Sero liked to think he was a pretty chill guy. People seemed to trust him well enough, and he didn’t mind when they came to him with problems; he was plenty happy to listen to people rant for a little while. He’d sort of become the unofficial 1A therapist-for-minor-problems; whenever people were having personal problems, they’d come to him and he’d listen.
That’s all he really needed to do, after all. He’d discovered that more often than not, people felt better after just letting it out. Sometimes it was enough to simply spend time with them; often, Todoroki would come over from next door and just sit in his room for a little while. It was a sort of companionable silence.
A lot of others were much less subtle when they were having a bad day. Sero had learned many things about his classmates through his “shoulder-to-cry-on” role in their class. For example, he found out that Kaminari often had anxiety attacks after going over his wat limit, and he hated it when other people make fun of him for his intelligence.
Hagakure often felt alone and ignored by others; that’s why she tried to be as bubbly and energetic as she could. Kirishima had pretty intense self-esteem and self-doubt issues. Aoyama was terribly homesick for France and he’s worried that going to U.A. won’t be worth it in the long run because of his quirk drawback. Bakugo’s never explicitly stated it, but Sero can tell he was constantly paranoid and it’s gotten worse since the villain attack.
The list went on and on. Sero wasn’t sure what exactly made him the automatic person to go to whenever someone was having issues. Mina told him that he “was just an understanding dude.” Uraraka told him that he and his room had a “calming aura.”
Either way, Sero had accepted the role without hesitation. The purpose of heroes was to help others, right? It didn’t matter if their problems were villain attacks or emotional turmoil; it was his duty to be there for them. And he honestly felt very honored that his classmates apparently trusted him enough to come to him with their problems.
Despite all of this though, something just felt a little bittersweet to him about the situation. It took Sero a couple months to figure out what exactly was wrong with him- why he felt off about offering help to his classmates.
And he eventually came to the following conclusion: if everyone came to Sero for help, who was he supposed to go to? Rationally, he knew that all his friends (and even some teachers) would be there for him should he need someone to talk to. But he simply couldn’t bring himself to actually go to any of them.
And that brought him to his second revelation: he was just embarrassed. He’s been embarrassed ever since his humiliation in the sports festival, he’s been embarrassed since his failure in the final exam, and he’s embarrassed whenever people tell him his face and quirk are plain.
Sero doesn’t need to bother other people with these things! All his classmates had actual, legitimate issues. Of course he didn’t want to talk to anyone; Sero only had small problems, easily fixed by plastering a toothy smile on his face and pretending nothing happened.
So what if he wanted to curl up into a ball every time a stranger told him he “tried his best” in the sports festival?
Stop pitying me I don’t want your pity--
So what if he panicked every time he smelled Midnight’s perfume, every time he fell asleep in the close proximity of other people?
Get away from me get away from me please--
So what if he went and cried in his room after Monoma told him his quirk was stupid?
It’s just a little joke, and he’s right anyway, everyone else has quirks good enough for the hero department--
Sero was known for his smile, and damnit he was going to keep it that way.
Or at least he was going to try.
But all his hard work came tumbling down when he started losing sleep. Good lord knows what caused it, but it happened, and nothing was helping him at all. Not even chamomile tea or his lavender-scented lotion.
He could see his classmates start to shoot worried glances towards his rapidly growing dark circles, he could see Momo’s raised eyebrow when he asked her to make him some concealer, he could feel Mic-Sensei’s annoyance at his inability to stay awake first hour. But he couldn’t do anything about it, and it frustrated him to no end. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t make himself get over 3 or 4 hours of sleep every night.
It had started to affect his performance during hero training. His tape wasn’t as adhesive as usual, and his reaction time was much slower than it normally was.
Your quirk isn’t even that good anyway and now you can’t even USE it right--
Sero was shutting down, and he knew it. It was only a matter of time until he completely broke. But he was determined to last as long as he possibly could before that happened; he couldn’t let his trademark smile fall from his face, lose his “chill” attitude, or his classmates would know something was up (if they didn’t already). They’d stop trusting Sero as someone to talk to, and that would hurt him more than anything else.
He lasted 4 and a half weeks after the start of the insomnia.
He was in Midnight’s art class when it happened.
Sero had gotten exactly 2 ½ hours of sleep the night before, which was definitely not enough for him to function properly. He was having a good deal of trouble staying awake throughout his morning classes, having fallen asleep and being subsequently yelled at in both homeroom and English.
He’d been foolish enough to believe he could stay awake through Art. Unfortunately, Midnight had her own seating chart that put Sero directly to Todoroki’s left. Midnight hadn’t been in the room at the time either, so he was less on edge, and he was so warm, and tired, and then he was dead asleep within seconds.
2 ½ hours hadn’t been enough the night before. Nothing was ever enough these days.
The first thing he noticed when he regained consciousness was the smell. Far too sweet, overpoweringly floral, and utterly overwhelming in every sense of the word.
It was that smell, he knew that smell, he’d know it anywhere--
The second thing he noticed was the hand on his shoulder, and the long nails digging too sharply into his shoulders.
Oh fuck oh no please stop touching me--
The third thing he noticed was the presence over his shoulder, the breath of someone in his ear, standing far too close for comfort.
Back away you’re too close you’re so close to me--
The fourth thing he noticed was the voice, sending shivers down his spine.
“Now then Sero, I thought you knew better than to sleep in my class. It’s common knowledge that I have a sadistic side when it comes to punishing students.”
She was smiling wrong, it was too wrong, and she was still too close to him.
Stop stop stop stop stop PLEASE--
Sero jolted upright, his hands shaking, actually his whole body was shaking, and the whole class was staring at him.
You have to get out, you have to leave, you’re trapped here--
He stood up abruptly, her hand falling away from his shoulder. He plastered a fake smile on his face and tried not to flinch away when he saw that she has her whip with her, because of course she does, she has it all the time.
“Sorry, I have to go to the bathroom,” Sero managed to get out, leaving the room as fast as he possibly could without running, because he couldn’t give her a chance to tell him no.
Wrong choice, he’s going to be in so much trouble later--
He never managed to make it to the bathroom, instead ending up in a small alcove that housed a window and small bench. And that was where Sero completely broke down.
It had been building up for weeks- months, even. But Sero had worked so hard to maintain a calm appearance for his classmates, and he really hoped that this day wouldn’t have ever come, but there he was anyways, crying his eyes out on a small bench somewhere in the top hero school in the world.
Although it felt kind of good to finally let everything out, at the same time it felt like he couldn’t breathe, and someone was going to find him any second. He buried his head in his knees, curling up on that tiny bench in the middle of plain sight because somehow that’s going to hide him from the world.
In the back of his mind, Sero knew that he could make himself stop crying and actually breathe if he really wanted to. But he didn’t do that, and the ugly sobs continued to heave from his chest, and he wasn’t able to breathe normally, and everything was just TOO MUCH.
He didn’t know how long he stayed like that. He did know that at some point, he felt the small bench creak next to him, and he wasn’t alone anymore.
The new person didn’t smell overwhelmingly floral though, and he couldn’t feel nails digging into him, and he didn’t hear that unbearable voice next to his ear. And while he didn’t necessarily want to be touched, the circles being rubbed on his back gave him a pattern to follow with his breathing.
And slowly, ever so slowly, Sero regained control. He could wiggle his fingers, and his toes; the violent sobs slowed and his breathing began to return to normal.
“Sero? Are you with me?” asked a gruff voice that he recognized as his homeroom teacher’s oh no how embarrassing he’ll never look at you the same way again--
“Aizawa-sensei?” he managed to respond, albeit in a voice barely louder than a faint whisper. Sero slowly raised his head, blinking stray tears out of his eyes, and recognized the outline of the underground hero. Said teacher was looking at him with concern, eyebrows furrowed; his hand was still on Sero’s back, but the contact didn’t really bother him anymore.
“Do you want to tell me what happened?” Aizawa asked softly, the gentlest Sero had ever heard him. But he couldn’t tell him, he couldn’t complain about one of Aizawa’s teacher friends straight to his face, that would only end badly.
“Ah, it’s no big deal,” Sero said, trying to slap his trademark smile across his face.
There was only one problem: the smile wouldn’t come.
Sero’s smile was the only consistent thing about him; realizing he couldn’t even have that was yet another tipping point that day. He could feel tears begin to well in his eyes damnit not again--
Aizawa let out a soft sigh. “The bell’s about to ring. Let’s go somewhere more private, yeah?”
Sero nodded mutely, and slowly uncurled from his spot on the small bench. He allowed Aizawa to lead him across campus to the 1A dorms, neither of them saying anything. They settled in a spot on a couch in the common room of dorm, far more comfortable (and private) than that infernal bench.
“You know, I do care about all of my students outside of the classroom. And I want to be a person that you can trust.” Aizawa looked into Sero’s eyes. “So if there’s something influencing your wellbeing and happiness, I’m going to want to know about it. There may be something I can do to help.”
Sero took a deep, rattling breath. And he let it out slowly. And although he’s not quite sure why, Sero decided he could trust him.
So he told Aizawa. He told him about the humiliation he felt after the sports festival. He told him about how much he hated feeling pity from people he didn’t even know. He told him how his quirk is far too plain, so he has to make up for it in other ways.
He told him about how uncomfortable the final exam made him, how he feels chills whenever he’s so much as in the same room as Midnight. He told him how he hasn’t been able to sleep for weeks and weeks, and how his grades seem to keep dropping no matter what he does.
He told Aizawa everything, and he listened to him.
In that moment, Sero was able to understand why his classmates wanted someone around to talk to. It was refreshing to know that someone was paying attention to you, that they care, enough to take time out of their day to listen to your problems, no matter how small they are.
After he was done talking, Aizawa gently encouraged him to take a nap, an offer that he promptly accepted. Sero didn’t go back to school for the rest of the day, and Aizawa excused his absence by saying he wasn’t feeling well.
One day later, Sero found a bottle of melatonin pills on his bedside table, alongside a note describing when best to take it. It helped, a little.
His classmates seemed to notice more. Sero didn’t feel like he had to smile all the time, didn’t feel like he had to put up a front. It helped.
2 weeks later, Aizawa pulled Sero aside and told him that he would be excused from Art the next semester for private tutoring instead. He also said that the school was looking into hiring teachers that can “provide a safe and age-appropriate environment for high schoolers.” It helped, a lot.
His classmates and friends still came to him to talk, and he still listened. But sometimes he would talk to them, too, and he didn’t even feel bad about it. His smile didn’t feel faked anymore.
And slowly, he started to feel like he could breathe again.