Ochako wasn't sure what it said about her that it took her six months to finally cave in and visit the UA Counseling Department, but after everything she'd seen at the Shie Hassaikai Raid, she felt that it was time. She'd heard occasional whispers from the other students about the guidance counselor assigned to Class 1-A but had never paid them much mind. After all, Ms. Counselor wasn't exactly a teacher employed at UA. From what little she'd heard she knew that she was an outsider, not a pro-hero like the rest of the UA staff.
To be honest, Ochako wasn't even sure if Ms. Counselor could help her. She didn't sound like the warmest person to talk to, blunt and straightforward. The last time Ochako had spotted her on campus, she'd been locked in a heated discussion with Lunch Rush. Initially, the woman had been unimposing but there was something calculating in her deep, brown eyes that unsettled Ochako. Still, she was the Class 1-A counselor and Ochako was desperate. Besides, pointless paranoia would only make things worse.
After running a hand through her hair, Ochako rested her hand on the doorknob to Ms. Counselor's office. The plaque beside the door listed her degrees—two psychology degrees from the University of Musutafu—yet gave no indication of her first nor last name. Weird, but on brand for UA.
Before Ochako could muster the courage to open the door, the decision was stolen from her when the person on the other side swung it open. Beyond startled, it took Ochako ten seconds too long to process that she was staring into the surprised face of Todoroki Shouto.
"Hello, Uraraka-san," he regained his composure. "I'm done with my appointment now if you wanted to talk to Ms. Counselor."
"Oh, uh!" She flailed her hands, trying not to make the situation more awkward than it was. "Thanks?"
He stood there for a moment, glancing between Uraraka and the doorway. Then she realized she was still standing in his way. She sputtered a moment before stepping aside, letting him pass.
"I guess I'll see you back at the dorms, then?" he said conversationally.
"Yeah!" she forced herself to sound chipper. "See ya later!"
By the time Ochako's pulse settled, she'd almost forgotten that she'd left the door to Ms. Counselor's office ajar. She could see the woman inside looking back at her, a ghost of a smile on her lips and what suspiciously looked like a bottle of whiskey between her knees. She donned a plaid blazer, a complementary skirt, and topaz earrings that caught in the fluorescent lights like stars.
"Uraraka Ochako, right?" she called. "Come on in."
She nodded dumbly and closed the gap between them, letting the door fall shut behind her. Shit. Now there was no escape route.
"I'm a bit surprised that you've taken so long to make an appointment, considering you're one of the last of your classmates to step in my office, but I guess that's expected with your strong volition. You don't like being a burden to others."
Ochako blinked. "I'm sorry?"
She'd never met Ms. Counselor, yet the woman held no reservations taking a stab at one of Ochako's closest insecurities. Moreover, the way she spoke of her classmates suggested that she was one of the few hero students that hadn't sought counseling? She didn't buy it.
Sure, it'd been a rough semester between the USJ attack, whatever happened during internships, the stress of midterms, the disaster summer camp, the Kamino incident, and the work-study program. Still, Ochako had never received any impressions from her peers that they were bent out of shape or anything. Everyone was fine! Weren't they? This was just her little problem and her problem alone.
"I didn't mean to unnerve you," Ms. Counselor assured. "How about you take a seat? I've actually been looking forward to meeting you. Your classmates speak very highly of your abilities."
Reluctantly, Ochako sunk into the cushy, green chair opposite of Ms. Counselor. The rest of the room was as plain as any other office at UA, with a few plaques and photographs of students hung on the walls. Except… was that a mini-bar behind her desk? Was that even allowed?
"I uh, didn't realize how many of my friends talked to you," Ochako said. "None of them really talk about you."
Ms. Counselor nodded. "Ah, yeah. I'm sure you understand most people wouldn't like to broadcast the fact that they're in counseling. Especially some of your uh, more, prideful classmates. Now, what exactly brings you to my office today?"
Ochako looked down. "I uh, I just felt like I needed to sort out my thoughts. It's stupid, really. I know that I wasn't the only person involved with what happened in the work-study and that people like Togata-senpai are worse off, but I can't stop thinking about it. And—and Sir Nighteye. I was the one who was there when he was… when he was hurt and I just keep thinking that if maybe I was faster that he'd still be here."
It'd been on her mind for days, morning and night. Hoisting Sir Nighteye's fragile form, spurting blood from where he'd been impaled, up into the air. His ragged breaths against her neck as he mumbled about futures changing, timelines, and other complicated ramblings Ochako had been too frazzled to remember. The soft, purple glint of his eyes reflected in his glasses as he started to slip into unconsciousness. She remembered lowering him onto a stretcher, pleading with a medic to save him, only to turn her back on him to help take down Overhaul.
She should have been faster. Or maybe, she should have just stayed with him. It's not like they needed her help taking down Overhaul, Deku—resilient, perfect Deku—defeated him.
"Ah, I see," Ms. Counselor said, taking out a notepad. "You've been through a very emotionally stressful and traumatic experience. Well, several of them. What you're feeling right now is very valid, and I need you to understand that before we go any further."
"I need to understand that it's good that I'm feeling this?" Ochako said.
Ms. Counselor shook her head. "No, it's not good that you're feeling guilty for Sir Nighteye's death. I said that it's valid."
Ochako scanned Ms. Counselor's expression for any traces of humor. "What's the difference?"
"You feel that you're the only person that feels guilty for his death. You also don't feel like you deserve to be this upset. That's not true. Your emotions are more than warranted and I need you to know that it's okay to grieve him. You might not have lost as much as your peers, but your mental welfare matters." Ms. Counselor's deep brown eyes met Ochako's. "You are valid."
How was she supposed to respond to that?
"You mentioned that you feel guilty for not being fast enough, and I'm going to tell you that's also normal. You're not going to believe me right away, obviously, because counseling isn't a magical emotional fix-it-all. So, before you refuse my proposal hear me out."
This was all going a little too fast for Ochako. "W—what proposal?"
"I want to have more sessions, and before each one I want you to remind yourself exactly what I just told you: you are valid. This environment—well, the hero industry—is so fast-paced that it's easy to forget your own self-worth sometimes. Just because everyone looks like they're fine, doesn't mean that they are."
The classmates that Uraraka knew looked fine. Sure, sometimes they were a bit jittery and anxious—but who wasn't? Sometimes her friends were down on themselves, but that didn't mean that everyone felt the same way she did. But Ms. Counselor said…
"It's easy to feel like you're the only person who feels awful when everyone hides their true emotions. But don't you hide your emotions from your friends, Uraraka-san?"
Her blood went cold. "I mean, I don't want them to think anything's wrong. But I—"
"And there it is. I'm telling you, it's okay not to feel alright. None of them do. Not even the most composed of your classmates. I'm not going to name any names, but even your most composed peers are one bad day away from a mental breakdown."
It was hard to imagine someone like Yaoyorozu or Iida losing their composure, but Ms. Counselor had sound logic behind her words. Hell, even before this meeting Ochako had run headfirst into Todoroki!
"I guess I can see what you mean," she agreed.
"I thought so." Ms. Counselor drew her nails across her notepad, carefully eyeing something written on the page. "Now, I don't mean to rush this conversation, I'm very glad that you dropped in today, but I am scheduled for another appointment in a few minutes. If you'd like to talk more about this, we can schedule a longer session sometime soon."
Another appointment? Ochako had just arrived a few minutes ago, but it made sense that Ms. Counselor had a schedule to keep.
"How soon?" she asked.
"I'm free every day except Sunday. I can give you a note for any class you need out of, as long as you aren't skipping the same class every day. I got in trouble for letting Kaminari cut English for two weeks straight, so don't be dumb."
"Um, I can do tomorrow during third period if that's good."
Ms. Counselor glanced back at her notepad. "Hmm, I have Tokoyami-san down for second period tomorrow but that shouldn't overlap. Is one hour good?"
"Yeah, that's fine."
"Alright, then." Ms. Counselor set her notebook aside and showed Ochako to the door. "I guess I'll see you tomorrow, Uraraka-san."
She nodded. "You too."
Ochako started to leave the office but realized she'd never asked if she needed to notify her third period teacher. When she turned back around, she realized that Ms. Counselor had half-downed an entire bottle of whiskey, wait no, entirely downed the bottle. Damn, that was fast.
"For my next appointment," Ms. Counselor replied sagely. "It helps."
"But—but you're a teacher!"
Ms. Counselor waved her finger. "Counselor, not a teacher. If I was actually a teacher here I'd probably need more. I don't know how Aizawa-san does it."
Ochako was too stunned to speak. She was nice and all, but how was this woman still employed?
"So I'll see you tomorrow, right?"
Ms. Counselor was definitely an enigma. She had reasonable advice and was just as blunt as Ochako had expected, but she had a chaotic streak. It almost made her wonder why her classmates were so hush-hush about her since most of them did frequent her office. Were people afraid of her?
"What are you staring at, pink cheeks?" someone snapped.
Ochako hadn't realized it, but she'd been staring off into space as she walked. She'd been staring at Bakugou, walking in the opposite direction, for a good twenty seconds or so. Wait, why was Bakugou even at this part of campus anyway? The only buildings here were the Communications and Counseling Departments...
No wonder Ms. Counselor had downed the full bottle.
"I wasn't looking at you, just thinking," she explained.
"Yeah, right." He scoffed.
"No, honest! I'm just… full of thoughts today."
Bakugou rolled his eyes. "Let me guess, Cece got in your head too. Know-it-all hag doesn't know any boundaries."
"You know, brown-hair and flashy earrings, psychoanalyzes the shit outta everything and everyone."
"Oh, you mean Ms. Counselor! Yeah, uh, she did give me stuff to think about. She's pretty mysterious," Ochako attributed.
"She's literally the most honest person in this goddamn school. She can't be mysterious even if she fucking wants to be."
Ochako would beg to differ, but then again Bakugou had known her longer. There weren't many people she knew that he actually called by their given names.
"Mm, I guess. Good luck."
He took a sobering sigh, and for a moment Ochako could smell the telltale scent of burnt sugar. "Yeah, whatever."
Bakugou stormed away, leaving Ochako to wonder exactly what kind of relationship he had with Ms. Counselor. The Bakugou Katsuki she'd met at the beginning of the school year wouldn't have just walked away after being wished good luck. Clearly, they'd reached some kind of mutual understanding when it came to his counseling sessions. Oh, what she wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall in that room.
(It was probably best she wasn't though.)
Still, if Ms. Counselor could help someone like him, maybe she could help Ochako feel better too. Maybe. Her insight wouldn't automatically erase Ochako's grief, guilt, and regret. Her validation helped ease it though, and that was a start.
During their next few sessions, Ochako started to realize what Bakugou had meant back then. She soon found that Ms. Counselor, or Cece, was far less closed off than she'd assumed. Everything was a straight-forward answer, if not a clever evasion, but Ochako started to suspect that the woman couldn't even lie.
Although, it was Kirishima that confirmed her suspicions before Ochako mustered the nerve to ask.
"I can't believe the NERVE of that lady!" Ashido fumed. "All I asked was how she really felt about my hero costume. She went down a list, a full LIST, about every aspect she found to be 'unsightly' about its design. Apparently, I look too colorful? The colors clash? It's too busy? She wears plaid for fuck's sake, she has no right—!"
"Who said this?" Yaoyorozu looked up from a cup of tea, startled.
"Ms. Counselor!" Ashido announced to the group convened in the commons. "She's so nice until she's mean!"
Asui patted Ashido on the shoulder. "There, there. I think your hero costume suits you."
"Doesn't it?" she asked. "I just can't believe she had the nerve to attack me like this. She's supposed to look out for my mental health, not make me feel horrible!"
"Maybe it was too far, you can't really blame Ms. Counselor for answering your question," Kirishima pointed out. "It's not like she can lie."
Iida nodded. "Without alcohol that woman is cold-blooded."
Ochako gasped. "Iida-kun! That's an awful thing to say!"
"It's true," Kirishima said, "her quirk's brutal honesty. Can't tell a lie without something to dull the mind."
Yaoyorozu and Ashido also seemed surprised. Asui just nodded.
"For real?" Ochako asked. "I thought her quirk was something to do with reading people. Because she's a counselor."
"I think the honesty ties into that," Kirishima explained. "I think the only person who really understands how her quirk works is Midoriya, and well, I'd ask him if I didn't mind a two-hour lecture on all the new quirks he's learned about."
"Yeah, that checks out," Ashido decided. "I guess I don't feel too bad now that I know she couldn't really, not tell me her thoughts? I'm still offended but brutal honesty has to suck."
"I can't believe I really thought she was an alcoholic," Yaoyorozu muttered. "No wonder Nezu hasn't answered my emails."
"Yaoyorozu-san, you tattled on Ms. Counselor?" Kirishima gasped.
She hmphed. "I thought it was in UA's best interest to be informed, but now I see it was all a misunderstanding. That's on me."
"Remind me not to do anything in front of you, Momo-chan," Ashido all but whispered.
"Seconded," Ochako added, trying to decide if Yaoyorozu or Iida looked more appalled at her declaration.
"We are ASPIRING heroes!" Iida declared. "Our performance should be nothing more than admirable. Fooling around isn't an option."
Kirishima shook his head. "I think Ms. Counselor needs to talk to you about loosening up, Iida-kun. We might be heroes, but we're still human. It's good to give your all, but sometimes it just isn't feasible or healthy."
Even your most composed peers are one bad day away from a mental breakdown.
From what he was saying, Ochako had a gnawing feeling that Kirishima had been in the same place that she had on that first day. That he and Ms. Counselor had had a very similar conversation.
Just because everyone looks like they're fine, doesn't mean that they are.
It was almost an understatement. Ochako could see now that so many of her friends were going through the same, or more complicated, struggles. Between the five classmates in front of her and the fourteen others across campus, it was inconceivable how much trauma they'd accumulated. Knowing now that Ms. Counselor couldn't lie made her respect her so much more. Ochako could never do that in her place.
"Mental health matters," Asui echoed. "Overworking never helps anyone. Even pro-heroes need to cut loose or they'll burn out. If anything, All Might taught us that."
"All Might didn't burn out, but I see what you mean," Iida said. "He reached his limit. I guess I never thought of mental health like that."
"Neither did I," Yaoyorozu said.
"Hey guys, I just got OUT of counseling this morning," Ashido interrupted. "Could we like, I don't know, do this loosening up thing already?"
"Oh, sorry, Mina-chan!"
"You're good, girl," she laughed. "I really just came here to vent and get some of that expensive tea I know you've been hoarding."
She'd never admit it, but Ochako's fight or flight response kicked in at the words 'expensive tea.'
"Oh, I want some too!" she exclaimed.
"Well, I guess I can put another kettle on," Yaoyorozu said.
"Ah, you're the best Momo-chan!" she praised.
Ochako had a feeling that things like these would never change. Even with their fair share of trauma, Class 1-A was in it together.