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Soulmarked

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Gregory William Lestrade learnt to pick his first pocket when he was ten, broke into his first house at thirteen and ended up in front of the youth courts no less than six times in between.   

A fact that he was inordinately proud of.

The care workers, at the home where he had held permanent residence since his father’s murder and his mother’s subsequent suicide, denied any responsibility. The boy they stated – in a tone that indicated the term was used lightly – was trouble.

It was difficult to hide your Soulmark in the care system, in a world where everyone wanted as much information on you as possible. Yet the other children learned quickly that Greg was very protective of his Soulmark, which Etched not long after he arrived at Bournebrook care home. And no one messed around with what the normally jovial teenager decided was his to protect.

 

***

 

“Lestrade…hey you stupid or something? Or maybe that isn’t your name hey?”

Greg turned miserably to face the bane of his ten year old existence. Privately he called them fat, ugly and blondie. Their actual names were Michael, Tom and Matthew, the self-proclaimed bullies of the care home he had found himself in. Most days Greg was able to pretend it wasn’t all that bad…today did not look like it was going to be one of those days.

The trick was to ignore them and hope they got bored. Greg sunk deeper into one the garish, fluorescent orange chairs that littered the communal room at Bournebrook. He clutched the book he was reading a little tighter. Go away. Please. I’m not worth it… He prayed silently, aware at the same time that if there was a God then he really had it in for Greg.

“Maybe he can’t see us T…maybe he needs reminding what day it is…”

That was Matthew. He had a mean streak that – intellectually – Greg knew stemmed from commitment issues over his abandonment here in Bournebrook. At least Greg could say his parents had only abandoned him in death. Greg peered over the top of the book, his – once trusting – brown eyes narrowed in wariness. Ah yes. Today was Friday. The day the three older boys routinely decided to harass the younger children for booze money.

“Friday.”

He stated sullenly, knowing it was a bad idea but loath to concede any kind of indication that he was giving-up on his unwillingness to cooperate with the bullies schemes.

“Such a joker is little Lestrade. Don’t make us order you this week…”

The tone of voice indicated that actually Matthew wasn’t totally against the idea of dragging the younger boy off for another round of ‘hit-down, drag-out’, however Michael scowled and clipped the other boy on the back of head.

“Quiet you idiot, last time we got caught we were on probation for a month.”

Matthew whipped his head to face Michael, his face going an ugly shade of red before he turned back to face Greg. Greg felt a flash of fear at the expression on the older boy’s face. The three had given him bruises before but had stopped short of causing any damage that would alert the care staff – who might have cared more about the new episode of Eastenders than the children under their protection but would be unable to ignore blatant signs of abuse. Yet today Greg didn’t feel like trying his luck.

“I don’t have much…only a fiver but-“

He hissed, drawing in a sharp breath as Matthew reached over to grab his arm, twisting it behind his back and dragged him outside easily – at sixteen Matthew was already over six foot with more muscle than most men in their twenties. Michael and Tom exchanged bored glances, shrugged at each other and followed to the field behind the care home. Littered with used needles, old condoms and broken beer bottles the children were forbidden from playing here.

“I’ve had enough of you, you little bugger – now I know that you’re richer than all that – your parents only just gone and died, yeah?”

Greg cried out in pain as the older boy forced his arm further and further up his back, stretching the socket of his small arm. That was when he Etched. Greg felt the pain lance down his right arm, at first he was sure that his arm had been dislocated, however the pain was all wrong. It was a searing pain, like a burn – and it was concentrated on the inner part of his right forearm. He screamed.

Matthew hesitated and shoved the boy away from him, where he stumbled and fell on the ground, he turned to protest to Michael and Tom who were staring wide eyed at the boy who lay curled up on the ground.

“Hey, I didn’t do nothing, little shit just starting screaming for no good reason”

Greg had never felt pain like it in his young life. Not when he broke his wrist playing football, not when he fell off his bike and broke it again, not even when the police had to tell him that both of his parents were dead. And then as quickly as it had arrived it was gone, Greg stared down at his arm and saw – through a haze of tears – a line of handwriting. My Soulmark. He thought with wonder. I’ve Etched. Unfortunately for him, Matthew noticed at the same time he did.

“Haha! Take a look at that boys. Little Lestrade has Etched. Let’s take a look at that…”

He seized Greg roughly by his right shoulder – which now ached terribly from being forced behind his back, and stretched his arm out for the other two to see. There was a pause. Then the raucous laughter of the boys. Greg was panicking, unable to see what the boys were laughing at, yet gripped by the sudden fear that they would dare to harm his Soulmark. His instincts were screaming at him to protect. He lashed out, twisting in the grip of the older boy, who gave a grunt before smacking Greg hard across the head.

 

It was dark. That was the first thing that Greg was aware of. It was dark, but he wasn’t alone. There was a sudden awareness of a presence in his mind. He reached out hesitantly and delighted at the sudden feeling of shock that the presence generated.

“Hello?”

He ventured cautiously, the presence quivering at the sound of his voice.

“Hmmm. A boy then. What, about ten years old? Fairly average at school and in appearances, judging by your obvious lack of confidence. How plebeian. But how can we communicate? Not normal for Soulmates, unheard of for those that haven’t even met physically. Are you…dying?”

Greg puzzled over the stream of consciousness that followed the discovery of his Soulmate, the unfamiliar emotions of another entity causing him a small amount of distress. And then this person, this boy, who should care for him more than any other, calmly and rationally asked him if he was dying. Greg held a twinge of panic. Was he…dying? He couldn’t remember anything after-

 

Greg’s head throbbed. He felt the sticky consistency of the blood that lay matted in his brown hair. He opened his eyes groggily and was thankful that it was night, leaving no sun to pierce through his eyelids, bringing with it the inevitable pain. From the lack of daylight he could infer that fat, ugly and blondie had scarpered about three hours ago, he sat up slowly his disgust for the three bullies multiplying when he realised the money he’d had on him was gone.

Then he remembered his Soulmark.

He also remembered his Soulmate.

His Soulmate who had felt next to nothing when confronted with Greg’s potential death, Greg swallowed feeling hollow. It shouldn’t have hurt as much as it did, this next rejection – but to Greg this dismissal of his person by the one person to whom it should have mattered...It hurt. A lot. Greg braced himself, clambering to his feet through sheer force of will.

The bruises on his body would fade in time. The bruises left on his heart never would.

As he made his way carefully back towards the care home he thought to look at his Soulmark in the process of tugging his sleeve back down to cover his arm. The single line across his skin was Etched in a beautiful, ice-blue calligraphy, the letters haunting in their perfection. Greg reached towards the presence in his mind and was met – unsurprisingly – by a solid wall that felt like ice. He traced the letters of his Soulmark, the words that now felt like a bitter lie.

We shall meet in a place where there is no darkness

 

***

 

Greg’s gaze ran lazily over the list of offenses that Southwark County Council were bringing against him, grinning wickedly at the exhausted – yet pretty (his mind supplied) – public defender that had been assigned to his case. He leaned forwards, his encouraging, chocolate brown gaze inviting her to join in with the joke,

“-so as you can see…Patricia…there has to be some mistake because – ask anyone – I swear to God I was at the library, at the time the stuff was nicked.”

He leaned back in the white plastic chair the police had supplied letting it roll back, kicking his legs out indolently.

“Look, Mr Lestrade-“

“Please, call me Greg-”

Mr Lestrade, I don’t think you understand the seriousness of this charge…you have already been successfully charged with theft, destruction of public property and…”

Here the lawyer raised one, perfectly manicured eyebrow,

“Attempted impersonation of an officer of the law.”

Greg smiled wistfully,

“Oh yeah, good times, would have managed it as well if-“

His lawyer looked at him askance, pushing her hair back out of her face and wondering for the thousandth time why she hadn’t gone into contract law like her mother had wanted her too.

“Alright, anyway back to your current offence, Mr Lestrade, it seems unlikely that we’ll be able to talk the prosecution down on this one. You will be doing time in young offenders as it stands.”

Greg’s grin slipped from his face at her words, his gaze turning shrewd, and all signs of the jocular young man vanished before her eyes. For the first time since entering the room over an hour ago Patricia felt like she was meeting the real Gregory Lestrade.

“Look, Patricia, I don’t mind taking the rap for something I did – and got caught at – that means I was stupid and deserve to do the time. But this? It’s clearly the work of an amateur, which-”

Here Patricia raised a hand wearily,

“Please don’t tell me. Okay, since you’re determined to prove yourself innocent”

And here her eyes widened in disbelief,

“Then there is another angle in which we might be able to find a hole in the accusations of-“

Here she glanced down quickly at her notes,

“Mr Tarishama”

Greg bought the chair he was sitting on forwards with a thump, running his hands distractedly through his longish hair. Not for the first time Patricia found herself thinking that young Gregory Lestrade was a handsome young man who would one day be devastating, perhaps once he lost the oversized mustard yellow hoodie and five-year old trainers, she mused. But for now he was a lost looking sixteen year old who looked way out of his depth.

“The testimony includes a brief description of the UM of the thief, whose sleeve Mr…Tarishama managed to rip off as he was making his way out of the shop.”

Here Patricia turned to look at Greg, who looked back, blank faced, before he understood. UM, Unity Mark – the politically correct name for the Soulmarks – a name which the government had deemed inappropriate as it was offensive to those who chose not to associate with their respective Soulmates. Greg’s gaze fell on his sleeve, which consisted of a bandage wrapped tightly around his arm – proper sleeves were expensive these days, the ones that didn’t have easy-to-open clasps anyway. And Greg wasn’t letting anyone touch, or see, his Soulmark.

“No.”

He stated, his tone one of finality.

“But…Mr Lestrade…Greg, if you don’t do this then the small claims courts is going to convict you…the shop owner has stated that he saw you hanging around the shop the week before the beak-in and CCTV caught a boy matching your description, although his head was covered, during the incident…”

Greg drew in a sharp breath, prepared to defend his decision before he paused, thinking hard. For the last six years since he had Etched he had been fiercely protective of his Soulmark, most people were. However most people weren’t aware that their Soulmate wanted nothing to do with them. Greg wondered for what felt like the hundredth time why he bothered protecting someone – their weakness was Etched into his skin after all – when the same could hardly hold true for whoever they were.

He wondered this as he shook his head sullenly at his lawyer, leaning back in his chair and refusing to speak another word. Mainly because, if he was perfectly honest (which he rarely ever was), he didn’t have an answer to his own question. He had no idea why he continued to defend his Soulmate.

 

***

 

Greg had been into ‘detention and rehabilitation clinics’ before. Sometimes people made the mistake of thinking that Greg was actually proud of the time he had spent there, however they mistook his pride in his work for pride in the consequences. He saw his efforts as a way in which he had learned to survive the harsh realities of one of London’s roughest care homes, a badge of honour almost. However the work that landed him in these…places was rarely up to his own high standards. The way Greg saw it, if the coppers had enough evidence against him to bring up charges, he hadn’t done a good enough job.

But the Teaside Youth Detention and Rehabilitation Clinic was a whole different kettle of fish to the places Greg had up until then been assigned. This was a centre for repeat offenders, headed by a new government initiative designed to tackle youth crime.

It was, to put it bluntly, Greg’s idea of hell.

He wasn’t allowed to smoke – which left him gasping and slightly shaky after less than three days.

He wasn’t allowed to read, run or even eat without the permission of the staff. And those things were routinely planned anyway.

It was there that Greg realised that unless he was very careful, the next stop for him would be prison. And the worse part? No one would be surprised, and no one would care. Greg had no one. No family. No friends. He had never felt so alone. Sitting down heavily on the uncomfortable brick that the centre laughingly called a ‘mattress’, Greg did something he hadn’t in years.

He tried to contact his Soulmate.

They had both been very young the first and only time he had ever attempted a connection with his Soulmate, even then it had been an accident spurred by his fear and pain. He had later learned that it was highly unusual to experience any kind of connection with your Soulmate prior to physically meeting them, and had never heard of a situation where any kind of communication had been possible. Yet try as he might and, despite the dismissive attitude of his Soulmate, he did try, he was never able to get anything back from his Soulmate, other than the feeling of that presence in the back of his mind.

He unwrapped the bandage carefully, allowing his fingers to trace over the words which had stayed as vivid blue as the day they had Etched, not wavering even once in colour or intensity. We shall meet in a place where there is no darkness. The words gave him hope. Hope that one day there would be some kind of light in life. But why? He raged silently, why am I only going to meet you when the darkness has passed? I need you. I need you now. Greg pulled uselessly against the presence in his mind, he didn’t receive a reply. He never did.

Eventually he fell asleep.

The next day he decided that if his Soulmate didn’t want him, if he wasn’t good enough, then he had to stop walking down the path of self-destruction he was set upon. Even if a part of him keened in despair at the decision, it was from that point onwards that Greg made the vow to stop reaching out to someone who never reached back.

  

***

 

Sergeant Gregory Lestrade was convinced he had chosen the wrong profession for the thousandth time in his life. It was dark. It was cold. It was London – so it was also raining. And he was missing the bloody Man U. game. Also his long-term girlfriend ‘could have been your wife if you had ever bothered to ask, you tosser’, had left for a teaching job in Australia. Oh, and he had gotten on the wrong side of his boss the week before and so had been given the twilight shift. All week.

His feet were like ice, stamping to keep them warm he glanced across at the house that they had received a tip-off was the suspected location of a student ‘rave’. Greg ran a hand over his face and yawned, wishing desperately for a hot cup of tea. Or anything hot really. Even coffee would do at this stage.

When they were finally given the order to advance into the building, Lestrade was sure he had frostbite.

“Police!”

He shouted, following his colleagues into the house. He could never quite be sure afterwards if he was either the most unlucky, or the most lucky man in the world because of the man that he met there.

An extraordinary man. Called Sherlock Holmes.

His first suspicion upon hearing the name was that it was fake, Sherlock? Holmes? There’s no way. However the privileged, public school accent, understated designer brand clothes and the youth’s quite frankly eloquent language even whilst he was high, were enough to convince him the kid was telling the truth. His was prepared to let the guy go with a warning – he wasn’t carrying anything and was obviously not part of the suspected drug ring they had been looking for – when he opened his mouth.

“Hmmm you’ve been on both sides of the law, on the straight and narrow now though, for six, no, seven years…which would make you about twenty-four. So, twenty-four and not married…not in a long term relationship either, no kids and little money – the job hardly pays well. So, tell me…Sergeant, exactly what will it take to make this…go away’

Here, Sherlock made a graceful wave into the air, overbalanced and would have gone crashing into the stone hard ground had Lestrade not already had one hand holding him up. With a flash of worry Lestrade realised that for a guy who was a good two inches taller than him, Sherlock was far too thin. Not for the first time he felt a flash of anger at the family of drug addicted students, did the families not know, or did they just not care that their loved ones were snorting, smoking or injecting their living expenses away each month?

“I don’t think so. Come on now, where do you live…come on stay with me, what’s your home address?”

With Sherlock now unable to respond to questions, his head lolling unattractively on Lestrade’s shoulder he had little choice but to keep him in overnight. Hopefully he would sober up and be able to tell officers where he lived before the Detective Inspector in charge of their division came back from his honeymoon.

He escorted the painfully thin Sherlock into a waiting police van, trying not to notice that he wasn’t wearing a Soulmark sleeve – Lestrade’s own was police issue these days, a far cry from the bandage he had once resorted to.

Lestrade drove back to NSY, ignoring the prattle of his most recent partner, a young woman who at the moment had more to say than she had sense in her head. Lestrade figured PC Donovan would mature given time, but for now her inane chatter was doing his head in. He prayed that the paperwork wouldn’t take forever, that perhaps he could catch the highlights of the game on Match of the Day…treat himself to the takeaway he could afford maybe once a month on his budget.

Lestrade fell asleep at his desk, head surrounded by paperwork.

He awoke when a ray of light crept into his office through the broken blind behind his desk, shining on the glass panel of his office door and reflecting onto his face. He let out a groan, reaching wildly for the alarm clock that should be right beside his bed. Opening his eyes he groggily took in the rest of the office, the pale yellow walls and lack of photographs. Lestrade had found his home in the police force but his personal life remained devoid of any attachments, what that said about his mental state made him dread the mandatory yearly trip to the government paid shrink.

He ran a hand through his hair, fingers passing lightly over his Soulmark, his hand tracing the words he knew by heart both in tone and placement. We shall meet in a place where there is no darkness. You don’t think I’m good enough for you, is that it? Well I guess that’s okay. No one else thinks I’m good enough for them either. He shook his head, he should have learned by now that it was no good regretting the past.

Sherlock was gone.

Not collected by a furious parent or relative. Not checked-out by one of the police on duty. He had just vanished. Greg frowned and was about to check the CCTV footage out of curiosity – technically Sherlock had never been formally charged, however he was worried about the boy – when he was called into the Chief Superintendent’s office.

Fifteen minutes later he walked out of it with a promotion.

He smiled at the sound of his new title, Detective Inspector Lestrade; he supposed it did have a nice ring to it.

 

***

 

Greg didn’t consider himself to be a paranoid sort of bloke, not normally. But when the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end when he was ushered into the Chief Superintendent's office, he paid attention.

The man that was currently taking residence in the super’s chair was, quite frankly, possibly the most posh looking individual Greg had ever seen. He was leaning back against the chair, an umbrella resting lightly in his left hand idly trailing on the floor. The bespoke suit he was wearing probably – no definitely – cost more than Greg earned in a month. Whoever it was had serious pull with the high-ups, the way his gaze rested on Greg made him feel as though he was being evaluated and found wanting.

He felt, quite frankly, dangerous.

“The Chief Superintendent says that you asked for me in person, sir.”

The man raised one eyebrow at him. Greg recognised the amusement playing in his eyes and was forced to stop his jaw from clenching tight. He was being played with. The man kept silent for a long pause before speaking – and yes the top-end public school accent told Greg what he had already guessed – this man was way, way up in the chain of command.

“Ah yes. Detective Inspector Lestrade, it is my pleasure to make your acquaintance...”

The man paused, making it quite clear that perhaps pleasure was entirely the wrong word for what their meeting represented.

“My name is Mycroft Holmes.”