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On your eighteenth birthday, words appear on your skin. Specifically, the first words that your soulmate will say to you. No-one has yet figured out how or why this happens, but it does, and people have learned to live with it. For many people, their words are Hello or Are you okay or Hi there or some variant thereon, something that is said by many people many times a day, not anything particularly unremarkable.

*

When Kieren Walker turned eighteen, the words This yours appeared in flowing script along his collarbone, with a curlicue of a question mark. He was privately grateful that the words were somewhere that he could easily hide.

“Hey,” he’d said when he met Rick at the den. “My words appeared.”

Rick smiled. “Yeah?” Rick turned eighteen five months previously, and now has Yeah, thanks in scratchy letters across the inside of his left wrist.

Kieren pulled down the neck of his t-shirt, so that Rick could read them.

This yours? and Yeah, thanks

It felt like an exchange, one that they’d had many times.  Kieren looked up at Rick and smiled nervously.

Rick said, “I… what about my dad?”

“We’ll think of something. You could come with me when I go to college. We could get a flat together or something.”

Rick smiled, thinking that he’d like that, and was briefly surprised when Kieren leant closer and kissed him. He lingered for just a moment, before he pulled away, and hurried off muttering some excuse.

*

Rick left for the Army.

Rick was caught by an exploding IED in Afghanistan.

Kieren thought about the words Yeah, thanks scrawled on the inside of a wrist, and wonders what it means if your soulmate died.

*

When Simon Monroe woke up on his eighteenth birthday, the first thing he did was to check for words that might have appeared on his skin. He eventually caught a glimpse of something written on his back, across his shoulder blades, and swore because he knew he wouldn’t be able to read that by himself.

He dressed hurriedly and went to his mother’s bedroom, knocking on the door to see if she was awake. She was, and soon he was kneeling on the floor next to her bed, with his t-shirt in his hands, while she read.

“I’m not sure you want me to read this to you, dear,” she said.

“What? Mum, just tell me what it says.”

“Well… it says… excuse me, you’re sitting on my grave. I’m sorry, darling.”

Simon put his t-shirt back on, and sat down, turning to face her. “What the hell does it mean?”

“I.. I don’t know,” his mother said, “…she’s polite, though, whoever she is.”

*

Excuse me, you’re sitting on my grave

Those words haunted Simon. They didn’t seem to make sense, how could his soulmate have a grave? Were they a ghost? Were ghosts real, did they spend their time hanging around cemeteries, and could they be the soulmate of a living person?  He started hanging around cemeteries after dark, which usually involved breaking into said cemeteries, but he never saw any ghosts.

The words became less of a focus the more he used drugs, and there was that one blessed week in America when he didn’t think about them at all.

Then he died.

*

He didn’t remember much from before the centre and the neurotriptylin.

When he started to remember who he’d been, he remembered the words, and wondered if maybe, just maybe, those strange words had something to do with the Rising, something to do with his new state. He thought about it a lot in the centre, wondered if there was someone else like him out there, someone who would say those words to him.

*

He goes to Roarton, because that’s where the first risings were, because the prophet told him to go there. He goes there with a sweet girl named Amy, and Amy is the one who brings him to the cemetery one day.

She shows him one particular grave, explains its significance, and asks him to wait there before she walks away. When she’s gone, he perches on the marble headstone, lost in his own thoughts.

Then he hears it.

A voice, behind him, saying, “Excuse me, you’re sitting on my grave.”

Before he turns around, he hesitates, unsure of whether he heard that correctly. But then, he turns around and almost automatically says to the stranger, “This yours? I couldn’t tell, with all that stuff on your face.”

He looks at the stranger, this Kieren Walker that Amy won’t shut up about, looks at his sandy hair, the brown contacts in his eyes, the skin that doesn’t look quite natural because it’s plastered in so much cover-up, and he allows himself the tiniest of smiles.