Shouta watches Shinsou walk towards him. He’s a little slumped forward, and his eyes are droopy. He’s been like this all day, but Shinsou never seems to realize how tired he is, and always comes to class anyways, despite the fact that he constantly looks like he’s going to pass out. And now he’s coming to training. Gods.
“We’re not training today, you’re tired. Go to bed.” He says softly.
Shinsou's eyes widen.
"W-wait, I can still-"
"Shinsou, go rest." Shouta cuts. Shinsou's mouth slams shut and he lowers his head, bowing slightly.
As Shinsou walks back to the locker room, Shouta feels more and more guilty.
Shinsou's home life isn't perfect, and he knows that, though he doesn’t know to what extent. His mental health isn't so good either, but he refuses every and any kind of help Shouta offered. He made it clear, indirectly, that he greatly enjoys their training sessions, and now Shouta is worried he just took away what's possibly the only highlight of his day, as self-centered as it is for Shouta to think.
As the kid comes out of the lockers, his uniform back on and frowning –probably unconsciously–, Shouta sighs.
"Hey, Shinsou. Come here.” He beacons. Shinsou obeys, head low.
"Why were you so tired today?" Shouta asks softly. Shinsou keeps his head down.
"I just didn't sleep well. I'll be fine." He mumbles back. Shouta sighs again.
"Shinsou, I'm not skipping training today to punish you. You know that, right?" He asks. He tries to stay gentle, but that's never been his strong suit.
"Yeah." Shinsou just says. Shouta’s about to sigh again, but Shinsou doesn’t let him.
“Can I just go now. I know how much of an inconvenience I am to you, you can stop trying.”
Damn that kid’s eloquence. Shouta holds his sighing back and puts a hand on Shinsou’s shoulder, gently, so he doesn’t startle him. He still flinches, but doesn’t squirm or push Shouta away.
“Shinsou, you’re not an inconvenience. I’m just worried about you. Is everything alright?” He asks again, squeezing Shinsou’s shoulder slightly. Shinsou doesn’t answer for a long time, and Shouta just lets him take his time. Finally, he sighs.
“I’m sorry, it’s just- I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to get mad,” There’s a pregnant pause, and Shouta waits.
“It’s just, I’ve been stressed lately, and I really want to do well for the hero course, but there’s a lot of work to catch up on, and there’s…”
He stops, pinching his lips shut like he’s holding a truth back. Shouta keeps waiting, hoping it will be enough to push Shinsou into admitting whatever’s going on. Finally, he murmurs a tiny, tiny sentence, that makes him look just so… Small, under Shouta’s gaze, despite Shinsou only missing two inches to be his height.
“I’m just scared.”
Shouta knows panic generally isn’t the right way to react, but in his defense, he isn’t the only one panicking. Shinsou’s eyes widen, as he realizes what he just said, and he stutters an excuse.
“I- I didn’t mean- Forget that, just forget it, please-”
“Shinsou, is everything okay at home? Are you safe?” Shouta asks, with the least tact he must’ve used in his life. He recites blankly the words he’s been taught to ask because that’s the only thing he can think of that isn’t cradling his protege in his arms.
Shinsou’s stuttering comes to a halt, and for an instant, everything is silent. Then, he pushes Shouta’s hand away.
“Yes. I’m sorry for bothering you, forget it. I’m leaving now.” He says, his tone almost as blank as Shouta’s own, if not for that tinge of anger. Shouta walks in front of him before he can walk away.
“Shinsou, please answer the question. I need to know if you’re safe.”
“I am. Let me leave,” He asks, frustrated. And Shouta knows he should let him leave. He knows he’s not being the careful teacher he’s always prided himself on being, he knows he’s not doing anything right, but those facts are pushed aside by the thought that Shinsou might go home to an abusive family, and his selfish brain tells Shouta that it’s his own fault, and that now he has to fix it.
“Shinsou, you have to take this seriously. Please, tell me what’s scaring you-”
"Everything, okay ?! I'm scared of everything! I'm so fucking terrified of my exams, of how I’m doing in class, and in training, and in everything, I’m so scared I’m not enough, I’m so scared that one day you'll just leave that gym and won’t come back, because you died in a ditch like heroes do or because you just don’t want to help me anymore, I'm so scared you'll just leave me alone, and God I’m so fucking terrified of myself, and of what I’ll do to other people, of what I’ll do to myself, of what kind of shit I’m capable of doing if I’m just scared enough! And even if everything goes well in the end I'm just scared everything is just a stupid fantasy I'm imagining from a fucking psych ward because I tried to do something terrible and I’m trying to hold onto the last bits of happiness I had!”
Then there's silence. Shinsou's words echoed everywhere in the empty gym, and it feels like it’s still echoing in Shouta's head. He stays silent, this time not to let Shinsou continue, but because he has no idea what to say. Shinsou speaks again, less loudly, his head lolling forward a little.
"I'm- terrified , Aizawa. I'm constantly terrified of everything that can happen, or that's happening, or that will happen. I'm safe, thanks for asking. My parents aren't beating me or some shit, mostly because they don't care about me enough for that. I didn't jump into any fucking white van offering candy, I'm not a moron. You can leave now. I’ve dealt with that my whole life, I think I can keep going without your pity."
He turns around, walking towards the exit again.
Shouta lets a whole second pass before speaking.
This makes Shinsou stop. He doesn’t turn around, but that’s a start.
“For what?” He snaps. His voice is quieter than earlier, but Shouta can still hear the anger in it.
“For forcing you to talk. And not realizing you were struggling, and for making you think I don’t care about you, or pity you.”
Shinsou chuckles. Louder and louder, until he’s full on laughing, practically folding on himself. Shouta doesn’t move, not sure what to do.
Shinsou turns around, his eyes are wet with tears, but he isn’t crying just yet.
“That’s the funniest shit I’ve heard all day! Fuck that, no one ever told me something that fucking funny.” He spits, sarcastically, but still laughing. His voice raises again.
“Do you really think that’s enough? Do you think I’ll believe that?!” He asks. He steps forward when Shouta doesn’t answer.
“Aizawa, answer me.” He asks. Shouta stays silent. Shinsou scoffs, and turns around again, walking away.
“That’s what I thought…” He mumbles.
Shouta stands still in the middle of the gym, looping Shinsou’s words in his head.
He really fucked up.