Aizawa Shouta calmly walks down the hall, nodding as his students pass him. Not meeting their eyes. Not scanning their faces too closely. Not searching for the face he knows he won’t find. The students are quiet and subdued, greeting him politely without stopping to chat. The mood of the school is somber. Aizawa maintains a neutral expression, regulates his breathing. With a steady hand, he unlocks the teacher’s lounge. He sweeps the room. Empty. Good. He locks the door behind him.
Then he falls to his knees, hard.
Each sob is more painful than the last, and he has to clamp a hand over his mouth to prevent sound escaping. His forehead scrapes the floor. His body locks. Everything hurts. After a few long minutes, he rallies, musters some strength. On shaking arms, Shouta crawls to the sofa, hauling himself halfway up. His legs never make it off the floor. He pillows his head on his arms, hides his aching eyes.
“Shouta,” a voice whispers behind him, hesitatingly.
He can’t do anything. Aizawa is helpless. He just shakes his head no, no, burrows into the couch, hoping whoever is behind him gets the idea. I can’t talk right now. Just leave me alone. He’s sure he locked the door - he hadn’t heard anyone come in. Aizawa Shouta is completely defenseless. A hand rests upon his shoulder, feather-light. He jumps, reflexively whipping around to defend himself-
-from Yagi Toshinori.
Aizawa knows that if he utters even a single word, he will break down again. He can’t speak. He blinks fiercely in an attempt to clear his vision. At least, he thinks wryly, he can’t possibly look any worse than usual. His eyes can’t possibly get any redder. Yagi kneels, watching him with something like pity. His hand, suspended in midair, comes to rest once more on Aizawa’s shoulder.
“It’s not your fault, Shouta,” Yagi whispers.
“I thought this lounge was empty,” Shouta rasps. “Apologies.”
“It’s not your fault...”
Of course it would be Yagi. Yagi the hero. Yagi with his stupid yellow hair, his stupid smile and kind eyes. Yagi to the fucking rescue. Shouta’s chest spasms painfully.
“...I am here.”
When Shouta looks up again, it’s not Yagi in front of him – it’s All Might, in all his muscular glory. The large, sturdy hand on his shoulder gives a firm squeeze.
Shouta is not a weak man, or a small man. He runs ten miles every day, no exceptions. At six feet tall, he can throw most people farther than he trusts them. Yet, All Might scoops him up like he weighs nothing, cradles him against his chest like a baby.
Shouta weeps, pressing his face deep into All Might’s neck. He’s warm against Shouta’s mouth, and he smells sickly – like someone with one lung and no stomach – but Shouta doesn’t care. It’s a familiar scent. Tears and snot glisten on All Might’s perfect skin. Good, Shouta thinks angrily. Serves him right for sticking his nose into other peoples’ business.
“It’s not your fault,” All Might affirms in his booming, idiotic voice.
“Of course it’s my fault,” Shouta sobs. “I taught him. I am responsible for his safety-“
“Hush. He put himself into a dangerous situation.”
“If I’d just been more observant I could have stopped him-“
“Shouta.” All Might squeezes the air from him. “Shouta, how old are you?”
“I- what?” Shouta wheezes. His legs dangle in the air, but he’s in no danger of falling. All Might’s grip is secure.
“How old are you?” All Might repeats patiently.
“Is Bakugo the first student you’ve lost?”
Bakugo. The name alone rips him to shreds. Shouta cries pathetically into All Might’s shoulder. What good is he, if he can’t protect his students? His students are his entire world. All Might rocks him back and forth, like a parent rocking their child to sleep. Aizawa shakes his head. No, Bakugo isn’t the first student he’s lost. He probably won’t be the last, either.
Anyway, who is All Might to be consoling him? All Might can’t teach. He’s a terrible teacher, an irresponsible show-off! What experience does All Might have that Shouta doesn’t? Other than age, Shouta is more seasoned in every aspect of their job. He huffs a breath into All Might’s collarbone, annoyed.
“How old are you?” Shouta counters angrily.
Old enough to be my father, Aizawa thinks idly.
“This is your first year at UA,” Shouta says dismissively into All Might’s muscular neck. “You don’t know what it is to lose a student.”
“You’re right,” All Might admits.
“You’re completely right. I’ve always worked as a pro hero. I’ve never forged a bond with students before.” He sucks in a breath through his teeth. His trademark smile falters for just the briefest of moments. “It’s hard, Shouta.”
Shouta hmph’s with grim satisfaction.
“You’re the best teacher I’ve ever seen,” All Might continues, rubbing Shouta’s neck with his thumb. “I’m continually amazed at how well you work with the students, letting them grow and helping shape them into the young adults they’ve become. I have a lot to learn from you.”
Shouta sniffs in a desperate attempt to stop crying.
“I am a failure,” he mumbles. “Bakugo is dead and I have failed.”
All Might says nothing, because what is there to say? He shifts Aizawa’s full weight to one bulky arm, supporting his spine. His other hand threads itself into the teacher’s long, black hair, pressing Shouta’s face firmly against his shoulder. Shouta’s hair is softer than he imagined. It’s... pleasant. Shouta melts, wrapping his slender arms around All Might. He grips the hero’s costume with both fists. His world has shrunk, become smaller and smaller until the entire universe exists in the warm pocket between All Might’s neck and shoulder. His stubble scrapes All Might’s skin. Small rivulets of steam caress Shouta’s face.
Imperceptible to anyone but Shouta, All Might has started to shake.
“You’re nearing your limit,” Aizawa mumbles tiredly.
“It’s fine.” All Might grins into Shouta’s hair. “Besides, I can’t hold you like this in my other form.”
“I don’t need to be held.”
“Sho,” All Might whispers.
“Toshinori,” Shouta responds bitterly, Yagi’s first name unfamiliar on his lips. He closes his eyes.
“You are not a failure. Say it.”
“It’s a lie.”
“Then lie to me.” All Might smiles encouragingly. “I won’t put you down until you say it.”
Shouta takes a long time to breathe. He calms himself as much as he can, feeling All Might’s long hair tickle his nose. He doesn’t want to be put down. He wants to stay in All Might's arms, be comforted until he falls asleep, or until he dies... But he also knows that All Might won’t give up until he humors him. Shouta won’t be the person who forces All Might’s quirk out of existence, extinguishes the symbol of peace just because he wants a goddamn hug. He can’t. There’s only one way this conversation can end. Give him what he wants.
“Fine. I’m not a... a failure.”
“See? That’s not so bad.”
All Might sets him down gently, on his feet. He deflates in a cloud of steam, coughing blood into a balled fist. In his smaller form, Yagi inhales, a deep rattling breath that doesn’t quite reach the bottom of his chest.
“It’s getting worse, isn’t it?” Shouta asks, dead-eyed. He wipes his face on the sleeve of his costume, gesturing at Yagi’s chest. He wraps his other arm around his own body, like holding two pieces of paper together, waiting for glue to dry. “The... you.”
“I’m fine,” Yagi says with a forced, bloody smile. He coughs one or two more times, mouth closed.
Shouta sighs. He sniffs. With his left hand he reaches up, using his thumb to tenderly wipe the blood from Yagi’s lips.
“Sho,” Yagi whispers again.
Butterflies course through Aizawa’s veins. He isn’t sure how he feels about this new nickname Yagi has given him. Sho. It’s sweet, but... so intimate. He frowns. He doesn’t have time for all these feelings.
“You have class in a few minutes,” Shouta remarks, brushing him off. “You’ll be late. That’s the first rule of teaching – always be on time.”
Yagi clears his throat with a grin.
“See? I’m learning so much already.”
Yagi reaches forward with both arms, pulling Shouta in for a quick, gentle hug.
“Please come to me if you need to talk. I’m here for you. All right?”
He doesn’t have an answer, so he doesn’t say anything.
Yagi understands. With a bright smile and a wave, he leaves to teach his next class.
Shouta catches sight of his reflection in the window opposite. He looks ragged. His hair is untidy from All Might’s ministrations, and his eyes – contrary to his own belief – are in fact redder than usual. His shoulders are hunched, and he’s exhausted. Amazing, that All Might could put up with someone so lowly and mangy. He thinks he understands now. Maybe it’s not about acts of heroism, or living in the moment. Maybe life is about having reassurance for tomorrow. Maybe it’s having something to look forward to.
He turns his head, burying his nose in the reins he wears as a scarf.
They smell like Yagi. He closes his eyes.