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Title: Unmarked
Recipient: yeomanrand and shinychimera
Author: [readacted]
Verse: BBC
Characters/Pairings: Sherlock/John/Mary
Rating: Teen
Warnings: None
Summary: A Johnlockary soulmate AU with reichenfeels and rampant fix-it tendencies.
Word Count: 2800
Notes: Dear Requesters, I kicked around a few ideas and ended up just going with your direct prompt. I hope I did it justice! I’ve never done Johnlockary or soulmates before, so it was a fun excuse to stretch my boundaries a bit.



Demographic studies have shown that the most common soulmate mark in the world consists of the words “Sorry, what did you just say?” Sixty-five percent of people with this mark report that they have experienced at least one false alarm—that is, at least one instance where they met someone whose first words to them were “Sorry, what did you just say?”, but that person was not their destined beloved.

Studies have also revealed that about one person in ten thousand has more than one soulmate mark, and one person in one hundred thousand has more than two.

About one person in one million is born with no soulmate mark at all. The reasons for this are not clear.

***

At a nice little spot in the Marylebone Road, John Watson’s proposal of marriage to Mary Morstan is interrupted by the appearance of a man whom John believed to be dead.

A man whom the whole word believed to be dead.

A man whose first words to John were “Oh. Thank you.” John remembers this, because those words matched the minute, pale brown inscription on the inside of his right elbow, the mark he’d noticed only because he was playing with a magnifying glass at the age of six, the mark he thinks of as his other, his secondary, mark.

He thought for a long time that Sherlock was a false alarm. After all, the phrase “Oh, thank you” is uttered millions of times every day, and Sherlock never gave any indication that John’s first words (“Here, use mine.”) rang any bells for him. Some months into their friendship, John managed to casually ask Sherlock what his soulmate mark did say, and Sherlock replied with asperity that he did not have one. That settled the question in John’s mind, until the day that Sherlock died, and John felt—he knew, with terrible certainty—that some vital part of himself had been ripped away. He was struck down by a more than ordinary grief, by a regret so caustic that it ate through to his core, and would have destroyed him utterly if he had not met her.

“Doctor John Watson? Your next patient is ready,” she said.

Unconsciously, his eyes flicked to his left arm. “Sorry,” he replied, “what did you just say?”

She blinked, shot him a questioning look. He stared at her a moment; then, slowly, and for the first time in what felt like an age, he smiled.

They grew close quickly. Of course it was always still possible that it was a false alarm, but as the months passed, it became clear that it was not, that he and Mary really were destined to be together. She told him things about her past, things you could only tell a soulmate, about the secret things she’d done, the life she’d left behind, and he accepted them, and even admired her for them. And because it was safe—because Sherlock was dead—he told her about his other mark, how he had loved Sherlock but hadn’t known he was the One (or one of the Ones), until it was too late.

“Maybe that’s why you got me,” Mary said. “Maybe whoever is in charge of all this knew that your first love was destined to die young, and so you got me, to patch you up.”

“But it’s not just about patching me up,” John objected, grimacing. “I love you.”

“I know,” Mary said, with a little smile. “But both things could be true.”

John never likes to talk of the whoever, the whatever, that makes the soulmarks happen. You can’t help but end up mired in baseless guessing about something that is, in the end, unknowable. Yet, still, he can’t shake the feeling that perhaps the universe gave him Mary as, after all, some kind of compensation for the blow he was dealt. He knows it is contemptible to think so, but it is comforting, as well.

Then Sherlock reappears.

Angry? Yes, he’s angry. Happy? Yes, that too—but you can’t just let a thing like that go unanswered, you can’t pretend you aren’t angry just because you’re also happy, so John shouts and shoves. He stops just short of letting his fists do the talking; instead he sticks his angry finger right up in Sherlock’s face and growls out the angry half of all the things he wants to say. Sherlock flinches and looks honestly surprised, the poor idiot, but John resolves to have no sympathy and storms off to hail a cab without a backward glance.

Mary is quiet on the way home, a silence which allows John’s anger to simmer down into an uncomfortable stew of guilt, confusion, and hope.

***

“I have to show you something,” Mary says, later that night, as she and John are getting into bed.

She lifts the side of the long t-shirt she sleeps in to reveal a small brown patch on the outside of her left thigh, a slightly oblong smudge that anyone might mistake for a freckle.

“You’re joking,” John says.

“No,” Mary says. “Get a light. You’ll see it.”

So John picks up his phone from the bedside and turns on the LED flashlight mode, the one that drains the battery in about fifteen seconds if you don’t turn it off. He shines the light on the innocuous little patch, and sure enough, among the pores and follicles and soft variations of her skin he can just make out the words “Oh yes.”

“Is that…oh my God, that is what he said.”

“Yeah,” she says, laughing a little, nervous.

“But Mary, seriously, he has no marks.” John sits up and puts the phone down. He turns off the bedside lamp and cuddles up to his soulmate in the dark.

“Are you sure? Maybe he just missed them somehow. They’re not always obvious, after all.” But John is already shaking his head.

“No, no way. Sherlock is the consummate observer. I’m sure he’s had every freckle under a microscope.”

“Could he have lied to you for some reason?”

John exhales hard. “It’s possible,” he says. “But why would someone lie about that? Even Sherlock must want…”

“Yes,” Mary says. “But it can’t be just a coincidence, can it? You and me, and you and him, and him and me. There isn’t any such thing as a…I don’t know…a non-reciprocal one, is there?”

“Who knows?” John says, lying back on the pillows, even more confused now. “But even if. I mean. Would you want to do anything about it?”

“Well, of course!” Mary says. “You can’t let a thing like that just slip away.”

John is quiet. He did let it slip away, once, didn’t he?

“You’d be all right with it?” he asks. “Because I could…you know. You’d be enough for me.”

“Aww, sweet of you to say,” Mary says, and John has the unnerving certainty that she doesn’t believe him at all. “But he’s my soulmate as well as yours, apparently. This isn’t some noble sacrifice on my part. I’m interested! I liked him. And he’s not half bad looking, is he?”

“Yeah,” John says, uncertain.

“So, tomorrow,” Mary says, turning over and fluffing her pillow. “We’ll figure something out.”

“I suppose,” John says. They are quiet, after that, but John’s mind keeps spinning late into the night.

***

The next morning, for reasons he hardly wants to admit, John shaves his face clean. The sight of his bare upper lip is almost unnerving, it’s been so long. Mary kisses him approvingly, and then he goes, alone, to see Sherlock.

After enduring Mrs. Hudson’s effusive greetings, he shows himself up the stairs to the flat. Sherlock’s flat. Their flat, if the world were fair, but it isn’t. He taps on the front door, and Sherlock opens it immediately; clearly he’s been standing there listening since John came in.

“Why are you here?” Sherlock says.

“Well,” John says. “Can I come in?”

Sherlock opens the door wide and steps back to let John inside. John sits down on the sofa. Sherlock remains standing so that he can pace.

“I never thought you’d come here on your own,” Sherlock says. “You’re angry with me.”

“Yes,” John says.

“Usually when you’re angry with someone, you avoid them. Why aren’t you avoiding me?”

John’s jaw tightens. “I can leave again if that’s what you want.”

Sherlock stops pacing and fixes John with a look. “You know it isn’t. Why are you here? What am I missing?”

Slowly, deliberately, John, unbuttons the cuff of his right shirt sleeve and pushes it above his elbow. He holds his arm out for Sherlock to see.

“What am I looking at?” Sherlock asks.

“This, here, this brown spot.”

Sherlock comes close to peer at the little thing.

“What is it?” he asks.

“It’s another soulmark,” John says. “I know it doesn’t look like much. It says ‘Oh. Thank you.’”

Sherlock’s brow wrinkles. He sits down beside John and takes hold of his arm to turn it into the light. His fingers are cool and firm.

“That’s what you said to me, that first time we met, when I let you borrow my phone.”

“I remember,” Sherlock muses. “But, John, you know I don’t have a mark.”

“I know,” John says. “I always thought it was just a coincidence. But then last night, Mary showed me that she has one, too. A second one. And you matched it.”

Sherlock blinks a few times, uncomprehending, then sits back heavily, letting go of John’s arm.

“I don’t know how it happened, or what it means,” John goes on. “But I…I believe it.”

It’s as close as he’s ever come to telling Sherlock how he feels. Sherlock says nothing, at first. He sits silently for so long that John nearly loses hope.

“All this time,” he says at last. He rubs a hand over his face.

“It nearly killed me when you jumped,” John says. “These past two years—until I found Mary—“

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock nearly whispers. “I never imagined it would truly hurt you.”

“Why did you do it?” John asks, a little of his anger bleeding through into his voice. “I mean, hell, Sherlock, I was your friend, even if we didn’t know about this. How could you not know that I would grieve?”

“You were meant for someone else,” Sherlock says, refusing to meet John’s eyes. “I thought you ought to be free of me.”

“Jesus Christ,” John says.

“I’m sorry,” Sherlock says again. “I couldn’t see any good answers. Feeling the way I felt, and knowing that you would never return it, that nobody would ever. I meant to tell you I was alive, but when the moment came, I thought it would be easier to just—to go away for a while.”

“And was it?” John asks.

“No. It was worse.”

Sherlock meets his eyes at last, and John feels that spark of recognition that is supposed to be the hallmark of your first meeting with your soulmate. But it’s not the first time John’s felt it with him. It’s been there all along. He lifts his right hand to tuck a stray curl behind Sherlock’s ear.

“So, Mary—“ Sherlock says, his voice unsteady.

“She’s on board,” John says. “She likes you already.”

With John’s fingertips on his cheek, Sherlock’s mouth twists into a happy, puzzled expression. They’ve never been this close before. John touches Sherlock’s mouth with his thumb, and his lips part in surprise. John kisses him.

When you kiss your soulmate in full knowledge for the first time, everything in you flares up bright. Your whole skin tingles, you feel alight with certainty and joy. John’s known it once before, of course, but Sherlock is surprised, so much that John can feel it. Sherlock trembles to life, all his abstract, cerebral beauty suddenly there, filling up his skin so that John can touch it. John pulls back from the kiss first, wanting to see how Sherlock looks, all breathless and amazed.

“She wants to meet you properly,” he says. “Today. Soon. All right? Lunch, maybe?”

“Yes,” Sherlock says, “but no lunch. Just tell her to come over here.” He darts forward to kiss John again, and John lets him, lets Sherlock’s enthusiasm bowl him over backward onto the couch, lets himself pull Sherlock closer, down, hard against him. They might need actual sustenance at some point, he thinks. But it’s not really important.

***

The British government certifies two types of marriages. The first, and the most commonly practiced by far, is soul-marriage, which legally binds soulmates together. The marriage certificate records the content of each partner’s soulmate mark, and requires them each to sign an affidavit stating that their partner’s first words to them matched their mark. The second, rarer kind of civil partnership is generally reserved for those who wish to marry someone other than their soulmate, usually because the soulmate has died or been irrevocably separated from them in some other way.

“You can always just lie on the paperwork,” John says. It’s a chilly winter afternoon, and the three of them are cuddled up naked in the big bed in 221 B. The topic of their future together has come up in the wash of self-satisfaction they’re feeling after taking down Charles Magnussen, the news magnate who was blackmailing Mary over her history with AGRA. Amazing what three soulmates can achieve when they work together.

“Why should I?” Sherlock asks. “I’m not ashamed. Anyway, as a triple marriage it will be under extra scrutiny. The lie would very likely be found out.”

“Well, we can’t do a triple civil marriage, can we? So what do you think we should do?”

Sherlock sniffs. “The two of you can get married, if you’re so keen on it. It’s not as though it’ll change anything.”

Across Sherlock’s tousled head between them, Mary and John exchange a glance.

“I’m not happy with that,” Mary says. “I mean, we all know it’s real. Why shouldn’t we get legal recognition?”

“You with your secret identity,” Sherlock says. “It would be pretty irregular all around.”

“Oh!” Mary says, ignoring the jibe. “That gives me an idea. I know exactly who can help us with this.”

***

Two weeks later, they receive notification that their application for a triple soul-marriage has been approved. A copy of their application is included, along with an attached letter on Mycroft’s official stationery.

Apart from the general rigmarole of salutations and signatures, it reads:

I clearly recall my younger brother being born with two large, legible marks. One, across his left palm, read “Here, use mine.” The other, on the inside of his right thigh, read “Oh no! You’re” (end punctuation missing). The family used to speculate about the missing elements (You’re what? Use my what?), so I am perfectly certain of the reliability of my recollection. Sherlock’s marks faded a few years later in response to trauma, a phenomenon elucidated in Hatcher’s 1994 study on soulmark anomalies. Hatcher theorized that the marks might return once the suppressed internal conflicts were resolved. That Sherlock Holmes has found his destined partners despite this unfortunate disability is, in my opinion, a cause for celebration. I hope my memory may serve where his has been disordered.

Needless to say, this stirs up some excitement in the Watson/Morstan/Holmes household.

“Trauma, what trauma?” John asks, skeptical.

“No idea,” Sherlock says. “He probably made it all up.”

“But did we ever tell him what our first words to each other actually were?” Mary asks.

“Even if we didn’t, he spies on me constantly. He must have overheard.”

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” John says.

“Anyway!” Mary says, “The point is, we can do it! Shall we get married, gentlemen?”

“I’m all for it,” John declares.

“Oh, all right, then,” Sherlock says, trying and failing to appear indifferent.

And so they do, on a perfect spring day, with all their friends and family in attendance, even Mycroft. Even Harry, to John’s somewhat anxious pleasure. Greg stands up as John’s best man, and Mary’s friend Jeanine, who helped with the Magnussen case, is her chief bridesmaid. Molly, as Sherlock’s attendant, gives herself the title of Best Maid. The whole event goes off perfectly, with everyone drinking and dancing late into the night. Ever after, when John looks at the two nested rings on his finger, he reflects on how lucky they are to have found each other. There’s more trouble coming, of course (there always is), but with the three of them facing it as one, he knows there’s nothing they can’t weather.
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