Tricolored fur runs under his fingertips as Kaede walks in circles on his lap, purring loudly and leaning into his touch as he strokes her. Now that the movie they were watching has gone to commercial break, Aizawa turns his attention to his son piecing together their newest bit of furniture on the floor. (Well, Aizawa was watching, Hitoshi was mostly just listening. He's always preferred multitasking when it comes to consuming media. Sometimes Aizawa thinks he must have gotten it from him, until he remembers Hitoshi didn't grow up in his care.)
Aizawa was too tired to put it together himself, so Hitoshi offered to build it for him. He told him he didn’t have to and that he'd just do it later, but Hitoshi clarified that he wanted to.
“The instructions are so vague--it’s like solving a puzzle,” he said, eyes glinting with eager anticipation and a playful smile on his lips.
Right now, his eyebrows are furrowed in concentration and perhaps a touch of annoyance as his eyes flick between the instructions and the wooden objects in his hands. He pauses, eyes scanning the pieces on the floor in front of him. The corners of Aizawa’s lips quirk upward. He’s so still as he thinks, frozen in place with his hands held out in front of him, each holding a piece of his furniture puzzle.
When he moves again it’s to quickly set one down and pick up another nearly identical one. He slots the two together, smiling to himself as he reaches for a screw to bind them. Hitoshi turns his attention back to the TV as he twists it in, and Aizawa follows his gaze.
It’s playing an advertisement for what seems to be an upcoming thriller or horror film. The trailer is slow-paced with no narration, showing various scenes of the female protagonist looking paranoid as she travels, glancing over her shoulder constantly, clearly trying to evade an unseen entity. Eventually it displays a scene of her confessing to someone that she’s being followed.
Hitoshi turns his gaze back to the floor. His expression seems distant, maybe even a little tense. Perhaps he’s just listening in, Hitoshi’s always been drawn to the creepier things despite his anxiety, and he’s a little hesitant to show interest due to his previous home. Aizawa wonders if he’ll be asked to take him to the movie theater sometime soon.
When he looks back up the protagonist is cornered in a dirty, intensely lit alley and held at knifepoint by a silhouetted man.
”Take off your clothes," says the man.
Hitoshi’s strained smile drops and he stiffens, staring wide-eyed at the ground. Oh. So maybe not interest. Aizawa scans his surroundings. Where had the remote gone again…?
The protagonist pleads, voice trembling with terror, “No, please--”
“TAKE THEM OFF!”
Speed is not one of Hitoshi’s strong suits. Reflexes, sure, but he’s never been very light on his feet. His build and height don’t lend themselves to speed much.
Aizawa has never seen him move so fast. One second he’s flinching and Aizawa is thinking he really needs to find the remote, and the next he’s gone, bolting down the hallway and slamming the door to his room shut. The sudden noise and movement startles Kaede and she digs her claws into Aizawa’s thighs. He hisses in pain, easing her off his lap. Lifting himself off the couch, he moves to switch off the TV manually before turning to look down the hallway.
Hitoshi tends to get nauseated with anxiety, but right now Aizawa is the one with a churning stomach as a sense of dread creeps over him. Whether Hitoshi will be upset by intense media has always been a little unpredictable, but his response to it if so has been consistent. Out of all the times Aizawa has seen him get scared by something, he’s never responded to it like that. He’s the type to grin and bear it, or, more recently, seek Aizawa for comfort. The fact that he ran away makes him more uneasy than he cares to admit.
He pushes it down, taking a step into the hallway towards Hitoshi’s room. Hitoshi needs him, his support. He has to be calm and handle whatever is bothering him, no matter what. He can deal with his own feelings about it later.
He knocks on his door. “Hitoshi? Can I come in?”
Aizawa waits, but Hitoshi doesn’t answer. He can hear him crying, with forceful, shuddering breaths and sniffles. Aizawa’s heart wrenches in his chest at the sound, and a chill climbs up his spine as the unease from before hits him twice as hard. Hitoshi has never responded to fear like this.
“I’m coming in, okay?” he announces. He waits a moment, listening for any objections, and eases the door open when he hears none.
Hitoshi is sitting on the furthest edge of his bed, facing the wall with his back to him, curled in on himself. Aizawa can see his shoulders bounce with his sobs. His palms are pressed against his ears, fingers digging into the space above them and scratching frantically.
Aizawa steps closer. “Hitoshi…”
“Did you turn it off?” he whines, voice tight.
“Yes, the TV is off now,” Aizawa answers, moving forward less cautiously now that he knows he’s there. Hitoshi’s hands move away from his ears to wipe his tears as he weeps.
Aizawa sits on the bed next to him, keeping some space between them, just in case. Usually Hitoshi likes physical comfort from Aizawa when he’s scared, but right now he’s not sure if that’s the right move. Should he reach out and risk upsetting him further? Should he keep his distance and deprive him of his usual comfort?
Maybe he’s just reading into things. Hitoshi would have told him if something like... that had never happened to him, right? Best to just treat him as normal, he decides.
“Are you okay?” Aizawa asks, reaching out to put a hand on his shoulder, but Hitoshi jerks away, ducking his head and bunching his shoulders.
“Don’t touch me!” he blurts. “Please...”
Aizawa pulls his hand back. Another wave of anxiety crashes through him. It’s not visible, but Aizawa can feel his own hands trembling. He braces them on the bed beside his thighs as he leans forward to observe Hitoshi closer. He can see red underneath his fingernails.
Hitoshi makes no effort to answer his previous question. All Aizawa can do is watch his son cry.
The flinching, despite swearing up and down his parents don’t hit him...
Thankfully, it doesn’t last too long, his crying easing down after a few moments.
The aversion to touch on his back and legs…
“Sorry.” Hitoshi sniffles, wiping the still dripping tears off his cheeks.
“You’re alright,” Aizawa assures, thankful he came back down so soon.
The way he used to panic when pinned down while sparring…
Hitoshi huffs, still regaining his breath. “I don’t know why I always freak out like that... I know it’s just a movie.”
His refusal to wear temperature appropriate clothes in the summer, always covered up as much as possible…
“It is meant to be upsetting,” Aizawa offers. “I don’t blame you.”
The absolute terror in his eyes the first time he was completely alone with him...
A question weighs on Aizawa’s mind, but the words are too heavy on his tongue. He realizes that although he wants to know for sure, part of him is afraid of the answer. How irrational. Ignoring it won’t make Hitoshi’s pain go away. But should he ask? He doesn’t want to force it out of him if he’s not comfortable talking about it, but Hitoshi does struggle to bring things up on his own. Does he need a push, or does he need time?
Hitoshi is staring at the ground with droopy eyes, slouching and wringing his hands so hard they turn pink. Aizawa can see him trembling.
“...I love you so much, Hitoshi.”
It’s not the first time he’s said it, but Hitoshi still looks surprised as he stares up at him with wide eyes and parted lips. His already reddened eyes turn shiny and wet as the corners of his lips curl upward. He turns back to the floor, but this time he’s smiling.
“I love you too, dad.”
“I will always love you. Nothing would ever make me think less of you, okay? You can always tell me anything, how you’re feeling, or if something is on your mind.”
He can do both--give him some time to see if he brings something up on his own and keep an eye on his mood in the meantime, and ask him directly if not.
Hitoshi’s smile falls just a little, a little more somber. “Okay.” He nods and sniffles.
They both stay quiet for a moment. Aizawa wants to give him the chance to speak up if he wants to, but Hitoshi doesn’t seem like he’s planning on it.
“Do you want to finish watching that movie? We can mute it during the commercials,” he offers. Hitoshi quickly nods.
“Yeah.” He shifts towards him, eyes still averted.
Aizawa stands up and, after confirming Hitoshi is following along, leads him back out into the hall. He feels a tug on his sleeve.
“Hm?” Aizawa stops and turns halfway to see him.
Hitoshi leans his forehead against his shoulder, still gripping his sleeve.
Aizawa has been keeping an eye on Hitoshi. Immediately after the fact, he just seemed drained, nearly laying on the couch more than sitting on it while they finished their movie. He seemed better the next day, if a little shy, like he always is when he feels like he did something wrong. Like have emotions.
Aizawa makes sure to pay him just a little more attention than usual, so he knows he's not upset with him and feels like he can open up to him at any time without being a burden. He doesn't, though. A week goes by, and there's no hesitant “I need to talk about something"s or even a “hey I told my therapist about what happened and...”
By the time the weekend rolls around Aizawa has resigned to bringing it up himself and trying to walk that delicate line between giving Hitoshi an opening and prying. He waits until it's closer to evening, just in case, but they have a relatively quiet breakfast and lunch, Hitoshi basking in his attention when given while maintaining a healthy interest in doing his own things, too.
Aizawa pads down the hall towards Hitoshi's open door. It seems like he picked a good time; he doesn't look particularly busy, somewhat reclined in his bed with his laptop, not typing anything up or working on homework. Seems like he was just clicking around the internet until Aizawa came by. He's already looking his direction before Aizawa even appears in the doorway, having heard him coming even through his headphones. Aizawa hates how alert his previous home left him.
Despite his tired and currently somewhat lazy demeanor, Hitoshi's eyes still light up a bit when he sees him. “Hey.”
“Hey,” Aizawa greets back, stepping into the room. “How are you feeling?”
Hitoshi pulls down his headphones while Aizawa moves to sit on the edge of his bed.
“Good. Tired. The usual,” he replies casually. His face falls some despite Aizawa's effort to remain casual himself. So alert. “Is something wrong?”
“That's what I wanted to ask you.” Cover blown, he shifts to face him more directly. Some confusion flickers across Hitoshi's face. “I'd like to talk about the night you were scared by that commercial.”
“Oh,” is all Hitoshi says. His eyes immediately drop away from Aizawa to his own lap, a tiny, tense smile tugging at his lips.
“Is that alright? You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to.”
“Sure.” That's what Hitoshi says when he means “not really, but I don't want to say it.”
Well, he'll have to learn to be more direct eventually. Still, he can't blame him for being a little tense about the conversation. Aizawa feels the same way, and Hitoshi's still unused to even being allowed to talk about his experiences.
“Do you want to lay down?” Aizawa offers. Hitoshi nods, setting aside his laptop and headphones before sinking almost completely under the covers on his side. Aizawa lays down in front of him on top of the covers, resting his chin on Hitoshi's head and laying one arm over his shoulder.
It's a system they worked out shortly after Hitoshi left the hospital. He doesn't like Aizawa to look at him while they talk about serious or emotional things, but it's often hard to hear his soft voice when he turns away. So they do this. Hitoshi can hide his face, and Aizawa can hear him without leaning so close that it embarrasses the teen.
They lay there in silence for a moment, Aizawa rubbing Hitoshi's back through the covers while he gets his thoughts in order.
“So,” he begins, “that seemed a lot different from your other panic attacks to me. Did it feel different to you?”
“Yeah, way different,” Hitoshi agrees. “They're both panic, but... I don't know. It's different somehow.”
“Has that ever happened before?”
For a moment, Aizawa wonders if it's happened recently, since Hitoshi moved in with him--Aizawa oblivious while Hitoshi cried in his room alone.
“Was it triggered by something similar to the commercial?”
Hitoshi pauses. Aizawa wishes he could see his face to know whether he's just thinking, or is reluctant to say.
“...Yeah,” he finally says, with enough hesitance and lack of volume that Aizawa assumes it was the latter.
“How so? The knife, or being cornered, or...?” He tries to avoid saying it directly. He doesn't want to put the image in his mind more than he has to, and he doesn't want to pressure him to tell him exactly what he has or hasn't experienced.
“It was kinda... like, the being forced to undress thing, and... show people stuff, I guess.” There's a pitch to his voice, and he's shifting under the covers restlessly. Aizawa resumes rubbing his back, his own heartbeat picking up at the information.
“Sorry, I don't mean to get you worked up again. Are you alright?”
“...Yeah,” he says with the same anxious tone.
“You're pretty sensitive about clothes, I've noticed. Has anything like that ever happened to you?”
“Sensitive” is a bit of an understatement. Hitoshi gets very anxious and agitated when someone else is handling his clothes. He hates people looking at or touching them if he's not currently wearing them. He refuses to let Aizawa help him with his laundry, even if it's been weeks and Hitoshi is too exhausted to do it himself. Not even just hanging shirts up in his closet. And of course, he's always pretty covered up. A big fan of layers, even in the summer.
“...I don't know,” Hitoshi says.
“That's an unusual answer.”
“I don't remember anything like that happening,” he clarifies.
Like pulling teeth. Though he can't be sure Hitoshi is doing it on purpose; he tends to follow directions to a fault, afraid to deviate from what's explicitly clear.
“Is there a reason you're not sure, then?”
“...I don't know. Sometimes I worry, like... I've had nightmares about that kind of thing for as long as I can remember, and I've had panic attacks any time something sexual was mentioned since I was little, and... I don't know. It's just a bunch of little things like that. It's probably nothing.”
“It's not nothing if it's affecting you.” He hates how quick Hitoshi is to dismiss his own feelings and experiences. Hates how he was trained to. “What other little things are there?”
“...I don't want to talk about it,” he mumbles with an anxious huff of laughter, embarrassed by his own reluctance.
“Okay. Have you brought this up with your therapist?”
“...No. I thought about it, but…” he trails off.
He waits for him to continue, but he never does. Pulling. Teeth. “But what?”
“Well, it's not a big deal. I know how to avoid it usually.”
“It's causing you pain, though. You don't have to just deal with it, he's there to help you work through stuff like this.”
“I just…” he hesitates, “feel weird talking about it. Plus, it's probably nothing, like I said.” His squirming picks up again.
Hitoshi's self doubt astounds Aizawa sometimes. Multiple panic attacks over something, but it's probably nothing? Not even worth mentioning to his therapist or dad?
“Why does it feel weird?” he asks gently, holding him just a little closer and moving his hand to stroke his shoulder. He can tell he's anxious to admit whatever it is.
“Well, I don't even know why it happens, and... I don't know, it's kind of dirty, isn't it...?” his volume gradually decreases into a whisper. Aizawa feels him dip his head under the blankets, curling in on himself.
Aizawa's heart hurts for him. He's no expert, but he's researched some basic symptoms to help spot red flags in students. Feeling dirty is a very, very common one for victims of--... and he hates that Hitoshi feels like any of this reflects on him at all.
“It's not dirty. You're not dirty.”
“I-I feel gross. The stuff that scares me, it's-- I mean, I'm still thinking about... s-stuff like that, even if I don't want it to happen…” Hitoshi's voice breaks. Aizawa hears him sniffle.
He wraps his arm around his back and angles his head down towards him.
“You're not dirty, Hitoshi,” he assures, then pauses. The words just leaped out of him--he hadn't planned on how to explain why. It's just obvious to him that there's nothing inherently gross or dirty about his fears.
“...You're concerned for your safety, there's nothing gross about it. You're just scared of getting hurt. That's natural, even if your fear is a little overactive.”
“I-I guess…” Never been one to argue with him. “I still don't... think I could talk about it with my therapist or anything though...”
“Well, you don't have to, just know that you can. He's not there to judge you. You... you have nothing to be ashamed of, and you deserve to understand your experiences and get help with them.”
Aizawa feels more than hears the weeping that Hitoshi does before regaining composure.
“Okay…” he croaks unconvincingly.
Aizawa hopes that one day he'll have an easier time taking his word for it. Right now, holding his sniffling son who hasn't believed a word he's said tonight, he feels a little helpless. Like he always does. All he knows to do is show him some patience and affection. So he does.
He presses a kiss to the top of Hitoshi's head. “I love you, Hitoshi.”
“I-I'm sorry I'm so broken…” he mumbles.
“Hey... You're not broken, don't say that.”
Hitoshi stays quiet. Aizawa rests his cheek on his head. So much pain... He hopes he didn't ruin the teen's weekend by dragging all this out.
Eventually his sniffles and occasional weeps die down. Aizawa feels him shift. He uncurls from around him to let him pull his flushed, tear streaked face out from under the covers, taking in a breath of fresh air.
“Thank you for sharing this with me.” Aizawa rubs his arm. Hitoshi keeps his eyes, but not face, averted from him. “I know it wasn't easy. You're very strong, Hitoshi. You've been through so, so much, and all on your own for the longest time. You're hurt, but you are not broken. Your wounds will heal.”
Aizawa wipes away the tears on his cheek using his thumb, hoping he'll catch his gentle smile from the corner of his eye.
They stay there a little longer, thoughts rolling through both of their heads until Hitoshi's face and body relax into his bed again.
Aizawa twists to view the clock on the nightstand.
“Think you've got enough energy left to go out for dinner? We can go to that restaurant with the lion statues you really like.”
Hitoshi hums with uncertainty, leaning towards a no.
“Or...” Aizawa offers, “we can just order delivery from them.”
Hitoshi smiles up at him. “Yeah, that sounds good.”
“Alright.” Aizawa sits up and ruffles Hitoshi's hair.
“Wanna make the phone call?” Aizawa grins. Hitoshi grimaces through his smile, shaking his head. Aizawa snorts.
“Alright, alright. You deserve a break right now anyway.” He brushes Hitoshi's now disheveled hair out of his eyes.
Aizawa slides his legs off the bed, but before he sets off to find his phone and order dinner, he looks behind him and asks, “You alright?”
Hitoshi nods. “Yeah.”