Marinette Dupain-Cheng and Jason Todd first met in a dream.
She was ten years of age when it happened, still young and small and fresh-faced.
Her parents tucked her into bed that fateful night, pulling the fluffy pink covers over her body before leaving a goodnight kiss on her brow.
Marinette closed her eyes and snuggled deeper into the soft material with a smile on her face; it was one of the few times they were home, and she made sure to cherish every moment.
The door closed with a quiet click only moments later, after which she yawned and stretched her short arms in the air before wrapping them around her black cat plushie.
Content in the safety of her burrito blanket she nestled down further, breaths evening out into a slow, steady pace as she seamlessly drifted off into sleep.
After what felt like a night’s rest but was actually seconds after falling into unconsciousness, Marinette opened her eyes and blinked blearily. Her vision blurred as she sat up and stretched, drowsiness and lethargy slowing each movement.
It wasn’t until she opened her eyes once more that she realized she was no longer in her room.
Rather than pink-painted walls, she was met with what looked like an endless expanse of stars, scattered and strewn as far as the eye could see. It was as if someone had sprinkled fairy dust from the heavens, like diamond fragments that rained down before being suspended in midair.
Most would react with fear upon finding themselves in an unfamiliar destination, but Marinette was much too awestruck to consider it an option.
The sight was spellbinding, so much so that she barely paid attention to the green blades tickling her legs.
The sky was a pitch-black veil, the darkness assuaged only from the light of the brilliant full moon and twinkling stars. They flickered invitingly, winking at her in a playful manner.
They looked close enough to touch, as if she could simply pluck one from the sky; Marinette reached out in wonder, just barely able to make out the outline of her hand in the darkness.
Despite being somewhere completely foreign, she felt an odd sense of familiarity and contentedness settle into her bones and warm her chest. It felt right .
She lowered herself back into the lush grass, legs splayed before her and arms propped behind. With her head tilted up at the sky, she closed her eyes and let herself relish in the sensation of the warm breeze ruffling her hair.
Marinette didn’t know how long she had been sitting there before she finally looked up. It was on sudden impulse; she swore she could feel someone’s presence beside her, like the tingling sensation one felt when another’s gaze was on them.
Her instinct proved to be right, because only seconds later, she caught sight of a shadowed figure slumped in the grass a few feet from her.
The moon illuminated the person’s face enough that she could just barely discern their features; it was a boy, who appeared to be in deep slumber judging by the steady rhythm of his rising and falling chest.
Long, dark lashes framed his closed eyes, and his fair skin glowed luminously under the moonlight. Silky strands of hair brushed against his forehead, ruffling slightly in the wind; Marinette’s juvenile curiosity made her want to reach out and shake him awake, but the serene expression on his face stopped her as her hand was only mere inches from his shoulder.
Scooting some distance away, she opted to lay spread eagle on the grass with her hands beneath her head and closed her eyes as if she were soaking up the moonlight.
She could always wait for the strange boy to wake up—right now, she had all the time in the world.
Unbeknownst to her, the person beside her began to stir.
Jason blinked open his eyes and let out a low groan, fully prepared for the full force of Gotham winter to hit him as soon as he came back into consciousness.
But as his hands pushed himself up, he soon noticed the soft ground underneath him, so unlike the hard concrete of the streets he slept on every night
He sat up abruptly at this realization.
Something was wrong.
This time of year, he never woke up without feeling the brutal chill that froze his limbs over and made his teeth chatter.
He never woke up with a full stomach, or with the feeling of calmness that was currently overtaking his senses.
Everything felt right, and it did nothing but disconcert him. Nothing in Jason’s life ever went right.
His eyes darted around the strange place cautiously, taking in the view; part of him wanted to sit and stare at the twinkling stars in awe, but he forced the juvenile desire down. He couldn’t afford to get distracted.
He was in the middle of quickly assessing his immediate surroundings when a quiet gasp broke the bubble of tranquility around him.
Before he knew it he had shifted into a fighting stance, and he whipped around to see a figure sitting on the grass a short distance away.
His entire body tensed at the bluebell eyes staring back at him in shock; they belonged to a girl with short black hair, seemingly a few years younger than him, whose lips were open in an “o” shape.
Jason’s brain urged him to move, to do something, but his body refused to obey. It was as if time had frozen him in that stance, rendering him incapable.
The trance was broken as the girl scrambled to her hands and knees and stood, eyes shining with wonderment.
The next words, spoken in a breathless voice, were written in the stars.
“You’re my soulmate.”
TW for mentions of sexual exploitation and abuse
Chapter 2, aka the one in which I try to stop myself from italicizing and adding em dashes to everything in sight.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“You’re my soulmate.”
Oh no. This was not happening.
Jason took a step backward at the word soulmate , eyes darting from side to side frantically.
First, he woke up to find himself in a suspiciously calm, sketchy-as-heck place—probably the result of some wacko villain—and now a tiny girl he’d never seen before was claiming to be his soulmate?
Nuh-uh. No way.
What was she on? More importantly, what was he on?
Jason gave himself a quick once-over, patting down his clothes for extra measure to make sure no one had bugged him. It didn’t feel like there were any drugs running through his system, but with the way his departed mother shot up every day, no one could blame him for being too cautious.
He kept an eye on the girl all the while, just to make sure she wouldn’t lunge at him. Her pink dress, which looked more like a nightgown, fluttered gently in the wind; she was watching him curiously with a wide-eyed gaze that added to her childlike demeanor, but it was too innocent to be genuine.
Jason wouldn’t be fooled—this was Gotham. Anyone who looked like that was faking it, for one reason or another.
In this instance, it was likely to make him lower his guard. As cruel as it seemed, the criminals who ran trafficking rings wouldn’t hesitate to use a little girl as bait to further their schemes. Underestimating someone based on looks would do no good.
He continued patting himself down, and it wasn’t until his hands made their way to his side that he noticed a glaringly obvious difference—his clothes.
Sure, they looked exactly the same as his regular ones (because he hadn’t managed to get his hands on new clothes for months, and no one in Gotham was kind enough to help a street kid), but they showed no sign of their usual wear and tear. The once-ripped fabric at his knees had seemingly mended itself overnight, all signs of scuffs and stains gone.
Jason’s eyes widened when the explanation dawned upon him—someone had changed him, had put their dirty hands all over him without his knowing.
But why? If they had gone through all that effort, why was he here and not being pimped out like the rest of the kids he’d seen forced down that path?
His skin crawled, and he suppressed a shudder before turning sharply on his companion with a glare.
“What did you do to me?” he demanded, mustering the fiercest look he could.
The same animalistic baring of teeth was used to scare off anyone who wanted to steal his hard-earned resources, and though it usually worked on kids his age, it didn’t seem to have an effect on the one in front of him. She simply tilted her head to the side, eyebrows furrowing in confusion as if he had suddenly sprouted wings and started squawking.
Her feigned innocence made him angry for some inexplicable reason, and it was with that emotion in the back of his mind that he pressed further.
“Don’t pretend like you don’t know what I’m talking about! What did you do?” he repeated, taking a step closer to punctuate his question. “What kind of sick villain are you?”
Despite his vaguely threatening tone, it wasn’t like he would actually hurt her; though technically on different sides, they were fighting the same enemy. Besides, she was just a kid, and a victim at that—he knew what it felt like to be both.
Jason only needed to scare her enough that she’d reveal what she had done, but by the way her brows furrowed deeper in confusion, he guessed she wasn't intimidated.
“I’m not a villain. I’m your soulmate.”
There was a casual lilt to her words, spoken with such conviction and truth that he might have fallen for them had he not taken the time to comprehend what she was really saying.
Jason nearly scoffed at her claim.
Soulmates were a scam.
He had seen it firsthand, the initial infatuation that came with finding one’s so-called “life partner.” How women, blinded by the promise of a perfect love, turned their nose to the glaring red flags their partner exhibited simply because the universe must have chosen correctly, right?
So they stayed through each explosive argument and outburst, stayed as their relationship soured and punched walls turned to slaps and hits and bruises and beatings.
It was almost funny in a morbid way how the soulmate relationships he’d observed seemed to be more volatile than his own parents’. Though they had no bond, they were at least able to recognize how unhealthy they were for one another, unlike the many bonded who were unwavering in the belief that their partner was the one.
He hated it, how they continued to make excuses for someone who did nothing but hurt them. He hated it because they deserved better.
But as much as he wished he could do something, anything to help, he couldn’t.
This was Gotham, and he was just a street kid. A street kid without a soulmate, no matter what the girl across from him claimed.
Perhaps it was this cruel reminder that caused him to snap at her more harshly than intended. A “no, you’re not,” fell from his lips with all the force of his loathing and longing, abrasive in a way that held an uncanny resemblance to his father’s voice.
He took a step back in shock, or rather his body did, as if he were merely an observer in his own self. Before he knew it he had turned away and started walking to hide his apologetic wince. His feet seemed to have a mind of their own, and though he didn’t know where they were taking him, he didn’t resist.
He didn’t look back, but from the sound of footsteps in the grass, he knew she was running after him.
“Can’t you tell? We’re dreaming.”
He faltered for a split second in consideration, halting briefly in the middle of his stride.
As far-fetched of a proposal as it sounded, he had to admit it wasn’t a completely unreasonable explanation. From the little he’d gathered about soulmate bonds from his mother, he knew they were weird.
There were the common bonds, such as the one in which an identifying feature of one’s soulmate was imprinted upon their skin. These simpler bonds were mostly physical, which made them easy to identify in contrast to the more abstract bonds out there.
The more incorporeal a bond, the rarer it was, and the stronger it was believed to be.
Jason had heard wild, almost fantastical stories about bonds with strong soul connections; they were unpredictable and free, and rarely did they adhere to the patterns of typical bonds.
Perhaps it was this aspect of mystery that made them so vied after—people were drawn to the unknown and the excitement that came with it.
He recalled once hearing that physical bonds were weaker because they were “further from the soul,” though he wasn’t sure just how much he bought into that particular statement.
The revered fully-mental bonds seemed like more of a hassle than they were worth—besides, wasn’t having a soulmate of any kind better than not having one at all? Not that there was anything wrong with not having one, but some were too caught up with the idea of a special connection to appreciate what they already had.
Jason himself totally didn’t spend his darkest moments wishing he had a soulmate, hoping deep down with all his heart that he’d have someone to reach out to—nope, definitely not.
And even if he did (which he didn’t, okay?!) life would never be kind enough to offer him a soulmate.
This fact combined with the high improbability of getting a bond abstract enough to encompass dreams meant the girl was clearly lying.
He shook his head and sped up his pace, kicking himself over how he’d entertained the possibility for even a second. He didn’t even know where he was headed—this place looked endless—but he needed to get away from the girl. Only a few minutes in her presence had dredged up thoughts he’d tried so hard to forget.
“Quit following me!” he snapped, turning on his heel abruptly to glare at her.
“But where are you trying to go?”
...Okay, so maybe she had a point, but Jason was nothing if not stubborn.
He continued on without responding, though he quickly noticed that the farther he walked the heavier his feet seemed to grow. Still he traipsed ahead, pointedly ignoring the voice in his head that whispered of soulmates and the tug in his chest.
He was a Gotham kid, born and bred—heavy legs couldn’t stop him from doing anything.
Jason had been wrong. Again.
It turned out that heavy legs could, in fact, hinder his ability to do what he wanted.
He had gotten all of 15 feet away before they gave out under him and he landed ungracefully on the soft ground.
He felt his face heat up at the quiet gasp behind him, a reminder that he had just lost a battle with an invisible force, and with sullen resignation he slumped further into the grass.
He didn’t have to wait long until the telltale sound of footsteps neared, and before he knew it, the girl had plopped right next to him. He said nothing, hoping she’d go away if he simply ignored her for long enough.
“My name’s Marinette! What’s yours?”
…Or not. Perhaps if it didn’t come at the cost of his own sanity, he would have been impressed by her persistence.
“How old are you?” she tried again, chirping in a tone much too happy for the situation. “I’m ten!”
Jason grunted in response, hoping his incoherent sounds were satisfactory enough for her to finally leave him alone.
She nodded thoughtfully, and for a moment he thought his charade had worked before she opened her mouth to speak again.
“Isn’t this cool? I can’t wait to tell my parents all about my soulmate!”
“I’m not your soulmate!” he snapped, rolling away and onto his feet.
“But you’re in my dream. Or, well, we’re sharing one.”
Her tone was plain, accompanied by a tilt of her head as if it should have been obvious.
“This isn’t a dream,” he scoffed. “And how on earth would you know that?”
She shrugged, shoulders going up and down before relaxing once more.
“I don’t know, but I think our time’s almost up. Goodnight!”
Somewhere in the world, mere seconds later, a boy wakes up in Crime Alley with an empty stomach and worm clothes, teeth chattering from the brutal cold of winter.
A girl wakes up in her bed, warm and content, with unspoken words on the tip of her tongue.
They remember nothing.
While I’m a total sucker for Soulmate AUs, I did want to briefly mention some criticisms of them, such as how they seem to be predetermined/fated which makes them somewhat restrictive.
In this AU, the success of a bond is influenced by one’s own character and decisions. Bonds are more of an indicator of hey, this person could be great for you. but over time people misinterpreted and ran with the idea that “this is the perfect person.”
I also do like the idea of non-romantic bonds, having multiple bonds, etc, but I wanted to simplify it more, so in this AU people only have a single romantic soulmate (if any, because aro people do exist). Of course, not having a soulmate bond doesn’t mean you can’t end up in a relationship.
Also quick mention about the part of Jason observing women being abused in relationships—I’m fully aware men can be victims as well, but in an area as cutthroat as Gotham I feel like the rates of female abuse victims would be much more inflated.