Everyone knows. Everyone knows what soulmarks are- those horrible, awful words that burn themselves into your skin. The worst insults that have been thrown at the person you’re meant to be with- some old, given when the person was just a child.
Jake Berenson has lots of soulmarks.
Tobias Fangor had none.
Tobias lived in two houses. He lived with a drunk, abusive bastard of an uncle (and his uncle knew it too; the words on his aunt’s arms spelled that out loud and clear). He grew up with a manipulative, toxic aunt. His first experience with soulmarks was his aunt applying foundation to the words written in thick, venemous green on her cheekbones.
Jake grew up in a house with friends and people who loved him. He grew up with self confidence and kind words and affection. He lived with a neat freak of a mom and a pedantic dad. His first experience with soulmarks was when he was five years old and his wrist suddenly burned like he had touched the cookie sheet too soon.
He went, sobbing, to his doctor father, who flipped his wrist over to look for a sting- and froze.
In a neat, bolded brick font, his wrist announced unwanted.
(When Tobias got his first Word, years and years later, he would forever remember the lightly acidic tone in Marco’s voice as he called Jake their fearless leader. )
Jake Berenson was thirteen years old and he had more words than anyone else he knew. New words would regularly burn themselves into his skin, nasty terrible words he couldn’t believe anyone would say aloud, let alone to another person.
He badgered Rachel until she went to a store with him. Together they picked out the right shade of concealer to smudge over his skin until the blocky, crimson font would be hidden.
Somewhere his soulmate was going through hell. He didn’t want that to be broadcasted to everyone. They had already been through enough.
(Somewhere Tobias was treating a cigarette burn, wondering if he was one of the less-than-one-percent who was soulmateless. )
When Jake Berenson met Tobias, he had suspicions. There was something loveable about this kid. Something in his wide eyes and his murmured thanks when Jake had rescued him from the bullies.
Marco was jealous, tried to poke fun at Tobias, and Jake had none of it. He loved Marco dearly, but it had been Jake-and-Marco for so long Marco didn’t want to consider the idea of it being Jake-and-Marco-and-Tobias.
Jake’s suspicions were confirmed, about two days before Tobias found out the truth. Marco was trying to complain at Jake under his breath. As usual, Marco’s voice rose when he was upset.
(It would do that in thought-speak too, Jake would soon discover.)
“I just don’t see,” Marco hissed, “why we have to bring your little boy toy along.”
There was a slight noise that had Marco turning to look over his shoulder, barely in time to see Tobias vanishing down an alley way.
At the same time, a soft and familiar pain hissed its way onto Jakes arm. He rolled his sleeve up to see the word had branded itself straight across his forearm and couldn’t fight back the gasp that emerged.
“Shit.” Marco whispered as Jake yanked his sleeve back down. “Jake, I didn’t realize-”
Jake held up a hand, cutting him off.
“I didn’t either, Marco.” He said quietly. “But he is.”
Jake didn’t know how to break the news to his family. So he went to people who did.
Cassie and Rachel, to their credit, listened to him throughout his entire meltdown.
“I mean, I’ve known I was bi for forever- you can’t be into playing basketball with a bunch of people and not figure that out- but I didn’t even tell anyone about that except Marco! And now a guy is my soulmate and I don’t know how to tell my family and oh my god what is Tom going to think-”
Rachel stood up then, towering over Jake even at thirteen years old, and planted her hands on his shoulders. She smiled, and the word ugly was thrown into definition in brilliant grass green across her cheek.
“Jake. Breathe. Your parents love you. Your brother loves you. If he says anything I’ll kick his ass. “
Cassie- sweet, kind Cassie who he would love as an in-law, scribbled a note on a wolverine’s chart and then said to Rachel,
“I have a big backyard, if anything gets out of hand.”
Jake was so taken aback he laughed for three minutes straight, wiping tears out of his eyes, and then Cassie invited him in for family dinner.
He wanted to think it was a dream. He wanted to forget the screams of the andalite. He almost, almost convinced himself.
But Tobias ended that. Sweet, smart Tobias, who turned out to have a moral code stronger than all of them.
Jake wasn’t sure whether to be grateful or angry at him when he gave his passionate speech about the right thing to do, when he morphed into Dude.
Then he encouraged Jake to try morphing for the first time, and Jake ended up choosing Homer.
The dog’s mind was hard to control. Even harder was the morph back.
Tobias promised he would turn away, but then he spaced out as he did ocassionally, and before he realized it was time to turn around… he caught sight of jake.
More accurately, of Jake’s marks. Jake froze as Tobias took in the marks, left unrevealed for the first time since Jake was ten.
He couldn’t get the nerve to speak as he changed back into pants and scrambled for a shirt. And all the while Tobias stood still, looking at the words that he had known to be true about himself.
Unwanted. Freak. Coward. Loser. Slurs his mind shied away from. And then, on Jake’s forearm, in bright red: boy toy.
Tobias remembered those words, remembered the pang that had gone through him- tried to ignore the crush he had worked so hard to squash.
He had a soulmate. Tobias Fangor had a soulmate.
“I- you-” Words were failing him. “ You?”
Jake hadn’t wanted Tobias to find out like this, but he nodded slightly, smiling both sweetly and a little bit awkwardly.
“Me.” He said.