Milky white skin on tangled sheets, the scent of crisp pine, hair tickling his neck. Stretched in meandering bliss and gripped tight in careful hands. They were so close one breath defined them both.
Izuku squeezed the hand interlaced in his and reveled in the pleasing burn in his back.
A clock blipped red in the background, another passing minute in the endless heartbeats since Izuku met him. The impossible seconds that led to now. It should've been enough; he should've accepted the small measure of happiness. But he was spoiled and anxious. The words formed before he could think.
"I—I was wondering—"
"Yeah?" The boy beside him responded, his smile languid and stunning even under flushed skin and beads of sweat. Contentment illuminated in the creases of his smile and carved an impression under Izuku's skin, emboldening his selfish question.
"Do you…love me?"
Bliss morphed to something wretched and sharp when silence answered. Air no longer ran between them, coursing straight out of Izuku's lungs. The boy he hoped was his lover then snickered behind his hand.
Izuku Midoriya refused to believe in happy endings ever again.
(Eight Years Later)
Izuku believed in the phrase 'too good to be true'.
That's not to say he wasn't excited about his first day at Erasure Publishing. He woke up that morning invigorated and refreshed, the sun playing orange tendrils of light on his eyelashes. He fell into his usual morning run, even pushing his legs an extra mile. He had the time and motivation to cook a full Japanese breakfast, his tie was miraculously not crooked as he left the house, and he arrived at the tall corporate building thirty minutes earlier than necessary. Everything seemed brilliant, even the air was crisp and cool with fragrant hints of aging leaves touching his nose.
There was no reason to doubt his new opportunity at a new company to start negatively.
"Eh? I'm assigned to the Shoujo Manga Department?"
Until that moment.
Izuku was sitting in the reception lobby, a long hall with well furnished lounges, posters, and character cut-outs scattered across the structure. Erasure was one of the largest and most successful publishing companies in Japan from its publications of the Gang Orca detective series by Kugo Sakamata or the Best Jeanist fashion craft collection by Tsunagu Hakamata. Izuku nearly sobbed when he was accepted into such a strong firm where he could begin his longtime dream; becoming an acclaimed literature editor.
Now he wanted to sob again for the opposite reason.
The female to break the news sat across from him in a separate armchair and wore a smile as bright as her pink company uniform and matching pink hair. Her gold clipped name tag read Mina Ashido.
"And here's your badge. Oh, your hair and eyes match the department logo, how cute!"
The bright shining name Emerald in bold square font screamed at him like the dazzling gates to Oz City. He was a bit wistful to not own a pair of red shoes for the occasion.
"Ashido," he started. "I don't mean to insult anyone, but, is it possible my application was mixed up with…someone else?"
"Actually, your application was a direct decision by Aizawa; it's right here on your hiring documents." Ashido pointed to the paper on the table between them and slid it so Izuku could take a look. "'To be assigned to Emerald' and underneath are the notes in the interview, your resume, references, etc. Aizawa is very meticulous."
"Right! Of course," he said, giving a polite smile, while internally holding back a bewildered storm of thoughts.
References. His old mentor, Toshinori, was the most prominent name on that list, being head of All Might Publishing. He was good friends with Aizawa, or claimed to be, and Izuku didn't doubt they had a long conversation. Toshinori had praised Erasure Publishing as an elite company for cultivating top authors in the industry and recommended it to Izuku when he insisted on broadening his horizons. He insisted they could teach Izuku what Toshinori knew he lacked.
Now Izuku wondered if Toshinori's tendencies for overzealous conversation backfired during the hiring process.
"I'll show you to your team."Ashido smiled, shaking Izuku from his moping, and lead him to the elevators. She pressed the button for the fourth floor, placing them in the confines of mild awkward elevator music.
"So, ah, what's Emerald like?" Izuku asked.
Ashido's face lit up to a shocking degree. "Who doesn't know Emerald? In addition to their record-making sales every quarter, they recently received an award from the CEO. It's honestly an honor to be accepted into the division."
Izuku blinked, wide-eyed. "Really?"
Manga wasn't a medium he indulged in often, if ever, and he never considered Shoujo as a serious market competitor. He supposed teenage girls were a solid age market, but maintaining a following and customer loyalty was no small feat. Perhaps the department was more impressive than he thought. They hopped off the elevator and walked down bland office halls covered in bulletin boards and framed displays that showcased publication awards.
"Also many of the women in the building have eyes on the men. I hope you don't have a jealous girlfriend on the side, Midoriya," Ashido sang.
Izuku rubbed the back of his neck, a light flush hitting his cheeks, and chuckled. "Sorry, I seem to only have a solid commitment to books."
"You and your entire department." Ashido grinned. "You'll fit right in."
They stopped outside an office entryway with a standard wall plaque to the left that read 'Emerald'. Izuku swallowed the sudden cotton in his throat and set his jaw. This job was still an opportunity, a stepping stone towards his future. Connections with his coworkers were everything in publishing.
Izuku rounded the corner, Ashido trailing behind, and followed a long row of filing cabinets until a wide open space ran across the floor. Clicks against keyboards and shuffles of paper hit his ears. He took a breath and fell into a bow before he registered the number of people in the room.
"It's nice to meet you! My name is Izuku Midoriya and… I'm—" A shadow moved around Izuku's feet, halting his words. He blinked, raising his eyes slowly. A gaunt, withered-face man stared up from the floor, eyes closed and groaning. Izuku lifted his head to the rest of the room, his mouth falling open.
Everything was a colossal mess.
Stacks of paper, towers of books, rolls of posters, what looked like blueprints and more swam across the room. A thick miasma of despair doused his body and he wrinkled his nose at the stale air. Men were scattered across the mess: slumped in their chairs, leaning against a cabinet for support, or buried under books like some Wicked Witch of the East at Izuku's feet.
"Oh right," Ashido said, finally turning the corner. "I guess this would be a little surprising to a newcomer. Sorry, I guess I mixed up the days."
Izuku twisted his head, blood draining from his face. "Are they okay?!"
"Of course! It's actually not that bad today," Mina surmised.
What can be not bad about this?
"Who is shouting in my department?" A man grumbled behind Ashido.
Even within Izuku's panic, he took pause at the broad man behind them. When he said broad, he meant the sort of sharp cut broad that checked all the boxes. He was young, around Izuku's age, and wore rumpled clothes. His appearance was considered mildly disheveled, but it was slight in comparison to the potentially undead co-workers. His hair was two-toned, half white and half red, and there was a red blemish around his left eye which didn't detract from his attractive features.
"Todoroki! This is Izuku Midoriya, he's your new hire! Midoriya, this is your Editor-in-Chief." Ashido grinned as if nothing was amiss in the world. Midoriya wasn't sure if she was desensitized to the office's chaos or had a steel stomach.
Todoroki hardly glanced at Izuku.
"I-It's nice to meet you," Izuku said automatically.
Todoroki's mouth sat in an ill-mannered frown. "Why did you bring in a new hire today?"
Ashido chuckled. "Sorry, sorry! It's never bad to have an extra set of hands, right?"
Todoroki didn't seem to agree or disagree and just waved at her. "Fine. I've got it from here. Thanks, Ashido."
"Just don't be too hard on him! He's really cute after all." She winked at Izuku, giving him a thumbs up, before bouncing back down the hall.
Ashido's bright energy was quickly amiss as the silence of the office and Todoroki's attention shifted solely to him. Todoroki stared solidly at Izuku, his frown falling farther as if solving a complicated problem. It was unnerving more than anything.
"You look familiar," Todoroki stated suddenly. "Have you worked in manga before? Shonen, Seinen?"
"Um, no, I haven't actually." Izuku blinked. No one told him he looked similar to someone before. At least not since he cut his hair many years ago. In fact, he usually stood out in a crowd with his freckles and the wavy mop on his head.
Todoroki stared at him longer before grunting, "You have a very common face. My mistake."
Izuku's head recoiled. Did he just call him plain? He pursed his lips, not sure whether to be miffed or wary, and settled on glowering at Todoroki's back as he began walking through the swamp of an office.
"What is your experience?"
"Literature," Izuku grumbled. He stumbled on the legs of a fallen editor halfway through the room and went to apologize but the man hardly heard him. Looking closer, all the editors just looked tired. They were more asleep than dead, though it was a fine line.
Todoroki hummed. "Okay, Rookie."
"You don't know anything and I don't have time to teach you, so you're shadowing me today. Do everything I ask, or turn in your badge. I don't have time for baggage. Understand?"
Izuku flushed at the neck. He understood that he was inexperienced, but Todoroki didn't have to make him sound like a complete liability. If it was his choice, he would've loved to join his preferred division and contribute within the week. Looking around, Izuku wasn't sure he could survive a week.
"Yes, sir," he muttered, resigned.
Besides Todoroki's blunt mannerisms with his staff, such as shouting them out of their despairing naps and not flinching when they staggered like zombies with their tasks, the next few hours were simple. Izuku scrounged for a notebook around the thousands of papers in the office and jotted notes as he watched Todoroki go about his day. He didn't have to, but he refused to be useless forever. Whether he stayed in the department or not— because Todoroki wanted to get rid of him or Izuku ran out of there— knowing the logistics was important to him. Having such a huge gap between him and his colleagues already made him nervous.
Izuku attempted to ask questions while Todoroki worked, but he always gave responses that were either really cheeky or curt. Izuku even asked to assist other co-workers for a while, perhaps receive better answers to his questions, but Todoroki insisted he'd be in the way. On the flip side, Todoroki was admittedly very efficient with his tasks and easy enough to follow.
So Izuku jotted the questions down to find the answers later.
"I'm going to meet an author for a replacement," Todoroki announced, pushing up from his rolling desk chair. They hadn't really spoken for the past hour so Izuku didn't know he was addressing him at first and bristled at the expectant stare. "You can join me or take a break."
"Ah, I'd rather join you."
Todoroki shamelessly stared, flickering eyes across Izuku's freckles and stiff shoulders. It was no less unnerving than the first time. He shrugged, turning his glance away and taking a mountain of pressure from Izuku's shoulders, then lead them downstairs.
They entered a section of the building consisting of bare meeting rooms with clear walls and met with a petite girl with an almost disturbingly wide smile and her hair in double buns. She bowed with a clipped stack of papers clutched against her chest and Todoroki gave one in turn. Her eyes caught to Izuku, glittering a secret excitement, and she waved when he just hovered on the side. She tittered when he gave a scrambled bow in return.
"Thank you for coming. Sorry about the time constraint," Todoroki started.
"Not at all! Especially when it's for you, Todoroki." Her voice was not at all ironic and she fluttered her eyes, as if swooning. Todoroki sat at the long oval conference table and rifled through the papers after the girl followed. Izuku figured it was the final manuscript before print since all the pages were inked. It was clear today was the deadline for authors, which explained the exhaustion and stress in the department.
He scribbled a question in his notebook, 'When are they hitting the shelves?'
"This right here," Todoroki pointed at a panel, "could you redraw it at a different angle?"
"Of course, I can! What angle do you mean?"
Izuku leaned forward, trying to catch sight of the drawing. Two characters were in a dramatic embrace, the male trapping the female from behind as wind blew their hair forward and clothes upward.
The author sketched on a separate sheet of paper and Todoroki stood to hover over it. "It needs to be more dramatic; the male's face should be hidden in the neck."
From Izuku's point of view, it was plenty dramatic. He double underlined a question from earlier about when the printers needed the drawing. Didn't Todoroki mention this was a replacement? That usually meant it was a previously finished backup that needed to be polished. Why was he being picky on a time constraint?
Todoroki watched the author scribble a new angle and shook his head again. "Not like that. Imagine being held desperately."
"Are you trying to get me to imagine you holding me, Todoroki?" The girl giggled. Izuku silently wondered if all manga authors were this forward. He didn't write it down.
Todoroki stood tall, humming, then directed a stare at Izuku. The air shifted, spurring a prickling uneasiness on Izuku's skin. It wasn't just the frankness of Todoroki's stares which were unnerving, it was his unreadable expression. His mouth never moved farther than a frown and his cheeks were are flat as a plastic doll; but his eyes sparked and whirled in a foreign language where the words didn't match the sounds. Izuku felt he experienced this stare before, it was familiar, but he couldn't grasp it. And that bothered him more.
Todoroki nodded to the author before gesturing at Izuku. "It's better to show you." Todoroki walked close to Izuku, closer than they've stood all day, and gestured for Izuku to stand closer.
He hesitated, fidgeting with his pen. "Are we going to get samples?" It was a natural conclusion to an author needing direction with their drawing.
Todoroki took the pen and notebook from Izuku then maneuvered him to face the opposite wall. Izuku clenched and unclenched his empty hands. If there was one thing Izuku was learning about Todoroki today, he clearly didn't know how to express himself out loud and it was nerve-wracking.
Then the feeling of strong arms engulfed Izuku in a tight hold. Todoroki's extra inches flushed at unfortunately pleasant angles and heat pushed against Izuku's entire back.
A hot flash ran to Izuku's face and he froze to stone.
"You saw the drawing. Put your hands over mine."
"Ah—um!" Izuku trembled. Todoroki was whispering near his ear, brushing tendrils of hair to tickle his skin. He was in an embrace with his boss, in front of an author! It was fair to say his brain was not fast enough to find a comfortable reason to transition out of the situation, and so he robotically did as he was told. In the small recesses of his mind, he admitted it felt really right to be in Todoroki's arms, but his frantic logic overruled all of that.
He didn't think it could get much worse—not truer statement to sum up his day— until Todoroki's head fell into the crease of his neck, his nose nuzzling against skin. A hint of pine ran to his nose and a sharp trill was rising to his head. Externally he breathed very deeply.
They only held that position for a few seconds until the weight on Izuku's back disappeared and Todoroki calmly took back his seat at the table.
"Did you get that?" He asked the girl, who was nodding and scribbling much faster than before, fervid passion in her eyes. Todoroki eyed her drawing and nodded, clearly pleased. "Looks good. Ink it as fast as you can and we'll be done."
Izuku was practically hyperventilating in his spot, his back still vibrating, as Todoroki looked back at him, indifferent. "Not bad, rookie."
"N-n-no! What was that?"
It took a moment for Todoroki to realize what he referred to. "Modeling."
"Modeling?" He echoed dumbly.
"Real life models are better. Plus you were the perfect height."
Izuku shook on the spot, unable to categorize the weird plague of embarrassment, nervousness, and fire building beneath his skin. He settled on pursing his lips, stiffly returning to his notes, and stabbing his pen onto the page.
'Boss isn't normal' He underlined several times.
When Todoroki sent Izuku on a break after the meeting, he was certain his spirit had officially left his body.
Technically it wasn't sexual harassment to be hugged, but the way Todoroki did it just felt…felt…and he didn't even ask his permission! Izuku groaned, his head falling into his hands. Maybe Izuku should apply somewhere else, stick with his guns in literature. He could strengthen outlines, cut run-ons, and properly use an oxford comma, but he was not qualified to handle…whatever high emotional stakes this job required. Though he doubted he could receive another job so soon, considering the competitive field. He was stuck.
Izuku's entire body jolted in his seat. He cast wary eyes on Todoroki's carefree lean against the archway, sipping a steaming paper cup.
"I talked to Aizawa," Todoroki said, gesturing upwards. "You worked at All Might Publishing."
Izuku stared dubiously. "I did."
"Mad you didn't get your dream job the first day?"
A sour taste slithered in Izuku's throat, caught in his own selfish thoughts. He had a right to feel frustrated to be in an unfamiliar environment, especially with so little notice. But Todoroki made it seem like he was ungrateful to have a job at all, which wasn't the case.
"I'm just…I've never done well with romance novels. And I've never read manga. I want to be a good editor but—I feel like I'm being set up to fail." Izuku ran his eyes across the bland table in front of him, finding fascination with the flecks of stained wood.
It wasn't just that he was bad with romance as a genre. He was bad with romance; period. Thinking of romance reminded Izuku of high school—of him—when his heart was torn and stomped. Then, afterwards, navigating topics of love became impossible for Izuku, he didn't want to remember it. He blocked off so many memories he couldn't even recall his ex's face.
Todoroki sipped at his cup again. "You hardly asked any questions today. Seemed like you gave up before even starting."
Izuku's shoulders ruffled and he waved his notebook. "I have all sorts of questions. You're just kind of terrible as answering them!"
Todoroki's brows raised. "Funny, I thought you asked terrible questions."
Izuku's mouth twitched and he crossed his arms, refusing to continue. Fighting with his superior wouldn't get him anywhere, and Todoroki lived on a completely different wavelength that agitated his nerves. There was no way they could understand each other.
Todoroki finished his cup, crushing it in his hands and tossing it in a bin. "Everyone is a beginner at something. Your past experience isn't useless, and you're quick minded. We can teach you. You might even do well."
Izuku blinked, a surprise flutter hitting his chest. Was Todoroki actually encouraging him?
"Though, a useless person is always useless no matter how hard they try."
Izuku's temple twitched. Nevermind, he definitely couldn't understand him.
"We finished the magazine so everyone went home. You can leave as well, rookie."
"Midoriya," Izuku glowered.
Todoroki stopped to look at Izuku before he left. "I'm positive I've met you before. Do you have a sibling?"
"None," Izuku emphasized with clear rigged irritation. "This is definitely the first time I've met you."
Twenty minutes later and Izuku snuck back to the department. He still shuddered at the horrendous mess, but set his jaw as he pursued the labeling of the filing cabinets. It really was a mystery how this department was doing so well.
Todoroki was right. He was a beginner, this was a weakness, and he had to work to overcome it. If he stayed in the department and was still terrible, it was his own fault. A lot of beginners in publishing weren't guaranteed to start where they wanted, but it made them more flexible in the long run.
He rummaged the cabinets and bookshelves all the way to the east side of the office, where it looked much neater, to find their history of published books. He got a catalog and committed to several stacks of manga, diversifying different series, and hobbled over the least messy desk station, which he assumed would become his, to set them down.
The bend of the soft covers were unfamiliar and he wasn't sure how deeply he should admire each panel from the perspective of an editor or even a reader, but he settled deep into his rolling chair. He would catch up to his colleagues, even if it pained him, even if it seemed impossible. He never wanted to hear Todoroki call him useless again.