five Villains so fast. Your Quirk is so handy for reaching long distances. Can I ask how it works! Do you run out of tape? How strong is it? Has it ever snapped? Ha–"

"One at a time, one at a time." Cellophane scratched his head. "Man, they weren't kidding when they said you're a bit of a nerd," he said, chuckling.

Izuku was already reaching for his utility belt, fetching his notepad. "S – Sorry. I just get so excited when I get to meet other Heroes. Can I have your autograph?"

Stunned, Cellophane still managed to take the notepad and pen. "You're higher than me on the popularity list, man."

Flattered, Izuku messed with his gloves. "You're pretty cool, too."

"Can't not answer you after that," Cellophane said as he scribbled down his signature. "Yeah, I can run out. Just need to eat and wait and should be all good! It's all liquid in here before I shoot 'em. Tape did snap on me a few times, but mostly just unsticks if it gets too wet. Are you writing all that down?"

Somehow, Izuku was writing in a notebook he'd pulled out of thin air. His hands worked with speed but his eyes were glued on the Taping Hero. "Yeah! I can't help myself." He showed Cellophane the newly-created page. "It's something I did when I was a kid."

Cellophane whistled, impressed. "Damn. You got all that in a few seconds."

"Actually, I write about you here whenever I find something new," Izuku admitted, ashamed he might be sounding like a stalker. "I… uhh, do that with all Heroes. Just a hobby."

"Welp. I gotta get back to work. I'll be around this block if you need me. Nice getting to know you, Deku."

The general public called him Deku. Villain's called him the Madman. After playing back a few of his recorded fights, he understood why. One Villain even called him a zombie when Izuku got back up – all bloody and broken – after taking a powerful hit that caved in the road around him.

"Deku! Is that Deku?"

"I saw you on TV."

"Deku, here, have some dango! It's on the house!"

Deku. Deku. That one person called him Deku, and now the whole world did.

"Why is your Hero name Deku?" – the interviewer had asked him.

"To be honest, it used to be an insult. I... wasn't the most popular kid at school. I used to hate it but… but then a stranger told me it sounded like 'you can do it'... I - It was the nicest thing someone said to me back then. She… She changed the meaning of my name, and I never got to know hers."

"Are you hoping this person will recognize you?"

"Yeah."

"What if they're watching right now? What would you tell them?"

"I want to say thank you. Back then, my world was crumbling. I... I needed one person to tell me I can do it. It came from a nice stranger, and now it's my name. If you ever want to look for me, or talk or - just anything... I'll be in Musutafu for a while."

A conversation separated by a wall. Of all things to make an impact, it had to be that. He wasn't sure if she made it as a Hero like she'd wanted. Maybe she did, and he never realized it was her? He'd listened to every Hero Interview. No Hero sounded like her. Perhaps, her voice had changed over the years. Maybe it was less childish now. He didn't know how she would sound as an adult.

Marching the streets with a stick of dango in hand and his mouth full, his ears were assaulted by the mechanical BANG-BANG-BANG coming from the construction site nearby. The force of each hit vibrated through his bones. Beyond the line of safety cones, he saw the tall skeleton of a building. Beams. Support. Yellow cranes.

His eye caught one of the workers – uniform and helmet and all – bent over, vomiting, her handing gripping a metal pole for support. The smashing sound coming from the machines momentarily stopped, and he heard bits of what the man next to her was saying.

"–can't keep doing this. You'll hurt someone someday."

It didn't look like the woman was paying much attention, distracted by the pain in her abdomen. Flicking the now-naked skewer into a trash bin, he took long strides to reach the construction workers, briefly hearing: "–revoke your Hero license if..." before the man saw Deku marching over.

"What's going on here?" Izuku tried to sound as friendly as possible.

The man looked terrified, taking a step back.

Deku knew that look. It was the look of someone who got found out doing wrong and was trying to think up an excuse.

He'd deal with that later. Izuku bypassed him and knelt next to the woman who had dropped to her knees, hugging her stomach. "Are you sick, Miss?" He supported her by the arms.

The brunette swallowed another gag. "Little… Little bit…" She kept her head down.

"I told her she could go home for the day!" the fat man said quickly. "She's a stubborn one."

Izuku pushed the man's presence to the side. He had a person in need to attend to. "Come on, Miss. Let's get you somewhere you can rest." He tried to coax her.

She grabbed her helmet and pressed it down firmly, hiding her face. "No, no – it's – it's okay! I'm fine. Just needed to let it out. I'm – I'm good now!" she insisted, fake chuckling tiredly.

Izuku looked around. A bench with what he assumed were either toolboxes or launch carriers sat a distance away from the main construction site. "It's okay, Miss. Let's just get you away from where all the work is. Here."

"But I'm fine–"

"I know. I insist. Just take a break with me. Okay?" he directed the question at her, then at the man with the round belly. You'll give her a break, right?

The man's eye twitched before he offered a fake smile. "Yeah. Sure! In fact, she can go home for the day if she wants. Take care of her, Mr. Hero!"

Guiding her to stand up and having a glimpse of her face, he had her sit on the picnic bench. She had pink blushes on each cheek. Damp bangs stuck to her forehead. She pressed her head to the table and hugged her midsection with a pained whine.

"Will you be okay?" he asked sympathetically, rubbing circles on her back. "Do you want me to help you home?"

"'m okay…" she mumbled.

Part of her voice hooked at something at the back of his mind. He tried to not dwell on it, opting to focus on the task at hand. He had questions regarding what he'd heard. However, she looked too miserable for interrogation, and he doubted the man would give him a real answer.

"There's a vending machine just around the corner. Can I get you some water? Or do you want me to call a cab to take you home?"

"It's fine, really!" She seemed to have recovered a bit, being able to talk more properly without squeezing her guts. "There's no need. I just need a little break and I should be good! Really, there's no… need…" Her words fell once she looked up and saw his analytical eyes searching her. His blank facial expression and sudden quietness must've shown how hard he was thinking. It was rude to stare, but he couldn't help it. He was missing something. Something important.

It nagged at the back of his mind.

"Is… something on my face?" She wiped at her cheeks with both palms, expecting there to be dirt.

"Ah – no, no. it's nothing. Sorry. I was…" He was positive, now. The way she talked. Her voice... something in it was familiar. "Just…" It was possible he was reaching for something that wasn't there. "Thinking…"

The familiar tune of an alarm on his phone made them both jump. Help needed. The app showed him the location on a map. Putting aside his thoughts, he got up in a hurry. "Sorry, I need to leave now! I hope you feel better, Miss!" he yelled before activating One For All and catapulting himself over the street and onto a rooftop–

–leaving Ochaco staring as he disappeared, wondering if he'd figured it out.

If so, she was doomed.

She was fourteen when she planted a seed.

Fourteen when she came home and noticed how empty the apartment was. Fourteen when it turned out someone else had been waiting in the house. Fourteen when she wasn't allowed to go home anymore. Fourteen when they locked her in a room underground.

Fifteen, when she got used to things.

Fifteen when she missed her birthday because there was no calendar where they held her. Fifteen when they let her out and she had to decide if declining to help commit a robbery was worth her parents' heads possibly popping off their shoulders.

Sixteen, she was back in the room. Seventeen when they took her on her first heist, and she failed. Eighteen when she succeeded and failed at the same time.

Nineteen when she saw a glimpse of the seed blooming. Nineteen when she felt proud of him; happy for him.

Twenty when she realized she'd possibly helped create an unshakable force.

Twenty-one when she admitted she was afraid of him.

Twenty-two when she lost hope.

Twenty-three, she didn't understand time anymore.

Nighttime was a regular welcome party for crime. Heroes were still people, and people required sleep. Nighttime Heroes were lower in number, and they didn't venture into the lower-income areas. Easy pickings. Her comrades taught her a few things.

She didn't enjoy this… this invasion of privacy. She didn't enjoy standing by, hearing her partner-in-crime sedate the homeowners with a prick of a fingernail and rummage through drawers and cabinets, collecting jewelry, watches, electronics, expensive clothes small enough to carry or fit into their backpacks. She was guilty. For taking part. For using her Quirk on items to allow for ease of movement. For doing the unthinkable. For becoming what she dreamed of stopping.

For being… this.

Her black-skintight bodysuit blended well the pitch-black room. Her night vision goggles made everything appear green. She kept close to the window, peering out as the Madame's favorite underlings did the dirty work. It was hard to focus tonight. Being so close to the number one Hero, and walking away, just like that. Her legs felt boneless after that encounter. The Madame would've taken her anger out on someone other than Ochaco.

If only Ochaco took the brunt of the woman's rage. It would've been so much easier. She was okay with risking herself. Scared, but okay with it. She was, however, not okay with her parents being the bull's-eye for the Madame to throw darts at whenever Ochaco slipped.

Mom… Dad…

"Uravity, use them hands," the bald guy whispered urgently, tugging open the zipper of his gray backpack.

Uravity. She'd dreamed of using that as a Hero name. She'd scribbled it above her drawing of a pink astronaut. She wished she hadn't asked her Mom to put that on the fridge.

Uravity? Baby, that fits you so well. I'll call you Uravity, then, my baby astronaut. Great, isn't it? Has a ring to it, – the Madame had decided. And the Hero name Ochaco thought so hard about was now the name of a slimy criminal. She was dirt, now.

"On it!" She pinched as many pieces of jewelry as she could in a hurry. The owners were asleep. Forced tranquilization. They'd surely wake up devastated.

It's for Mom and Dad – she reminded herself. Her feelings didn't matter. Other people didn't matter. Mom and Dad came first.

She had to flip down the black visor of her modified helmet before going back out into the emptier part of the city. Their home located in the maze of a subway tunnel wasn't the quietest nor was it the easiest to reach. Living like moles wasn't her ideal choice. It was her only choice, as far as the Madame was concerned.

Ducking under the rusty metal fence that sectioned off the rest of the tunnel, they navigated the area by memory. The camouflaged door on the floor deep within the most isolated part of the maze wasn't the easiest to open. Her mind was filled with scribbles the whole walk 'home'. Walkways were tight with cables running overhead and a buzzing, orange light bulb every now and then.

When had she gotten used to calling the prison home?

"We're back with the goods!" one of the Villains announced as they walked into the living room made up of old couches, a lamp, a radio, stacks of newspaper and, on the side, bags of chips. Cockroaches zipped out from underneath couches before changing their minds and going back under, the hairs on their legs making brushing sounds.

Ochaco stayed at the back of the crew, lingering.

Someone on the couch with cheese-powdered fingertips crinkled a potato chip bag. "Mmh, yeah, great," he said with disinterest, his mouth full. "Leave it wherever. I'll work on 'em in a sec. Oh, and boss wanted floaty for something-or-whatever."

There it was.

She knew what was coming. Putting on a brave face, Ochaco took off her helmet and marched through the living room, squeezed past the manmade hallway that was so narrow her shoulders bumped the walls, and got ready to breathe in the smoky stench of hookah for the minutes that will surely feel like two hours.

Madame's 'office' didn't exactly have a door. A cheaply made foldable divider was where a door would've gone.

Don't show fear. Don't let her consume you. With a deep breath, she knocked on the wooden flap and the whole divider wobbled. The smoked Tabaco wafted from the room.

"Come in, dearie, come in!" the woman's scratchy voice came from within the room. Her voice didn't match her skinny look.

The wooden divider had gaps at the bottom. Ochaco learned the Madame got used to telling who was just outside by their legs. Ochaco stepped in, folding the divider back to how it was positioned before.

The woman behind the desk opted to leave her stack of books on the floor while her hookah base occupied the desk. The thirty-something year old usually removed her glasses when not on the computer.

"Uravity, baby, sweetie, darling! Excellent timing," the woman announced her welcome. "Have a try at this, sugar." With one hand holding the end of the hose, she leaned to the side, fetched a white paper bag and carelessly threw it at Ochaco.

It smacked Ochaco in the chest and slid down before she got a secure hold on it. She looked at it, then at the woman, then fished whatever was in there. Soft material. A red winter jacket with oversized buttons.

"Go on, darlin'. Give it a try," the Madame insisted, leaning back in her squeaky desk chair.

Ochaco had expected anger, not a present. Then again, it was too soon. The Madame had masks. Plenty of them. Ochaco tried the jacket on, untangling the still-attached tag from the button and looking at the woman questioningly after it was fully on.

The Madame puffed a smoky ring. "Ooooh! Look at that, look at that. Perfect fit. Handpicked it myself and I got the sizing just right. Snug as a bug in that, eh? Close it up. Lemme see."

Ochaco resisted the urge to gag on the smell assaulting her nostrils and straining her throat. She did as told.

"Splendid! Perfect. You look like such a sweet strawberry – I could eat you right up. Do you like it?"

She had no opinion about the jacket. She, however, didn't like where this was going. She could answer with either a 'no' and get guilt-tripped for thirty minutes and possibly lead to her parents being collateral damage, or a 'yes' and have that hang over her head as another tool for guilt-tripping her for later.

One was less painful than the other. "Y – Yeah."

"What do you saaay?"

"Thank you, Ma'am," Ochaco guessed.

The Madame's smile was wide, exaggerated. She propped an elbow on the desk and rested a cheek on her palm. She sat like that, not saying a thing.

Which meant Ochaco was missing something. "…What… What is it?"

"You tell me." She kept that forced smile. "You tell me."

Ochaco swallowed thickly. She expected it. It didn't make it easier. "I… a Hero talked to me today." Why was it hard to talk?

Madame's expression didn't change. It was unnerving. The awkward silence stretched. The crew's footsteps echoed through the nearby tunnels.

Madame sighed. Her smile twitched. "I think you have more to say to me, silly goose."

She already knew. Buggy Man must've already tattle-taled what his cockroaches had witnessed.

"Hero Deku saw me," she admitted like a quick rip of a band-aide.

"I know." The Madame's smile melted away. She rubbed her temple as if trying to ease the anger. It didn't work. "Uravity, my baby astronaut, you're smart. You know you're smart. I know you're smart," she said in a calm voice. She opened her hand, aiming her palm at Ochaco.

Ochaco's heart plummeted. Her breath got knocked out of her mid-gasp as soon as Madame's hand closed into a fist. Her neck muscles closed in on her, choking her. An invisible hand squeezed her throat, lifting her off the ground. The instinct to breathe was all that swam in her mind. The trash and its contents floated. Books and the hookah base hovered. Her vision became blurry, fading into black as her consciousness struggled to pull her back into reality. Her fingers instinctively went to scratch at her throat, trying to loosen a hold impossible to physically grasp.

"So why do you do stupid things?" she heard the Villain talk in a monotone voice. "Everything I did for you. I gave you a roof over your head and fed you and bought you the nicest clothes. I got you that costume, I got you that helmet. I give you your weekly allowance. I let you take those fighting classes you wanted. You asked for books and I gave you books. You said you wanted more calls with your mom and dad and I let you. You demand things and I give them to you. Have I ever wronged you? Have I neglected you? I treat you like–"

Ochaco couldn't see. Her feet weren't touching the ground. Her throat closed off completely, pressing inward painfully. She coughed and her body regretted wasting that bit of air. A trail of saliva chilled her jaw.

"–you're my own daughter, so why won't you be a good girl? I want you to be safe. That's all. You don't know how much it eats me alive when I let you go out there. Those Heroes won't show you mercy out there. Mark my word, they will. They'll make you their prostitute, they will. Fuck you senseless, they will. You end up in prison then how am I supposed to protect you?" Madame started talking faster. Her movements became more animated. "Mr. Number One, of all people. How – what – what am I supposed to do with you? Ungrateful little–"

Her lunges were dying. Her lunges were dying. She was dying.

Suddenly, she dropped to the floor with a bang. The pressure around her neck vanished and Ochaco took gulps of much-needed air. Her heart drummed her ribcage violently. The items in the room cluttered to the floor.

Madame smoothed out her now messy hair, tucking the loose strands back and fixing them in place by redoing her hair tie. Activating her Quirk forced her hair to come alive for a reason Ochaco didn't know.

"Okay…" Madame said to herself, sighing to calm her nerves. "Ooookay. Just one Hero. Number One Hero. No biggie. No biggie. Bit of a biggie – but no biggie. The gray hairs you give me aren't worth it." She rubbed at her face, trying to massage her stress wrinkles. "Okay. How?" she emphasized, her thin fingers rigid.

It was hard to speak through tooth-grinding adrenaline. "At work…" she answered through deep breaths, her hand rubbing her throat protectively. "I overused my Quirk at work. He thought I was sick and came over."

Madame groaned. "Excellent," she said sarcastically, rubbing at her eyelids. "Just what we needed. Did he ask things?"

"Checked on me. Asked how I was."

Madame sighed deeply. "This happens again I swear I'm keeping you down here for the rest of your life. I don't know why I bother feeding your useless parents, but I do, because I care about you more than you care about yourself. You get caught, I'm not going after you, you hear? And you can bet I won't have those two anymore so don't expect me to keep 'em alive for you."

Her Mom and Dad. Those two. As much as Ochaco wanted to judo throw the woman, she knew better not to. She couldn't do much against Madame's Telekinesis. She couldn't do much knowing the whole crew was on Madame's side. Couldn't do much knowing what was strapped around her parents' necks. She didn't know where they were locked up. She'd been showed photos every now and then. She'd heard them through weekly phone calls.

The Madame had them locked up somewhere. They had a toilet and a shower, a fan, a bed (the TV had been added just after Ochaco had realized she and her family had been locked up for almost a year). She had to beg the Madame to add upgrades to her parents' prison. One year became two, and two became three, and so on. Phone calls between her and her parents were always monitored. She learned the Madame hadn't lied about the 'special collars' she'd forcefully gifted them. The woman had shown a fifteen-year-old Ochaco a demonstration of what those collars could do with a child-sized teddy.

The sound of a slice, and its head fell off.

Blade collars.

And after the photos she'd been shown, and descriptions her parents provided over the phone, she connected the dots.

The Madame wanted her to figure it out herself. Maybe Ochaco was more likely to believe herself then to believe what was fed to her. Maybe the self-realization hurt more than if she'd been told. Maybe the Madame just wanted her to not rest. Maybe all of the above.

The Madame put on her glasses and flipped open her laptop, sighing. "Go to your room," she ordered tiredly.

Like always, Buggy Man and Hangnail would escort her to her 'room' – the room that just happened to have a weighed metal door, and a second, thicker door, reinforced with concrete and multiple locks on the outside. It needed two people to push the second door open. It used to be single-doored until younger Ochaco's constant near-escapes annoyed the Madame, and Buggy Man (the muscular and socially awkward man who loved his insects) was forced to make upgrades and adjustments to hinder Ochaco's mobility. They needed to cross a total of five locked doors to get to her room.

Over the years, they gradually made both pleasant and unpleasant changes. A password lock was added; then a mini-fridge. They fixed the washbasin in her uncarpeted room and gave her new slippers and a dresser; then the Madame had telekinetically popped the lights in her room after an argument Ochaco instigated in her fury. A sea of cockroaches delivered new bulbs she had to blindly screw onto the ceiling.

The soundless television screen mounted on the wall was nice, though.

The upgrades slowed down after Ochaco got tired of trying to break out to no avail. After her spirit broke. After being threatened to behave or else her parents somewhere in their own chamber wouldn't be fed. After obeying became the norm. On the days before Ochaco could leave with Room and head out with the crew, they held her down so they could unprofessionally puncture a hole in her earlap with a heated needle. The tracker earpiece had to go on.

She had missed her past few birthdays. Was she really twenty-three? She still felt fifteen. She was more focused on the weekly phone calls she was allowed to have with her parents. The corded intercom mounted on the wall had a row of numbers, from 1 to 6, and ended with an orange button she had to press for the call to go through. Her parents' number was 4. Their room was slightly bigger, they'd told her over the call, with two beds and a larger fridge.

For some reason, it was insulting, to be held against their will, and yet, be provided with basic necessities and occasional gifts.

It was like the Madame was trying to butter her up. It could've been worse. Be grateful. Mom and Dad could be dead. They're not. Be grateful – but logically, it was all wrong.

It was wrong to be grateful. Grateful things weren't worse. It didn't need to be like this.

The sound of drills muffled the beeping cars from the nearby road. Construction vehicles left a dusty odor all around. Workers littered the steel skeleton. Cables and secure lines moved and swayed. Slapping another steel beam, removing its gravity, it was maneuvered easily. Earning the money on her own meant she didn't have to rely on her monthly allowance despite all the riches she helped bring. It was unclear where all the money went.

She was more focused on the map of the tunnels she drew on paper and hid behind the clock on the wall of her Room. It was useless. She knew where the usual tunnels lead, but she knew there were more paths and any one of them could lead to where her parents were being held. Then there was no telling how many locks would be in the way. The unhealthy curves under her eyes drooped on her pale face. Making so many construction items weightless for hours with no breaks drained her. It churned her stomach.

At her limit and – for the need to be useful – continuing to lift another steel structure, she leaned over her knees to breathe deeply. A scarred hand clapped the rotating beam hooked to cords, stopping it from spinning. The ringing from the after-drill had deafened her, preventing her from hearing this man's footsteps.

He was in casual attire, this time. Short sleeves that showcased his strong arms, decorated with history of violence. The shirt had RED RIOT printed on the front. His face didn't match his body. His face was expressive, with eyes that spoke louder than words and a voice that calmed the worried. She'd seen what he was capable of on the television screen in her Room. Physically powerful. Surprisingly analytical. It was the latter that Villains feared more. She understood. She, too, feared what went on in his head.

He smiled sweetly at her. "Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you, Miss."

Oh. Her fear had probably shown on her face. "Deku," his Hero name slipped out of her mouth. Another mistake on her part. She saw a glint in his eyes. She laughed it off. "Hi, again! I didn't hear you. It gets really noisy here." She pretended his second presence here wasn't suspicious.

He kept smiling. "I wanted to check how you were doing today. You look like you're feeling better. I'm glad."

One of her superiors asked if there was a problem. Deku assured him it was fine and that he was just here to make sure Ochaco wasn't overdoing it. Her superior was more interested in the fact the Number One Hero was talking to him. He asked for an autograph, which Deku gladly gave.

The moment her superior walked away, Deku asked: "Are you free sometime?" like it was nothing at all. He possibly didn't realize the implication of his words before they left his mouth, because he blushed and quickly explained, "Not – like a date or anything. Just to talk. The agency I signed under assigned me this area so you might see me around often. There's a nice restaurant I found the other day."

Buggy's insects were probably watching. They'd spread the word. He'd deliver it to the Madame. He most likely already had, because she heard the Madame's voice talk through the earpiece:

"Go along with it," the Madame instructed in one of Ochaco's ears. "He's on high alert. Just cooperate or he'll dig more on his own."

It was a bad idea. He'd pick her words apart. She had multiple thefts and property crimes under her belt he could bring her in for. The Madame could easily get rid of her parents if Ochaco was of no use. One wrong word and things could go from bad to worse. The Madame's order was a noose around her parents' necks.

"Y – Yeah, sure!" She put on an innocent smile. Bad idea. "I'll finish my shift in another two hours."

He had katsudon while she had oyakodon. She was very aware of the many eyes and ears focused on them. There was no doubt Buggy's bugs were spying somewhere. It was hard to ignore the fact she was a low-class Villain while he was a top Pro Hero just on the other side of the decorated table.

Between Hero Deku and the Madame, it was a two-ended trap.

"You were moving things without holding them. Is your Quirk a kind of telekinesis?" he asked casually.

Like the word 'telekinesis' wasn't relevant at all.

Might as well continue playing along. It was unclear how much he knew about her. "It's Zero-Gravity, actually." She kept a friendly tone, focusing more on her food.

He looked impressed. "Wow. So you cancel out gravity?"

"Yeah."

"That's so cool." He ate a stripe of deep-fried pork, waited for her to finish her own mouthful, then asked when he felt the timing was right, "I know you don't want me to ask about it, but I'm required to know if you have a license to use your Quirk for something like that." He lowered his voice.

While public Quirk use was illegal, this law was widely ignored. She was, however, careful about using it if an officer or a Hero on patrol was close by. Sure, the worst that could happen was being fined, but Deku, of all people, had already caught her using it for construction labor. If it had been another Hero to catch her, she was sure things would've turned out fine. Deku was something else. He wasn't the top Hero for no reason. He'd teamed up with law enforcement to set traps and lure Villains in. He would dig.

"Oh! Yeah. Yeah, I have a license," she said, boxing up her paranoia and pretending it wasn't there. She'd shown her license to her boss or the police before. Usually, it was enough to satisfy them.

He perked up. "Can I see it, please?"

"Give him the card," the Madame ordered. Ochaco suspected the Madame was hoping this Hero would lose interest if he found no reason to suspect any criminal activity.

It was possible he really did just want to check on her license and nothing else. Her head had been filled with all the possibilities of Heroes arresting her. The Madame sounded almost afraid of Deku, and if she feared Deku, then Ochaco had to as well.

To think Ochaco had helped create this man...

"Sure!"

She presented her card. It read HERO on the back, and on the front was her full name, a picture of her, and the added information:

AGENCY: NONE

HERO NAME: URAVITY

As well as: OLYMPUS HIGH SCHOOL ACADEMY and an ID number written just below her picture.

She held her breath as he analyzed the card.

"Uravity? That's so cool," he said. "How come I've never heard of you?" he asked ever so innocently.

It was so hard to tell if he was quizzing her or if he was genuinely curious.

"I don't show myself a lot," she explained with a hint of shame. "Underground stuff." Not a lie, at least.

"Oh, you're like Eraser Head, then." He gave her back her card. "So is Hero work your night job?"

"Yup." Well, she worked at night, alright.

"And you work on your own? No agency."

"Nope."

"You must be really dedicated." He looked sympathetically at her. "I hope you're getting enough sleep. I remember I had to take short naps whenever I could."

Her tired eyes told she didn't sleep very much. Two hours of sleep wasn't enough to recharge for another round of stress once awake. "Don't worry, don't worry! Friends take my spot when I want a night to sleep."

It looked like he wanted to say more. It didn't matter, because someone at another table screamed. Deku got up in an instant, but the fierce look on his face dropped instantly when he realized why a few people had screamed.

Ochaco saw the cockroach zigzag over the polished floor, panicking. A brave employee slapped it with a wet mop and dragged it across the floor, away from the now disgruntled guests.

Deku sat back down. "Sorry about that. False alarm." He rubbed the back of his neck.

A surprising giggle escaped her. "You were so ready to save 'em from that roach."

"I don't think I could've killed it, anyway," he admitted.

"You're scared of roaches?" she asked in surprise. "You?"

"Well, not scared, exactly. Just creeped out? I normally just shoo them away."

Ochaco snorted. "Number One Hero, shooing away bugs."

He chuckled, and she almost forgot she was supposed to be on guard.

"Hey," he said. "Can you show me your fingers? Are those where your Quirk activate?" He touched his own fingers for emphasis.

She opened her palm. "Yeah, I need to touch things to float… them…" her voice fell when he touched her hand in both of his.

"Do you need to touch and hold?" he continued asking, holding eye contact and acting like he wasn't holding her hand and drawing on her palm with the tip of his finger.

She blushed and tried to figure out this sudden weird behavior. "I…" It was a pattern on her open palm. It clicked. Hang in there – he invisibly wrote in her hand. "…no. I just need to touch them, with five fingers." It was hard to force words out.

He smiled widely. "That's so neat!" He let go of her hand and didn't bring up what he'd written on over her palm. Instead, he talked about his own hand. "I have to be careful with my Quirk. I've hurt myself a lot with it. I have to focus so I don't hurt the Villains I'm trying to stop."

To the unobservant eye, it sounded like he was just telling her his own capabilities in exchange for her opening up about her own powers.

To her, it sounded like a threat to someone… She wasn't the only one to suspect this, because her earpiece spoke up:

"The son of a bitch."

"What's this?" she asked when he handed her a notepaper.

He shyly rubbed his arm. "I… uhh… that's my number. If you want to hang out again." He was blushing. "I'm still new to this area. It's nice making friends here. My shifts aren't consistent but I'll be around if you need help at work. It was nice talking with you, Uraraka."

Her permanent blush marks brightened in color. "I – Yeah! Thanks. I mean, thanks for today. It was fun…"

Her bus stop arrived.

"I'll see you later, than." He waved at her before she climbed the bus, waited until the vehicle departed, then went for his phone and searched for a specific number.

the person picked up on the third ring.

"Ahh, Deku. How'd it go?" Detective Tsukauchi asked.

"It went well. She showed me her license when I asked." She'd civically cooperated with his demands. "Can I ask you for a favor?"

"You want me to check if it was legit," the detective guessed.

"If it's not too much trouble."

"What've you got?" There was the sound of keyboard keys clicking.

"I'll send it in a minute." Izuku typed Ochaco Uraraka, Uravity from Olympus Academy and sent it.

"Alright. Hold on." More typing on the detective's side.

Izuku made himself busy, stuffing his phone back in his pocket and taking a look at the storefront of an electronics and video game store. His phone vibrated and he leaned his back against the wall for privacy to check his phone.

"There's no match," Detective Tsukauchi confirmed one of Izuku's suspicions. "It's a forged license, most likely. Impersonating a Hero is a felony. Her picture looks familiar. If you don't mind, I'll need to check something real quick."

"I don't mind." He tried to look busy. The fact that a member of the police force thought he'd seen her before struck another alarm bell in his head.

On the other end of the line, papers shuffled. An office chair squeaked. "Okay, I found something. Sorry for the wait. Had to look through the cabinet."

"It's okay. What is it?" Please not something bad, please not something bad, please.

"She resembles a suspect in the police sketch. Wears a helmet often but a security camera caught her without it. Involved in gang robberies, home break-ins and assault with a Quirk."

That was not what he wanted to hear.

"We'll need to bring her in."

"Actually, there's… more I want to…" Izuku kept his words vague and open-ended.

"You're thinking this is bigger than just theft and Hero Impersonation?" Tsukauchi wanted to hear him out.

"It's a feeling." A feeling he couldn't ignore. He recognized the eyes of a victim. He recognized the fear that pleaded for mercy, the light drained out of them. He recognized the silent cry for help.

"Well, I trust your gut feeling more than the whole department. It's been right before. Just be careful, alright?"

Saving people. That was what he'd trained to do – what he lived to do. Helping. Butting into someone else's business. Shoving himself into someone's life if it meant he could stop someone's suffering.

He'd sacrifice both arms and a leg if it meant saving a life. How could he live with himself if he walked away, knowing there was a chance to make that person's life much easier? Not being able to help was one of the worst feelings that tore him apart at night. There were lives he tried to save, but couldn't. Sometimes he was the last face they saw before they died in his arms. He could only tell himself, at least he'd tried.

This woman had the eyes of a tortured soul. The way she looked at him broke him inside. She was scared but had held her ground. The world was against her, but she had no choice but to face its monsters.

He didn't want her to look at him like he was a monster. He wasn't sure what her situation was. He just hoped she could hold on. Just please hold on.

"What kind of mess did you get yourself into?" the Madame said, groaning, her fingers pinching the bridge of her nose.

Ochaco was still unsure how it was her fault. She'd done and said exactly as instructed, but she knew she shouldn't argue with the Madame.

"He was warning you. He was dropping hints – he – oh god, he gave you his phone number," the Madame was rubbing her own temple roughly. It looked like she was kneading dough.

Judging by her wording, it sounded like the Madame hadn't seen the message he'd brushed over her palm. Did the Madame think Deku was threatening Ochaco? Had that been a threat at all? It could've been just a normal conversation line for all she knew.

"He's expecting you to call him. He's expecting–" the harder Madame thought on it, the more angry she got.

Ochaco's instincts told her to get ready. Her muscles clenched. The invisible impact came like a brick wall slamming into her, stapling her to the wall and pressing on her ribs. A grunt escaped her throat when her back and head slammed the solid steel wall of Madame's office. Her boots scraped the ground and her hands scratched at her chest (and grabbing nothing) in an attempt to unstick herself. Adrenaline kicked in like a feral animal.

"Do you know what that means? Do you have any idea?" The Madame sidestepped her desk and began pacing the room, throwing her hands around wildly as she spoke. "Do you have any idea what these Heroes get away with? They can murder and get away with it. The public loves them. They'll let them get away with anything!"

Ochaco knew. The Madame had told her stories; of Heroes taking advantage of their position, committing crimes and facing little to no punishment. Heroes immediately going for the kill and facing no legal consequences because 'they had no choice'. Heroes being Villains but not getting treated as Villains.

"He's the Number One Hero! He knows he can get away with so much. He gave you his number! His number! He's waiting for you to call him," the woman was very sure of her assumptions. Her word was law. "He wants you. He wants to have you in bed before he beats your pretty head and takes you to the police. Believe me, he will. He's already getting impatient. Those Heroes and their egos. He wants you and he'll have what he wants whether you want him or not. Don't come crying to me when he kidnaps you himself."

The rib-crushing force vanished and Ochaco dropped to the floor. Her heart still beat like a trotting horse. She waited for the woman to finish her rant so Ochaco could ask to talk to her parents.

The Madame continued. "There's no way out of this. You got yourself in a spider's web. He's going to come after you, mark my word, he will. The best thing you can do now is give him what he wants and maybe he won't force it out of you then dispose of you in a cell."

Ochaco took a few seconds to realize what the Madame was implying. She knew the Villain had a sore spot about that topic. She often talked of Heroes committing this heinous crime. She used to warn Ochaco of other things, such as homicidal Heroes, but during the Madame's pregnancy, she had switched to… that. Ochaco only assumed there was a connection.

"But… But Deku just wanted to talk," Ochaco tried to reason with her. It didn't sound like Deku would be capable of such a thing. Then again, she didn't know him personally. "He wanted to see my license!"

"I guarantee you he gives no fucks about your license. Tell me, when has someone ever walked up to you and asked for dinner? When has someone ever given you their number 'just to be friends'? When? No one wants you. I'm looking out for you, here. Trust me, if you don't call him by tomorrow he will take you himself and fuck you till you're pissing blood in a jail cell. Let me tell you – you think I'll have any reason to keep housing your parents for free when that happens? They're here for your sake. I'm feeding them for your sake. Everything is for your sake."

The more threats the Madame threw around, the hotter the boiling anger within Ochaco became. It was always like this. Constant threats, over and over again. Ochaco slowly got up – and ran at the woman with an open palm. It was a mistake she'd done before but kept doing anyway. "Leave mom and dad–!" her scream was punched back down her throat by an invisible fist. Air became scarce. Her whole body hovered with Madame's commanding hand.

"Ungrateful little–" Madame growled, motioning her hand in a manner that mimicked the dropping of a microphone, and Ochaco's body slammed to the floor, knocking the wind and thoughts out of her. Gravity became chains holding her stomach-flat to the floor, minimizing her breathing.

"This!" the Madame accused. "This is exactly why I took you in. All this irreversible damage those people–" Those People. Her parents. "–built into you. And you still want them! You don't realize how much I spoil you. How much I want the best for you."

The pressure stepping on her lessened. Ochaco panted on the floor, sweating, body heating up from constant bursts of panic. It was tiring. Resisting and walking on tightropes and restrained from lashing out and only getting to hear her parents once a week. She wanted to go home. Not this home. Home home; where she had nice people around and she was little and she had to promise her parents she'd become a Hero and finally be able to help. That home. Home from back then.

The Madame placed two fingers under Ochaco's chin and gently forced her to look up. "Uravity, sweetie, baby, I'm hard on you because I want the best for you."

Bullshit

"Tell you what; you go have a talk with those people–"

My parents, don't talk about them like that!

"And I'll help you pick a dress and a hotel." The Madame's face wrinkled up by the wide smile. "I got it. I've got it! I think I know how to help you. You do everything and – and–"

Ochaco wasn't expecting the Madame's last line.

"–and you might actually get rid of Mr. Number One Hero."

Ochaco didn't like that. She didn't like it at all.

Her chest was sore as she limped through the narrow tunnel with Buggy Man in front and Hangnail at the back, guarding her from both sides. They stopped when they reached the intercom on the wall.

She pressed 4 and buzzed it using the orange button. Ochaco held the corded phone up to her un-monitored ear.

Three rings in and there was a click.

"Dad? Mom?"

"Ochaco!" her mom perked up.

"Hey, kiddo. Missed you," Her dad said. "We were just talking about you." Not much else to talk about when imprisoned. "How're things going for you? Hope they aren't overworking you."

"It's like always," she admitted with a tired giggle to lighten the mood. "What'd you guys eat?"

"Had miso soup, rice and fish. Came in a container. They ordered from the same place as last time, I'm guessing. Tasted–"

"They had the same taste."

"–the same. Yeah."

"Very nice, though."

Both parents agreed. It was usually like this. A boring conversation about what they ate and how her day (or night) went and if anything unusual happened. It was the one thing that kept her from giving up altogether. They were the reason she kept living. Hearing their voices once a week. Them telling her they saw this and that on TV. Mom telling her Dad had cried while watching a drama with subtitles on because there was no audio.

"Did they get to fix the shower?" Ochaco asked. She heard Buggy Man sighed with exasperation. Her parents laughed in her one ear.

"I told the man we just needed a hose replacement. He said it was fine until it sprayed him. We got our replacement," her dad explained with amusement.

Ochaco snorted.

"What about you, honey?" her mom asked. "You sound tired."

I am. "Just hadn't slept well." She couldn't tell them a Hero was involved. Involved in what way? She'd assumed he was on her side. Now, she felt alone. Why did she need to choose a side for her parents to keep their heads? Why couldn't she just… fix this mess and just be home?

Be home, with Mom and Dad.

Be home and sleep in a bed comfortably, wrapped in a fluffy blanket.

Be home, where it was safe.

"I love you, guys."

"We love you, too, Ochaco."

Home.

Where was home?

In her Room, the clock on the wall pointed at 2 am. Hangnail had knocked on her thick door and informed her there was no mission tonight. The Madame was still on guard, knowing Deku had shoved himself into the situation. There was a zero chance Ochaco was going through with what Madame wanted. The problem was… she wasn't sure how to get out of the situation.

"Kill the Number One Hero with his pants around his ankles. He'll be too confident – too cocky to suspect a thing!"

Logically, Deku probably just wanted to talk? Probably. Maybe. She couldn't be sure.

Emotionally, she feared there was a small chance that maybe – maybe, the Madame was right? She had experienced the evil within the system, after all.

Under the lukewarm shower, she debated if sleep was possible tonight. Could she really go through with it? No. How would she? She could never live with herself. She'd rather end herself than kill another person. But then, if she was gone… her parents would surely lose their lives and no one would know.

Through the rapid-fire stream drilling her face and silky water running down her bruised, naked skin, she heard the familiar sound of clicks and creeks of locks turning. The Madame had little regard for privacy, which made Ochaco feel even more naked than she physically was.

The door was manually locked behind Madame by Buggy Man and Hangnail, leaving Ochaco naked with the Madame.

The Villain had armfuls of crinkling bags. "Alright! Getting all shiny over there? Good, good. Listen, sweetheart, I went ahead and put his number in your brand new phone. Yeah! Tadaaa! You got yourself a phone, like all the big girls." The Madame showed off a pink smartphone. "I had to make adjustments. I can see everything you do so be mindful when you send them nudes, kay? Kay." She tossed the phone onto the bed.

Ochaco wasn't sure if she really was expected to send nudes. It was best to not ask and make the Madame consider it. "What's… all… that?" Ochaco asked uncertainly, turning off the water and standing in the cold silence to hear. She was never given a towel in her Room.

"Oh, my darling, my dear, my astronaut, this is all to make you pretty. Mr. Number One wouldn't want to strangle you in this. He'll want to save you for more nights, Meaning–" Madame paused her speech to she pulled items out of the bag. A thin box with a picture of legs in lace. She put that aside to unpack the rest of the gifts that made Ochaco's cheeks burn. Then, the Madame held a leather knife case, unsheathing the short weapon to softly run her thin fingers over the sharp ends. "–you'll get a second try for this."

She was serious. She expected Ochaco to use that. "Wait, I–"

"Buuuut don't you worry," the Madame interrupted, fishing out a tiny glass bottle with a small amount of yellow liquid at the bottom. "Got a bit of cobra venom, just in case you miss. Gotta make sure you get out of this alive, you get me?"

"I don't!" Ochaco almost yelled. Anything to get the woman to stop talking.

She did. The blank look on Madame's face wasn't didn't stop Ochaco's boiling anxiety. "I don't want to do this," Ochaco said firmly.

Madame stayed silent, staring at Ochaco blankly. It made Ochaco feel like an idiot. Like she made a mistake and was being silently judged for it. Madame only did this when her temper started to boil. She'd explode again, like always.

"I don't want it," Ochaco repeated, bracing herself. "I don't want any of it. I don't want to hurt people. I don't want to sleep with him. I don't want…" I don't want what you made of me.

To her surprise, the Madame snorted. "You're adorable. Really. You are. Don't we all wish we can just… say no to things and call it a day?" she taunted. "I assure you, if he takes you to the police, you can bet those people won't be here by the time you come running back. You want to risk that because – because it hurts your feelings? Those feelings are what got you in this mess. I want to go out! I want this and that! I want! I want money. I want them to eat more! I want, I want, I want, I want. Darling, not everything is going to go your way. You're a big girl, now, you should know that. I'm giving you a choice here. Either run along with Mr. Number One, be his fuck toy before he either strangles the life outta you in bed or he caves your head in and hands you over to rote in jail and you can say goodbye to those people, or…" She held up the bottle of venom. "You play nice with him, slit his throat, you get him off your back and you'll come home safe and sound and no more worries. What do you say?"

Ochaco remained silent.

"Or," the Madame added. "You go ahead and 'spill the tea' to Mr. Number One, I snip two heads off and skedaddle, and you still go to jail and be all alone. What's it going to be? Are your feelings really worth it here?"

She remembered when she had fucked up a few years ago. Almost got caught by a patrolling Hero and Hangnail had to flick a nail at him with a slingshot gun to tranquilize the Hero. A lucky hit from a moving van. The Madame hadn't been too happy, threatening her parents, like always. Ochaco had assumed they were empty threats. She only found out they had been assaulted after the Madame so generously let Ochaco phone them on a no-call day. Even when her parents tried to sound like nothing had happened, she heard it. Her dad was slurring like he just woke up from a coma. Her mom's voice was drained like she'd been manhandled. The Madame knew what hurt Ochaco the most.

Ochaco suspected Buggy Man (who had what looked to be scratch marks on his knuckles) and Hangnail. They were obedient. She wasn't sure why they worshipped the Madame so. She didn't know much about them, other than they did as told, like burglary and assault were just chores that needed to be done.

Deep underground, chained by the words of this one person, Ochaco was reminded again of how alone she really was.

"Ooh, I know, honey. I know," the Madame cooed, getting up and caressing Ochaco's cheek. "It's hard and it's unfair, I know." Her thumb brushed over the dark crescents under Ochaco's dry eyes. "It'll hurt, but only for a little while. Just be able to come home and – tell you what? Do that, come home and I'll let you see those people. Your parents, I mean. Would you like that? Good 'ol mom and dad. Maybe we'll make that a thing. These… family visits."


Notes:

-The idea was in my mind for some time. I couldn't rest until I wrote it.

-Was planned to be a one-shot, but it got too long and I had to cut it in half. Had some trouble figuring out where to cut it.

-I kept adding and removing stuff. Had to force myself to stop because otherwise, I'd be working on it forever.

-I had to make changes to a lot of things and had to have the characters adapt to the changes made around them.