Thanks to Lexie for the beta-checking and Emcee for all-around support. I wrote this story because I wanted to play with the soulmates/soul mark trope.
TW for drug use and death mentions
By age seven, Sherlock Holmes knew two things with absolute certainty: that somewhere out there in the world he had a soulmate, and that he wanted absolutely nothing to do with them.
He huddled behind the ornate sofa with a pile of rocks in his parents' parlor, watching them fight. They'd started before he got home from school, and they'd continued on into the evening. They always fought, they always made up, and the only thing that was different this time was that it was his fault. He picked at the scab on his knobby knee and wished he had a magnifying glass handy to take a closer look at it.
"It was just a bit of fun, Libby. She doesn't matter. You're my soulmate, I'm not leaving you, I swear it!"
Sherlock pulled up his sleeve to study the dark lettering of a girl's name on his forearm, the mark he had been born with. He frowned at the name, and yanked his sleeve down. Growing tired of his parents' theatrics, Sherlock stacked the rocks into another tower, calculating the angle to maximize the height of the construction.
"It's not fair, I can't even look at another man or it makes me ill. How can you do this to me, Sid? How?"
"Two months with the Tokyo office, love, it was lonely. Just a bit of company. You never would have known…"
Sherlock felt eyes on him and he tensed. He smacked the pile of stones aside hard enough to slice his palm and sent the rocks scattering across the hardwood floor, scratching the polished surface. He looked up and found his father, with a face so like his own, peering down at him over the sofa back.
"One day you'll find your Margaret, and you'll understand, Sherlock. Bodies are merely transport; there is far too much fuss about it. The bond is more than flesh. You'd do well to remember that and not interfere with people's relationships."
His father's cold face pulled back and Sherlock heard him storm down the hallway and out the back door, into the night. Sherlock sucked at the cut on his hand and sulked. His mother rushed over and pressed a napkin again the blood. Sherlock winced and glared out the window at the moon.
"If he didn't want anyone to know, he should have gotten rid of his coat and shoes. Or he shouldn't have taught us how to see like him." His jaw jutted stubbornly and he did his best not to notice the tears flowing down his mother's face.
When she was seven years old, Molly Hooper taught herself how to read the stars. She fell in love with constellations during an accelerated sciences course for selected classmates, and it took hold in her dreams. Each student received a planisphere, and at night before bed, she would spin the wheel, match the dates, and find her place in the night sky.
The letters of her soulmate's name sprawled across her right arm like a collection of stars, refusing to obey the tidy order of things. Molly's mum sighed and laughed over the marking.
"Why so overwhelming? Such a strong mark…It's not a short name, but not that long either. My name has more letters and your mark is only two inches wide," she commented to Molly's dad.
He turned the page on his Stephen King novel, and shrugged. "When I was a boy, I think half my arm was covered by 'Margaret.' She'll grow bigger; it'll look smaller. And maybe he's got a great bloody big Margaret on his arm too." He smirked into his coffee and winked at her mum.
Molly wrinkled her nose. "I'm Molly."
Her mum pretended to be offended. "Ohhh, something wrong with our name?"
She hugged her mum, and shook her head. "No! It's just…not me." Summoning her courage, she asked, "Do you think he'll be strong like his mark?"
Hiding a smile, her mother squeezed her shoulders and kissed Molly's forehead. "Sweetie, with a ghastly name like Sherlock, he's bound to be stronger than most."
In the rare moments when his father was home and relaxed, and his mother not wrapped up in her clubs, he would eavesdrop on their secret whispers, the memories of past lives that all bondmates shared.
His mother's fond remembrance of their wedding in Rome, before it burned. Them both recalling their exploration of the forests along the Allegheny River as a fur trapping couple, not long before the Seven Years War. His father's story of watching her give a fiery speech at a union hall, in turn-of-the-century New York City.
Separately, their memories of past lives were sparse, but together, they formed a cohesive narrative of finding each other in the world, and going forth stronger as one unit. When his parents reunited peaceably, Sherlock understood in those fleeting moments that there was a rhythm and purpose to the bonding, far beyond bodies.
But those times were so ephemeral, the glimpses into their shared past so far removed from Sherlock's life. He witnessed the pain of his father's sexual indiscretions year after year, and the distracting intensity of his parents' union.
His father would become agitated during his long business trips and seek comfort in other women's arms when he was overseas too long.
His mother would become nauseated and have migraines when her bondmate was away on business for weeks on end.
"Bring me another pill, sweetie, and a glass of water," she'd plead to Sherlock. He knew how to read all the bottles correctly in the medicine cabinet long before he understand that other people's mothers didn't do the same thing.
By the time he was sixteen years old, Sherlock knew with crystal-clear certainty that there was no place in his life for the madness of love.
Many people never found their bondmate at all, he reasoned to himself, so it was proven that meeting their supposedly destined match wouldn't ruin his life. He would be alone always, but he was used to that.
One bonded pair discovered each other in a home for the elderly, and spent only five years together before the husband passed away. Some people fell in love young and denied the bondmatch when their paths finally did cross later in life. It was frowned on and eyebrow-raising, but legally every citizen was still free to choose. In theory, you could live life after life without finding your match.
The soulmark was just a print in the flesh, a birthmark that caused heartache and false hope. The metaphysical nature of it disgusted and baffled Sherlock.
He sneered at his classmates falling in love around him, groping each other and squealing in happiness until their fickle teenage attentions wandered off.
Margaret will go on without me, he insisted inwardly. She'll find some boring lug and make happy babies and she won't have to live in the past. Or be connected to this damned family.
It was the best thing he could offer her really, when one considered it.
Even so, there was a twinge in Sherlock's chest when he envisioned his Margaret giving her heart to someone else. He was in the habit of tracing the letters of her name on his arm whenever he was deep in thought. When he laid in bed at night, frustrated by a puzzle and restless, the ritual soothed him. In some ways, she had been the only safe constant in his life since he first learned to read the neat letters on his arm.
The night before he moved out of his parents' home, he was plagued by fleeting visions of working steadily in a lab with a woman by his side. She was about forty years old, and her dark dress was covered by a dusty apron. She burned brightly with discovery, even in the haze of a dream. Her notebooks glowed in her hands with an eerie green light. She was warm and intelligent and her no-nonsense expression softened whenever her blue eyes turned to him across the desk.
She smiled at him, and then he felt time blur and slide away, her now-sorrowful face disintegrating. He felt a great crushing blow to his skull, as though something heavy and terrible had come down and cracked his head open. His mind shattered, and the darkness swallowed him whole.
Sherlock sat up in his bed, shaking with cold sweat.
So that's what it's like to die.
He swallowed and willed away the queasiness that rolled through him.
He jumped out of bed and dug his cigarettes out of his trouser pocket. Fingers shaking, he managed to light the cigarette and inhale. He sucked down the smoke, coughing like an amateur. He steeled himself using the meditation techniques he was reading about, but his fingers shook with every drag.
The woman who had stood and gazed on him with love was his wife, his partner, his soulmate; and the crushing blow had killed him. A horse-drawn carriage, he'd wager, based on the foul scent of the street and the width of the wheel he felt cracking his skull in the memory.
He'd dreamed of one of his past lives. He knew it with a certainty that tore through the shields he'd been building since he was seven years old. And if the past life visions existed, then so did Margaret.
She was real, and he was doomed to fail her, by being himself. Dying wasn't so bad, but disappointing the girl who was destined to love him made him feel like vomiting.
He paced for an hour in the dead of night, glaring at the moon for shining when he wanted to brood in the dark. Patterns in the stars leapt out at him but the names escaped him. Astronomy wasn't very useful, and fanciful names had no function at all. He sat at his desk, furiously deleting the dreams from his brain until dawn.
But he failed. The unconscious couldn't be picked away at, he'd found. It wasn't data; it was him.
Well into his first term at uni, dreams of the French woman and their nineteeth-century laboratory recurred until he met a clever fellow named Ralph at the pub.
Ralph was brilliant with chemistry, detested all romantic connections and had discovered the previous year that cocaine did a fantastic job of short-circuiting the unwanted visions.
Sherlock bought his first vial, and never looked back.
The mark on Molly's inner arm darkened as she grew older, and by the time she was sixteen, was inky black.
"I've never seen one so dark," her mother gossiped with her friends. "He must be close, in London even. A good match. Why else would it be that way?"
Molly shrugged off her mother's superstitions. Her mum was a romantic; her husband and bondmate had grown up down the street from her, and was the only male she'd had eyes for since she was twelve years old.
"They're still talking about setting up a national registry of names, so they'll be easier to find, but the opposition has blocked the proposal in the House of Commons," their neighbor remarked. "Complaints about privacy. Too bad, there can't be many people with a name like the one on her arm."
Her mum nodded vigorously. "Darn right. Molly's got me hooked up on the web now. I searched the name on the computer when she was at school, but nothing came up. Suppose it was too much to hope he'd have a website of his own if he's her age."
Hearing the conversation in the kitchen while hiding out in her room, Molly giggled. She flipped through the uni pamphlets scattered over her plaid quilt and hummed. It was a year before she could apply, but she'd been fantasizing about being a doctor lately and wanted to know what prerequisites the best schools looked for.
"It's too soon to worry about never meeting my bondmate…or about meeting them tomorrow." Molly said aloud to reassure herself. Her stomach clenched at the thought. The never knowing was the worst part.
It's not that she wasn't desperate to see the face of the boy whose threads of fate intertwined with hers. She wanted to believe and to understand the peeks into the past that bled into her sleeping dreams. But she wanted to meet him at the proper time, like in the novels she borrowed from her friends and read under false covers. She wanted to finish schooling, have lots of adventures, and then meet the man who would share her memories, past and future.
I just need a little more time, she thought, peering out the window at the night sky. The familiar arrangement of the stars soothed her. She turned up the volume on her radio to drown out her mother's voice in the other room. A few more years. That's all I need. Give me time, and it will be perfect when our paths finally do cross.
She was twenty-six and Molly Hooper was starting to think that maybe she had wished too emphatically for enough time. She had studied archeology at uni and gone on a dig, taught English in Thailand for a year, visited the Taj Mahal with her parents, and was on track to finish her medical studies a year early.
She was almost ready, and her Sherlock was nowhere to be found.
And then one day he was.
It was the day he died.