Actions

Work Header

Dry Eye And Other Things That Burn

Chapter Text

“...and he’s normally so attentive that, well, I’m concerned on the young man’s behalf,” All Might explained. “I don’t think he’d take so kindly to me prying into his private affairs…”

“...so you want me to do it for you,” Aizawa finished.

“I suppose you could put it that way, yes.”

“Todoroki is one of mine,” he agreed. “And I’ve noticed what you’re talking about.”

Aizawa wasn’t one for hovering over students. Obviously he wouldn’t let a kid fight on a broken leg (or rough themselves up recklessly, like Midoriya seemed so intent on doing), but he wasn’t the type to nag his brats about showing up sick to English class. It was becoming evident, however, that Todoroki’s case was growing into something more serious.

“I’m not trying to tell you how to run your class—”

“—I know. You’re right, though. An intervention is overdue. I’ll take care of it,” Aizawa said.

“Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I’m being paid.”

“Such devotion to the craft,” All Might said with a sudden wetness. Aizawa slipped out of the teacher’s lounge before the situation could escalate further, although he could hear musings about the caliber of teachers at this school echoing all the way to 1-A’s classroom.

“Good morning, sensei!”

“Morning…”

It wasn’t hard to get through his brief lesson plan for the day. Alternating between reading from his Intro to Weapons lecture notes and looking over his class, Aizawa kept an eye on Todoroki throughout the hour. Today, the kid looked the same as he’d been for the past two weeks, if not a little worse: his face looked warm, his eyes were somewhat glazed over, and he generally looked out of it. He could answer questions fine, Aizawa had found, and his grades had yet to decline in the slightest.

“Sensei,” Midoriya called, waving his hand in the air. “Since we’re students, and we’re still working on improving our quirks, how should we tell if we need to start working with a weapon?”

“You mean, ‘How do I tell if I need equipment, or if my quirk is just weak right now?’ Looking at pro heroes with similar quirks can be helpful,” Aizawa said, “since they’re generally trained to use their quirks to their greatest potentials. If they have any obvious weaknesses, and you can think of a weapon to eliminate one of those weaknesses, it would be smart to start working with it now.”

“What if we can’t think of a weapon to cover our weaknesses?”

“I don’t know any heroes with quirks like mine…”

“Is there ever a reason not to use weapons?”

Mercifully, the bell rang.

“We’ll continue this discussion tomorrow. All Might wants you all for hero training after lunch,” he said, raising his voice to speak over the sound of his students packing up. “Be at the outside track at one.”

Aizawa waited until the room had cleared somewhat before approaching Todoroki, who’d taken noticeably longer than his classmates to get his belongings together. “Not you.”

Todoroki looked up at him blearily. “Sir?”

“Come back here at one,” Aizawa told him. “Don’t look so worried. You won’t be missing anything important.”

“Understood…” Todoroki stared at him uncomprehendingly.

Aizawa sighed. “Go eat.”

He would have been more upfront about the whole business if it had been another student. Todoroki wasn’t one to disobey a teacher, for sure, but if he knew they would be discussing his health...Aizawa understood. Asking about health was invasive, and even moreso for heroes, whose injuries and illnesses came more often than not from confidential affairs.

Invasive...it was probably invasive to wonder after Todoroki as much as he did. Aizawa was not, by nature, a nosy person, and he had no desire whatsoever to micromanage his students’ lives outside of their training. That being said...working around Endeavor for the entirety of his career left Aizawa with a particular sense of unease when it came to Todoroki. Endeavor had the habit of treating his coworkers as extra limbs, mere extensions of his own will, and his sidekicks had the habit of not lasting long in that position. Children typically weren’t treated the same as business partners, sure, but for a kid to hate his father as much as Todoroki did…

Who’s to say? Aizawa thought.

With an hour or so before he was due back in the classroom, Aizawa saw fit to make himself his afternoon cup of black tea.

The teacher’s lounge was quiet, a good place to seek respite from the frantic pace of a normal day at UA. Plus Ultra was the perfect motto for high-schoolers, who could burn themselves out one day and wake up the next, ready to do it all over again. Aizawa had mostly learned to oversee the enthusiasm without letting it completely drain him, but there was always some level of residual exhaustion entailed in this kind of job.

He looked out the window after setting the kettle on the stovetop, studying the weather. It’s a season for thawing. Ashido will want to adjust the viscosity of her Acid...Kouda should adjust his roster of animals on-call, although I’m sure he knows that…

Perhaps Todoroki’s sickness was a seasonal issue. Allergies were a normal thing to deal with, especially when it came to kids. The fact that Todoroki’s quirk was temperature-based could be another contributing factor, since the weather was getting warmer. If this was an annual ordeal, Aizawa would have hoped that some solution would have occurred to Todoroki or his father by now. They both could be awfully stubborn, though. He wouldn’t be surprised if it was an annual issue and they simply chose to ignore it every time it came up. It wasn’t as though he didn’t do the same thing with his chronic fatigue, along with everything else.

Aizawa took the kettle off the stove before it whistled. He poured his water and left before some other staff member could make an entrance.

He didn’t have long to enjoy the silence in his classroom before Todoroki’s knock called him back to attention, a bit before one. Recalling that he’d locked the door, Aizawa forced himself to his feet and sullenly let his student in.

“Have a seat,” he invited flatly. Todoroki did.

His student looked uncomfortable, not caring to meet his eyes. “Have I done something wrong?”

“Not to my knowledge.” Aizawa sat on the edge of his desk. “We need to discuss your wellness. Or lack thereof.”

Todoroki closed his eyes, looking thoroughly caught. “No one has any reason to be concerned—”

“—don’t argue,” Aizawa interrupted, “about something so foolish. Your other teachers have approached me about this, and frankly, it’s impossible not to notice your condition. Fevers lasting multiple weeks and constant exhaustion aren’t normal, and certainly won’t help your efforts to train and improve your abilities.”

“Yes, sensei.”

“I’m not here to lecture you,” he sighed, “I’m here to figure out what the problem is. Do you have any idea? Has anything like this happened to you before?”

“No.”

“Nothing? No issues with temperature regulation, quirk overuse…?”

“No. Nothing to this degree,” Todoroki amended.

“We’ve all seen what overuse of your right side does to you,” Aizawa frowned more deeply, “but I haven’t seen you use your left since the Sports Festival. You haven’t been overworking it in your own training?”

“I haven’t used it,” Todoroki replied, eyes trained carefully at the ground, “since the Sports Festival.”

“Which was around three weeks ago. I’m sure you don’t need me to tell you that it’s unwise to leave half of your quirk untrained, and that’s not what we’re here to discuss...before the Sports Festival, did you experience any side effects related to the suppression of your left side?”

Todoroki’s expression grew strained. “I’m not sure.”

“I’m right, aren’t I,” Aizawa said. “Listen, I’m not here to—”

“—sensei—”

“—tell you not to hold grudges—”

“—sensei, please,” Todoroki grimaced, “the trashcan—”

Aizawa barely made it to the desk before Todoroki leaned over the edge and threw up into the bin. Relief seemed far away, as he lost the contents of his stomach and continued to dry heave, looking about as miserable as Aizawa had ever seen him. It seemed to stop for a moment, leaving Aizawa with the burden of breaking the silence; yet then, the gagging started again, and Aizawa felt himself reach out as Todoroki spat out some piss-yellow fluid.

His student’s shoulder was sweltering under his hand, and he could feel a slight quiver running through Todoroki’s entire body. “Can you use your ice?” he asked, trying to keep his sense of urgency out of his voice.

“That’s what I’ve been doing,” Todoroki managed. “It’s—” he heaved, “—this isn’t because of a grudge—

“Tell me, then,” Aizawa prodded, steadying him.

“I don’t know if—if I can control it. My left.”

Ah. He’s afraid. “You mean you haven’t trained it properly,” Aizawa repeated, “and now that you’ve had it suppressed for so long, you’re worried about what will happen when you release all that stockpiled energy. That’s understandable.”

“Before,” Todoroki started, tensing up with nausea.

“Breathe. Deeply, through your nose.”

Todoroki nodded, and followed his advice. It was hard for Aizawa to watch. Having this conversation would have been difficult no matter what, he knew, Todoroki being the prideful kid he was. Having it while he was physically weakened was worse, somehow, like kicking a man who was already down.

“Before the Sports Festival,” Todoroki tried again, breathing carefully, “it was never this bad. Even after—” he had to pause, “—after I stopped using—it , I—it never made me sick.”

Aizawa let that sit for a moment, anxious to let the kid catch his breath. Then he prodded again. “Things changed at the Sports Festival?”

Todoroki shook his head violently. “I used it. I let it get too out of hand. Against Midoriya. I shouldn’t have used it.”

“Midoriya was fine.”

“I didn’t mean to. I did,” he stumbled, “I mean, it wasn’t like I lost control of my quirk. I just don’t understand why I let myself…”

Aizawa didn’t say anything. He gave Todoroki’s shoulder an experimental squeeze, urging him on.

“...do people ever get quirks they...can’t handle?”

The question didn’t exactly take Aizawa by surprise when it came. “Sure. Lots of people can’t control their quirks when they’re kids. Some people never learn. Most do.” He slid off the front of his desk, reassuming some of his characteristic sternness. “If I was concerned about your physical or mental ability to handle your own quirk, I’d expel you. As it stands, the only threat I see to your success is your own stubbornness.”

“Can…”

“‘Can I help?’ You should have asked sooner. It would have saved us both a lot of trouble,” he chided, though the rebuke lacked his typical harshness. “Go ahead. Use your left. I’ll erase your quirk if you become a danger to anyone.”

“Right here?”

“That’s right.”

So Todoroki set himself on fire, after Aizawa had stepped a few feet back, and bore his sky-high mess of flames admirably well for the first few minutes. After that, when the papers on Aizawa’s desk had started to curl up and brown at the edges, he urged Todoroki to start reining in his power. It took another couple of minutes for the temperature of the room to drop to something reasonable for the season, and even then, Todoroki was unable to extinguish himself completely on his own.

“Sensei,” he had winced, and Aizawa had cut off his quirk instantly.

“Let me see.” There was some slight blistering over Todoroki’s scar, Aizawa noticed, and wondered if that area would always be more sensitive to this side of the kid’s quirk. Otherwise, he appeared unharmed, albeit dead on his feet.

“You look better. You should still see Recovery Girl for the face," he said, "but you'll probably be fine from here, with some rest." Aizawa considered him for another moment. "Don’t let it get to this point again."

“I won’t." Todoroki looked away. "I’m sorry.”

"For?"

“Becoming a danger," he answered, "and inconveniencing you and everyone else…”

He trailed off as Aizawa stuck an unexpected hand on his head and steered him, without another word, to the nurse’s office.

Chapter Text

Despite having given out his cell phone number on the first day of classes, Aizawa was surprised that one of the kids actually had the nerve to use it.

“Yes?” he answered, not bothering to mask the irritation in his voice. “I can see this is your third time calling. Go ahead and give me the sales pitch so we can get this over with.”

“Sensei?”

“Midoriya?”

“Sensei!” The voice on the other end of the line sounded utterly relieved. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt, I hope you’re not in the middle of anything—”

“Is there an emergency?” Aizawa stood up from the conference table, ignoring the other teachers’ questions.

This kid, Aizawa’s “problem child,” was going to give him a heart attack before the year’s end. He had a habit of sticking his nose into Pro Hero business, ignoring rules when it suited him, and generally disregarding his own health to the point of permanently damaging his body. Just weeks ago, he’d popped up at the Kamino incident, part of a rogue band of UA kids who’d given themselves a rescue mission. If this was another rule infraction...

“I don’t know if it’s really an emergency—I need help.” Midoriya’s frantic whispering was really starting to put him on edge.

“Where are you.”

“On th-the roof of the convenience store, like, four blocks from school?”

“Are you hurt?”

“I busted my leg, and a couple fingers. There’s a villain,” Midoriya hissed, “he’s got a burrowing quirk. I would have used Full Cowl but he surprised me a-and I kicked at full power on reflex, I stunned him and he doesn’t know where I am now but he’s tearing up everything and I can’t move fast enough now…”

“Stay on the line,” Aizawa said, sprinting. “Tell me what he’s doing.”

“He’s shouting at me,” he heard a sharp intake of breath, “he’s got a woman and he’s saying he’s going to hurt her—”

“—don’t reveal yourself. Villains don’t throw hostages away that quickly,” Aizawa explained, “and he wouldn’t bait you if he didn’t like his odds against you.”

If it really was a burrowing quirk, Aizawa figured, the roof would be a fairly safe place to be, even if Midoriya was found. It was extremely concerning that Midoriya had been targeted in the first place. He would be frustrated, rather than worried, if Midoriya had been the one to throw the first punch, but from what Midoriya was claiming, the villain had seen reason to start a fight with him specifically, which no petty thief would do if they had a choice...and while he didn’t trust Midoriya to keep his nose out of hero business, he couldn’t imagine him  lying about something like this. The kid always took his just desserts.

“Stay put. I’m almost there.”

“H-he knows,” Midoriya warned, “he’s saying he can feel your footsteps, Aizawa-sensei.”

“I can see you now.” Aizawa hung up and readied his capture weapon.

The hostage situation was a little concerning. Aizawa hoped that he would be able to lure the villain away by bluffing a charge and feigning disinterest in the civilian’s life, but he hated the gambling element to that approach. Still, he couldn’t see any better options on the table. If he was lucky, by holding off on using his quirk, he’d be able to goad the villain into a position where quirk erasure would mean game over. There were advantages to being an underground hero, after all.

“Not another step, I think, no, or the lady gets it! She will.”

The villain had an ugly chittering sort of voice, with tiny beads-for-eyes that didn’t look good for seeing much of anything. Against his hostage’s throat, Aizawa saw, the man held up an arm—a drill, pointy-tipped and savage-looking. His pudgy tail lay on the ground like a dead worm beside him.

Steeling himself, Aizawa bolted, lashing out with his capture weapon in a dead-on charge.

His prediction was right, he noted—the mole-man didn’t hesitate to ditch the woman, arms roaring to life as he dove into the ground, carelessly surfacing meters away.

“Relying on scarf tricks, I think, no, it won’t work! It won’t,” the villain tutted, ducking back into the ground.

He’ll have to come up for air, Aizawa thought. I can erase his quirk, then. That should buy me enough time…

“I think not, no, not,” the villain said, surfacing again with a dramatic arc of dirt. At that, Aizawa activated his quirk. His capture weapon shot out as the mole-man bounced off the ground, drills frozen in apparent malfunction. He scrambled for a hole, almost ducking out of eyesight, but by that time it was too late. Aizawa pulled him out like a rat in a wall.

He made quick work of restraining the villain. Probably some random henchman, he guessed, considering the man's incompetence. With any luck, he'd have information of some value—hopefully something about wide-scale villain organization, or the league's motives for going after All Might, and targeting kids like Midoriya...

Midoriya. It was cause for concern, Aizawa noticed, that he hadn’t heard from his student since the phone call.

He was relieved, after climbing up the convenience store awnings, to find the kid still on the roof. It was obvious which leg was broken, the culprit tinted alarmingly purple and feigning joints where they didn’t belong. Midoriya, breathing shallowly, had tensed when Aizawa first crawled onto the roof before he seemed to recognize his teacher.

“Sensei,” he exhaled, “I’m okay. Is he—was anyone—?”

“The villain has been restrained,” Aizawa said, “and law enforcement should be on the way. There were no injuries, apart from your own.”

“Thank goodness. I’m sorry, I know I did a poor job of handling it,” he winced, “I wouldn’t have started anything, I think went for me because he recognized me from the news or something since he knew my name, but I should have been more prepared for being attacked, and gotten some distance to assess the situation instead of letting myself react. Then I wouldn’t have been a liability, and he would have never gotten that hostage…”

Aizawa waited for him to finish, figuring that would make for the path of least resistance. “It sounds like you’re aware of how you can improve from this incident.”

“But still!” Midoriya started again. “I made everything worse, by letting my reflexes get the better of me...I know you said we could call you if we ever need help—”

“—and I meant it,” Aizawa interrupted. “You’re students. You don’t even have provisional licenses. You don’t have a pro’s level of control over your abilities, and it would be totally irrational for me to expect that of you. Yet.”

Midoriya seemed to be debating between making further protests or stifling them. Aizawa took the silence as an invitation to get moving; he hadn’t bothered to call Recovery Girl out, since the school was only four blocks away, and he could hear police sirens not too far off. Midoriya didn’t make a sound of complaint as he was pulled onto Aizawa’s back, bad leg left to dangle for the full trek.

They were silent, for the first block or so. Midoriya was the first to speak.

“I knew it was bad, before,” he mumbled, “that my quirk was so self-destructive. My arms are almost done for...still, I always thought of it as long-term-short-term. You warned me about it, the first day of classes…”

“Not to rely on someone to save you after crippling yourself.”

“I-I didn’t forget or anything!” Midoriya said, before seeming to grow resigned, in some sense. “At the same time, it just hadn’t come up yet. There was always a limit to how much I could do—like at the Sports Festival!—but there had never been a time when I was in danger and my quirk made me...uh…”

“Totally useless.”

He cringed. “Yes. Totally useless.”

“A bad reflex,” Aizawa replied, “doesn’t come from a weak will, or a lack of potential. Training is the only thing that replaces bad reflexes with good ones. You didn’t evaluate the situation and make a stupid choice,” he elaborated, pulling his goggles off and adjusting his scarves with his free hand, “so I’m not particularly concerned. Or disappointed. As long as you’re willing to put the work into reprogramming your natural responses, they can be fixed.”

Midoriya sighed.

Aizawa was quiet, wondering if his student would push the matter, but Midoriya seemed to have run out of things to say—that, or he was too worn out to speak. They were close to campus, now, although Recovery Girl’s office was a little out of the way. It was a good thing that they didn’t have too much farther to go because, Aizawa noticed, Midoriya was starting to lose his grip around his neck.

With a grunt, he hefted Midoriya up again. “Your adrenaline’s wearing off. Try not to pass out,” he said.

“Nngh.” He felt the fingers entangled in his scarf tighten their hold.

“It doesn’t matter that much,” he continued, “but it’ll take longer to move you. And you could go into shock.”

He wouldn’t say so, not wanting to encourage any reckless behavior from his student, but he was impressed by Midoriya’s endurance. From that first class, when he’d smiled defiantly, clenching that first broken finger into a fist; then, the Sports Festival, when he’d snapped and re-snapped his bones, and still thrown punches head-to-head with Todoroki’s full power; and then the attack, earlier that summer break, when he’d run around with two broken arms and delivered message after message, going wherever he could be of use as though he wasn’t in any pain at all. Perhaps it was embarrassing to admit, but the kid’s pain tolerance was probably on par with Aizawa’s own.

“I hope you fix those reflexes soon,” he muttered, “so I won’t have to see you hurt so often.”

“I will!” Midoriya’s voice was muffled, face pressed into the fabric of Aizawa’s shoulder.

“Seriously.”

“I will. I won’t make you worry again, sensei.”

Aizawa snorted. “Like hell you won’t.”

Chapter Text

This staring contest could not go on.

“We can sit and stare at each other for as long as you want.” That was exactly what Aizawa had said, and now he was eating his words. He had been irritated, and now he was more irritated, because his eyes were bone dry and stinging, and had been for ten minutes, and Shinsou Hitoshi still wasn’t talking.

Earlier that morning, a student from 1-C had burst into his classroom squawking about mind control, and Aizawa knew from then on who he’d have to deal with. He hadn’t come in on a particularly havoc-ridden scene; about half the class, plus the teacher, were sitting with bland, disinterested expressions, while the other half had formed a small circle around Shinsou’s desk. A couple of them had seemed to be talking to him, while others were just watching.

“Aizawa-sensei.”

“Let me through.”

He’d taken a look at his pupil before doing anything else. Shinsou’s head was on his desk, lolled to the side; his eyes followed motion in the room, but he looked distant and vaguely distraught. He hadn’t acknowledged Aizawa, aside from a quick glance.

“Release them. Now,” Aizawa had said, “and come to my office.”

He hadn’t gotten a response. Aizawa had activated his quirk, then, pulled Shinsou to his feet by the collar, and yanked him out of the classroom just as signs of life were returning to his frozen classmates.

And here they were. Aizawa had ordered that he explain himself, and was still waiting for a response.

Shinsou, contrary to his middle school records, was neither “expressionless” nor “perfectly composed to the point of uncanniness.” In the time that Aizawa had known him, he’d found his student to be surprisingly passionate, thoroughly devoted to his pursuits, and more self-aware than any of his students in Class 1-A. He had expected to have to deal with an inferiority complex and bitter attitude when he first pulled Shinsou aside, after the Sports Festival, but was pleased to be proven wrong. Tutoring Shinsou, he’d learned that the kid took criticism well and, like himself, took pains to avoid inefficiency and histrionics.

Still, Aizawa didn’t have the information to discern if this episode was an out-of-character moment for Shinsou, or simply an aspect of Shinsou’s personality that he had yet to notice. He didn’t seem like the type of kid to be out of control, so Aizawa couldn’t understand: why would someone as motivated as Shinsou do something, for no conceivable reason, that could put his entire future as a hero in jeopardy?

Stubborn as Aizawa was, he was beginning to consider his continued standoff with Shinsou to be irrational. At the same time, he knew that it would be more irrational, however, to punish him without understanding the nature of the infracture that had taken place.

He scowled, flipped over a paper on his desk, scribbled something on it, and slid the paper and pen to Shinsou.

Fine. We can talk like this.

Shinsou stared dully, first at the paper, then at him. Then, he wrote something brief and slid the paper back.

Sure.

Aizawa ran his fingers through his hair. He hadn’t really expected his idea to work, and he wasn’t sure why it had. It was easier to have a lead, but it was also difficult when he had no idea what Shinsou’s behavior was trying to indicate.

He got another pen and wrote below Shinsou’s tense-looking script.

Tell me why you used your quirk on your teacher and classmates.

He watched Shinsou’s reaction as he handed the paper back to him. The kid wasn’t hard to read—he was nervous and shame-ridden, pausing over the question, and his teeth were grinding against each other almost audibly as he worked on an answer. He seemed to write something and scribble it out at least three or four different times, and his expression was hesitant as he finally slid the paper back.

Aizawa had to reread his answer a few times. It made no sense.

I wanted you to use your quirk on me.

Shinsou was a level-headed guy. That was Aizawa’s impression, anyway. He wasn’t the type of kid to be swayed into doing stupid things in the name of curiosity.

That’s illogical, he jotted in response. Why would you want that?

He could tell Shinsou’s next answer would be significantly longer. He sat back in his chair, wondering if he would have time to make tea before returning to Class 1-A. He’d asked Kayama to watch his class while he was gone; he knew she had to teach the third years later that morning, but if worse came to worst, he could text Mic. This wasn’t the most inconvenient turn of events, in any case. With Midnight’s first lecture on catch phrases out of the way, he would have enough time on Friday to take the kids back to Ground Beta, so they could start practicing using their Super Moves in combat...the situation wasn’t particularly aggravating. No one had been hurt, either. If there wasn’t something more concerning going on, the whole thing could be resolved with a week of detentions.

Nah. There was no way something more concerning couldn’t be going on. Shinsou wasn’t an idiot. Some other force was at play.

He watched Shinsou struggle with writing out whatever explanation he was offering. He wouldn’t look at Aizawa as he handed back the paper, rife with cross-outs and other marks of self-censorship.

I’ve come to no longer trust my intentions, it read, and as such, my quirk has been giving me trouble. I haven’t lost control over it, and I still have to activate it intentionally for it to work, but having the option always there has become burdensome. I wanted to alleviate that feeling for a while.

And then, a little further down the page:

I guess I proved myself right. I understand if you don’t want to train me anymore, or if the school decides to expel me.

Aizawa took a moment to consider the situation. It made sense that a psychological quirk could become a psychological strain on the bearer, and it wasn’t uncommon for students at UA to overwork themselves to the point of physical and mental exhaustion. It wasn’t inconceivable that by training his quirk, Shinsou had become more aware of its power, and was having a hard time facing the responsibility that came with having such a quirk.

At the same time, Shinsou was in General Studies. His coursework wouldn’t have subjected him to particularly difficult quirk training, nor had his private lessons with Aizawa even minimally involved quirk usage at this point. Furthermore, Shinsou had seemed perfectly aware of the sense of duty wrapped up with his quirk since the Sports Festival. For him to have a crisis of self-doubt now seemed...suspiciously unprompted.

Aizawa stood up.

“I’m going to make tea. I want you,” he said, “to elaborate on this first item. About why you’re ‘no longer trusting your intentions.’ I don’t buy that problems like this pop up out of thin air. I’ll be about five minutes, so please have that ready when I come back.”

Shinsou nodded, expression looking pinched.

Aizawa closed the door to his office as he left, hoping to maintain some level of privacy with regard to the situation. He knew his students would be eager to stick their noses into whatever business had called their teacher away, and in a normal case of misbehavior and punishment, he wouldn’t really care how much information was made public. It wasn’t hard to sense that something of a more sensitive nature had driven this incident, though.

He checked his phone. Nothing from Kayama, which was a good sign—she would probably be able to handle things until eleven or so. Yagi had sent him the lesson plan for that afternoon, and other than spam mail, that was everything he’d received.

He called Nezu.

“Aizawa-sensei! Good morning. You must be calling about that incident in 1-C.”

“Mr. Principal. Yes, that’s it,” he said. “You already know, then.”

“Yes, Kayama filled me in, briefly.” He could hear Nezu humming on the other end of the line. “Are you calling for Shinsou-kun’s file, by chance?”

“That’s exactly right.” Aizawa liked talking to Nezu as much as he liked talking to anyone. Even if the principal was more comfortable with physical contact than he preferred, it was always refreshing to have a conversation partner two steps ahead of himself. It made his job easier.

“I’ve already got it pulled. Anything in particular you’d like to know?”

“I have a few minutes, so anything that’s pertinent.”

“Let’s see, then.” Aizawa shuffled around in the teacher’s lounge, looking for the kettle while listening to Nezu’s answer. “There are a couple of incidents from elementary school—nothing unusual for a child developing a quirk, and nothing you don’t already know. Decent grades in middle school—peculiarly, they’ve gone up since he’s come here,” Nezu reported cheerfully.

Aizawa lit the stove. “That’s a feat.”

“Really, there’s nothing here that would foreshadow any impediments to his continued success. His home life doesn’t seem out of the ordinary, either. Two younger siblings, ages five and eight. Both inherited variants of his father’s luck-manipulation quirk. Shinsou-kun’s psychological quirk seems to come from his mother’s side. She has a form of mind-reading quirk.”

Aizawa smiled slightly. “My grandfather had one of those.”

“Oh?”

“He loved catching our bratty hands in the cookie jar, so to speak,” he recalled with some semblance of fondness. “Didn’t work so well after my quirk came in. Even when he couldn’t read us, he’d always…” He frowned. “Bluff.”

He poured the boiling water into two mugs, gravely dropping the tea bags in after.

“Are you still there, Aizawa-sensei?”

“I am. I think I have the information I needed.”

“I trust your judgment on the matter!” Nezu replied, and then hung up.

Carefully gripping both mugs with one hand, Aizawa opened the door to the hallway and let himself out.

“Aizawa-sensei!”

It was Midoriya, looking anxious as always. Aizawa regarded him neutrally.

“Shouldn’t you be in class?”

“Uh, b-bathroom.” Midoriya’s hands fidgeted with anticipation. “Is everything okay...?”

Aizawa considered the question before deciding he could offer a reasonable answer. “...there’s no cause for you or anyone in Class 1-A to be concerned.”

“Oh. Uh. That’s good.”

“Yes. Later, then,” he waved him off dismissively, ambling back down the hall.

He paused outside the door to his office. He had the urge to knock, which was ridiculous—it was his own office, after all. He settled for announcing himself.

“I’m coming in.”

Aizawa opened the door on Shinsou scrubbing furiously at his eyes with his sleeves.

He didn’t acknowledge it immediately, instead taking a seat and pushing a mug across the desk.

“Here. Tea.”

Shinsou didn’t look up, but choked out, “Thanks.”

Aizawa nodded, reaching out a hand. He made a beckoning motion. “Let’s see.”

“I, uh. It wouldn’t do much good. I didn’t write anything.”

Aizawa could hear the humiliation in Shinsou’s unsteady voice. He steepled his hands, bracing himself for the inevitable direction their conversation had to take.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with your mother, does it,” he asked, except he wasn’t really asking, and he wasn’t really surprised when Shinsou’s face crumpled in response.

He felt bad. Aizawa didn’t like digging into open wounds.

He waited for a minute or two, to see if the situation would get any better, and it didn’t. Slowly, he got up, walked around to the other side of the desk, and sat down on the uncarpeted tile. Shinsou looked up with cautious, red-eyed incredulity.

“It’s my office,” Aizawa explained, “so I can sit wherever I want.”

Shinsou seemed to study him, the bags under his eyes more prominent than ever. Then, he nodded, finding something on the desk to stare at vacantly.

A couple more minutes went by before Shinsou spoke. “She has a mind-reading quirk. It’s kind of like mine. Only works when you answer her.”

Aizawa pondered that for a moment. “Is that why you weren’t speaking, earlier?”

Shinsou paused. “I hadn’t realized,” he said quietly. “It just felt...”

“What does she tell you?”

“That I’m bad. That I think bad things, that I want to do bad things…” Shinsou hid his face in his arms on the desk. Aizawa tentatively rested a hand on his knee. He could hear him stifle a sob. “Sorry.”

“Shinsou. It’s not a problem.” Aizawa contemplated what the best thing to tell him would be, given the situation. Here was a kid who wanted so badly to inspire, and help, and save others that he was willing to do anything—anything, in Aizawa's experience—to get any closer to that goal. It was always difficult to watch students struggling with themselves, but to have someone so persistently good, dragged into believing...all of that...his heart ached. His kids always seemed to get stuck with the cruelest parts of life.

“Your father never says anything?”

“I think they believe her.” He spoke so quietly. “No one has a reason not to.”

“People will believe anything if they hear it enough. Doesn’t make it true.”

“...isn’t it?”

“No,” Aizawa said, “it’s not.”

Shinsou shrugged. Aizawa sighed. He tried again.

“Think about it rationally,” he urged. “Hasn’t there ever been a time when you know you didn’t respond to her, and she still said those things to you?”

“...that’s...yes. A couple of times, at least. I remember thinking she couldn’t have known anything…” Shinsou shook his head. “I don’t understand, though. Why would she…”

“Neither do I. It's hard. Doesn't make her any less wrong.” Aizawa gave his knee a squeeze. He let the silence hang over them for a few moments.

It wasn’t hard to fathom how a kid could end up in a situation like this from just teachers and classmates voicing their doubts. Home was supposed to be sanctuary from that kind of grating distrust. To have one’s ambitions constantly undermined, to have one’s motives constantly questioned, with no place to take shelter...it made his student’s resolve all the more impressive.

“It’s evident,” Aizawa said, “that your living situation is to your detriment as a student.”

“I asked about the dorms.” Shinsou shook his head again, seeming more tired than distressed at that point. “They said no. Mom doesn’t want me growing up where she ‘can’t keep an eye on me.’”

“That’s not important. I can force their hands, to some degree.”

Shinsou looked up, dumbfounded. “You—how? They’re not—it’s not that bad,” he stammered, “it’s not like they’re hurting me or anything.”

“Regardless of physical violence, it’s to your detriment,” he repeated. “Given the psychological nature of your quirk, I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to call your current home a danger to your wellbeing. Your parents signed the enrollment forms at the beginning of the year?”

“My dad did…”

“That’s fine. As long as one of them did. There’s a clause in there about ‘threats to individual students.’” Aizawa forced himself to his feet, handing Shinsou a box of tissues off his desk as he went on. “For reasons related to classified information, the school included a measure to overlook stubborn parents if, say, their child were to be targeted by a villain organization. As long as the school identifies a threat to a particular student, UA can assume partial custody without releasing any further information. Your parents gave us that right when they signed your enrollment forms.”

Shinsou rubbed at his nose. “Wow. That’s…” he trailed off. “Would that be...possible…?”

“It should be. Principal Nezu would have to make the final call,” Aizawa supposed, gathering his notes off the desk for his next class, “but it’s likely that he would approve, given that I’m the one vouching on your behalf.” He paused, glancing back at Shinsou. “We could have you in the dorms by winter.”

He got a slow, stunned nod in return. “I...that would be…”

“If that’s what you want, I’ll speak with the principal this evening.”

Shinsou nodded with a bit more vigor. “Yes. That would be...thank you. Thank you so much.”

“That’s how it is, then. I’m going back to my class,” Aizawa said. “You should do the same. If you need a few more minutes, you can stay in here. Just lock the door from the inside before you leave.”

He nodded again. “Thank you, sensei. This means...a lot.” His face was drawn, mouth tensed as though he wanted to say more.

Aizawa didn’t really believe in people “deserving” one thing or another. Things just happened, in his view, and either you dealt with them or you didn’t. With a job like his, Aizawa couldn’t afford to think in terms of “fair” or “unfair,” or the world would swallow him whole. It felt good, in any case, when one’s own power was enough to make some of the uglier things fall away—to make the world look a little less bleak.

“...it’s not a problem,” he said again. “I want things to be easier for you. Three, then?”

Shinsou frowned. “Three, sensei…?”

“Training?”

“Oh! Yeah. Three.”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

Dorm living wasn’t so different from apartment living, Aizawa had found. There was significantly more activity outside his door, sure, and he had to step in to break up incidents at least once or twice a week. Yet he was still afforded some level of privacy, given his own small apartment somewhat separated from the student rooms, and he was still able to stick to his own routine without much interference. Not to mention, the peace of mind he got from being in the same building as his students was worth the occasional inconvenience. With this living arrangement, if villains attacked the campus, he’d at least have the chance to do something about it.

A villain attack was, indeed, the first thing to occur to him when a violent thrashing sound woke him up at two in the morning. Aizawa typically didn’t fall asleep so early, but he’d made the mistake of grading papers in front of a lit fireplace, and…

Boom.

He jerked awake. An explosion…?

Boom. Boom. Boom-boom-boom-boom—

Donning his goggles, Aizawa edged closer to the source of the noise. He hadn’t changed out of his day clothes, so he still had his knives strapped to his waist.

boom-boom-boom-boom—

The sound seemed to be coming from the other side of his door. Must be too weak to break it down in one go, Aizawa thought. Probably well informed, if they’re going for me from the get-go. And if it’s not a strength quirk, or something that can break the door down, it could be psychological…

“Open the goddamn door,” howled a voice, and Aizawa relaxed into a familiar exasperation, because apparently the obnoxiously loud banging sounds were simply Bakugou’s idea of knocking.

Before the brat could get the chance to start again, Aizawa shoved open his door, glaring down at his student. “It’s two in the morning.”

Bakugou glowered back at him. “I know what time it is.”

So irritating. Aizawa took a breath to gather the dredges of his patience. “What is it.”

He felt a twinge of anxiety when Bakugou didn’t immediately respond, instead messing with his hands in a way that almost resembled Midoriya. That wasn’t normal. Bakugou was direct to the point of incredible rudeness...clearly, something out of the ordinary had happened, or was happening, and Aizawa needed to address it.

“Hey.” He was careful to keep the concern out of his voice—he didn’t want to deal with Bakugou at his most uncooperative, and anything less than his usual sternness would insult the kid’s pride. “Tell me what’s going on.”

“...it’s shitty Hair-For-Brains.” Bakugou kicked the ground with a little less force than Aizawa would have expected. “Think I broke him.”

“There’s a problem with Kirishima?”

“Yeah, that’s what I just said,” he snapped. “I dunno what’s wrong with him. He won’t move.”

Aizawa brushed Bakugou out of the way and shut the door behind him, accidentally swinging it with enough force to make it shudder in its frame. “Show me.”

“He’s outside. We were...sparring,” he gritted out. “I didn’t even hit him!”

“Could be an old wound acting up,” Aizawa replied briskly.

“Hnngh,” Bakugou said. Then, under his breath, “that idiot said he’d be fine…”

“Focus on getting us there.”

It didn’t really make sense, though. Recovery Girl had given Kirishima the all-clear weeks ago, and he’d shown no signs of injury since then. He could be reckless, of course, and Bakugou simply might have not noticed if one of his blows had landed too hard, or hit at a bad angle. Why his students couldn’t bring themselves to train at reasonable hours (and under supervision) was beyond him...

Still. He himself had thrown punches against Kirishima for a handful of minutes, and there was no question in his mind the kid could take as many blasts as Bakugou could have thrown at him. Bakugou didn't look very roughed up, either—they couldn't have been at it for very long. If it was an unlucky hit, or a misstep...but that level of damage wouldn't have sent Bakugou to his door at two in the morning. These kids were stubborn and prideful as hell. 

Bakugou stopped short of the entrance to Ground Beta. He pointed. “He’s still there.”

Aizawa squinted, cursing his throbbing eyes. He didn’t see anything at first; the light drizzle, somewhere between rain and sleet, made everything harder to discern. Then, he noticed a fleck, small and far-off. The low lighting of the surveillance cameras flashed off it like flint.

He started across the training grounds, a little unnerved by the creaking of the faux skyscrapers, which were built to crumble easily for the sake of urban rescue practice. As he got closer, he could see: Kirishima was sitting, fully hardened and curled in on himself, with no visible scrapes or fractures in his Unbreakable Form.

Even standing right in front of him, Aizawa got no acknowledgement. Very unlike Kirishima, he noted. He crouched down to get a better look, and to be eye-level with his student.

Kirishima looked tensed all over. His eyes were thoroughly unfocused, and his breaths, while not sounding particularly rough or pained, were quicker than they should have been. He looked poised to strike, but at the same time was stiff and unmoving, like he was frozen inside his own body.

It was then that Aizawa registered what was probably happening. It was surprising, given the number of times 1-A had been attacked, that none of his students had shown any signs of long-term trauma up to this point. He should have been looking harder, he thought in retrospect; as their teacher, and as a pro hero, he was the one who should have kept an eye out for the aftershocks of their experiences that they wouldn’t have known to expect.

“Kirishima.”

No response. He settled into a more comfortable squat.

“Kirishima. It’s Aizawa. Do you know where you are?”

He paused, leaving room for an answer, but didn’t expect one. 

“You’re at Ground Beta. You’re with me, at UA. Nothing’s wrong, here. It’s...about two-thirty in the morning. Bakugou’s back at the entrance. Kirishima,” he prompted again. “You’re at UA…”

He went on, neither soft nor loud, just focused on maintaining his monotonous tone as he repeated himself.

Aizawa’s first encounter with PTSD had been in a third-year hero course study packet. Briefly, he had wondered how many of his classmates would end up like the guy in the stock photo next to the symptoms list, stuck on the ground with their heads between their knees. It was just that to him—a snapshot of a man who mysteriously couldn’t catch his breath—

—until one day, he walked into a teacher conference and his sensei threw a knife at his head.

When it was explained to him in more detail, following the incident, he thought he could imagine it: an experience so awful, so jarring, that any sign of its potential recurrence would elicit a worst-case-scenario response from the body. Distantly, he could remember thinking that there was some primal rationality in having a response like that.

Then, it had been him.

And now, it was Kirishima.

“...it’s about two-thirty-five. It’s raining,” he said, and watched as Kirishima’s eyes shifted up to look at him. “Kirishima?”

“...sensei?”

“Yes, it’s me. Aizawa. Do you know where you are?”

Kirishima only blinked.

“You’re at Ground Beta. At UA.”

Kirishima’s eyes darted around. After a moment, he gave the smallest of nods.

“You’re here with me. Bakugou’s back there.” Aizawa motioned slowly. “It’s just us. Nothing is wrong. We’re not in danger.”

Kirishima opened his mouth as if to say something, but didn’t.

“Kirishima. Can you tell me where we are?”

“...Ground Beta.”

“Good. That’s right.” He seemed to be coming out of it. “There’s no problem. You probably don’t need to use your quirk right now.”

Kirishima looked down at his chest as though to confirm that his quirk was, indeed, activated. “Ah…”

“This is the longest amount of time you’ve maintained your Unbreakable Form,” Aizawa commented. “You’re probably feeling strained. You’ll feel better if you undo your hardening.”

“I feel...weird,” Kirishima said as he slowly deactivated his quirk, spikes and edges gradually retracting back into his body. He stared at Aizawa, looking confused and a little distressed.

“I know. You’re okay,” Aizawa reassured him flatly, suppressing his relief. “Are you cold?”

Kirishima looked up at the rain, as if he’d just noticed it. “...yeah, a little.”

“We can go inside.”

Aizawa stood up, making his movements as deliberate and readable as possible. When Kirishima made no move to follow suit, he offered a hand. His student looked at it uncomprehendingly.

“The dorms aren’t far,” Aizawa reminded him patiently. “We can walk.”

Walking, in his experience, was a helpful way to ground oneself after an episode like this. Even if Kirishima wasn’t paying attention to his surroundings, or thinking about where he was going, the act of walking itself would probably help him feel more connected to his body and the present. Eating or drinking could have the same effect. He would make tea when they got back.

Kirishima reached out and grasped his hand, pulling himself up and steadying himself. Then, they walked.

At the entrance, Bakugou was pacing violently, having to yank his shoes out of the sucking mud with every step. He stopped upon seeing them, glaring wordlessly at Aizawa.

“We’re going back to the dorms,” Aizawa said, hoping that would be the end of it but knowing that Bakugou wouldn’t leave it.

“What’s wrong with him,” Bakugou hissed. At least he had the sense to not ask Kirishima.

Aizawa didn’t think of himself as particularly equipped to answer the question. Really, he was just copying techniques he’d seen older heroes use with each other, and even now he only had a handful of experiences to draw from. He had a little bit of self-study at his disposal, too, but none of that really involved people, or coming up with explanations, or much of anything he could use to spell out the situation.

“He’ll be fine. Don’t ask him about it.”

“I know that!” Bakugou stormed alongside them. “Why wasn’t he—why was he like that? Should he be walking?”

“He was having a flashback.” Aizawa studied his angriest student. Bakugou had shown hints of regret and concern before, but this was probably the closest to panic-stricken he’d been, as far as Aizawa had seen. “Walking will help.”

“It'd better.” Bakugou looked behind them restlessly. “Oi. Hair-For-Brains. Keep up.”

Kirishima looked up from his feet, seeming to realize he’d fallen a few strides behind. “Sorry.”

Aizawa paused, leaving time for Kirishima to catch up.

The other thing he knew people used in this kind of situation was physical contact. That wasn’t really Aizawa’s forte, and he knew that in some cases it could even make things worse. At the same time, he knew that Kirishima was a particularly tactile person—where other people probed with sight or sound, Kirishima threw punches and took them in turn. If touch was the way he interacted with the world, Aizawa figured, then touch would probably be the best way to ground him.

“Kirishima.”

When he had the kid’s attention, Aizawa held up his hand. Kirishima stopped a little short of him, staring expectantly. Reaching out so that it was obvious what he was going to do, Aizawa bridged the gap between them, taking Kirishima’s arm firmly in his hand. His fingers wrapped almost all the way around his bulky forearm.

He studied Kirishima’s reaction the entire time. There was no flinching or discomfort—just mild confusion. “Sensei?”

Aizawa kept his stare and response measured. “Is this helping?”

Kirishima made no immediate move to reply. He closed his eyes, slower breaths showing as pale, cold puffs, and seemed to be deliberating on how to answer. “...I think so," he decided. "You—this feels real."

“Alright. Good.” Aizawa shifted to start walking again, guiding his student to follow. It was easier to mute his own unhelpful thoughts with this new task, focusing on applying a steady pressure through his grip. That was the kind of contact that was supposed to relax the nervous system, he remembered: firm, deep pressure stimulation.

They didn’t have very far to go. That was good. Aizawa’s feet were freezing—he hadn’t stopped to put anything else on when he’d followed Bakugou out of the dorms. Emergencies were emergencies, so it couldn’t have been avoided. All the same, the iced-over mud was doing him no favors, and he’d be grateful to be indoors as soon as possible.

By the time they were at the entrance to the dorms, Kirishima seemed a little more focused, walking and stopping in time with them both. Still, Aizawa didn’t let up on his hold, fumbling around inside his pocket for his access card and keying them in with one hand.

“It’s late. Go to bed,” he told Bakugou. “Consequences can wait until tomorrow.”

Bakugou bristled at him. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“This isn’t up for—”

“—it’s fine. With me,” Kirishima added, looking up at Aizawa nervously, “I mean, if that’s alright…”

If he was the type to act on his instincts, Aizawa would have told him no. He knew from class how close the two of them were, though, and how much mutual respect they had for each other. Bakugou was a pain to control, and if Kirishima wanted him there, then…

He yawned. “I don’t really care. If you’re staying, boil us some water.”

Bakugou’s expression lightened and, although he was still scowling, he looked about as mollified as Aizawa had ever seen him.

While Bakugou stormed off to the kitchen, Aizawa maneuvered Kirishima towards the wedge of couches in the common area. He sat down beside his student and let his hand drop. “Still feeling weird?”

“Not as much, anymore. Sensei, what was that?” Kirishima’s lively edge was coming back, judging by his twitching in place and emboldened stares, yet his expression remained undeniably bothered. “Was I hit by a quirk or something?”

If Aizawa was having trouble giving Bakugou a brief rundown of things earlier, he didn’t even know where to start with Kirishima. “You weren’t hit by a quirk,” he began, but stopped. Closing his eyes for a long stretch, he pinched his eyebrows, trying to think. It was late, and it was difficult, introducing a kid to a frightening, taxing, generally shitty problem they’d have for god-knows-how-long.

“If it wasn’t a quirk, then…” Beside him, Aizawa glanced over and watched Kirishima’s hands slowly clench into fists. “Am I sick? Is something wrong with me?”

“You’re not sick,” Aizawa said. He couldn’t see a better way to handle the situation than to just come out with the news. “What you had is called a flashback.”

Kirishima seemed to be processing the sentence. “A flashback…?”

“Sometimes,” he went on carefully, “people have really shitty experiences that are...they come to mind when they’re not supposed to, and they’re particularly vivid when they do. It’s not like how you might normally remember an event,” he elaborated. “It’s more like reliving the experience. In the moment, it can be hard to tell that it’s something that happened in the past.”

“A-ah.” Kirishima’s voice wavered. “Is this just a one-time thing, or…”

“That would be unlikely.” Aizawa couldn’t miss the sharp inhale that followed. “You’ve been able to fight without an issue for weeks, so I doubt this will be a major impediment to your success. My guess would be that tonight, something specific reminded you of...whichever experience is giving you trouble.”

Kirishima visibly bit his lip. “Yeah. I know what you’re—I can remember what it was.”

“You don’t have to talk about it now,” Aizawa said, “but you can, if you want. I don’t have to leave anytime soon.”

He nodded, still looking strained. “I want to understand what’s happening. It was a sound, like...when Bakugou set off an explosion,” he muddled through, “but that wasn’t it. It was...something to do with the ice on the ground. I think.”

“Ice?” Aizawa couldn’t recall anyone but Todoroki who used ice. He knew there was always a lot happening between the kids in 1-A that he couldn’t see...still, he’d seen the two of them sparring just yesterday without any problems.

“Not exactly, though.” Kirishima seemed to wrestle with his recollection for a few more moments before he stiffened slightly.

“Kirishima.” Aizawa was cautious about letting him get too wrapped up in his thoughts.

“I remember. It was the—that cracking sound,” Kirishima shook his head, “it was just like with Fat Gum, at the hideout, when we were...I thought I was going to die.”

Searching for what to say, Aizawa borrowed something he’d overheard years before. “That was then. This is now.”

“Right.” Kirishima exhaled shakily. “How do I...he’s still out there. Rappa. If I—I can’t react like this.

“I know. There are people out there who can help you work through it.” Aizawa ignored the taste of hypocrisy, sour in his mouth. “Talking through it enough times with people who know what they’re doing can make it less of an issue. I can set up an appointment for you.”

“An appointment to talk about…” Kirishima propped his head on his elbows. “I guess I kind of have to. I can’t fight villains if I stay like this—if I’m afraid of some noise.

There was something in his tone that made Aizawa uneasy. He frowned. “Don’t blame yourself for things you can’t control.”

“...it’s kind of lame, though, isn’t it?” Kirishima smiled bitterly, eyes trained on his feet.

“Am I ‘lame’?”

Aizawa hadn’t really come into the conversation intending to disclose...anything, actually, with regard to himself. And then suddenly, it had seemed necessary, and rational, and so he’d said it, lowly, seriously, knowing what kind of response he would get.

Kirishima’s jaw dropped. “I—no! I didn’t—you’re nothing like—ah,” he palmed his face, “I really put my foot in it this time.”

“I get it. It feels different when it’s you.” Aizawa yawned again, trying to force himself to relax. “Still. It’s not logical to say it’s ‘fine’ when it’s me, but ‘lame’ when it’s yourself. That obviously doesn’t make any sense.”

“I guess not.” Kirishima seemed to consider that for a while. The faint sound of clanging metal and explosions echoed from down the hall. “Sensei, would you...ah, never mind.”

“Would I what?”

“Never mind. It’s okay.” There was a beat. Then, Kirishima looked back up at him. “Actually, uh...sensei, would you mind coming with me?”

Aizawa took a second to understand exactly what he meant. “...to your appointment?”

Kirishima didn’t respond, waiting expectantly.

He tipped his head back against the couch. “Sure.”

He still didn’t really know what the hell he was doing. He hadn’t even been to one of these session-things-or-whatever. He felt so inadequate, sometimes, when it came to the students who needed him most. Still, it was hard to dismiss the gratitude in Kirishima’s “thanks, sensei,” or the admiration in his eyes as they drank the tea that Bakugou had somehow, miraculously managed to brew, or the trust he must have mistakenly felt as he nodded off on his teacher’s shoulder.

Aizawa would keep trying. Plus Ultra and all that.

Chapter Text

For all the napping Aizawa did, he didn’t get much sleep.

People could tell, he was sure. He wasn’t the type to care much about covering up dark circles or general exhaustion, so the signs were out there. It irritated him: all this worry about too little sleep with no concern for the other end of things. People wasted a lot of time rolling around in their beds. They made themselves unwell. It was important to limit oneself to what was necessary.

Sleeping during school hours was convenient. There were about a dozen pro heroes in the building at any given time, so he had nothing to worry about as far as his students were concerned. And everything happened in ninety-minute periods—with the intermittent bursts of activity in the halls, he didn’t even have to set an alarm.

The one flaw in this system was that it was, of course, moot during breaks. No classes meant no easy wake-up calls or blocks of time to ration out as needed. People could ask him to do stuff whenever —he was the only teacher consistently on campus—so despite having more time for napping, it was less usable because it was less reliably free.

Circumstances such as these led to predicaments such as the one he was in now, which was entirely his fault. He had forgotten to set an alarm, and it was a stupid mistake to have made. But even worse: he had forgotten to set an alarm while he was sleeping in the common room, which made the whole damn thing happen where anyone could see it.

The thing about sleeping ninety minutes at a time, Aizawa had found, was that it wasn’t really enough time to start messing around with dreaming. Overstepping that boundary any more often than necessary was a mistake. Overstepping that boundary in public was a huge mistake.

He woke up to Uraraka and Jirou giggling over something as they passed through, dressed to go out. They looked positively surreal. Their shoulders were relaxed, their smiles easy and clueless...he felt completely out of place.

“Ah, sensei,” Uraraka greeted. Her words were in time with her mouth, but there was still the feeling of delay, like there was a disconnect between the audio and video on a recording. “We were just going to get postcards!”

“We figured everyone would want to write home to their families,” Jirou added. “New Year’s and all.”

New Year’s...that was right. Today was New Year’s Eve. They were going to make toshikoshi soba that night. This was reality. All was well.

Aizawa brought a hand up to rub at his face. His arms and legs felt out of harmony with the rest of him. They moved as he wanted but felt...less his than they were. In truth, he hadn’t had the urge to itch anything—he needed an excuse to move, though, without giving anything away, just to confirm that his fingers would do what he intended.

“Ah, I guess we’ll be off, then?” Uraraka seemed a little phased, and Aizawa realized he hadn’t responded yet.

He tested his voice. “Remember to be back at seven,” those were his words, coming out of his mouth, “if you want to help with the soba.”

“Yes, sensei!”

He watched the girls leave, and while there was nothing strange about the entire encounter, he had a horrible sense of foreboding and abnormality. Subtly, he tensed his elbow, forcing the muscles to contract, release, contract...it was behaving normally. There was no wound, no soreness. It was almost as though the incident USJ had yet to happen.

No, it had happened, Aizawa was well aware. He had the memories. That was proof. He could easily recall Shigaraki reaching out with those cold, half-dead hands, towards him, touching his elbow, waiting for the inevitable moment when the burning in his eyes would become overwhelming and his quirk would loosen its hold for that critical second...the feeling of the bonds in his skin and muscles breaking apart, the cell death and crumbling away, the hissing sensation of cold air against tissues and sinews that weren’t meant to be exposed, the fingers that bore through it all, light and terrifying against his body…

It was the lightness that made him sick to himself, now. The sleeves around his arms, the fabric of his sleeping bag, his own hair—it all felt evocative of that moment, somehow, and it was all excessively uncomfortable.

Now that he was thinking about it, the dream was starting to come back to him more vividly. It hadn’t been more than a snapshot, just the brief moment where Shigaraki’s hand and Asui’s face were suspended in life-and-death limbo, when all he could do was look at them. He had dreamt of the stinging from the blood in his eyes and the vertigo from having his face smashed into the concrete, over and over, and he had dreamt of the exploding pain before and after that standstill moment, like bookends to the whole experience.

And now, the absence of pain only lent itself to Aizawa’s confusion. It was like a phantom limb. There was something insanely disturbing about feeling as though the blows had happened and that his body, somehow, had failed to respond. It couldn’t be a sign of anything good. It was wrong. He felt so disconnected. Wounds were supposed to hurt . His arm was throbbing. He registered the sensation from halfway outside of himself. That and—

—“Sensei?”

...that was Shinsou. Aizawa was suddenly aware of the student in front of him. He hadn’t had his eyes closed, but it had happened before. Things could just kind of fall into a blind spot when he wasn’t paying attention—when he got like this.

Shinsou’s eyes were wide with fear. They were focused on him—on his arm. Following his line of sight, Aizawa looked down.

Ah. The fingers of one hand had him gripping himself with enough strength to bruise and then some. His nails had done more than break the skin. His entire forearm was slicked with blood. That was kind of nauseating. He could also smell it, hot and metallic, and it had come from him. Things began to reorient. Here was a wound, his, and hurting in the way he would have expected.

Oh. God. And there was Shinsou.

Aizawa looked back up. “I’m alright,” he managed, surprised at the level calmness he was able to maintain. “Shinsou, I’m sorry. You shouldn’t have had to see me like this.”

Shinsou didn’t respond right away. Gingerly, he took a step forward. His eyes slowly lifted from the arm to Aizawa’s face.

“Can I see?”

Wordlessly, Aizawa held out his arm, figuring it would be stupid to make a big deal out of covering it up at this point. “It’s not as bad as it looks. But don’t touch it.”

Shinsou nodded. Leaning down a bit to get closer, he studied the wound. It wasn’t a pretty sight, Aizawa noticed, with crescent-shaped tabs of skin sticking up, furled at the ends like stubby ribbons. In a couple of the indentations, he could even see the layers of skin that had been dug into. That he’d dug into.

“It’s probably dirty...” Shinsou wavered. Aizawa could see his throat bob when he swallowed. “...should we clean it?”

“It’s fine. Really.”

Shinsou’s expression tightened. He looked so nervous. He was going to keep pressing the issue, Aizawa could tell, and was trying to decide how to do so. Was he scared about making him angry? That was probably it. Aizawa had met his parents before, during the whole process of moving Shinsou into the dorms...he had assumed the whole host of issues would lie with the mother, but both parents seemed to have a short fuse when it came to Shinsou.

Despite all of that, his student had done exceeding well. After moving into Class 1-A, he’d caught up with the rest of the class in a matter of weeks, easily balancing his normal homework with his extra training from Aizawa. His hand-to-hand combat skills were nowhere near peaking, but he was starting to pick up new tricks faster than his teacher had anticipated. And throughout it all, Shinsou had shown enormous dedication to completing everything asked of him, and then some. He had a few friends in class, but spent a significant amount of his free time helping Aizawa do mundane housekeeping tasks—filing paperwork, stocking the dorm kitchen, even cleaning the teacher’s lounge when Aizawa was roped into it…

Somewhere along the line, Aizawa had become a real mentor. He had a little more of a duty to this kid. Shinsou needed to understand.

“This is normal for me. When I don’t appropriately control my sleep patterns,” he explained, “I dissociate. And I have a bad habit of bringing myself out of it this way.”

Shinsou winced. “Normal? Does this happen...often?”

“Not very. I don’t typically forget to set an alarm.” Aizawa glanced at the fingers on his other hand. “And I try to keep my nails short. It’s been a while since this happened, so I haven’t been trimming them. They’re longer than usual.”

“Did something happen when you were doing hero work?”

“This isn’t anyone’s quirk.”

Shinsou shook his head. “No, I mean—” he fumbled, “—uh, I saw a documentary about veteran heroes. A lot of them talked about PTSD in their interviews...just, like, stuff from their work that stuck with them?” He was kind of holding himself, anxiously fidgeting on his feet. “Sorry. I don’t want to pry…”

“Mmh.” Aizawa really hated hearing the term applied to himself, probably because it normally came up in you-need-to-take-better-care-of-yourself conversations that he really hated getting trapped in. It would be completely irrational, of course, to get angry at Shinsou over something so petty. “That’s right. You’ll see plenty of people worse off than me, though.”

Shinsou nodded. His eyebrows were still pinched. He didn’t look particularly consoled. “So you have to set alarms and stuff for the rest of your life?”

Aizawa sucked in a breath. That was difficult to answer. He really didn’t know.

“Aizawa-sensei?” An unmistakable croak disrupted them.

“Ah, Asui.” Aizawa lowered his arm as his student shuffled into the common room, dragging her feet the short distance. “Are there more people with you?”

Asui raised a large hand to her eye and rubbed. “No. Ribbit. Uraraka and Jirou already left, and everyone else is in their rooms. Aizawa-sensei, did you get hurt on patrol?”

So she had seen. At least there weren’t more kids on their way to make a big deal out of nothing. He noticed Shinsou glance at him discreetly.

“Yeah. It’s nothing serious.”

He wasn’t comfortable with burdening the entire class with his mental-whatevers. Briefly, Aizawa wondered if he was playing favorites in some messed up way, entrusting Shinsou with information that he’d restricted almost entirely to fellow faculty members.

Eh. That wasn’t it. Shinsou had walked in on something that demanded an explanation, and he’d had enough knowledge that being forthright had made sense. It was only rational.

“Ribbit. Can we help?”

“It’s nothing I can’t take care of.”

Asui raised an oversized finger to her mouth. “I know. I thought it might be good to practice the first-aid techniques we learned in class. Ribbit. I was having trouble with bandaging because my hands are too big.”

Aizawa studied her for a long while. Unlike Shinsou, Asui actually had an expression that could be a little hard to read. Personality-wise, Aizawa considered her the most suited for hero work out of anyone in the class. She had a very matter-of-fact way of doing things.

“Do you have first aid supplies?”

“I do,” Shinsou broke in quietly, “I can get them from my room…”

Aizawa leaned back against the cushions and closed his eyes. “That’s fine. Go ahead.”

He listened to Shinsou’s footsteps, intuiting his position through the hesitant little sounds. He stepped so lightly. For a kid his height, that was pretty rare. With a little more work, they could make that into a more polished skill for stealth jobs.

It was still pretty sad.

When the stinging in his eyes had died down, he opened them a crack. Asui was looking at the news—it had been on when he fell asleep, Aizawa remembered. With his eyes trained on her, he felt a faint sense of relief. Everyone’s lives had been on the line at USJ, but it had been her life, her face, in immediate, grave danger. That was the last thing he could recall from the incident. And here she was, alive and well, and doing other things, like watching the news and bandaging up her own teacher. What a life.

Once Shinsou came back with his modest Ziploc bag full of gauze, bandage rolls, and disinfectants, things began to fall back into alignment as Aizawa guided them through the process of wrapping up his wounds.

“You can grip it more firmly,” he said, ignoring the waves of discomfort Asui’s gentle hands were causing him. “Don’t worry about hurting the person if you don’t have a strength quirk, unless you’ve had an issue with that before. You don’t want to come across as hesitant. People can become uncooperative if you don’t assert yourself.”

Asui seemed to take the advice to heart, and her fingers tightened around his wrist. She had always taken criticism well.

“Cleaning comes first, right?”

“Right.”

After mopping at the half-dried blood on his arm with a soap-and-water solution, it was easier to see what kind of wounds they were dealing with. Really, the cuts themselves were minor. A couple were pretty deep gouges, and still welling up with blood, but they weren’t long, or messily shredded, and there weren’t any veins or arteries in jeopardy. The skin around them was purpling on a more alarming scale, but no one could really do anything about that.

“Aizawa-sensei. Please bend your arm up at the elbow. Shinsou-chan.” Asui pinched one end of the bandage roll against Aizawa’s wrist. “Please hold this here.”

Applying the bandage itself was pretty straightforward. In a tight spiral, Asui wound the wrap around his arm, gauzy material pressing firmly against each cut. Only a couple of spots soaked through, and were thoroughly covered when she wrapped back down towards his scarred elbow. Once she reached that point, Asui stretched out the gauze and, leaving a little excess length, Shinsou carefully cut the bandage away from the roll.

Asui fumbled with the ends of the gauze. “Ribbit. Sorry, Aizawa-sensei. Tying the knot is the hardest part for me.”

“That’s alright. The ends are rolled up a bit. Try flattening them out so they’re easier to handle.” Aizawa watched her twist the gauze a couple of turns before he shook his head. “There’s an easier way. Just pick it up at the last flat part,” he instructed, pinching one of the ends to show her what he meant, “and pull outwards. It’ll fix itself.”

With as much precision as she could manage with her clumsy hands, Asui mimicked him. With a little finessing, she was able to pinch the flat part of the bandage and, wiggling it deliberately between her fingers, she pulled backwards until the gauze lay docile in her hand. A couple more loops and twists were all it took for Asui to tie everything up neatly.

“It’s finished,” she said, sounding satisfied in her peculiar, mild way.

Aizawa glanced over the wrapping job. “Good work.”

“Thank you for letting me practice, Aizawa-sensei.”

“Mmh.” Aizawa considered for a moment longer, and thought it would only be right to add, “I appreciate the help.”

Asui ribbited with contentment. “I’m going to go boil water for the soba now,” she said, and Aizawa let out a displeased sigh.

“Don’t. I haven’t gotten the soba yet,” he said. He had been planning on going earlier that afternoon. “Hold on for half an hour. I can get it now.”

“Oh. But aren’t Uraraka-chan and Jirou-chan out?” Asui’s finger rose back to her chin. “Couldn’t we ask them to pick up the noodles on their way back?”

Shinsou nodded. “We can text them.”

“Hey.” Aizawa couldn’t help the twinge of irritation that rose up in response to this more overt wariness. “I’m perfectly capable of walking four blocks to the convenience store and carrying a couple bags of dry noodles.”

Shinsou’s lips were pressed together tensely, and he shifted in place, reluctant but silent.

“I wasn’t thinking about your arm, Aizawa-sensei.” Asui seemed not to notice anything beyond the simple injury, or if she did, she knew better than to bring it up. “I just thought it made sense to save you the trouble. You seem like you have a lot of work. Ribbit.”

Aizawa’s eyes fell back onto the stack of exams still sitting on the lounge table. He had been grading those earlier, and it was true that he had planned to get through more…

Still. It was important that his students not get the wrong idea.

“They say they’ve got it.”

It was Shinsou who had spoken, and as soon as Aizawa turned to look at him, he seemed to realize he’d made a mistake. He shrank under his glare. Despite being tall for his age, and standing while Aizawa was still on the couch, Shinsou...he had a way of looking smaller than he was. “Sorry.”

Briefly, Aizawa mulled his response over. “This would be a stupid thing to get angry about,” he decided. He didn’t miss the way Shinsou’s posture went slack with relief. “In any case, Asui’s right. I have work.”

With that, he reached for his stack of papers and resumed what he had been doing before this entire mess got started.

 

*****

 

They ate. Only a couple of kids—Aoyama and Sero—had gone home for the holiday, but the kids had really pulled off the dinner. A sit-down meal had been scheduled for seven o’clock, but Aizawa ended up at a table with Midoriya, Kouda, Iida, Uraraka, and Asui, while handfuls of other students meandered in and out for at least three hours after the intended time. At some point, Todoroki joined them and took on the role of food-warmer, claiming it would be good for his “sense of control.”

Aizawa didn’t really relax until Kirishima showed up. At the tail end of dinner, he announced himself from the doorway, loud and brash as always. That was a relief. He showed up alone, though, which was a little less than ideal.

This was the entire reason Aizawa had been napping in the common room to begin with. He had wanted to be available today in particular. Earlier that morning, he had knocked on Kirishima’s door and dropped off a pair of earplugs, but the action felt inadequate. Things had a higher chance of going south tonight, and he wanted at the very least to be present if they did.

“Two hours left!” Uraraka cheered.

Asui blinked. “Isn’t Kouhaku on right now?”

“I will turn on the TV!”

The students started gathering up dirty dishes and standing up while Iida bolted off. Following suit, Aizawa moved to stack together the used bowls, carelessly throwing the chopsticks together on top.

He waved a hand nonchalantly. “You kids go on. I’ll clean.”

All heads turned towards him. “Sensei!” Midoriya exclaimed. “Y-you don’t have to do that!”

“I know. I’m offering.”

His students stood there for another beat before bowing in unison. “Thank you so much, sensei!”

Aizawa didn’t respond aside from waving them off.

Before he became a hero, Aizawa used to look forward to New Year’s. When you were young, life just got more exciting with every upcoming year. The stakes got higher. You got more freedom, more responsibility...your presence began to carry more weight. Your help and efforts became more valuable. Each year meant that more mattered to you, and that you mattered more.

And now, as a thirty-something-year-old pro, he had quite enough on his plate. By the end of every year, he would have barely started to catch up with the duties that had sprung up and demanded his attention, with just a finger on each to hold down some sense of stability...and then, there would come the soba, the shrine visits, the new-hope, start-of-everything sentiments and dammit, he’d be back at square one. How troublesome.

Regardless of whether they “deserved” it or not, he wanted the kids to enjoy it while they could.

Aizawa didn’t have a dishwasher (the teachers’ apartments were far too small) so he was well versed in the art of handwashing. In less than ten minutes, he had everything scrubbed and rinsed twice-through. He’d expected that washing everything himself would be the most efficient way of doing things. Leaving everything to dry on the racks beside the sink, he gave the counters a quick wipe and deemed the room clean.

When he came back into the common room, most of the kids were huddled on the ground in front of the TV, almost entirely blocking it from view. Some pop group was performing—anyone who paid attention to the music scene would have known who they were, but Aizawa had never kept up with that area of knowledge.

He was surprised to find Shinsou on the couches, seeming to be watching the action on-screen between people’s heads. Considering how little he’d mixed with the other students in 1-A, it was unexpected that he would choose to spend the evening in their company. He didn’t seem to notice when Aizawa entered, and was leaning forward in the midst of muttering something to Midoriya before he caught his teacher’s eye.

Aizawa took a seat a couple of cushions over and picked up his work from earlier. He had Hagakure’s, Kaminari’s, Ojiro’s, Ashido’s, and Todoroki’s exams left to grade, which wasn’t so bad. He’d been held up with police reports and patrol work for the last couple of weeks, and he’d been frustrated to be starting the grading process so late. Fortunately, his students had made fewer mistakes than anticipated—he knew that Yaoyorozu had played a large role in that minor success—so he had fewer comments to bother with, and no hard conversations scheduled at the present moment. For the time being, it almost felt like he could almost relax.

With an hour to go until midnight, more and more students began cramming themselves on the floor. The girls broke out into song more than once until Bakugou—who actually showed up—yelled at them to “stop making all that shitty noise,” because he couldn’t discern “the point of watching all this garbage-ass shit if you can’t even hear it.”

From his spot behind the mass, Aizawa watched as Bakugou snaked an arm around Kirishima’s waist. He couldn’t see the face of the latter, but he didn’t need to. Even the back of Kirishima’s neck had flushed red.

By the time the fireworks went off, Aizawa had finished the exams. Almost everyone had improved since their last evaluation, and miraculously, no one had failed. They had run out of time for the practical half of the exam, and Aizawa and Nezu were still negotiating the terms of what that half would entail. The principal was pushing for more of a Sports Festival, student-against-student approach than Aizawa was interested in. Vying for pro hero attention was one thing, but fighting each other over getting a passing grade would probably sow more seeds of distrust between his students than Aizawa wanted to deal with. He would keep arguing.

Ashido got the remote after that, and in a matter of minutes they were all watching some tacky romcom centered around the holiday. Aizawa’s attention flickered between each of his students. Iida was focused on the movie with amusing sincerity—Aizawa could easily believe that he was observing the mess on-screen for dating techniques in earnest. Yaoyorozu and Jirou were snickering, Satou was emotionally absorbed, and Uraraka was giving Midoriya eyes that Aizawa was almost embarrassed to have witnessed. A few of the guys left. Todoroki seemed uncomfortable with the whole thing, but stuck around. A little more about him had come out of the woodwork in past months...Aizawa wondered if he was just unfamiliar with genuine romantic interaction.

At the end of it all, the kids made plans for shrine visits the following day and ambled off to their rooms. All of them left, save for Shinsou.

“It’s late,” Aizawa said, as though it wasn’t obvious.

“I was, uh. Thinking of watching the news?”

“I doubt there’s much to watch.” Aizawa stifled a yawn. “Why do you want to stay up? Is this about earlier?”

Shinsou startled. “Uh.” His expression took on some quality of guilt. “A little,” he admitted, “but it’s not just that. I don’t think I could sleep right now.”

Aizawa hmmed.

Resigned, Shinsou was silent for a moment. In a smaller voice, he added, “Tonight was...fun.”

Aizawa couldn’t bring himself to dismiss his student. It was natural after however many years of...probably being confined to the background of the celebration, at best, for Shinsou to be struggling to process what it was like to actually enjoy a holiday. And for him to not be keen on ending it. Even at two in the morning.

He handed him the remote. “See if you can find a rerun of Year in Review,” he told him. “It’ll be good practice for English.”

Shinsou smiled faintly. “Here’s hoping.”

Watching Shinsou flip through the channels, Aizawa resolved to sleep in a couple of hours. He went ahead and set an alarm for five-thirty. Morning patrols didn’t care much about holidays.

Tilting his head back, he regarded the ceiling. The scuff marks from Bakugou’s last explosion had been wiped away with bleach and given a new coat of paint overtop. Despite the troubles they would have to endure, this fleeting freshness was a sensation not to be overlooked.

Spring would not be long in coming.

His chicks would have their day.