John regarded his improbable new flatmate over the table at Angelo's. "So," he said. "Have you... met your soulmate yet, then?"
Sherlock halted and looked warily at him. "No."
"Got much longer to wait?"
"I'm not waiting for a soulmate, John." And then there was a cab outside the building they were staking out, and a chase through the streets, and John never had a chance to tell Sherlock that he wasn't waiting for his, either.
Oh, John had tried. Missed connections did happen, along with mistaken ones. Trashy romance novels were full of parties where the heroine went home with the wrong man, both of their clocks having hit zero at the same moment while their destined partners stared helplessly at them from across the room. But he'd hit zero in a scene of utter chaos. Stamford had been going to introduce him to a woman whose clock was also nearly there, a fellow intern at Barts, when the hospital had been evacuated of unnecessary personnel after an explosion in the labs. After he'd got free of the jostling crowd in the street outside the exit, he'd glanced down at his wrist and realized he'd missed his soulmate in the confusion, whoever she was. It hadn’t been the intern. When he'd asked Stamford about her the next day, it turned out she’d been in the arms of a firefighter when they looked into each other's eyes and at each other's wrists, and that was that.
For a year afterwards, he'd gone to every missed-connection meeting he could find, joined all the websites, and found nothing except the usual cheating spouses lying about their timing. His soulmate wasn't looking for him, or didn't know how to find him. On the one year anniversary of what should have been his soul bond, he enlisted and went as far from England as he could get.
Sherlock had never regretted his decision to escape. Soul bonding was a horrible idea, and he wanted no part of it. He'd given the matter a lot of thought. Staying home all day never worked—there was always something, a disaster that brought you in contact with your mate, sometimes even a burglary if the fates couldn't manage it any other way. (Case law on the Soul Bonding Defense for crimes which had brought a fated pair together was an interesting read. He filed "influence of soul bond timing" in his Mind Palace under Motives—None.)
He'd considered blatant lying, but depending on the circumstances that could be difficult to pull off. He couldn’t risk being caught alone with his soulmate when their clocks zeroed. Staying in crowded areas, though it seemed counterintuitive, was his best bet. Barts would do; it had the required high concentration of people, some of them not even idiots, and Sherlock had gained a considerable amount of access to its useful spaces while posing as a student.
In the end, he engineered a gratifyingly chaotic if harmless disruption, carefully timed so that if he were taken into custody it would be after his clock had run out and no one the wiser. It turned out that he'd escaped suspicion as well as escaping his mate, so all around it had been a splendid day. As soon as the ticking time bomb on his wrist was safely run out he'd celebrated with his favorite blend of intravenous drugs.
Mycroft had been horrified, of course, on virtually all levels. Sherlock ignored him.
One evening when John was out for a pint with Greg, the subject came up. They'd been commiserating about Sherlock (the other option was sport, and John's club was doing too badly even to run down; he'd become tight-lipped on the subject). John finally asked "So what happened? With his mate?"
He'd spent a lot of time trying to work that out. Sherlock had said he'd never met his soulmate. He'd also said he wasn't waiting, and indeed, when his sleeve rode up the fading numbers read zero. It wasn't a case of death before meeting, since those clocks stopped heartbreakingly where they'd been at the time of death, and faded away more slowly than a fulfilled soulmate clock did. And no-one was born with a clock reading zero—you either had the numbers, or you didn't.
In fact, Sherlock's fading zeroes looked a lot like John's.
It could have been a missed connection, yes. But surely if anyone could track down a missing mate, it was Sherlock? John refused to believe that Sherlock of all people could have missed his soulmate.
Greg considered John's question with a pensive frown. "Well," he said slowly, "I never did work that out. Of course at first I thought he'd lost someone, didn't I? Thought that was why he'd gone on drugs. But," he took a swallow from his pint, "turned out the drugs were just him being an arsehole. I don't know, John."
"He said he'd never met his mate. That... that's the sort of thing that happens to a bloke like me, right? Missing your soulmate, of all the bad luck. I can't see him taking that sitting down."
Greg had no answer. They sipped their pints in silence.
Sherlock lay on the couch, hands steepled before his chin. John. It hadn't taken long to deduce John. The facts: He wasn't expecting to meet a soulmate; he already had his fading zeroes on his wrist. Yet he was alone, and he wasn't bereaved or separated. A missed mate case, then. Had probably spent months, maybe a year, trying to track them down.
By the degree of fading, it had been about ten years ago.
Sherlock had never regretted his decision to give his soulmate the slip. He told himself now that he was gladder than ever, not to be tied down to some other boring person who'd have kept him from meeting John.
About ten years ago. He found himself wondering where John had been.
"John! Sherlock! Flat work out for you then?"
Sherlock passed Stamford with an impatient glance, infinitely more interested in the toxins he planned to prove hadn’t originated from a common kitchen knife, no matter how unsanitary. To his irritation John stopped politely, although with a coiled-spring tension that suggested this would be a brief conversation indeed. "Fine. Great! Thank you, Stamford, really. I've got to treat you to a pint sometime, tell you about it then."
Stamford laughed. "Glad one of my introductions did you some good! Oh, John, did you know, that man is the wanker that ruined your day back in '99?"
Ahead of them, Sherlock stopped short.
John flexed his hand to keep from rubbing his wrist. "Nope. No, I didn't. Might have guessed. Blew up the lab, did he?"
Sherlock turned slowly.
John looked at him.
And Sherlock smiled.