Soulmates were funny things. No one knew where they came from, or why. They just were, and everyone had one, yet the ways they were connected varied from pair to pair. For example, Jonathan’s parents had a mark bond. His father was born with incoherent patches of browns and greens above his heart, and his mother had similar markings, but in white. When they met, they completed each others’ images leaving them both with a pair of matching lilies.
“They were stunning,” his father told him one night, smiling in memory, and Jonathan believed it with all his heart. He wished he had been able to see the lilies before his mother passed and his father’s mark faded to nothing but splotches of gray.
Jonathan wasn’t born with a mark. His father assured him that he still had a soulmate, their bond was just different. And different was good, he thought. The boy loved his father dearly, but he didn’t want to be just like him; that would be boring.
He just hoped his soulmate, whoever she was, was as wonderful as the stories of his mother.
When he was eight years old, Jonathan Joestar looked down and saw writing on his hand. It was a list of words he was unfamiliar with in plain cursive. It wasn’t fancy so much as it was neat and clean, but, to his child self who could just barely make his ‘a’s and ‘o’s look different, it was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He was a little discouraged at first, since his handwriting was far from pretty, but decided he had nothing to lose and wrote a simple Hello! as neatly as he could.
And then he waited.
Finally, four whole hours later, he finally got a response.
The penmanship was shaky, clearly written by someone learning how to write. It made Jonathan feel a little better about his own less-than-elegant script, but more than that, he was curious. He drew an arrow to the list and asked,
Herbs, his soulmate answered back. And added before Jonathan could ask. Shopping list. My mother’s a nurse.
That’s amazing! Do you want to be a nurse?
What do you want to be?
Three minutes of anxiously checking his wrist later, Jonathan got a response.
Up until now, any attempts to visualize his soulmate ended in him fantasizing about a faceless princess in a poofy dress that he had to save from the witch’s curse and the woes of… not having a soulmate.
However, that’s not how the story goes! After breaking free of his own chains, the prince sets off to rescue the princess from her isolated, ivory tower. Upon his arrival, the prince realizes something is amuck. The tower is in ruins and the princess is nowhere to be seen. Neither is the witch. The poor prince, fearing he is too late, desperately searches for any evidence that his beautiful bride-to-be might still be alive. As he digs through the rubble, a cough interrupts him.
He turns, and there she is, the most amazing woman on the planet. Her ridiculously layered dress is ripped at the bottom for practicality, and she’s wearing combat boots instead of dainty glass slippers. The evil witch who thought her magic powerful enough to hold such a lady captive, is unconscious on the ground at the princess’s feet.
“Can I use some of your rope?” She asks, “The witch is out now, but I don’t fancy fighting her again when she awakes.”
And then she teaches him to tie a perfect slip-knot and they live happily ever after.
Jonathan smiled up at the clouds. He knew he probably shouldn’t be planning it all out, but how could he not? His soulmate wanted to be strong, and the more he thought about it, the more he wanted her to be, too.
While he was day-dreaming, his mate added:
I want to be a winner
so I don’t have to lose anything.
Jonathan smiled at how selfishly she’d managed to word a statement so noble. She wanted to be strong, so she could protect those close to her. He admired that and realized that was something, no someone, he wanted to be as well.
Dio’s parents weren’t soulmates.
He wasn’t sure what happened to his mother’s mate and didn’t care what happened to his father’s, but something happened. Something sad that made his mom look away and change the topic any time he asked about it.
He was seven years old the first time he learned about soulmates, and soulmarks and soulbonds in general. He was at one of the restaurants, beating drunken men with too much coin in their purses at checkers when he overheard a couple of men in one of the booths. They were regulars, from a band of thieves, if Dio recalled correctly, which he knew for a fact he had because he made a point of remembering the faces (if not the names) and behaviors of all restaurant’s frequent patrons.
It was a matter of survival, and swindling someone he’d see daily was a quick way to get killed.
Not that Dio was stupid enough to attempt to play anyone in their group. Their gang was small, but they made up for their lack of numbers by being quick on their feet and quicker with their hands. If it weren’t for their leader, a teenage pick-pocketing prodigy, taking pity on his situation and threatening anyone who tried to steal his meager earnings, he would have never been able to make it home without getting robbed. He didn’t like being in their debt, but he’d rather be in their debt than out cold in a back alley.
In short, they were strong, they had influence and Dio did not want to get on their bad side.
Usually, there were between three and five of them, but this evening, there were only two. Dio vaguely remembered a third sitting at their booth when he arrived, but he must’ve been too caught up in his game to notice him leaving. He recognized the pair as the gang’s leader, a young man with a bowler hat over his mane of unkempt hair, and the biggest man in their group, a quieter guy, who had a giant black mark on his forehead.
What was once a symmetric blob shadowing his upper face somehow morphed into a giant butterfly. The wings were a vibrant blue that faded into an equally stunning purple as they bled into his hairline and down the sides of his cheeks. Never in his life had Dio seen such vivid colors and he found himself unable to look away.
His desire to know overruled his survival instincts; Dio found himself walking over to their booth and asking bluntly, before he could remember the manners his mother insisted he always use, “What happened to your tattoo?”
“What happened?” Bowler Hat repeated, eying the boy up and down. “Curious, ain’t you? That curiosity could land ye in trouble one day,” and then he smiled, big and wide, not the kind of smile a predator gave prey, but a warm, genuine smile. “Lucky for you, that day’s a longways off. Sit down for a stretch.” He slid over to make room, and Dio tentatively sat beside him.
“You’re embarrassing me,” Tattoo man mumbled. Bowler Hat waved him off.
“This side o’ London’s a dark place; if ye got a moment a’ brightness, might as well share it, ey? It don’t cost a pretty penny to tell a good tale. And this lad looks like he could use one.”
“Fine, fine, tell the boy,” Tattoo said, standing up. “I’m getting another pint. Want anything?”
Bowler Hat held up his up half-full glass and shook his head. “Nothin’ for me, but get some cocoa for the kid.”
Dio’s eyes widened. It’d been beaten into his skull at an early age one evening while his mother was out that he was not to accept hand-outs. “No, that’s fin—”
“Hush, you,” the gang leader waved a hand in front of his face. “Don’t argue with me when I’m in a good mood.”
Tattoo shook his head and grumbled ‘softie’ just loud enough to be heard.
Once the man left, Bowler Hat leaned towards Dio with a glint in his eye, holding a hand beside his face faux-secretively. “So, you wanta know what happened, eh? That lad,” he pointed across the restaurant with his thumb, “Fin’lly found the lass of ‘is dreams is what happened, ‘ere.”
Dio’s face wrinkled. “What does that have to do with his tattoo?”
Hat laughed and pat him on the shoulder. Something about the way he did it sounded knowing and Dio felt himself gritting his teeth. He hated not knowing something everyone else knew.
“You know ‘bout soulmates, right?”
The child nodded. He knew of soulmates in passing, but he didn’t know much about them, not that he would say it out loud; the man might laugh at him again.
“Well that slimey git wen’ into town last week an’ found ‘is soulmate wit’out tellin’ us. Hadn’t seen him for days, we hadn’t, and we was getting’ right worried ‘bout ‘im, too. Kempo and me’s ‘bout to send out a search party, get the Yard involved—” This was a joke. The likelihood of the Scotland Yard helping a gang of thieves was slimmer than the chances of anyone from the slums turning to them for help. “—and then we find the lovebird walkin’ down Ogre Street with an armful a flowers of all things. Now, Kempo looks at me and I look at ‘im and both of us are thinkin’ the same thing: is this guy outta his mind? Walkin’ down Ogre Street with flowers is all but askin’ for someone ta make them your grave topper. We follow him a stretch, make sure to keep a good distance—first thin’ about crazies is you don’ wanna get too close, and you don’t want to spook ‘em, either.”
He waits a moment for Dio to nod in agreement.
“And then we see him stop at the poison shop and knock on the door. By now, Kempo’s ready to pounce to the rescue and I’m holdin’ him back, to wait-see. The door finally opens and out comes this girl. And before I can get a good look at her face, she jumps into his arms and the two of ‘em are snoggin.’”
Dio can’t help but make a face at the thought of people kissing. The man chuckles in agreement.
“I’ve seen a lot on Ogre Street. Thought I’d seen it all, but life has a way of surprisin’ you.” He clears his throat and continues. “Anyway, they turn aroun’ and on both of their faces is the same butterfly.
“’parently, me chum went to old Wang’s place to get some more sleepy stuff to coat his knives and wound up fallin for the ol’ man’s daughter, instead.”
Tattoo had returned with two glasses by the time his partner had finished speaking.
“Amazing,” the boy’s eyes widened in awe for a second, before narrowing minutely. He took a sip of his drink. Listening to the story was like one of the fairytales his mother told him before bed (the ones he insisted he was too old for, despite eagerly awaiting them every night, where poor peasants, with only wits, a bit of luck and maybe magic, could rise to the top), except it was real and that excited him. Yet, looking across the table at the beautiful butterfly on the man’s face, the joy was slowly tainted with something else, something darker. An ugly splotch went through a metamorphosis and became something divine. Dio had nothing like that. His skin was bare, sans for the freckles on his ear and the occasional bruise.
“Ain’t it,” Bowler Hat flicked his shoulder. “But just you wait until you find your better half. That moment’ll outshine any pretty tavern-tale you could hear from lil’ ol’ Speedwagon.”
Dio frowned at him in confusion. “But I don’t have a mark like that--”
There was that knowing laugh again. “Mark bonds are only one type a soul bond. Lessee, there’s skin bonds, color bonds, where you colorblind until you see your mate—that’s what Tenpa has—pain bonds, ah, dream ones, energy ones—” He looked over at his fellow thief. “Didn’t Archie have one of those? He didn’t need sleep for a week when his mate was sick.”
Tattoo nodded. Bowler Hat turned back to Dio.
“Don’t fret. There’s plenty of different bonds; you’ll discovers yours eventually.” He faked a yawn and patted the boy’s back. “Now it’s getting late and your mum’s prolly getting’ worried. Be gone with ye.”
Dio grabbed his checker board and got up.
As he was leaving, the man at the table over—another regular, currently on his third glass, snorted and spoke to Bowler Hat, likely much louder than he’d intended to, “Don’t get the boy’s hopes up, Robbie. He’s Dario’s kid. Snowball’s chance in hell he won’t be a mateless.”
That night, after he got home and his mother (who was, in fact, getting worried) told him the dangers of staying out too late, Dio asked what a ‘mateless’ was.
They were sitting on his bed (their bed, most nights), which was just a worn mattress on the floor. He wore a simple night shirt, her a faded white nightgown. Dio remembered it once being blue, but never as blue as the butterfly tattoo.
“I know about soulmates,” the seven-year-old proudly continued, omitting that he had just learned about them earlier that evening. “And everyone has one, but what’s a mateless?”
And that’s when his mother broke down. She pulled him into her arms and held him close, stroking his hair the way she used to when he was little, except now it was to comfort herself instead of him. The boy was confused, so he sat there, uncertain about what to do with his arms before deciding on wrapping them around her thin waist.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured into his hair and that’s when he realized she was sobbing. “I’m so, so sorry.
He hated the sound of her breath hitching, and he hated the way she kept apologizing to him softly. Those were noises his mother wasn’t supposed to make. They were wrong.
When the tears dried up and her breathing returned to normal, she pulled away from him and cupped his face in her hands.
“My sweet, sweet boy. No matter what anyone tells you, you don’t need a soulmate to know that you are wanted and you are loved. Do you understand?”
“Good,” she kissed him lightly on the forehead and pulled the well-loved blanket up to his chin. “Now, how about we pick up where we left off? I vaguely remember a prince trading places with a pauper...”
That was the only time he’d ever seen his mother cry, and Dio hated it. He hated the feeling of helplessness that came with being unable to support her, and he hated the topic of soulmates for making her so upset. The times when his father hit her in a drunken rage, Dio could always grab bandages and help his mom up, but there was nothing he could do about her tears.
So, when he was eight years old and a ‘hello’ appeared under his shopping list, he ignored it. And he planned to keep on ignoring it until dinner that evening, after Dario went out for another night of drinking, when his mother went to clean his wrist with a damp napkin.
“Oh, Dio!” she was absolutely gleeful. “You have a mate!”
He shrugged. “It’s nothing to get excited about.”
“A soulmate is someone special, someone perfect for you. There's plenty to be excited about.”
He scoffed. “Well, I don’t need or want one.”
“Nor want one,” She corrected out of habit. “Why not?"
“I’ve got you and we’re perfectly fine on our own.”
“Dio, sweetie, look at me,” she grabbed his hands over the table and he tried to ignore how thin and bony and fragile-looking her fingers were. “I’m not going to be here forever,” he looked ready to argue and she quietly shushed him. “One of these days, I’m going to leave you. It’s something all parents do. But when I do, you won’t be alone. You’ll never be alone, ever again. Because somewhere out there, there’s a girl, a perfect match for you who will be by your side forever.”
“I don’t need a replacement.”
“She’s not a replacement. She's more like your other half.”
“I’m already whole,” He stood up and looked up at her accusingly. “You said I didn’t need a soulmate. Does this mean I’m… broken?”
“You’re not broken.”
“Then why do I need a soulmate when I didn’t before?” He started pacing, gradually raising his voice and clenching and unclenching his fists. “Does this mean I’m not good enough by myself?”
“Calm down, Dio.” His mother said, gently gripping his arm. She was more than used to her son's frequent outbursts; any time he didn't understand something, Dio had a tendency to get emotional. He could take physical pain without batting a lash, but something like not knowing a word in one of the books she taught him from could bring him to tears. It was something they needed to work on.
He turned to her and wailed in frustration. “I don’t get it.”
“I was afraid,” she admitted, and he stopped. “I was so very afraid that you would be unmatched like your father,” she whispered into his hair as she hugged him. “You’ve inherited so much from him; I was afraid that would be something you got as well.”
The thought of inheriting anything from his father left a sour taste in his mouth.
“But I’m relieved,” she turned him by the shoulders and smiled. “This is something you’ve inherited from me.”
“From you…?” He asked hesitantly, sitting back down.
She nodded. “I used to have a skin bond like yours. We used to talk for hours, deep into the night. I would start stories and he would finish them. It was wonderful. Now you can have that, too.” she offered a pen. He looked uncertain. "Do it for me?"
He put the pen to his wrist and, meeting her look of approval, scrawled out a shaky,