Aizawa was convinced that there was something about being stuck in a dark place that brought about the worst sorts of conversations. There must be something about all-encompassing darkness that triggered dark thoughts. Maybe it was how deathlike situations like this felt, or maybe it was just boredom. One thing was for sure, getting stuck with someone was a surefire recipe for an ugly conversation.
Case in point, he and Bakugou had been trapped in a caved in building for all of five minutes when Bakugou asked an awful question out of nowhere.
“Do you think I’ll ever be a good person?”
Help was already on its way, and it should arrive in half an hour or so. The space they were stuck in was plenty large. They weren’t in any real danger, though the pitch darkness was annoying, so Aizawa had been hopeful that they could just sit in silence until they were safe.
“What makes you ask that?”
He was dodging the question, and they both knew it. But the question was fundamentally flawed, so he felt justified.
“Don’t have much else to do, and you won’t spew some bullshit fluff at me.”
Aizawa didn’t like the tone Bakugou used. It was resigned, tired, and so unlike the student he knew.
“Do you want to be a good person?”
“Of course I do!”
Indignation was an improvement, but not by much.
“What’s stopping you?”
“I don’t- I don’t fucking know. I’m trying, but every time I think I know what I’m supposed to be doing, there’s some new secret rules nobody bothered to fuckin’ tell me about and there’s no end to that shit. There’s no fucking instructions, but it seems like everyone else gets this crap easily.”
Oh. Bakugou’s voice had a watery edge to it. That was decidedly not good. Aizawa had handled a lot of shit in his time as Class 1-A’s teacher, but a crying Bakugou was one of the few things he’d never encountered before and which left him reeling. The teenager struggled to take a few deep, shuddering breaths, obviously trying to calm himself, and then he kept talking.
“I’m trying, I swear I’m fucking trying, but sometimes- I dunno, it just feels impossible. Like- like there’s just something I’m missing that everyone else has, and it doesn’t matter how hard I try. I’m just not able to be that. Even when I do stuff right, it just feels- fake? Wrong? I’ll do all the right actions just like someone else does, but because it’s me it’s not real.”
Aizawa waited a moment, letting Bakugou breathe before he spoke.
“How many of your classmates can cook?”
It wasn’t what he’d say to any other student, but Bakugou wasn’t any other student. Empty reassurance wouldn’t do anything for him. Bakugou needed a few moments to catch up with the sudden shift in tone before he managed to reply.
“How many of your classmates can cook?”
“I dunno, like fucking two of ‘em?”
Given Bakugou’s rather high standards for food, that added up.
“You can cook though, right? Even though most of them can’t?”
“Of course I fucking can!”
There was some of that signature confidence back. It was nice to hear, though it was laced with confusion.
“The fuck does that mean?”
Bakugou was growing agitated, as he often did when he felt he was being mocked. That wouldn’t do. Aizawa kept his voice soft but flat, to make it clear he was serious about this train of thought.
“Why do you know how to cook? How did you learn? Why did you learn?”
The shift in tone helped a bit. When Bakugou replied his voice wasn’t as angry. More cautiously curious than anything else.
“Because it’s a necessary fucking life skill? I dunno exactly how I learned, I think- yeah, my dad showed me some of the basics back before I got my quirk. Picked up the rest by myself, from cookbooks or videos online. Took my ‘till I was like 13 to get any good at it. I learned ‘cause I was sick and fucking tired of eating store bought meals or takeout all the time, since my folks got busy with shit.”
There were lots of things to worry about in that little reply, lots of hints as to what had brought them to this point; a 16 year old who’d already saved hundreds of lives, convinced he was fundamentally broken and incapable of goodness. Aizawa didn’t comment on any of them, now wasn’t the time or the place, however much he wished it were.
“You learned because it was a skill you needed, and you learned through instructions, practice, and plenty of time. You’re far above your peers in that particular area, because very few of them started learning as early as you did. Last I heard, Kirishima was struggling to not burn the dorm down while making cereal and milk, while you can cook full meals without a recipe. It would take ages and lots of work for him to get anywhere near where you're at."
"So? The fuck does that have to do with my question?"
Aizawa almost raised a hand to halt Bakugou's protests, but realized halfway through the motion the teenager couldn’t see him in the pitch black. He cleared his throat instead, and it had a similar effect.
"I'm sure you already know that cooking is a skill, just like fighting, schoolwork, or any aspect of heroics. That's easy enough to understand. But being kind is a skill too. Working with others is a skill. Being tolerant of bullshit is a skill. There's no singular skill for 'being a good person', it's a massive network of skills, all of which require instruction, and lots of practice. Most people start learning those skills in their younger years. It comes more naturally to some people than it does to others too, just like any other skillset. But just because you didn't start learning them at the same time as everyone else, and it's not something you're naturally predisposed to, doesn't mean you can't get them with time and practice."
He could almost feel the discontent seeping from Bakugou, so he kept pushing forward.
"So, to go back to your question, I think you will be if you want to be one. Because it's hard. People like saying it's easy to be a good person, and sometimes it's because they're naturally predisposed to it, other times they're lying to make themselves look better. But for people like you and I, it's difficult. It's exhausting, it's time consuming, and it often feels like an impossible fight. But I've never known you to be a quitter, so if you really want to be a good person, then there's not a doubt in my mind you will be."
Several seconds of silence ticked by, and then Bakugou took in a shuddering breath, and yeah, fuck, the kid was definitely crying now. Aizawa bit his lip, before making a choice that might be dumb as fuck but felt right. He scooted over so he was sitting next to Bakugou, only a hairbreadth away from the other, but not touching, not quite. For all that Aizawa wanted to wrap the kid up in a hug, he had no doubt that the dark, enclosed space was already weighing on the other, and touch might be too much.
After another few seconds, Bakugou surprised him once again by breaking the invisible gap between them, slumping over just enough that their shoulders brushed.
"What do you mean- people like you and I?"
Aizawa barked a laugh.
"Bakugou, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly a people person. A big part of why I chose to stay as underground as possible was so I don't have to deal with media bullshit, because I have punched reporters in the face before, and I absolutely will do it again if they grab me while I'm trying to do shit."
The half-feigned scandalized gasp from his student made revealing that particularly secret extremely worth it. Besides, it wasn't going to leave the two of them. Bakugou was surprisingly good at keeping his mouth shut.
"There's no way. I mean, fuck, you put up with our class's bullshit."
"I was younger at the time, and there's a vast difference between teenage bullshit, which is what I was drafted into when Midnight signed me up to be a teacher, and an adult putting people's lives in danger because they want 'a moment of my time'."
That got a more legitimate shocked reaction.
"Wait, Midnight signed you up to be a teacher at UA?"
Oh. Yeah, he'd never mentioned that around this class, had he?
"Without asking me about it. I mean, I could've probably still walked away, but I decided to give it a shot, just to get her off my back. She's damn persistent when she gets an idea in her head. I never would've done it on my own, like I said, I've never been good with people."
Another few beats, as Bakugou processed that too.
"Do you wish she hadn't?"
That was a tough question. On one hand, his life probably would've been a lot simpler, and some part of him was still annoyed after all these years that she'd gone ahead and done it without asking him, but all the same-
"No. It's been a chaotic ride, and god knows there's parts of it I could've lived without, but I don't regret it. You lot are hellions, but you're my hellions goddamn it, and I'm proud to say that I had a part in getting all of you to the places you're going. Besides, it's gotten easier since I started. I'd like to think that I'm not the absolute mess of a teacher that I was in my first year. Although, your class in particular does delight in find new ways to surprise me."
Mic would kill to hear him admit that, admit any of this, and it pained some part of Aizawa to put his grouchy exterior away for a bit.
But he could feel the tension draining from Bakugou's body. Could feel the kid's breathing even out. And maybe keeping up his reputation wasn't the most important thing in the world.
Silence stretched out again, but this time it was more comfortable.
"For what it's worth, I think you're a pretty fucking amazing teacher. Even if you're kinda rough about some stuff, I wouldn't want it any other way."
Oh for fuck's sake. Aizawa had to fight down the pinprick sensation around his eyes that he was too used to these days. Goddamn, these kids were really out to get him, huh? Now he was the one who needed a few seconds.
He paused, but that wasn't all that needed to be said, so he mimicked Bakugou's own phrase back at him as words came from some squishy, sentimental part of him.
"For what it's worth, I don't think you're as far off from your goal as you might think you are. You've got stuff to improve on, all of you kids do. That's what kids are meant to do; learn and grow and figure life out. But you're a far cry from the brat who walked into my classroom a year ago. Even if it's not feeling natural yet. At the end of the day, if you get it done, then it counts. Your first couple omelets probably feel pretty awkward to cook too, but if they're edible, then it still counts as a success, right?"
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
Bakugou's voice was small, but in a better way than before. Reflective, considering, but not resigned. Not as tired as it had been. Aizawa almost left it there, but the conversation still bothered him. The fact they were having it at all, the fact they were having it here. The fear that Bakugou had had at the start, as if he expected Aizawa to say no, he wouldn't ever be good.
"And kid, if you need help, there's resources out there for this sorta stuff. We've got electives on handling media. Hound Dog can give some pretty good advice to get you moving in the right direction. The school has therapists, and they can help with any of this too. They can help with a lot of stuff. It's a hell of a lot easier to learn when you've got good instructions."
He half expected the offer to be shot down, he honestly wasn't sure if Bakugou would take offense to it or not. But the kid really wasn't the same kid who'd walked through his door a year ago, because he didn't.
"I'm not- You need parental permission for some of that shit."
The 'and I can't or won't get that' went unsaid, and tore at Aizawa's heart a little more. Thank fucking good UA took extra liberties with their heroics students.
"Most students would. Heroic students don't need parental consent for any medical treatment, just signed permission from the student in question and their homeroom teacher. It's in the packets your parents signed at the start of the year. I can sign whatever if you don't feel like asking your folks about it. They don't need to know anything you don't want to tell them."
Mentally, Aizawa noted just how much that little promise made Bakugou relax, because he didn't like that one bit. But now wasn't the time for it. Now was the time for a soft nod from his student, that he couldn't see, but could feel against his shoulder where Bakugou had buried his face.
They waited quietly after that, in a comfortable, all enveloping silence. It didn't take long for the others to finally break through, letting light stream down into where they'd been trapped. Bakugou was moving, pulling Aizawa up with him and forward, and then both of them were being helped out into the sunshine.
The moment was gone, Bakugou was back to his tough, snarky self. All bluster and harsh words. But for just a moment, as Aizawa took a second to breathe, he felt a prickle down his spine and glanced up to see Bakugou looking back at him, distracted from whatever conversation he'd been having with that group of his.
Red eyes caught black and spoke of gratitude and vulnerability, all silently and in just a heartbeat before both looked away, unable to keep up that level of emotion when so many other people were around.
"Shouta! You're out, you must've been bored outta your minds down there, huh?" Hizashi's voice was too loud, and Aizawa groaned, rubbing at his head.
"Actually, I'm having second thoughts. It was quiet down there, I'm going back."
"Don't be like that, I missed you~"
Aizawa fixed Hizashi with a glare until the other broke into laughter and Aizawa was forced to look away with a huff, lest he end up laughing too.
Yeah, he'd never be a people person. Never be good at putting up with crowds, speaking in kind words, or any of that bullshit.
But watching as Bakugou smiled, really smiled, at one of his friend's dumb jokes, Aizawa thought maybe he wasn't half bad at the whole 'being a teacher' thing in spite of his poor people skills, and the fact he’d been drafted against his will. It certainly wasn't easy, but sometimes a challenge wasn't the worst thing in the world. Not by a long shot.