Eiji Okumura is ten years old when he discovers the worst part of soulbonds.
(“There is someone on the other end of your bond, Ei-chan,” Kaa-san explained one sunny afternoon, petting his hair as he dozed in her lap. “Someone connected to your heart, who will be there for you, always, no matter what. It is a beautiful thing.”)
It’s half past seven in the morning, and he’s about to head out the door for school, when the terror hits—a visceral, gripping surge of fear so intense he can’t breathe.
(“The soulbond lets you share thoughts and feelings, Ei-chan. Are you still awake? Yes? Good! Your soulmate will always be there when you are sad, and they will celebrate with you when you are happy. They will be your best friend. Isn’t that wonderful, little one?”)
He trips and stumbles and falls, muscles seizing up as his mind blanks of everything but fear fear fear, and he scrambles away until his back is to the wall, tears streaming down his cheeks as he clutches for something, anything, to ground him.
“Kaa-san—Kaa-san! Help, help, p-please—”
His mother’s arms sweep him up and hold him tight, and he clutches at her and sobs and sobs and sobs, hurting and scared and crying and desperate, without knowing why. Minutes drag by like hours. The fear doesn’t stop.
Eiji stays home from school that day, and his mother takes care of him, rocking him like a little baby and promising him over and over that he is safe.
Half a world away, Cape Cod’s little league team has finished the week’s practice.
It happens again the next week.
And the week after that.
“Ei-chan.” Tou-san holds one of Eiji’s hands in both of his big ones. There’s a crease between his eyebrows, drawn by concern, and Eiji fidgets, not wanting to look at the worry in his face. “How are you feeling?”
“Okay.” Eiji looks down at the stitches in the cushions where they sit, stares at the pattern of threads weaving in and out, and remembers belatedly to breathe. “I’m okay.”
“Good.” Tou-san squeezes his hand. “I’m glad. We should talk about your soulbond, if you feel alright, okay?”
Eiji nods. He doesn’t know what happens every Friday morning, but his soulbond overflows with the fear, every time; last time, there was disgust added to the mix, a revulsion so poignant that Eiji found himself in the restroom throwing up the contents of his breakfast, sobbing all the while. He doesn’t understand what his soulmate is going through every week, but his parents might, and maybe they can fix it!
“It scares me,” he mumbles, holding onto Tou-san’s hand as tight as he can. “Every time, it’s really scary.”
“I know.” Tou-san takes one hand away to pat the top of his head. Eiji feels tiny and protected. “You are so brave, Ei-chan. Your mother and I do not know what is happening to your soulmate, but you are our little warrior, facing this when it happens. We are proud of you.”
“Even though I get scared?”
Tou-san nods. “Yes. But you don’t need to be scared every time, okay? You can turn it off.”
Eiji blinks. “Turn off the scary stuff?” That sounds too good to be true. If he could just turn off whatever’s scaring his soulmate, they’d both be happier.
“There is a way,” Tou-san says, and Eiji draws himself back to the present, “to block out the perceptions of your soulmate, and to close your mind for a time. People do this sometimes when they need to focus, like on tests at school, or when they’re in meetings at work. Or, in some cases, to protect themselves.”
He pauses and gives Eiji a significant look.
“Wait, no!” He pulls his hand back from Tou-san, tears welling up in his eyes again. “No, no, Tou-san, I can’t, I can’t I can’t I can’t!”
“Ei-chan!” Tou-san takes his hands, the concern in his face growing, and Eiji whines because he can’t scrub at his cheeks if his father won’t let go of his hands. “Ei-chan, it’s okay, we’re here for you, you won’t be alone even when you use a block—”
Eiji lets out a wail of despair. “No!”
“What do you mean, no?” Tou-san squeezes his hands again. “No to which part?”
“The—the block,” Eiji cries. “I can’t, Tou-san! If, if my soulmate is hurting, I—I should be there for them! I can’t leave them alone! They need me!”
Tou-san’s eyes widen, and then Eiji finds himself swept into a hug, face smushed against his father’s chest. He smells familiar, like aftershave and green tea, and Eiji’s tears slow at the comfort of his heartbeat.
“Oh, Ei-chan,” Tou-san murmurs. “You are a little angel.”
“I have to be there for them.” Eiji sniffles and looks up. “That’s what soulmates are for, right?”
Tou-san just kisses the top of his head, and does not answer.
Far, far away, in a land over a deep, dark ocean, Aslan Jade Callenreese loses his innocence, his father, and his brother. He loses his freedom next, and not long after that, his hope.
Griffin always used to tell him about soulmates, about how there’s someone out there who will understand him, be there for him, and love him, no matter what. Ash never paid him much heed, with all his sappy poetry and mushy stories, because there’s never been anyone’s voice in his head, not like Griffin said. He’s never heard his soulmate speak to him.
But as he lies there, trembling, between sullied sheets, it’s almost as if a whisper in his heart is telling him it’s-okay-it’s-okay, not-alone-I’m-here, tracing words of love into his battered, bruised skin. I’m-here, it-will-be-okay, I-love-you.
Wrong. Nobody here loves him.
The warmth refuses to go away, though, no matter how brokenly he throws despair at its light, and finally, exhausted and broken and suffused by a gentle glow of love-you-soothe-you-I’m-here, Aslan buries his face into a stained pillow and weeps.