When Mike had blustered into the room trailed by Doctor John Watson, there was no way for him to know that this was the day his life as he had known it would end. Mike had only stayed a moment, his Mate was waiting outside and, just like all those so afflicted, he couldn't bear to be away from her for long.
Sherlock counted himself lucky, so long as he remembered to think rationally, that he had not yet found his so-called "Soul Mate." The one person in the world who you were destined to meet and with just one touch of skin-on-skin contact and that was it, you were together for the rest of your life. Emotions and thoughts were shared, physical touch was craved and it was absolutely disgusting. So long as Sherlock remembered to think logically and rationally.
Most people met their Mate between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, and as young as seven and old as twenty-three on the far ends of the spectrum. At thirty-three, Sherlock was a freak to many, considered unloveable and unfeeling and thus incompatible. His brother had been some comfort until the Incident with the detective inspector.
Sherlock wasn't sure he'd ever forgive Mycroft for abandoning him like that. Surely family was better than any psychic bond? More important, certainly.
It was because he'd by in large given up on ever finding said Soul Mate, that Sherlock had stopped engaging in the pointless social gesture of the Clasp. As children, everyone was taught that you must gently grasp a new acquaintance's non-dominant wrist to ascertain as to whether or not they were your Mate. Sherlock had dutifully followed social convention until the ripe old age of twenty-five, a full two years older than even the latest of bloomers, before declaring it not worth his time. At thirty-three, he didn't actually know anyone else who was Unbound and actually went out of his way to avoid contact with other humans.
So it was more than a bit of a shock when John Watson held out his right hand in obvious expectation. Sherlock had been so surprised that he'd simply blurted out the first thing that came to mind that would allow him to avoid actually touching the other man.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?”
He managed to deflect another attempt at touching in the cab by making simple deductions from the information provided by the phone John carried, and then a further two attempts were thought about but never actually enacted as the doctor decided a murder scene wasn't really the place. Running off to find the suitcase was important for the case, really, and it was hardly his fault that his new flatmate had a psychosomatic limp.
He wasn't running away.
Angelo thought the wrong thing, of course. Sherlock hadn't ever brought any one else to eat with him so he wasn't surprised that other (normal, boring) people would assume. John had looked surprised and uncomfortable, before becoming determined.
It was only the arrival of the cab across the street that saved him this time.
John Watson was a very patient man. He hadn't always been. As a younger man, he'd loved nothing more than rushing head long into confrontation. His decision to join the army had been impulsive at best. He'd been Unbound but still young enough not to care and who knew, maybe the other half of his soul was born in some exotic land of sand and ruins as old as civilization. He'd boarded the plane in his crisp new uniform, pack in hand and a hopeful smile on his face.
Afghanistan had changed him.
It wasn't all that often the army got a hold of an Unbound, especially one with medical training. John's commanding officer acted like all his Christmases had come at once when he'd explained why he'd shown up alone. Doctors were needed in every aspect of the war, but an Unbound doctor could be sent straight to the front lines. Could be sent along with the recovery teams.
And because Pairs would protect each other first, always, John had been forced to learn patience. Working alone had matured him and living in such close quarters with so many couples who were completely absorbed in each other while leaving him alone had ratcheted up his tolerance to both peculiar habits and dealing with unpleasant people. Afghanistan had been, by in large, a lonely time.
The longer he'd stayed in that hellish place, the more he changed his mind. He'd gone to war hoping to find his Mate in the desert but now he was starting to hope that the reason he was still Unbound was because he'd left her, or him to be fair, back in England. He was a different person now than he was before the war, and he was glad that his Mate, who ever that might be, didn't have to suffer in the same way. Maybe this way he'd actually feel worthy of them when they finally arrived in his life.
If he was right though, he wasn't sure he ever would.
No one was worthy of Sherlock Holmes.
At first, he hadn't been sure. Sherlock was eccentric enough that it seemed entirely logical that he would ignore the Clasp. After repeated failures to initiate any form of skin contact, John became suspicious and began to try and use his flat mate's methods against him.
First, gather data.
Sherlock was Unbound. Sherlock loved his work and went along with the theory proposed by Sally Donovan that he was a sociopath. John hadn't studied mental disorders too intensively during medical school, but he'd had to do a psych rotation just like everyone else and he wasn't buying that theory either. Even sociopaths could bond after all, though it tended to be highly unstable and more often than not rendered both partners incapable of dealing with every day life.
He spent hours mentally organizing and reorganizing facts. He couldn't risk writing it down, wouldn't even think about it when Sherlock was any where near the flat for fear of being found out. For some reason, just outside his grasp, Sherlock didn't seem to want to find out if John was his Mate. Which was just insane, so many doors would be opened to both of them. Sherlock would be able to move more freely among the police force with a Mate there to prove that he was, in fact human and at least mostly sane, and John would be better able to find a job. Afghanistan may want Unbound doctors, but England certainly did not. And it was while thinking about the disgusted and somewhat frightened sneers on the faces of hospital administrators that it came to him.
Sherlock was afraid.
“You are being irrational, little brother.”
Sherlock felt his shoulders rise up around his ears, defensive, but managed not to look away from his microscope. There was no need really, he knew what he'd see. Mycroft, that fat overly-smug pompous git of an older brother of his, absolutely glowing with contentment, every muscle relaxed except for those in his right hand which would be clinging firmly to that of Detective Inspector Lestrade. A man whom Sherlock had respected deeply, in his own way, right up until he'd Clasped hands with Mycroft and become just another besotted idiot.
“You really are, Holmes. Just Clasp the poor man's hand and put him out of his misery. I don't think I've ever seen someone try so hard to get you to touch them.”
Sherlock ground his back teeth and took deep breaths through his nose, trying to remember all the things Mummy said he must do to try and calm down before he was allowed to hit someone for taunting him. Again. Lestrade was just trying to help. It wasn't his fault that as part of a Pair with Mycroft, who was nothing if not careful with words, he often ended up putting his foot in it.
“Yes, well,” Mycroft was embarrassed, another new development since his hideous entanglement, “I'm sure the sentiment that Geoff meant to convey was that we'd be delighted for you if John turns out to be the one, and if not, isn't it better not to leave him guessing?”
This was rational and logical. And Sherlock was never going to touch John. Ever.
“And if you don't, I'll tell Mummy. And not just about this, but about what really happened that Christmas when you were twelve.”
He'd do it when he got home. First though, he'd go poison all of the chocolates at Mycroft's place. For science.
John was still reeling from his revelation, stone cold tea forgotten in his hands as he stared into the sockets of the skull with an equally blank expression. Sherlock Holmes, the world's only consulting detective, who didn't bat an eyelash at murder, was afraid. And not only that, but afraid of a natural and wonderful part of life that most normal---
Ah, John chuckled to himself, of course. Of course Sherlock would be afraid of this, when most normal people ran towards it with wide open arms. And if Sherlock was his Mate, it certainly made sense to him now why they'd not met before Afghanistan. Pre-war John wouldn't have been a match for Sherlock in any way. He wasn't as fit, his mind not as sharp, and he certainly didn't have as much experience with death as he did now. No, it was definitely better that they met after the war.
But how to get Sherlock to touch him so they could see.
When Sherlock eased open the door of 221B, he huffed out a sigh of relief to find John slumped in his arm chair, deeply asleep. Edging the door open, he crept inside and hovered uncertainly for a moment. Surely this was rude to do while the other person was sleeping? Especially if Mycroft was correct in his assumption that he and John were Mates.
Reaching out, Sherlock paused momentarily before pulling back and delivering a sharp kick to John's left shin.
The other man came awake with a shout. His eyes darted from place to place, checking the exits and seeking out attackers. Sherlock waited patiently for the situation to dawn on John, that this was the flat and not war, and that it was Sherlock and not a rogue member of the Taliban hovering over him.
“Christ, Sherlock, what? Did you have to kick me? Couldn't you just--”
Sherlock's bare hand was trembling as he held it out , bridging the space between John and himself. He tried to take deep breaths but really, it had been so long since he let any one even try. So long to give up.
This was admitting to hope.
He was terrified. Absolutely terrified and John was looking up at him like he was something wonderful, a butterfly emerging from a chrysalis with jewel tone wings flaring in the light of an early summer morning. John's hand rose to meet his and paused, a hair's breadth away from touching, John looking deep into his eyes, checking that he was ready, promising that this wouldn't change things between them unless it changed everything.
And then they touched.
Sally Donovan had always known that Sherlock Holmes was a freak. He wasn't part of a Pair and didn't seem to want to be and that, that was just wrong. So when she arrived at the scene of a rather suspicious murder-suicide to find him already there, she couldn't help but assume it was because he'd had a part in the act. DI Lestrade being there as well didn't count. He was Paired with the freak's brother, who knew what was wrong with his mind.
It wasn't until she saw John Watson, who she rather pitied for not only being Unbound but also being such a pathetic soldier that he was invalided home for a limp that lasted all of a day, that she realized what had happened.
Sure, the two men had moved around each other with fluid grace before, but now it was obvious that they were anticipating each other's moves, reacting to each other's thoughts. John would occasionally nod or shake his head in exasperation, but no one was talking. The forensics team was moving about with their typical quite efficiency but the freak obviously had an audience now that could never escape, so why would he bother dumbing down his oh-so-brilliant thought processes with the mundane act of offering further evidence to the police.
She opened her mouth, ready to let fly with her analysis of the situation (after all she could stand to be separated from her Mate and could teach John how to do it if he wanted, just like she'd taught Anderson to escape the little mousy bitch he was tied to), when John Watson locked his gaze with hers.
It was only when he looked away again, attention pulled the quiet noise of discovery that had escaped Sherlock's lips, that she could breathe. She suddenly realized that she's only assumed that he'd been sent home because of the leg, no one had ever said what the real reason was. That wasn't what made her shiver though.
John Watson's eyes were grey.
Not just any grey either, but the exact same storm-washed grey that Sherlock's were. And everyone had heard the stories. Had boasted to their friends that their Mate and they would be so powerfully Bound that their eyes would Shift. She'd never actually seen it happen before, never had a work colleague or friend who'd had eyes change from warm, laughing brown, or crisp green, to the colour of steel and sea. She couldn't remember if Watson's eyes had been brown or just a very dark blue before but there was no question now.
John Watson's eyes were the same storm grey as Sherlock Holmes's.