ohhh the good painful content possibilities...i would love to read anything with aizawa trying to help a kid in his care (1a/shinsou/eri, any honestly) feel safe, particularly in relation to sleep/nightmares
for my 30 min fic challenge / read more: ‘30 min fics’ tag | buy me a coffee
perpetual [read on AO3]
Her breathing wasn’t right.
Every night Shouta stopped at Eri’s door and watched her sleep for a moment—it was less for her and more for his own selfish comfort. The constant hum in his chest settled a little when she was in his sight, safe.
Most days she breathed steadily, and Shouta closed his eyes and breathed with her.
It was different today. Unsteady and fast.
Shouta knocked against the open door to see if she would respond, pausing before striding across the threshold. He usually didn’t enter without her permission, but now he took three quick strides across the room to stand by her bed.
His voice was both too quiet and too loud at once. Eri twisted in her sheets, one hand clutching her blanket tightly. Her eyes were shut tightly. A nightmare. He’d have to be careful.
A part of him seemed to sigh. He always felt tired, and more tired.
She stirred, but didn’t wake. Careful, Shouta reached his hand and placed it gently where the blanket met her shoulder, and said her name again.
Her eyes shot open. He had little warning but activated Erasure on instinct, and Eri made a soft whimpering sound he never wanted to hear again. After a moment she turned, vision clearing, to look at him; Shouta let go.
“I’m sorry,” he told her. “I didn’t want to do that.”
She shook her head silently, then peered up at him. Shouta reached over and found the lamp on her bedside table, flipping it on and letting the warm light wash over the both of them.
Eri dropped her gaze. She was quiet, sometimes completely silent, but that was okay. Shouta was learning to read her well enough, and they were working on learning a few simple hand signs in case she didn’t want to speak.
“Yes,” Eri said finally, staring at her blanket. Relief poured through him.
When it looked like she wasn’t going to say more, Shouta slid his hand across the bed, uncurling his fingers loosely and leaving it as an invitation. She reached for him, hesitated, and then took it.
“You’re alright,” Shouta said. He’d said these words time and time again—to her, to Hizashi, to all of his kids, to himself. He squeezed her hand gently. “It’s alright, Eri.”
Then, just to be sure, he said, “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, but I’ll listen if you’d like to.”
She shook her head. “…No.”
“That’s okay.” He paused, running through his tired thoughts, then asked, “Do you want me to stay?”
It was as simple as that. She’d asked him to stay, so he would.
After a few minutes Eri slipped across the bed, still clutching his hand, and then curled up into his side. Shouta lifted his arm obligingly and settled it across her shoulders while pressing down—the weight, he thought, was grounding, comforting.
“I… I dreamed you were gone,” Eri said.
He swallowed hard. Something in his chest twisted.
“I’m not,” Shouta tried, and her grip on his hand tightened. “I’m not going anywhere unless you ask me to, kid.”
She was so small, tucked against him. A sliver of pale moonlight in the darkness. A shell half-buried in the sand, glimmering faintly.
But she didn’t continue.
“I get scared a lot,” he told her gently, then felt himself smile, “if you’d like to know a secret, Eri, I’m scared all the time.”
She drew in a breath; he felt it through the fabric of his shirt, their ribs pressed together. Shouta followed, taking a breath.
Shouta knew fear well—they were old friends, well-acquainted. Only one person knew him as well as fear knew him; the ugly parts, the nights where Shouta had to walk the length of the dorms and back on every floor, the empty, the aching, the lonely.
“What,” she said, and paused again, wondering if she was allowed to, “what are you scared of?”
“A lot of things,” Shouta said. “If I told you all of them we’d be here all night, and all morning, and all night and morning again.”
Her mouth curved upward slightly—just at the corners, but the hum in his chest settled further. She blinked up at him, waiting, and Shouta thought not to make her laugh but to share with her what it was like, for him.
Then he thought she must have already known. They were alike.
“I’m always waiting for something to happen,” he admitted, “for something to go wrong. Always preparing. But I’m scared I won’t be able to do anything, and I’m not always sure something will happen. I want to be needed. I don’t know what I’d do if I wasn’t—but I also don’t want to be needed, because that means someone is hurting that doesn’t have to.”
She thought about that for a moment.
“Do you have nightmares?”
Shouta was never one for lying, not even to kids. Kids, he’d always thought, were the ones who deserved the truth the most. The answer stayed bitter on his tongue for a moment.
Then he said, “Yes.”
“Oh,” Eri said quietly. She wrapped her free arm around herself.
“If it’s worth anything,” Shouta told her, “I really don’t want to lose you, either.”
“Oh,” Eri said again.
Like the thought hadn’t occurred to her.
He wanted to hold her so badly his ribs ached. He wanted to curve his body around hers, the way he was used to, until the only thing that existed was the little space between them and their quiet breathing. He wanted to break himself into pieces and offer each one up if it meant she’d never have a nightmare again. If it meant she would know how much she meant.
“I want to be here,” he said, “I want you to be here, with me, do you understand, Eri?”
Shouta didn’t know how else to say it. How much softer he could speak.
Eri’s mouth trembled. She pressed tighter against him, and then he lifted his other arm and she threw herself forward into them. She was so small in his arms, almost breakable.
He leaned down and pressed his cheek to her hair. Eri didn’t cry, but she took his shirt in her hands and held on tightly as he folded his arms around her small body. For a while they stayed there; every time Shouta thought to draw away he told himself, just a little longer, just a little longer.
“You can tell me to go if you need me to,” Shouta told her, and felt her hand flatten against his chest; lifted his head so they could look at each other as she felt his heartbeat under her fingers, steady and slow.
“I need you here,” she said, eyes clear; and Shouta thought he’d wanted to hear that, too. To want, to be wanted, to be needed.
“I think I can do that,” Shouta said.