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Think once, feel twice

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 Marco hadn’t felt anything for more or less his first twenty years of life. More or less because estimating his age was a bit tricky – as an orphan, no one really knew how old he was and didn’t really keep track on his age. In the end, he could be three years younger or older and not be aware. His ageless face and knowledge too wide for his approximated age didn’t help.

 So yes, he hadn’t felt anything for about twenty years. It sometimes happened, he guessed. There were people who never felt anything because their soulmate was dead before they both could hit puberty and start to feel each other. There were people who started to feel being forty or sixty.

 It was maybe a year and a half after Gold Roger’s death when he started to feel someone else. It was not much – minor pains in his limbs, hunger, sleepiness, sadness and, sometimes, panic. It was clear, at least to Marco, what he felt belonged to a child, a baby born the day the feeling bond opened. Marco, after years of being completely alone in his mind, started to feel another person’s presence at the back of his head. He couldn’t explain it well but it was amazing. A bit weird but also comforting and lightening – not being alone ever again.

 His soulmate was born January 1st and it hurt as fuck, that’s what Marco knew. He hadn’t felt pain in years.

 The emotions didn’t change that much the first couple of years. Baby giddiness, tiredness, grumpiness. Sometimes fear, deep and unjustified. It was the most wonderful experience he got, going through the changes of his soulmate, through the emotions and thoughts his soulmate was starting to have with months passing. How fast they were less and less incomprehensible and undecided. How more and more they were defined and clear-cut.

 Marco himself tried to be as calm as he could – it was like hitting puberty and leaving behind the rebel phase he never quite grow out of. He started to calm down more often, he didn’t get angry anymore, he stopped screaming altogether, having relaxed, I-couldn’t-care-less kind of demeanor all the time, answering with sarcasm and sass rather than with yells and protests. He started learning breathing techniques he used to call stupid. He started training his mind because it wasn’t good for the baby to feel all those things, especially since they were so scared most of the time. Marco hoped with his whole heart they weren’t abused or an orphan but their emotional distress only confirmed his suspicions.

 His siblings made fun of him all the time because of it. They said he was getting old (he was), becoming sentimental (maybe) and any moment he would be doing yoga (he wouldn’t). None of them had a soulmate with such a big age difference and none of them understood. Usually, if the age difference was this huge, the bond would appear around teenage years of the younger part. It obviously wasn’t the case with Marco and his soulmate.

 But it also made him prepared and said a lot about the person. He knew his soulmate’s age. He knew their birthday. He knew how their childhood went (not smoothly). He knew they were a good person – they never got angry or furious or raging, just sad. Always sad. That way he knew they had a bad coping mechanism.

 Marco knew there was something wrong on the other side of the connection as soon as his soulmate was around three years old. That’s what all the breathing exercises, anger control, and reading guidebooks on how to calm your soulmate through the bond were for.

 Marco told Thatch about all of it, once. He laughed it off, blaming it on Marco becoming mother-hen for his much younger soulmate. Yes, he partially became mother-hen – he had to admit he was constantly worried about them. He expected a bit more understanding from Thatch since his soulmate, from what Marco gathered, wasn’t happy-go-lucky either.

 They finally believed him when his soulmates had his sixth birthday. It was January 2nd and everyone was still a bit hangover after the party they threw to celebrate New Year. They were sitting, eating breakfast like they normally would but this time Marco hadn’t said anything the whole morning – there was no scolding or scowling at them even. He sat in complete silence.

 The evening before, the waves of emotions started coming onto him. It was nothing like what he experienced before, not a feeling at the back of his mind, not one hidden by his thoughts and not a half-hearted one. The emotions were strong and pure, and so overwhelming.

 It was something he couldn’t really describe – his soulmate was so confused, conflicted within themselves. There was a mix of feelings hazing Marco’s mind, not allowing his brain to rest even for a moment. None of the emotions were positive, sucking the energy out of him like a vacuum. There was deep and wide hesitance, a layer of fear and something undecided so much, something dark, barely visible in the chaos of thoughts. It reminded him of the time as an orphan, of the time of the loneliness he could still recall with details, that were like phantom pain.

 In the morning, everyone could see his bloodshot eyes, dark shadows under them and the way he blinked from time to time to drive away dream haze.

 Thatch and Atmos were sitting in front of him, talking quietly. It was obvious Marco went through a sleepless night but no one said anything – it was obvious it wasn’t a hangover, Marco, even if he actually could get a hangover, stopped drinking as soon as he felt his soulmate’s emotions for the first time.

 They couldn’t do much, they supposed. If Marco didn’t want to tell them, he would sooner or later talk with Pops.

 And then, Marco started crying in the middle of eating toasts.

 At first, he just couldn’t get the haze out of his eyes, his chest clenching and his pulse speeding up, thundering in his ears. There was panic, his own mixed with his soulmate’s, that wandered down his throat, making his mouth tremble. He looked at the room, frantic and desperate, choking on a sob that wasn’t his and seeing blurred faces of his brothers.

 Then his palms got all sweaty and before he could say anything, a huge hole in his chest became present, making its way to his limbs and paralyzing them. It was as if someone cut out his lungs – the air was all around him but it didn’t have a place to go in his body.

 Fat tears streamed down his cheeks, blurring the sight of his brothers. Someone, in the silence of the mess hall, screamed for a nurse.

 A held back whine escaped his mouth, sound so profound, so disastrous he couldn’t imagine himself doing it on his own account – it all belonged to his soulmate.

 To a six-year-old.

  “I should have never been born,” echoed in Marco’s ears.

 That was the moment which made them all believed Marco’s soulmate needed all the help he could get.

 As soon as Marco realized those weren’t his emotions, he started calming himself down. He took deep breaths, one by one, trying to pull out of the panic and blinked so fast the tears left his eyes, giving him the clear view of the world around him

 Pops was standing above him, barely touching his back with the tips of his fingers and smoothing him with an easy, rhythmic motion. Thatch wasn’t all that far behind, sitting on his right all of sudden, leaning onto him.

 “I should have died,” echoed in his mind again and Marco forced himself to think about everything positive in his life.

 He thought about the day he met Pops, about the day they recruited Thatch, about the day Whitey Bay finally agreed to be Pops’s daughter. He thought about all of the casual things that annoyed him in his family, about all the fun and happiness he had with them. He thought about the day he felt his soulmate for the first time.

 It either worked or his soulmate calmed down on his own. Marco tried to have only warm thoughts and not to worry too much. He didn’t want to stress his soulmate more than they already were, add his own concerns on their shoulders.

 He wiped down his teary cheeks and tried to smile as brightly as he could. His soulmate’s heart fluttered but it stopped aching so much, at least partially. Marco was proud of himself for staying composed.

 It wasn't that Marco was aggressive, he just wasn’t shy either. His temper had no patience, he had no patience. He screamed, he puffed, he fumed  - he was strict and, in a way, too easily annoyed. Since his soulmate, his division, well, all of the divisions, were saying they were less afraid of him even if he was scarier, colder, more distanced.

 Pops walked him back to the infirmaries and nurse Suzu, the executive nurse on duty, ordered him to sit down. Marco had never been in the infirmaries as a patient before.

 Suzu checked his blood pressure and temperature and asked a bunch of unreasonable questions, giving him hot tea. His heartbeat was sped up a bit but it was nothing to worry due to the shock he had just got through.

 Pops was still hovering over him and Marco couldn’t say a word.

 The voice was still echoing in his mind but this time it was only its memory.

 “I shouldn’t have been born.”

 Marco’s eyes watered again but his mouth became dry. There was no way he could explain it to anyone, he didn’t really understand it completely himself – he had never felt something so strong, so real from his soulmate’s side. His soulmate was disturbingly too sad for a six-year-old, almost all the time, but it was somewhere at the back of his mind and his own subconscious was the main one present. He had never felt so affected.

 Suzu left to go for a nurse that specialized in the soulmate bonds, predicting she would be needed. Pops looked at him, holding back a cough.

 “You shouldn’t have left your whole medical equipment in the mess hall, Pops,” Marco said. It sounded as if his voice was somewhere beside him than coming from his throat. It was quite hoarse, too.

 “Son, don’t think you’ll distract me with this bullshit,” he answered even though he kind of felt worse without his morning meds. “Are you feeling alright?”

 Marco was still trembling and his eyes were stinging but he nodded, not wanting to open his mouth so soon.

 “What was that outburst about, then?” Pops asked again. Marco didn’t meet his gaze. “If something is going on, you can talk to me.”

 He knew that without telling him that. It was just hard to word.

 Marco didn’t look right sitting on the bed in the infirmaries as pale as death itself, uncertain. He trusted Pops with it but it was not easy to process.

 “It’s just- It wasn’t me, Pops. It wasn’t me that burst into tears.” Whitebeard raised an eyebrow at that. “It was my soulmate.”

 That made Pops hesitate. He opened his mouth but didn’t speak up for a stretching moment, furrowing his eyebrows, frowning.

 “Isn’t your soulmate about five years old right now? They shouldn’t be able to-“

 He cut himself short but Marco knew what he meant – he shouldn’t be able to make him feel such defined emotions at this age.

 “Six,” Marco corrected absently. “He had his birthday yesterday.”

 Pops hummed.

 “It’s- Well-“ Marco continued, tripping over his words. “I’ve never felt something so overpowering, so dreadful and sad. He-“

 “He?” Pops interrupted at one.

 “I heard a boy’s voice in my head, Pops,” he explained. “He was so miserable.”

 Whitebeard licked his lips, fidgeting. His frown deepened.

 “Son, Marco,” he began carefully. “You know hearing your soulmate’s voice shouldn’t be possible, right?”

 He knew. That’s why he was so scared, so worried despite all the exercises for calming down, despite counting from hundred to one, despite searching for things in the same color in the room, despite all of the happy memories that were flowing in his mind. He would have to find new anti-panic techniques.

 “I know,” he sputtered at last. “But, Pops, he said- he said he shouldn’t have been born. He said he should have died.”

 There was a long silence between them and Marco could only watch his father with uncertain eyes, an earn and honest expression on his features. Whitebeard put a hand around his shoulders in a reassuring gesture.

 “A six-year-old, huh?” he whispered.

 Both of their gazes wandered around the room, searching for something they weren’t able to find at that moment. There was, after all, a heavy bitterness in their mouths and an even heavier weight in their hearts.

 There was one thing Whitebeard didn’t tell Marco – he knew someone who could hear their soulmate’s voice. Exactly two people who were each other soulmates.

 Gol D. Roger and Portgas D. Rouge.

 In Marco’s ears, the boy’s childish voice was still ringing.

 “I should have never been born.”

 Marco couldn’t agree less.

 


 

 

  Ace didn’t know you were supposed to feel just yourself for some time. He was born feeling another mind at the back of his head, born with the presence of another person. He thought it was normal until he met Sabo.

 To be honest, Ace couldn’t imagine life only feeling his own emotions. Maybe because it would be a very sad life, maybe because he was used to something different.

  He was lucky like that, he supposed. He didn’t have a soulmate who was hurting all the time like Sabo’s and Luffy’s.

 Luffy started to feel his soulmate being around eight. His pain was mostly physical and even though he was used to pain in general, it hurt so much he would cry. Ace didn’t know that at first and called Luffy crybaby a lotLuffy’s body felt all the pains of his soulmate and he would often touch some specific places on his back, legs or his neck and just scratch them. Mentally, Luffy’s soulmate was depressed, suicidal and there was something unnerving in them. Luffy didn’t mind, telling Ace all about how he would make them happy in the future.

 Sabo was more concerned, he supposed. His soulmate was hurting physically too but they were so scared most of the time, always making Sabo paranoid, struggling to let go and just have fun. They were holding back something, something Sabo himself couldn’t explain to Ace but it made Sabo’s muscle tense, self-aware. It was quite troubling but Sabo told him countless times he was alright with it and just hoped he could make them happy and completely free someday.

 Sabo’s soulmate started to feel less trapped when he was ten. There was still self-awareness and so much uncertainty in them but it was slowly fading out with time. Sabo said he would just have to ask them about it, about what was going on in their life.

 Then, they were twelve and Sabo wasn't going to ask anyone because he was dead.

 

 Ace had never had anyone like a parent, not in the traditional sense. There was no one that would care for him. Dadan mostly made sure he was alive, Garp was like an absent, strict grandfather, Makino was more of an older sister or even a cousin, not present on daily basis. There was one person that cared though, and for the first couple of years of his life, he wasn’t even aware they existed because no one told him about this whole soulmate business.

 Dadan said he was a quiet and peaceful baby. With years passing, Ace realized it was all thanks to his soulmate and their stupid calmness, reasonableness and the way he simply sent Ace positive waves of emotions all the time. Since his toddler days, it didn’t work as well but it still made him feel a bit better. His soulmate, as Ace deducted, had to be at least ten years older than him to manipulate theirs and Ace’s emotions so smoothly that they were able to calm down a newborn baby, only emitting emotions through the bond. Their vague aura inside Ace was nice.

 It stopped working when he turned six or so. Ace always felt loved by his soulmate, he couldn’t deny it. There was no one, not at that time, who showed him love, not in a healthy way. Dadan, he realized later, loved him even though she was complaining about him, even though she said a couple of things which hurt him – that he could go die in the jungle, that he was a problem to her, that he was useless, that she didn’t want him. She wasn’t a mum, rather a weird auntie who didn’t know how to treat kids.

 Gramps was absent and when he wasn’t, he was cold, talking about survival, training and ignoring Ace’s wishes, being brass and stone-hearted. He was important to Ace but at the same time, he wasn’t really all that much in Ace’s life. Here and there.

 He was, in overall, raised by himself.

 But his soulmate cared, supported him, always was there for him without knowing Ace. Unconditionally. Ace loved it when still small and naïve.

 Ace was six when he started to doubt. A week or so, Gramps came visiting him for his sixth birthday. That’s when he told him.

 The thing is, Ace understood his life wasn't normal. Most kids had a parent or two, nice house in town and school friends. Ace didn’t have parents but Gramps told him his parents entrusted him with Ace’s life. They were dead but Ace didn’t know who they were.

 He knew his mum died giving birth to him. It was weird but he had this vague memory, this feeling of a woman holding him and smiling and crying, with a mix of sadness and pure joy in her heart. Her eyes closed and never opened up. Ace compared it with being loved.

 On his sixth birthday, Gramps told him everything. He told him about his mum. He told him about his father. He told him about his true name. He told him in what it resulted, having Gol D. Ace for a name.

 Gramps left and Ace, in his six years old glory, went to a bar not so far away from the Gray Terminal. He asked, for the first time.

 “What would happen if Gold Roger had a kid?”

 Ace kind of knew the answers already, he may have been six but he already had the mentality of at least an eleven-years-old – he had to grow up fast, not caring about the way his body didn’t much his brain. He started to hate his father as soon as he heard who he was and how he left his mum alone. He knew the answers, he just didn’t want to believe in them. Hearing the words was painful.

 “They should be killed before they were born.”

 “Demon blood should be cleaned from this world.”

 “The kid should kill themselves from shame.”

 “Why would they live anyway? No one would want them.”

 Leaving the bar, walking slowly to the Gray Terminal in the dark of sunrise, Ace held back tears, tightening his fist so much there was blood. In the Gray Terminal, no one would look at him and he could burst into tears.

 There was a hole in his heart he wasn’t able to close and dread and distress spreading through his limbs, paralyzing him, rushing his heartbeat, stopping his brain.

 His breath caught up in his throat and the junkyard became one big blur in the shades of gray and brown. Ace’s hands wandered to his chest as if to grasp his lungs and his finger clenched on his T-shirt, staying so close to his heart, feeling the most prominent evidence he was alive.

 His soulmate lost their cool for the first time, panicking.

 He remembered his mum’s face, leaning above him, smiling through tears and calling him Ace. The memory was faded, foggy, Ace was so small he didn’t really know if it was an actual memory. He was a newborn in it, he could just make it up, imagine. But there was something in the way his mum’s voice was quiet, half-heard and in the way her eye color is blended with the background and Ace cannot see it clearly. That’s something that made him believe it was a misty memory.

 He always associated it with unconditional love. Now it just seemed wasted. Pointless.

 Ace was a demon child, he shouldn’t have been born. His blood was cursed. His mum gave her life for him for no reason – he took her life, that was the truth.

 He should have never been born.

 He should have died.

 The air in his lungs escaped, leaving him with rapid breathing and stinging eyes and uncontrollable sobs. Deep down he knew it, he was aware he was unwanted whoever’s son he was.

 The memory of his mum smiling at him became bitter. There was no such thing as unconditional love for a cursed child. He should have died. He should have died before he managed to kill his mum.

 There was warmth in his chest all of sudden. A deep breath moved its way into his lungs and, although his eyes were still stinging and tears coming, he could see more and more. Someone took half of the weight his shoulders were staining under.

 It reminded Ace of the peace after the storm, how air was so fresh you could touch it, breathing and how there was always sun shining.

 His pulse was still rushing and there was a gulp in his throat but it was getting better. It felt like care.

 I should have never been born, his brain whispered somewhere at the back of his mind.

  Just for a moment there, he heard a soft, affectionate voice in his mind, answering, I couldn’t agree less.

 Not much later, Sabo told him that everyone has a soulmate. Told him you feel your soulmate’s emotions and they feel yours. He told him soulmates could communicate with each other's emotions.

 Ace asked, “Can you talk with them in your thoughts, like, in the literal sense?”

 Sabo furrowed his eyebrows. “No, you can only feel them.”

 Ace knew he could more.

 


 

 

 There was no such accident for the next seven years or so. To be honest, Marco hadn’t felt so much sadness nowadays, not since his soulmate turned ten. His soulmate, whoever he was, was happier. There were still unmistakable waves of sorrow, pure depression, and self-hatred that not many adults would ever experience but it was noticeable mostly at night or late evening.

 It didn’t change that it was unnerving though. He got used to having relaxing evenings with coloring books, with light books with uncomplicated plot and with yoga. He didn’t know if it worked as well on his soulmate as it worked on him but he hoped.

 His soulmate was twelve years old when the second wave of something Marco had never felt, not even in his worst days as an orphan, came. This time, everyone knew it was Marco’s soulmate, not Marco himself.

 Since his soulmate was six years old, things changed. No one laughed at his breathing exercises, at his soulmate guidebooks or at him avoiding stressing situations. Thatch started making him specially balanced for his mental health diet. Izou (who joined after quite a messy first meeting with his idiot of a soulmate - Thatch) made him tons of coloring books, follow-the-lines or connect-the-dots books. Fossa made him a special bed, with a soft mattress that successfully fought with his insomnia. Vista made him all that laughable equipment for yoga Marco would never admit he had in his room.

 It happened at the end of breakfast again.

 Marco was just listening to Haruta and Thatch arguing at their table and it was quite peaceful. But in overall, he wasn’t all that surprised – his soulmate was feeling certain uneasiness the whole morning. It was something like intuition, sense of danger, Marco would call it. His soulmate had this worry, this sense of something being wrong at the back of his mind.

 Marco pushed back his plate when his pulse increased, racing out of nowhere and the panic was hazing his thinking more and more, his brothers and sisters fading into background noises.

  His table got quite as soon as Marco just stared in front of himself. No one really forgot what happened seven years before.

 It was stronger this time - Marco realized when pure pain pierced his heart, taking his breath away.

 “He’s dead,” was what he heard in his ears, in the familiar boyish voice. “Fuck, he’s dead.

 It was, once again, another tragedy in his soulmate’s life. Someone, someone his soulmate knew, someone important to him, was dead.

 Marco felt the panic vanishing but his heartbeat was still speeding, the hole in his chest only getting bigger and bigger, as if someone was keeping on stabbing him in the heart. His mind became foggy, not holding up so many thoughts at once.

 “It should have been me,” echoed in Marco’s ears. “He shouldn’t have died. It should have been me.

Tears prickled his eyes, his vision became blurry. His throat clenched when Marco held back his soulmate’s cry, not giving in to sob. He put a hand over his chest, trying to breathe, trying to think about every warm memory he had. The panic was dying out but its place was taken by sorrow and devastation, deep and unsettled, hovering over Marco’s tries.

 The tears never came, held back with the strength a twelve-year-old shouldn’t have. Because his soulmate was only twelve years old.

It should have been me,” the boy’s voice sounded in his ears. “I want to die. I have to die.”

 Marco’s heart broke into two unfixable pieces.

 Single tear, small, almost unnoticeable, streamed down his cheek but Marco felt this weird mix of peace and bitterness – he could breathe a little easier, the air was lighter, but his chest was heavy with bitter-sweet memories that belonged to his soulmate.

  It wasn’t the end of hearing his voice.

 “I can’t die,” was practically spat out. He kept on blubbering. “Luffy. I can’t leave Luffy. I love Luffy.

 Something fluttered inside Marco. It was a relief, partially. His soulmate was, after all, alive thanks to Luffy, whoever they were. There was no other way it could be and deep down his brain knew it – his soulmate hadn’t met him yet and there was no possibility to comfort him, to be his pillar of strength.

 He couldn’t and Marco was grateful that Luffy was there for his soulmate.

 (He wasn’t grateful when, even after another five years, he heard loud and clear, very soft and affectionate I love you, Luffy in the voice of an almost grown-up man.

 There was a difference between kids crushes and love of a boy who was becoming an adult.

 His soulmate was, after all, seventeen and still loved Luffy.

 “I will always love you, Luffy.”

 It made Maro sad and a bit scared – if his soulmate loved someone else, he couldn’t imagine.)

 


 

 

 Ace knew something was wrong. It was his intuition calling, he supposed. Sabo had never wanted to go back to his parents but Ace trusted him to make the right decision – Sabo was the smartest of them, he would know what to do. He apparently wouldn’t.

 Dogma came and said what Ace dreaded for the last couple of days.

 He screamed and yelled and whined and claimed to take revenge and just blew up in general but his mind was going off on its own, not being angry at all.

 At first, it was:  “He’s dead. He’s fucking dead.

 And, as his eyes watered, he could think only this: “I’m the worthless oneIt should have been meHe shouldn’t have died. It should have been me.”

 There was a distant and deaf, “No, no, no,” in his ears, said in stranger’s voice.

 Sabo was dead. Sabo, who was his first ray of sunshine, who was his first family.

 “I want to die. I have to die,” was what he couldn’t stop thinking.

 But there were Luffy’s sobs and cries coming through the house, like the crybaby he was. Ace wasn’t able not to smile fondly, even though his eyes were still wet and his mouth dry.

  Because Luffy was his second ray of sunshine, just as bright as the first one. He was the youngest brother, the one who was supposed to be loved and protected by his older brothers. There was no Sabo, so Ace had to take care of Luffy for the both of them.

 In the end, calming down and accepting Sabo was dead and he wasn’t, he thought: “I can’t die. Luffy. I can’t leave Luffy. I love Luffy.

 “I’m here for you,” echoed in Ace’s ears but he ignored it, concentrating on Luffy’s cries. “I don’t want you to die. I need you to live.”

 There was warmth and firm support in his chest, hugging the bitterness Sabo’s death left with open arms. There was, also, a relief Ace wouldn’t admit he was grateful for.

 


 

 

 There was no way Marco could find him – the connection between them worked one way, like a dead call, he supposed. He had never heard reassuring words or anything from his soulmate, maybe because he had never had such strong non-positive feelings, maybe because they couldn’t hear him at all.

 There was only one time Marco needed reassurance and comfort. It was just after the death of the Second Division Commander. Delayla was a powerful but kind woman, one he considered a sister for a long time. She was also one of Pops’s first children and knew Marco since he was around eighteen himself. She was also the only female commander they had until Izou showed up. Not everyone agreed with that, women on the sea were seen as a bad luck, at least in the eyes of narrow-minded men.

 But she was a powerful haki user with close-combat fighting style and a hell of a navigator so she was the right person to become Second Division Commander. She was like an older sister to Marco and her death pained him deeply.

 She was killed on one of the missions Second Division was sent to – there was an archipelago of islands with fast, changeable weather. She was the right choice. A newbie from Second Division thought that his Commander was a weak woman and tried to protect her with his own body – she saved his life for the price of her own. They broke off the mission and brought her body back.

 Her face, usually darkish brow, was white as a sheet, with a smirk still on, so alive and so like her, eyes closed, with one eyebrow raised. She simply looked as if she had been frozen in the mid-move, her skin was cold, dead.

 When the Second Division brought her back, showing her unmoving body for the first time, he was sitting with Pops and just chatting. He stilled mid-word, practically feeling the silence on the Moby Dick and the warmth escaping his chest.

 Seeing her dead body was, at first, not possible. She can’t be dead, his mind supplied, she’s too strong, too powerful to get killed. His throat thickened, nauseas overcame him, not leaving for a stretched out moment.

 There was a weight in his chest, so similar to the way seawater made him lose control over his own body, made him sick.

 She can’t be dead, he told himself.

 He glanced at Pops and saw tears in his eyes. They didn’t say goodbye. They didn’t.

 He was in a strange bubble which muffled all the sounds around him. The only sound he could hear was her snarky laugh and the waves hitting boards of the ship. He choked on his own heart, not understanding how.

 She’s dead. She’s fucking dead. She’s dead.

 To Marco, it was a small end of the world.

 Everyone cried that day. They let go of her body into the sea, burning on a raft, sending her to sail for the last time. It was a proper burial for a pirate.

 It didn’t change that she was dead.

 Standing on the deck, looking at the dying flames with sunset dying out just like the flames on the sea and with a hole in his heart expanding, he felt the most alone in his life.

 “You’re not fucking alone,” screamed a voice in his mind.

 His soulmate was sixteen at the time and he was feeling Marco and talking to Marco. There was no calming, no reassuring or comforting words but he was there.

 “I feel everything, you fucking genius,” the boy sneered. “Be an adult and deal with your lifeWith your grief. I did with mine.”

 He sounded angry but Marco couldn’t feel anger at all. There was sympathy, support, worry and even a bit of pity but not anger.

 It was, as weird as it seemed, heartening. There was no other person who could understand better what Marco felt. Not only did his soulmate literally feel all that Marco felt but he lost someone very important to him too. His soulmate, aged twelve, went through the same. Marco, after that day seven years ago when he almost started crying at breakfast, hadn’t felt even a bit of pure grief. Sometimes regret but always mixed with hope and radiant warmth. Sadness, determination, hesitance but never grief that made your body freeze, your brain not think properly, your heart ache. Never.

 Marco couldn’t promise he would stop grieving as fast but he could try.

 His soulmate never talked to him after that. Not until they met in person.