They all had rough childhoods.
Hardison got adopted by his Nana pretty young but he still had some bad experiences in the system. He had a few shitty foster parents before he met his Nana. He wasn’t the most athletic child, so he didn’t play sports, but he did get beat up now and then by kids from school. Hardison would also get bumps and bruises from playing in and exploring the world around him.
Parker had it pretty bad. She became a cat burglar at 9 or 10, a get-away driver before she became a car thief at 12, and she has always been a thief. Parker tried her best to be a better thief, not get caught, not get seen, not get hurt--but she was only a child. She went back and forth between being in the system with abusive foster parents and living on the streets, so she got hurt quite often despite trying her best to avoid it.
Eliot joined the military at 18, but even before that he got hurt. The first time his father hit him he was 7, it just got worse after that. Sometimes he got hurt defending his mom or just because his father was drunk and angry. Eliot grew up getting broken bones and bruises that were easily passed off as boys playing rough or football injuries. Eliot needed to get out as soon as he could, so he joined the military at 18, and got hurt ever since.
Soulmates were mildly common, about half of the population had one. Soulmates often shared pain, so when one of them was badly injured, the other could feel it. The other soulmate would feel the initial pain and then possibly a dumbed down version of the injury. If one soulmate broke a bone or got some other internal injury the other soulmate would feel it for a second and then possibly get a bruise or sprain in the same place, though the transmitted injuries faded much faster than the initial injury.
Some soulmates got temporary marks of where their soulmate’s surface injury was, similar to a rough tattoo of the scar their soulmate would have, or a design where the injury was, either mark faded at the same pace that the actual injury did. Marks like that were called ‘soulmarks’, because they were marks from your soulmate. Sometimes the soulmark was the initials of the person who caused the injury, or just a tattoo like mark of the injury, or both. Sometimes the soulmark or soulmarks would show up painlessly and sometimes they transmitted the pain of the injury.
Three way soulmates were extremely rare but not unheard of. There were a few legends of people who had two soulmates, though it was uncommon to say the least. Another story said that they weren’t that sparse, instead that about 5% of the population had two soulmates, but that they rarely found each other because there was an extra person to find.
Parker learned about soulmates by listening to the people around her, some of her foster parents were soulmates, so she knew about shared pain and soulmarks.
Parker got hurt on the regular, whether it was abusive foster parents or the dangers of living on the streets and being a thief, but she knew her own body better than anything, so when she felt pain or got a bruise that faded within the hour where she hadn’t been injured, she wondered if she could possibly have a soulmate.
Hardison learned about soulmates much the same way, his previous foster parents were usually soulmates, and he heard other kids at school occasionally talking about soulmates.
Hardison asked his Nana one day who was in the picture with her on the mantle, she told him about her soulmate, who had died in a car accident years prior, and about how wonderful he had been. Nana told him about shared pain and the different kinds of soulmarks and what they meant. Hardison thought that having a soulmate would be awesome, so he was understandably excited to meet them someday, but he also held onto some weariness. Hardison had seen too many soulmates whos relationships had gone horribly to wholeheartedly believe that he would be happy with his soulmate, but he also had the stories his Nana had told him about her and her soulmate, so he held onto hope.
Hardison often got pains and bruises in places he knew he hadn’t been injured, he told his Nana whenever they were bothering him. Whenever that would happen Nana would make him a cup of tea and they would sit and talk about soulmates and she would tell stories. One day Hardison told her that he was worried about his soulmate. He knew they were getting hurt a lot because he would get a lot of bruises that he had no idea where they came from, all he knew was that they faded very fast, and were often gone within about 5 hours of appearing. Hardison knew these bruises were from his soulmate, and he worried.
Eliot learned about soulmates very young, because his parents supposedly were. His parents didn’t have shared pain, but they had shared initials. Eliot blamed the universe for letting his father hurt his mom and not making him feel it, just him letting him get to see his initials all over her. Eliot’s anger at the universe and his father started as soon as he was old enough to understand.
Eliot’s mom told him about soulmates when he asked why his father’s initials were on her arm, she explained to him what soulmates were and that her and Eliot’s father were soulmates. Eliot asked her why his father hurt her if they were soulmates, and she sadly explained that sometimes the universe got it wrong.
Eliot grew up thinking that the concept of soulmates was a load of shit, because how could something so supposedly wonderful and good let his mom and him suffer for all those years. Eliot got hurt regularly, but he didn’t pay much attention or care where or why he hurt because he always hurt somewhere, so at first he didn’t notice the mysterious injuries or pains that faded a little too fast.