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“Midoriya, we’ve sunk way too much money into this event for you to punk out now,” Haruna said in her usual brusque manner. If Izuku’s life were a ship, Haruna was the rudder that never failed to keep him moving in the right direction. Actually, if Izuku’s life were a ship she would be every part of the ship and Izuku would be the stowaway hiding below decks, or maybe the mermaid nailed to the prow of the ship.
“You hardly need me for it to run smoothly,” Izuku said, tugging on his collar. He felt as if it were suffocating him. He was starting to sweat, his pits pricking with moisture and he moved into his office, so he could panic behind the frosted glass. He shifted the phone to his other ear and loosened his tie, desperate for a full breath.
“That’s true, but only having half the ownership at an event like this sends the wrong message.”
Haruna was great with messages, branding. SoulMeet would hardly be the worldwide sensation it was without her. He hated that she was right. Still, he must argue.
“I know you don’t have a real excuse.”
“Aside from my crippling social anxiety?”
“Push through it,” she said with all the nonchalance of a person who’s never felt anxiety. It was true Izuku let his anxieties rule much of his life. It was just easier to let it consume him than to push through it, but he knew he could do it if he really wanted to.
He didn’t want to. If there was ever an appropriate time to go with his twinging guts and hide, it was tonight because—
“Ground Zero is on the guest list,” he blurted, seeking comfort he surely wouldn’t get. She wouldn’t understand.
“The douche you went to middle school with? Big fucking deal. It’s been, like, ten years since you’ve seen him.”
Haruna knew vaguely of his failed friendship with Japan’s number three hero. Well, she knew they once knew each other. She didn’t know that Bakugo Katsuki used to bully him mercilessly, or that Izuku harbored a masochistic crush on him all through middle school. He hardly thought Haruna would care if she did know. She was the closest thing he had to a friend—non-internet friends, at least—but she was more like an assistant or a life coach than anything. A lot of the time, Izuku thought she saw him as a hurdle to jump over before getting to her own success. She couldn’t code, and she didn’t have the patience to learn. Not to mention that SoulMeet and the algorithm it thrived on was Izuku’s intellectual property. They had a symbiotic relationship. She was a living, moving organism with goals and agency and he was her favorite, or at least most useful, barnacle.
When Izuku didn’t respond, Haruna sighed.
“Midoriya, it’s a big venue. You’ll probably never see each other. And if you do? You’re the goddamn guest of honor. All he’s going to see is a sharply dressed millionaire with a kickass company. Revel in your own success for once in your life.”
“I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me, Haruna,” Izuku said, a little misty eyed. He was so thrown by the unexpected praise that he managed to stop pacing a hole in the floor of his office.
“Yeah, well, you respond better to tough love and idle threats. So, if you’re not in that town car at seven sharp dressed to the fucking nines, I’ll kick your ass. Got it?”
Izuku grimaced and groaned, but accepted his fate nonetheless.
He hung up and folded himself into his desk chair, running his hands through his sweat-damp curls anxiously. Did he have time for a haircut? Suddenly, he felt his usual mess of hair was too unruly for such an occasion. That was most definitely his nerves talking. There was absolutely nothing that could be done about his hair, no matter how much time he had. His phone pinged, jarring him from his downward spiral of self-deprecation. Even though he knew what it was, he checked the notification out of habit.
SoulMeet - kingexplosionmurder sent you a message
Izuku smiled, happy for a temporary distraction. He swiped the notification.
kingexplosionmurder: fuck this day
smolmight: 100% agree. whats got you down?
kingexplosionmurder: long workday. shitty people. you know normal stuff.
smolmight: hmm. well its nice to know youre out there suffering with me (>_<)
kingexplosionmurder: back at you. i just wanted to say hi...
kingexplosionmurder: ive been thinking about you
Izuku smiled, his cheeks a little pink. A few months ago, his beta account—the account he made to test out SoulMeet whenever he made updates—received a message from one kingexplosionmurder. His profile was scant, with a throwaway meme for a picture and no photo of his soulmark. Just like Izuku’s beta profile, he chose not to disclose his real name. Izuku almost thought it was one of those bot accounts he and Haruna tried so hard to filter out. If it was a bot, it was a very convincing one. They’d been talking almost every day since, and Izuku was very enamored with the idea of him.
smolmight: thinking of you too. good luck with the rest your shitty day. XO
Izuku was no stranger to internet friends. Internet friends got him through middle and high school. Fumblr posts, FaceSpace comments, Winstagram likes, Geddit upvotes… They kinda saved him. Izuku would never admit to anyone how miserable he was in middle school. He had no IRL friends. The only time anyone talked to him at school was to hurl insults his way and the only meaningful relationship in his life was with his mom.
The day he realized he seemed way cooler behind a computer screen, and thus, worthy of other people’s attention, was the best day of his life. It was one of the things that started him on his path to creating SoulMeet—and SoulMeet changed his life on a monumental scale. Because of SoulMeet, he didn’t have to waste his mom’s money on college. He dropped out after two years, after he met Haruna, and they quickly realized the gold mine of ideas he was sitting on. He paid his mom back for the tuition within the first four months of launching SoulMeet. After the first year, he bought her a house—a nice one with a porch swing and a garden, the one his dad never gave her. His parents were not soulmates—a fact that followed him around like a weight shackled to his ankles his entire life.
Marriage between non-soulmates was all but unheard of in his parents' generation, and children coming from such a marriage even less likely. The taboo was slowly fading away these days, and the government actually recognized non-soulmate marriages now, but he was still the only soulless child he'd ever known. Izuku always tried to tell himself that made him special, but even he knew better. He remembered the first time someone referred to him that way.
“My parents won’t let me invite a soulless kid like you.”
It was some classmate of his when he was really young—neither of them really understood what he was saying. All he knew was Izuku was the only one in his class who wasn’t invited to his birthday party. That was enough to make him cry at four years old. In the same year, he found out he was Quirkless, his best friend found out he was destined for greatness (and therefore, no longer wanted to associate with Izuku), and his father found his soulmate—a tall, rail thin blonde woman in America.
Izuku’s life could be broken down into one word: less.
Soulless, Quirkless, friendless, and finally, when he turned thirteen and he was positive things couldn’t get worse (they did), Markless.
He spent the majority of his early life being bullied and singled-out for one thing or another, but when everyone he knew started showing off their soulmarks and he had nothing to show back, it'd really started to bother him. He knew what people thought of him, of his mom, because they were never shy about saying it to his face. It was believed that the offspring of non-soulmates never get soulmarks. Izuku always held out hope that it was just a superstition, but the fear that the rumors were true niggled at the back of his mind, ever present. Once he got over the shock of knowing he was destined to be alone, he found it almost comforting to not have to worry about it anymore. At least, he didn't have to wonder.
The party that night was to celebrate five years of SoulMeet, and a huge partnership with FaceSpace that would most likely double their reach and productivity. There would be dinner, alcohol, speeches, and celebrities as far as the eye could see. All of those things made Izuku incredibly uncomfortable, but it also forced him into a kind of autopilot.
He smoothed down the lapels of his forest green suit with its black accents. It was tailored to perfection, and despite the fact that he thought he looked liked a green bean, Haruna said that the green suited him. After a few sad attempts at tying his bow tie, he gave up, letting it hang limply around his neck as he checked his watch. It was 7:02.
He took a deep, much needed breath and attempted to smooth his curls down against his head once more before leaving his apartment. Just as he suspected, the black town car was waiting for him on the curb. He climbed in, appraising Haruna’s flouncy, pale pink dress and her wild, brunette curls. She looked so soft, and then she opened her mouth.
“Thank fuck you came out on your own. These heels are killing me already and I was going to murder you if I had to leave this car to come get you.”
Izuku huffed a laugh, holding his hands up in defeat because resistance was futile.
“Can you do my bow tie?”
“You’re hopeless,” Haruna said, rolling her eyes, but still making quick work of the black satin fabric at his neck. For as much as they complained about each other, Izuku had a soft spot for her. There was something to be said for someone like Haruna—tough, confident, amazingly self-assured—choosing to stick around someone like Izuku.
Izuku was the brains of the operation, and—despite his protests—the face of it as well. But Haruna was the mouthpiece. She could talk her way into and out of anything. She could argue with anyone six ways to Sunday and always come out the winner. She was also a tech genius.
Izuku first met her from a flyer posted in his dorm, advertising quick and cheap tech fixes. He could barely afford his ramshackle, used laptop, much less afford to get it repaired, so he called the number on her flyer and met her at a cafe. She literally held his laptop and asked it what was wrong, closing her eyes reverently.
Izuku thought she was insane, but only seconds after asking, she pulled apart his laptop, fiddled with some of the parts, cleaned others, and put it back together good as new—or in his case, used. And it worked. Turns out, her Quirk was called Technopath. She could talk to tech, she could feel its pains and problems as if they were sentient beings. For this reason, SoulMeet’s servers had never gone down once. She loved to boast about SoulMeet’s 100% reliability rating.
“Did you write your speech?”
“More or less,” he said, shrugging. Most of the time his speeches were all the same. A brief, highly redacted, highly impersonal history of who he was and how he came up with SoulMeet, many gratuitous thanks, and overwrought praise for Haruna and every other person that brought SoulMeet to life, and sometimes a Q & A.
“I’ll be with you all night, so don’t freak out. I won’t let you do anything stupid.”
“I think if I was going to do or say anything stupid enough to tank the company it would’ve happened by now,” Izuku said, only half believing his words. He wanted to put on a good face for Haruna. She did so much for him and the company.
“You’d be surprised what you’re capable of when you’re babbling. Either way, try to have fun and relax.”
She may as well have asked him to juggle while riding a unicycle. That would’ve been easier to achieve than having fun or relaxing while in the same room with investors, celebrities, heroes, and Bakugo Katsuki. Izuku let out a sigh at the thought.
“You won’t see him, Midoriya. And if you do, I’ll do all the talking.”
“That almost seems scarier than talking to him myself. What would you say?”
“Really mean shit. And then I’d ask his cell phone to explode in his pocket.”
“You’d do that for me?” Izuku asked, touched for the second time that day. Maybe she did know about his past with Bakugo, just from listening to him talk over the years. Maybe she did care.
“And then some, birdie,” she said, shoving his shoulder harder than necessary, but still somehow with affection.
She’d been calling him that for years. She said it was because he was constantly squawking, and because he reminded her of a baby bird she tried to nurse back to health when she was a little girl.
“It was so pathetic and helpless. It died.”
“Wow, thanks so much.” Izuku made a face.
“Don’t worry, birdie. I’ll keep you alive.”
It wasn’t until Izuku was rich that he realized the hero industry was ruled by cash and photo ops. He’d been naive and idealistic when he was young, believing it was run solely on altruism. If that were true, almost every top Pro in Tokyo wouldn’t be spending their Friday night here, dressed in suits and gowns.
Who was protecting the city?
He tried not to think too much about it as he and Haruna made their way to their table saying quick hello’s to people he didn’t recognize, but she assured him they were important. He was more focused on meeting new heroes—he could just make out a table of Pros in the corner. He recognized Pinky and Chargebolt loudly greeting the others seated at their table. He thought about how lucky he was to have so much access to their world. He would never be part of it, but he was closer than he'd ever believed would be possible.
He’d never grown out of his hero obsession, he only switched from notebooks to a laptop. In fact, he’d made most of his friends in hero chat rooms. He posted sketches of his favorite heroes and got into intellectual disputes over who was the best, who had the most potential, and who was vastly overrated for their rank. Surprisingly that’s how he first connected with the second and tenth most popular heroes in the nation, Todoroki Shoto (endeavorsux) and Uraraka Ochako (spaceherotaku), though they were only middle schoolers back then. They would be in attendance tonight, and Izuku would be glad to see them. It wasn’t often that internet friends got to become real-life friends and he cherished them even though their schedules kept them too busy to interact much of the time.
Part of the reason all the Pros are around the party was to announce Haruna's latest marketing ploy. SoulMeet was teaming up with a select few of the top 20 heroes to raise money for charity. Haruna came up with the idea when she found out just how many Pros Izuku personally knew. She was going to make the announcement that night once all the speeches got going. She planned to do a series of TV spots about the Pros talking about their soulmates. It was all corny and mushy but it was for a good cause and it would only make SoulMeet more popular. Izuku had yet to see the names of the Pros on the project.
“You’ll have to find out with the rest of the world.”
“Haruna,” he whined, curiosity eating away at him as he made grabby hands for Manila folder with all the information. She flicked him in the forehead.
“That’s what happens when you don’t lift a finger to help with these projects,” she said, thoroughly delighted watching him squirm.
Haruna hung a coat and bag over the back of her chair while bemoaning the concept of a coat check. Izuku was only half-listening.
“It’s so stupid. Why would I wait in line for someone to hold my purse? Ridiculous.”
“Mhmm,” Izuku muttered, still watching the table of Pros.
“Are you listening?” Haruna punched his shoulder, demanding his full attention.
“What?” He sounded dazed and Haruna rolled her eyes.
“We can’t sit down yet or I’ll never be able to get back up. You’re so lucky you don’t have to wear heels to these things.”
Izuku nodded slowly, unsure what response she expected from him. She punched his shoulder again.
“Okay, boss. I’m along for the ride,” he said in an attempt to placate her. His shoulder was sore, but he held out his arm for her to take. She put an absurd amount of weight on him, sagging against him in an effort to ease the pain in her feet.
“You know, you could wear flats. You’re the goddamn guest of honor, remember?” He mimicked her words from earlier. Haruna was just as responsible for SoulMeet as he was, and she had the confidence to rock just about anything she decided to wear.
“Heels command attention and respect. Have you ever not listened to a woman in heels?” She started to walk him in the direction of a group of people he knew to be investors. He started to speak, but her question must’ve been rhetorical because she quickly added, “And I’m trying to leave here on the arm of someone else. No offense, birdie, but you’re not my type.”
Izuku smiled at her. Haruna couldn’t care less about soulmates. She cared deeply for her's, but not in the way the world told everyone they were supposed to.
“Alright, so we schmooze with investors for a while and then we find you a man. Who’s it gonna be tonight?”
She grinned conspiratorially at Izuku and pointed a perfectly manicured finger at a tall, disheveled man with gravity-defying purple hair.
“You know him?”
“I know of him. He’s a Pro. I’m surprised he’s here, to be honest. He keeps out of the spotlight.”
“Perfect. You’re going to break the ice by nerding out and asking for an autograph and I’ll do all the rest.”
“Aye, aye, Captain.”
She punched his arm again and he laughed. She always thought he was joking when he said things like that, but he was absolutely serious. They were laughing and bickering too much for Izuku to noticed the imposing figure not ten feet away from them.
“The fuck are you doing here, Deku?”