The first recorded case happened more than eighty years ago, though of course, it could have been happening for much longer before that without anyone knowing about it. At first it was dismissed as a hoax for the couple concerned to sell their ‘story’ to the papers. But then more cases started appearing, sparingly of course; there has only been around thirty confirmed cases since then.
Despite extensive research and public interest, there no accepted scientific explanation as to why your ‘soulmate’s’ initials appear on your wrist when you get close to meeting them. There no medical reason as to why a black ink-like substance could pool beneath the skin in the shape of initials, much less how they could be the initials of the person you’re ‘supposed’ to be with.
(Of course, the phenomenon lead to an upsurge of couples getting their own initial wrist tattoos either to pretend to themselves or to other people that they were soulmates too)
Theoretically, scientists on the news periodically explain when a suspected case arises, every human being has a soulmate out there somewhere . But, out of seven continents and seven billion people, the odds of ever meeting them are so astronomically low that most people go through their lives without ever meeting their soulmate. The chances are, most peoples’ soulmate does not speak the same language as them either—they could be a peasant farmer in China, or a worker in the depths of Russia and either one of you could die before ever even being on the same continent.
Which is why the soulmate phenomenon has garnered an almost mythic status in society and popular culture. Books written, songs sung, TV shows created: all out a pair of initials on someone’s wrist. Obviously soulmates did not preclude people falling in love ordinarily (a couple of interesting divorces arose from that) but soulmate love was something to be revered, treasured. The great majority of people didn’t even know someone who had found their soulmate.
Her best friend Mary Margaret had the initials ‘DN’ appear on her wrist when she was eighteen and travelling to Indiana for to attend college there. Soon thereafter, she met David Nolan whose wrist bore the initials ‘MMB’. They were predictably overwhelmed with media and scientific attention once word got out—being the most proximate soulmate case ever (most soulmates, if they met, met in different countries, on holiday or something).
Mary Margaret is still the talk of her and Emma’s small home town even today—when she and David came back for the first time after meeting so David could meet Mary Margaret’s parents, there were people lining the streets just to see them; the Storybrooke Soulmates, they were christened by the local newspaper. The town even put some money towards their wedding a few years later, as much as Mary Margaret tried to stop them.
Emma thinks she's better off without all the bother that comes with a soulmate. Soulmate love is supposed to feel different to just falling in love, but Emma's not convinced by that. She thinks it only feels different because there's so much mystique surrounding the whole thing that the couple convince themselves it feels different. It's something that she and Mary Margaret argue about sometimes but David was Mary Margaret's first love anyway as well as being her soulmate so she doesn't know what ordinary love feels like anyway.
But then, it not like it's ever going to happen to Emma anyway, so it's a moot point. Arguably, her odds have been lowered just by virtue of knowing someone who had found their soulmate.
As the saying went: lightning doesn't strike in the same place twice.
'If all passengers could return to their seats and fasten their seatbelts, we will be beginning our final descent into London Heathrow shortly'
Emma gathers the pack of cards into a neat bundle and closes the elastic band around them after a triumphant game of rummy with David and stows her tray table. Mary Margaret is sleeping against the window as she has for almost the entire flight—Emma's jealous that she can sleep on planes at all; she and David have wide awake. The three of them have been looking forward to this holiday since they started planning it a year ago, saving up most of their disposable income for spending money ever since.
“Mary Margaret,” David says, shaking her shoulder gently. “We've almost landed, sweetie.”
Emma's long since gotten used to the role of third wheel around Mary Margaret and David and feeling like she's intruding every moment she's with them and just looks away. The plane begins its final descent a little while after and Emma offers them both a boiled sweet to stop their ears popping, almost dropping the bag when she suddenly loses the feeling in her hand for a split second. Emma curses silently and stretches her hand out to stop the pins and needles—she doesn't usually get that reaction to air travel.
The strange feeling in her wrist and hand is still there when the plane hits the tarmac at Heathrow, and when she, David and Mary Margaret walk through the terminal building to the baggage collection conveyor belts. Emma asks Mary Margaret to look after her luggage for a minute while she goes to the bathroom. Emma wonders if the bootlace she wears on her wrist is too tight or something, but it doesn't feel too tight and that still provided no explanation as to why it came on so suddenly, unless her wrist swelled during the flight. Safely ensconced in a cubicle, Emma unwinds the bootlace on her wrist to give her wrist some freedom.
The bootlace drops to the floor when she sees it and Emma drops onto the toilet seat in shock.
The letters 'KJ' are now written there. Samescript as the ones on Mary Margaret's wrist.
Emma stares at her wrist in her lap, her breathing getting shallow; she even tries, stupidly, to scrub the letters off but like David's and Mary Margaret's they're stuck fast. Forever. She has a soulmate. Somewhere in London, her soulmate is walking around—and probably just found her own initials tattooed onto their wrist. She might be within days of meeting them.
It takes Emma a long time to calm down enough to come out of the bathroom, bootlace retied to cover the new addition to her body opposite the buttercup tattoo on her other wrist. Until she can work out precisely how she feels about this, she'd rather David and especially Mary Margaret didn't know. They're waiting for her outside the bathroom when she comes out, looking worried (even though they're the same age, David and Mary Margaret felt a little like the parents she never had). Emma grabs her suitcase from next to David and attempts a smile.
“You okay, Emma? You look a little pale,” David asks.
Emma nods a little too eagerly. “Fine. Just... tired from the flight. Let's get to the hotel.”
Emma sleeps in her hotel bed for the afternoon whilst David and Mary Margaret go out sightseeing. She doesn't really want to be around people right now, tired from the flight and the bombshell that followed. Plus the saccharine soulmate love that rolls off Mary Margaret and David is just adding insult to injury and she doesn't want to snap at them just for being around, they don't deserve to bear the brunt of her conflicted emotions. Once David and Mary Margaret are safely away, Emma undoes the bootlace to stare at the unknown person's initials, half hoping they'd disappeared in the time between their discovery and now but alas, they haven't.
Emma holds her wrist lightly in her other hand, stroking the lettering with her thumb. Emma leans back against the fluffy pillows and wonders who they are and where they are before she falls asleep The next thing she knows, Mary Margaret is tapping on her room door. Shaking out of her sleepy daze, Emma opens the door and lets her in.
“We're going out to dinner soon if you want to join—hey, can I borrow your deodorant? I think I forgot to pack one.”
Emma rolls her eyes and pull her suitcase up onto the bed. “All that list making before we came and you forgot deodorant?”
“I know, I know, I'm an idiot right—what's that on your wrist?”
Cursing herself for not tying the bootlace again before her nap, Emma puts her wrist behind her back but from the look on Mary Margaret's face it's already too late to explain away as anything other than what it was. Emma holds out her wrist and Mary Margaret takes it like it's made of thin glass. Her eyes are saucers when she looks up again and Emma sighs. This is exactly why she wanted to keep it to herself. She loves Mary Margaret like a sister but her relentless optimism was grating sometimes—Emma can see her own life panning out in Mary Margaret's eyes: meeting her 'destined one' in London and living happily ever after with him or her. No question whether Emma actually wanted that or not.
“When... when did this happen?” Mary Margaret asks quietly.
“Just before we landed.”
“So, they're here then? Somewhere in London.”
“So it would seem.” Emma lies back on the bed and stares up at the ceiling.
Mary Margaret is silent for a long minute. “You don't seem that happy about it.”
There's not much point in lying to her, she'll know anyway. “I don't think I am, Mary Margaret.”
Mary Margaret walks over and takes Emma's hands, pulling her upright so she has to look her in the eyes. “Emma, I know Neal hurt you”-Emma flinches at the name- “But you have to believe that this is a good thing. There is someone out there who is meant for you, whoever this KJ is, they're meant to be with you. You don't need to be afraid of love any more.”
Emma shakes her head, swallowing thickly. She doesn't want to cry, but it feels like she's going to. “It isn't just about that. I just- After Neal, I wanted to be with someone who chose me, not someone who's with me because they have it written on their wrist that it's 'meant to be'. I wanted it to be my decision.”
Rubbing at her own tattoo, Mary Margaret still looks confused. “Even if you didn't have your soulmate, you can't choose who you fall for.”
“What I mean is... my whole life I've had everything decided for me: my parents decided to give me up, every foster home was decided for me, Neal decided to leave me. None of that was anything to do with what I wanted. And now I'm being told that this KJ is the one I'm destined to be with, I never got to decide that—I just wanted some control over it for once. To be with someone who I chose and who chose me. I know you think that's stupid.”
Mary Margaret sits down next to her and wraps an arm around her shoulder. Emma leans her head on her shoulder. “It's not stupid. I get it, I do. But when you meet KJ, honestly Emma, it'll feel like you're choosing them even in spite of the tattoo. And they'll feel the same about you.”
It's hard not to want to believe the wondrous tone her voice takes on at least.
Mary Margaret chuckles suddenly. “The two of us having and finding our soulmates. What are the chances?”
A week goes by without Emma seeing hide nor hair of KJ. Despite the general consensus that the arrival of the tattoo meant that meeting the person to whom they belonged was imminent, there's a background worry that their two week holiday will pass without meeting them. Most cases didn't take this long—Mary Margaret met David two days after arriving in Indiana and getting her mark. Even though Emma's still got reservations about the whole thing, she knows not meeting them would be worse. Just another disappointment in her love life to deal with. She doesn't even know if the mark would stay or not in that situation and it'd be the first case of its kind.
London is amazing of course and helps to take her mind off the whole thing at least a little bit. It's a far cry from tiny Storybrooke, but Emma finds she rather likes the place; revelling in the size of it rather than feeling lost in it. And there's so much to do that even after a week of full days there's still more on their agenda to keep them busy. Emma keeps her bootlace tied on her wrist at all times, somehow self conscious of it. Even though anyone who saw it would first assume it was a knock-off of the real thing since the real thing was so rare, she still doesn't want anyone to see it; David doesn't even know yet since Mary Margaret and Emma agreed to keep it from him at least until they met KJ.
A week after in the evening, there's another knock on the door. “Emma, we're going to this English pub down the street if you want to come--Mary Margaret wants to do the pub quiz,” David calls to her.
“Of course she does.” Emma rolls her eyes. “Give me five minutes--I'll be right out.”
When they finally reach the pub, Emma's already having such a good time that the mark on her wrist is the furthest thing from her mind. David and Mary Margaret are like a comedy double act once they got to bickering affectionately with each other and Emma's reminded again why she loves their company. Once inside, it's so crowded that she soon loses them but she assumes they're buying drinks so she decides to take a look around anyway. Emma leans against a brick pillar near the bar, listening to the live music, and it's only after a couple of minutes that she realises how good it is and follows the sound down a passage to a less busy room. There's a small raised stage at one end and on it there's a man with a guitar singing to the room's rapt attention.
Emma sits at a table near the back of the room and watches him, simultaneously impressed and jealous of his obvious talent. Emma's half-decent on a piano but no other instruments seemed to stick with her, and her voice is no where near as good as his—he could turn professional. Near the end of the unfamiliar song, the man catches her eyes and smiles a little while Emma just looks away, strangely embarrassed even though everyone else is looking at him too. When the song ends, he announces to those watching that he'll be back in fifteen and steps off the stage.
“This seat taken?” he asks of a chair at her table. Emma shakes her head no and he sits.
“Your performance was really good,” Emma tells him honestly. “You have a real talent.”
He smiles a stunningly attractive smile, lighting up his handsome features. “Thank you. It's a hobby really, but it supplements the income too.” He looks at her. “That accent's not from around here. Where are you from?”
“A little town called Storybrooke, Maine. I'm on holiday with my friends till the end of the week, although I have no idea where they went,” Emma says with a laugh, looking around.
“I'm sure they'll turn up. I'm Killian Jones, by the way.”
For a second, the name doesn't even click in her head and she nods in acknowledgement. Then, it hits her and her stomach drops. Thankfully he's looking away when she realises so he doesn't see the floored look on her face, talking to one of the wait staff who hands him a water bottle—and Emma can't decide if it's lucky or unlucky that this action affords her a clear look at his wrist, adorned with the initials 'ES'. Emma feels herself start to sweat, her breathing getting slightly laboured. She has to fight urge to run from the pressure of the moment; she's sitting with her fucking soulmate.
Although he doesn't catch her initial reaction, he does turn back find her staring at his wrist. He almost looks disappointed she's seen it. “Is that a fake?” Emma asks, even she knows it's not.
Killian looks at her initials on his wrist, he looks like he's trying to decide whether to lie about it or not. With a sigh, he answers, “Nope. It appeared about a week ago-” Also known as: when Emma landed in London. More confirmation that she didn't need “-I've yet to meet them though, whoever they are.”
There's a brief pause. “You don't seem too thrilled about the prospect,” Emma observes cautiously.
He shakes his head. “No, I am. I mean, just the rarity of the whole thing makes it amazing and everyone keeps telling me how lucky I am but I don't know- the concept is just... it seems too easy, too prescribed. I've never thought of love that way.”
Emma stares at him, startled by his response. “That's exactly what I think about it.”
Killian cocks his head, looking at her with increasing interest. “What did you say your name was?” She doesn't miss his eyes falling to her covered wrist on the table but she resisted the urge to move it under the table, knowing that drawing his attention to it would confirm the forming suspicions in his eyes.
“I didn't,” Emma says. Then, though she isn't initially sure why, she tells him, “It's Mary Margaret Blanchard.”
“You don't look like a Mary Margaret, if you don't mind me saying,” Killian tells her. Not knowing what to say to that, Emma raises an eyebrow and he looks apologetic. “Sorry. I can't help but be curious about ES, you know? I've been looking at strangers on the street weirdly for the past week”
“Understandable,” Emma murmurs. After all, she's been doing the same for the same amount of time.
Silence falls between them and the outside world pours in like a door's been opened, Emma's barely been aware of it since she started talking to Killian. Is this what soulmate love is supposed to feel like? Is this what's so different about it?
“I should get back.” Killian gestures to the stage, and Emma feels a pang that he's leaving. She tries to tell herself that it's all in her head just because she knows they're destined or whatever, but even the thought sounds hollow to her. She just doesn't want him to go. Whether it's because Killian subconsciously feels the same way or not, after some mental indecision Killian takes a biro out of the back pocket of his jeans and writes a string of numbers on a beer mat. Ironically, he also marks it with 'KJ'. “Here. My number.”
She looks at him. “Killian, I'm- I'm leaving at the end of the-”
“I know,” he interrupts. “I just... feel like you should have it anyway. I don't know, just in case.”
“In case of what?”
He stands up and walks backward towards the stage, smirking. “I don't know, the apocalypse or something.”
And with that curious answer he resumes his place on the stage and starts playing again, a sweeter melody this time. Emma gets up with the beer mat and waves a quick goodbye to him, not staying to catch his reaction to her leaving. She finds her way to the bar again and sees Mary Margaret and David sitting together in a booth near the bar. She joins them, huffing out a long breath when she sits down.
“I'm in trouble.”
Back in the hotel room that night, Mary Margaret (and David too, when they fill him in) tells her a hundred times to ring him and explain. Emma tells herself she's going to ring him and explain.
Emma doesn't ring him and explain.
Not right away anyway, as she knows she should. Where would she even start? Already she's managed to fuck her relationship with the person she's destined to be with. Emma is more than familiar with her tendency towards self-sabotage but this is beyond ridiculous. The mark on her wrist almost burns (even though she's sure that's mostly psychological) and the beer mat burns a hole on the hotel bedside counter. She even gets up several times during the night, getting as far as typing his number into her phone before throwing her phone across the bed. In between, sleep evades her and she ends up getting up and dressed at the butt crack of dawn, slipping a hotel stationary note under David and Mary Margaret's door to tell them not to wait for her and she'll catch up with them later.
Huge map out and announcing her dumb tourist status to the world, she ends up in Covent Garden, wandering in and out of the little bespoke shops that have only just opened for business for the day when Emma gets there. Emma has the beer mat tucked in the pocket of her coat and tries to pluck up the courage to do something about it—though she gets stuck on just how she might explain to him that in fact she isn't the person she said she was and she's really the person whose initials are tattooed on his wrist and they're meant to be together. So lost is she in her own thoughts that she bashes straight into someone coming out of an artisan chocolate shop.
“Sorry!” she starts, looking up.
Straight into the forget-me-not eyes that have been plaguing her since last night. Emma, despite the mess she's created for herself where he's concerned, feels a thrill rush through her for being near him. Killian stares at her bemused for a few long seconds. “Well, this is a coincidence. Mary Margaret, right?”
Emma had almost forgotten about the name she'd given him. “Hi,” she says, slightly breathless.
“I haven't met the person I'm 'destined' to be with, and yet in all of London, I run into you for a second time,” Killian says thoughtfully, gesturing to his wrist. Emma swallows and plasters a smile, unable tell whether he's just observing or whether he's actually suspicious of her but he shakes his head free of his thoughts soon after, grinning. “It's a strange old world, isn't it?”
Emma just nods and smiles back, discreetly adjusting her coat sleeve so it covers her bootlace. “Hey, um,” Emma starts, feeling awkward. “I was just about to get coffee, if you aren't busy...”
Killian looks surprised to be asked. “No, I'm- not busy. Lead the way.”
Emma really isn't sure what she's doing.
Well, physically speaking she knows what she's doing; she's getting a tour of London from her soulmate (who still doesn't know he is) who had unilaterally decided that her tourist map simply wouldn’t do if she wanted to see the 'real' London and proceeded to take her on a whistle stop tour of his favourite places in the city. But other than that, she has no idea what she's doing. She keeps going to tell him, to show him her wrist but something she can't put her finger on stops her each time.
Plus, she's just having so much fun that she doesn't want to spoil it, not just yet anyway, even though she knows she's being selfish by keeping it from him. But it does afford her the opportunity to get to know him a bit better-- she finds out his parents were Irish immigrants who died within a few months of each other five years ago, that he has a brother ten years his senior called Liam (who is turning forty next week which is why he was being artisan chocolate this morning). While they talk, Emma begins to understand what Mary Margaret meant when she said it'd feel like she's choosing him anyway— He's kind, funny, honest. Killian is someone she could have fallen for even if she didn't have his initials branded on her wrist.
And in turn she tells him her sob story of being abandoned by the side of the free-way, bouncing from foster home to foster home until her late adolescence until moving in with a nice -and patient, which was required given what she was like as a teenager- family in Storybrooke. “I'm sorry,” he says of her biological parents leaving her whilst they walk along the river side. “I can't imagine what that must feel like.”
Emma stops and leans on the metal bar, looking out onto the Thames. He stands next to her and their shoulders brush. “It's fine. I mean—it's not, it is what it is but I'm fine now. I gave up being angry at them a long time ago.”
He shrugs, smiling softly. “You're a better person than I am, then. I think I'd stay angry forever in your shoes.”
“When I was younger, I thought I was going to be angry forever but you know, constant anger at something you'll never change gets really draining after a while and...”
When she turns her head, he's suddenly so much closer and she's not sure how it happened. “And...” he murmurs. His eyes flick to her lips.
“I decided to start living instead,” Emma tells him quietly, eyes locked on his.
She wonders in the back of her mind, if kissing him would feel different because he's her soulmate. But now's not the time to find out, not while he doesn't know who she is and not while she isn't ready to tell him. Emma puts space between them and he opens his eyes again, surprised and disappointed before he can hide it. There's an apology on her tongue but he beats her to the punch. “You're right,” he says, shrugging. “We barely know each other. You're leaving at the end of the week, and my soulmate is walking around out there somewhere. Wouldn't make sense to get involved now.”
He looks at her, an unreadable look in his eyes and it's almost like he's challenging her to tell him otherwise. But Emma remains silent, if she can't find it in her to tell him the truth yet she at least doesn't want to tell him any more outright lies. After a few long moments, he smiles wanly and pushes himself away from the bar.
“Come on, you must be hungry by now. I know a great pizza place around the corner from here--it'll change your life,” he promises with a smirk.
Emma smiles too, grateful for the change in direction to less intense pastures. “Will it really?”
“Oh, yeah.” He winks and Emma lets herself follow him along the embankment.
“So you're a bail bonds person?” Killian laughs around a mouthful of pizza. It turned out both of their favourite toppings were the same -farmhouse- so they're splitting a big one between them
“Why are you saying it like that?” Emma asks, unable to stop the smile on her face despite herself.
“Like it isn't a real job.”
He runs his tongue along the top rows of his teeth, looking so attractive it should be illegal. “I'm sorry, I do know it's real job, I just didn't think anyone actually did it for a job. You know, outside dodgy cop movies and that terrible Jennifer Aniston-Gerard Butler vehicle.” Emma just rolls her eyes. “So you find people for a living.”
“I find people for a living,” Emma confirms, grinning.
“So,” he wonders, curling a hand around his glass. “If I asked you to find ES, could you do it for me?”
Her grin fades. Emma looks away. “Based on two initials and nothing else?” she intones. “Even I'm not that good.”
When she looks at him again, Killian looks like he's waiting for her to say something else and almost disappointed when she doesn't. Before she can work out his meaning, the look disappears and the conversation moves on. They go halves on the bill and it's dark by the time they get outside and find themselves by the river again, floodlights reflecting on the water of the Thames.
She and Killian are walking so close they're shoulder brush every so often, and he's relating a story about his nephew falling in an ornamental pond in the park because he mistook the pond algae for a solid surface. Killian is animated and loving as he speaks of his brother's son, how Killian plucked him soaked and crying out of the shallow water and ran him a hot bath with his favourite bubble bath when they got home. Watching him, Emma feels such a deep rush of affection for Killian, and it feels like she's known him so much longer than a day. Because of their soulmate status or just the day she's had with him, either way, he doesn't deserve her pretence just because she's scared. He never did.
Emma stops. Killian turns to her, questions in his eyes.
“I haven't been honest with you,” Emma whispers, eyes wide. She undoes the bootlace and pulls it off before she can change her mind, holding up her wrist to him. He stares at his initials before his eyes slide up to meet hers. He isn't rocked with shock like she expected, the opposite really. He looks fulfilled, like she'd finally done the thing he was waiting for her to do all day. Emma surmises the situation quickly even if it seems incomprehensible. “You knew?”
He shrugs. “I worked it out. I mean, I had my suspicions when we met last night, and today only confirmed them.”
“Why didn't you say something?” Emma asks before she can stop herself, only realising the irony of her words after they're out in the air.
Killian gives her a wry smile. “I could ask you the same thing, 'Mary Margaret'.”
Emma opens and shuts her mouth a few times, unsure whether to explain her reasons or apologise or both. “Are you mad at me?” she says instead.
After a long moment, he shakes his head no. “You didn't say anything even when I brought it up with you, even after we nearly kissed this afternoon. I decided you must have your reasons, even if I still can't work out what they are, and that you would tell me when you were ready.”
“I was scared,” Emma tells him, gravitating closer and tentatively reach out for his hands. They laced together easily—perfectly, even. “I- I wanted some element of choice to be involved, I wanted to like you as though our initials aren't tattooed on each other's wrists—and I wanted you to like me that way too. But I'm not scared any more and it was wrong of me to keep it from you. I'm- I'm sorry, Killian.”
Emma watches the emotions dance in his eyes, vacillating between understanding and uncertainty. He takes a deep breath and looks down, starting to speak slowly. “You'll never know how much of this is to do with being... soulmates and how much of it is liking me as a person, or whether the two are just mixed together. Neither will I. You can't hold out for the knowledge that we would have fallen for each other anyway, if the scientists are to be believed, we would almost certainly have never have met if this hadn't happened.”
“I know. I know that. I just... wanted to like you anyway, and I do. I do. I'm not scared any more because I like you.”
It feels strange admitting this out loud to him, but it also feels necessary to spell it out to him. Killian searches her eyes, his intense gaze boring into her, and Emma forces herself to hold his gaze. Whatever he's looking for, he apparently finds it because he tugs her gently forward by her hands so they're within inches of each other. His hand leaves hers to cup her jaw and she leans into his touch. It feels perfect, more fulfilling in that second than even the highest high points of her previous relationships including Neal, even though she's only known him a day; this must be what soulmate love is, she thinks, and what David and Mary Margaret feel all the time.
“What's your name, ES?” Killian wonders with a soft voice and an even softer look in his eyes, cocking his head.
“Emma Swan,” Emma tells him, laughing.
“Nice to meet you, Emma Swan,” he says. “Are you ready for the rest of our lives?”
Emma nods, overcome. And with that he lowers his head, pressing his lips to hers. Emma burns where she stands at the feel of his mouth on hers and yet strangely at peace. The universe has ordained that this is where she's supposed to be and as his lips slant over hers, a perfect fit for one another, for once Emma's got absolutely no arguments with it on that front. This is where she she's supposed to be.