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No one quite knows how the whole deal works. Not in any clear-cutdetail anyway. Despite years of conjecture, not even the bravest, smartest, most liberal scientists of their time have been able to comprehend much. There's a stigma here, a spiritualreligiouscultural awe that's survived for centuries and still lives in everyone's eyes.

The only thing that could possibly be more sacrilegious would be to insult someone's God. And even that is a toss-up. 

When the boy who will one day be known by the moniker of '007' is born into the world, this lack of understanding and this unwillingness to understand has not changed. And will not be changed for some time yet, even as time itself brings with it inexorable differences and humanity continues to shoot for the stars. 

Like all little boys and girls, James grows up with the knowledge that his soulmate is somewhere out there. Waiting for him. Someone uniquely meant for him and only him. The love of his life...or so the common misconception is. 

"Here, James," his mother says to him when he is five, handing him a pack of small, colourful felt-tipped pens. They are made specifically for this purpose, long-lasting and harmless when applied to human skin but vivid enough for artistic use and childish enjoyment.

"Write whatever you want. Do it often enough, and your soulmate will be able to see it," she encourages as good mothers do and leaves him with a drawing book full of pictures for him to trace, stars and flowers and lightning.

James smiles and shrugs and does as he's told. It's fun, another little game, so he doesn't complain.

The intellectuals of the world may not know much about how soulmates operate, but trial and error and the occasional mistake and revelation have their uses. 

Before first contact, whether it be by voice or by sight, what can be transmitted between soulmates is always empty of meaning. Whether it happens to be words or drawings or anything in-between, their other-half will see it show up on their skin only if there is no true substance within it, behind it.

A thoughtless note. A rapid sketch for later. A random doodle.

It's why writing a name, address, time and date on one's palm doesn't work, much to the despair of more than half the human population. Not unsurprisingly, the absent-minded, forgetful types who scribble down everything on their arms have the highest chance of finding their soulmates.

If one's lucky enough to find their soulmate, well. No one really knows what happens next since it's unique to each pair, but most people believe that soulmates in love, truly in love, can actually communicate purposefully through ink on their skin.

Of course, no one has yet to prove anything, but at five years old, James hardly knows or cares about any of that.

He will. In time.

He gets into the habit easily enough. Whatever comes to mind, he marks down on his body. Little drawings of his favourite superheroes. Suns. Music notes from Mummy's piano book. The sunset he admires from the window. Ladybugs in the garden. Anything. Everything.

Soon, there's not enough room on his hands and arms. James shrugs and starts on his legs.

Nothing from his soulmate ever shows up on his skin. Sometimes, James feels bummed about that, but then something flashy inevitably catches his attention, and he forgets all about it.

(For now, he's an innocent child still.)

James grows up and up and up. He goes to Switzerland and then Germany because his father's job keeps them moving around. On some level of consciousness, the lack of stability is troubling, even as he revels in the new culture and experiences. His skin remains stained with odd, everyday things, although he never claims to be a good artist.

Still, his soulmate doesn't respond. He's starting to think he doesn't have a soulmate, although his mother claims that notion is entirely ridiculous.

"James!" George, one of the friends he's made this time around, comes running up to him with a wide grin. "Look, look!" He wrenches up his sleeve and proudly shows off a wobbly pink heart. "It's my soulmate's! Awesome, huh?"

James grins despite the uncomfortable stone weighing down his stomach. "Yeah, that's great!"

"I wonder what's she like? They are a girl, right? I mean, it's pink and everything. But if they're a boy, I won't mind. My ma says there's a 60/40 chance, but I mean, they'll be my soulmate either way. What's your soulmate like? Do you know anything?" George spits out in an excited rush.

James grimaces a little and sticks his hands in his pockets for lack of anything else to do. "I…no, not really."

"Oh." Briefly, George makes a sympathetic face. "Well, you shouldn't worry. My ma says most people don't find their soulmate until they're in their twenties or something. I hope I find my soulmate before that, though. How bout you?"

James hums noncommittally, scuffing at the dirt with his shoe. "I guess so."

James turns eleven.

His parents die in a freak climbing accident.

And he's alone.

For a long time after that, James doesn't really think about his soulmate. He still writes down random stuff on his skin, but a habit is a habit. He pushes any thoughts of his mother out of his mind as soon as they appear, and that includes everything she ever taught him about soulmates.

(She was probably wrong anyways. Either his soulmate hates him or they don't exist. And James finds he prefers to believe the latter.)

Instead, he suffers through headache-inducing tutoring at Skyfall Lounge for a year before wrecking havoc at Eton College. The curfew regulations there are stupid, so he violates them. Repeatedly. It helps take his mind off other things. To his amusement, it's actually a little fun with one of the maids that gets him expelled.

James enjoys his time at Fettes College far more, despite the increased amount of homework. He's always been an active, athletic boy, and that has never been truer than now. Rather than thinking about the silence in his 'home' and on his skin, he throws himself into competitions.

He wins most of them with a devilish grin, too.

Boxing is great. When he boxes, he can forget about everything but winning the match, throwing punch after punch, reveling in the blood rushing through his veins and the heartbeat pounding in his ears. Just for good measure, he forms the first intermural judo league for the public school circuit because he's bored and that seems like the thing to do.

When he's not busy with that, he's skiing and climbing during the term breaks with a local Austrian instructor, Hannes Oberhauser. He isn't going to let one small accident stop him from doing what he's loved. His parents would hate that, be disappointed in him.

Oberhauser gets James. He doesn't try to push and prod, lets him The counsellors have never understood that. James likes him, doesn't fight when Oberhauser's smile turns distinctly fond in the way of a proud father, even though Franz, his son, doesn't like James, judging from the icy glares he's treated to every time they're in the same room. 

Naturally, Oberhauser disappears without a word. Well. What else was he expecting?

(He cries in the privacy of his room. No one is here to comfort him now.)

James graduates Fettes College at seventeen. His skin has never borne a single mark from his soulmate.

He accepts that as his due as well.

James goes to the Britannia Royal Naval College. It seems only right. The only constant in his life is England, always England, and he's the patriotic type. He wants to serve his country. Where else would be better than the Navy? He isn't afraid of getting his hands dirty.

It's not as if there is anyone left to care whether he lives or dies.

James likes this place. Sure, the instructors aren't much on moderating their voices or going easy on them, but he doesn't want easy. He wants fast and hard and exhilarating, and the training is surely that. It's good, better than the most vigorous competition he's participated in, the most brutal fight he's fought.

To his disgust, there are still curfews. He ignores them.

Three months after James turns eighteen, he's taking a short shower when he notices it. He's long since given up the habit of writing on his skin; the Navy quietly looks down on soulmates and the weaknesses they present. Besides, between training and simulations, there's never any time to do so nowadays anyway.

It's why the small green leaf on his upper right arm catches his attention so quickly.

James stares.

What the fuck?

It's shoddy work, despite the obvious quality of the green ink. The outline itself is bumpy. The veins inside are skewed. If his soulmate - again, what the bloody fuck? - was aiming for a work of art, they failed miserably. For the first time in a long while, he finds himself utterly speechless.

"Bond! We have strategic operations in two minutes!" Davies, one of the more friendly guys, calls.

James shakes his head, wishing he can shake these new thoughts right out of his mind. "…yeah. Got it!"

He pushes the pathetic little leaf out of his mind and focuses on passing his latest test or, better yet, getting the highest marks. He refuses to think of the possibility that his soulmate is actually much, much younger than he is, because, damn it, he let the possibility of finding his soulmate go when his parents died.

This ugly little piece of... vegetation doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things.

It doesn't go away. Jesus Christ, it doesn't go away.

No, instead, the leaf is joined by more of its brethren. On his left arm, on his lower abdomen, on his upper right thigh. With the additional practice, the little leaves actually get better, aesthetically speaking. The occasional arrow, sun, hexagon, flower, and house show up here and there, too.

James is at a loss for what to do. He's only thankful that all of the drawings are in relatively easy-to-cover places.

A month after that, letters start showing up. A, B, C, D, on his right knee. E, F, G, H, I, on his left shoulder. J, K, L, M, N, on his right shoulder. O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, on his left knee, in a small, more oval-than-circle shape. V, W, X, Y, Z, in a little pentagon right over his heart.

James is horrified, now certain of his worst fear. Goddamn it, is his soulmate five or something? What was the universe thinking? He doesn't have the time or inclination to deal with this new existential crisis, damn it! He was perfectly fine without his soulmate, thank you very much!

(He ignores the aching sense of loneliness in his chest, the haunting sorrow in his dreams. He is very good at practising denial, a skill that will serve him well in the future.)

The only silver lining he can see is that, apparently, they do, in fact, use an alphabet he's familiar with. He's heard of random Chinese characters showing up on other, less fortunate people's skin, and that's without getting into the hieroglyphics and obscure tribal symbols.

To stop thinking about bloody paedophilia, he returns all of his concentration to his training. He's doing well, very well, despite the many offences he's stacked up against himself. Just because some of his instructors can't handle being told that they're wrong when they so clearly are…

It's not like their wounded egos are any of his business, is it?

And James is starting to think about applying for work in Naval Intelligence.

He gets on HMS Exeter as an intelligence officer. With full recommendations even.

James thinks he's earned the right to be a little smug. Or a lot.

The ocean is magnificent in its power and beauty. He's always known this, of course, but knowing and knowing are different, and it doesn't take him long at all to fall in love. Whatever that may happen, James knows, the ocean will be there, as it has been before he was born and will continue to be long after he has died.

Just as well. He has no intention of rotting in the ground. Let the sharks have them.

He sinks into his position in the Navy with enviable ease and is more than content when he collapses in bed every evening. Or morning, as it may be.

Operation Granby comes and goes, and James decides to switch to submarines. HMS Turbulent is interesting but somewhat boring after a while. There's something suffocating about gliding along the ocean floor, death a leak away, the metal walls closing around him. Restlessness begins to build in his muscles again so he goes ahead and volunteers for the Special Boat Service.

At least, he reasons, he'll be on the move.

SC3 and Underwater and Aquatic Training are easy. He doesn't hesitate to smirk and trounce his superiors and instructors at their own game. It's not his fault they all make it so effortless.

A bit more problematic is hiding the ink that continues to show up on his skin. Not exactly easy when he's practically shirtless and sometimes even trouser-less for more than six hours.  Really, all of these years and his soulmate decides to get off their arse at the worst possible time.

James adamantly refuses to consider that it's more than possible that when he wanted a sign of his soulmate's existence, they hadn't yet been born. That's a fucked-up road to go down Just no.

He buys one of those special spray-on bottles from a local store. Normal make-up can't hide the marks of your soulmate, but even this stuff can only cover the stains for a few hours. He doesn't want any questions from his comrades, though, so he's careful to apply it every morning after he shaves. The arrangement works well enough.

At least, it's words now. Even if he understands about as much as he did when it was just symbols.

Stupid Sherlock.

Stupid Mycroft.

Stupid Mummy.

Stupid Papa.

James gapes slightly when he first sees the words, showing up one after the other in the span of six weeks on his upper thighs. Apparently, his soulmate is both pouting and smart enough to want to keep their thoughts to themselves.

...what sort of names are 'Sherlock' and 'Mycroft'?

He chuckles despite himself before covering the words up. For a moment, he is tempted to search up the names he was given, but then he is told of the night limpet placement operation at Plymouth and dismisses his soulmate from his thoughts entirely.

James completes UAW training and goes on to Advanced Commando Parachute training at Brize Norton. Absently, he wonders if his life is going to be a string of different exercises but quickly decides to actually listen to what their instructor is saying before he falls from 3000 metres up.

On a side note, his soulmate has graduated from writing down petulant insults against, presumably, their parents and their brothers to full-fledged sentences, sometimes paragraphs, about completely random subjects. On one memorable occasion, James had to conceal an entire rant on the behaviour and anatomy of ladybugs on his chest.

There are surprisingly few spelling errors when he bothers to check. He's almost impressed but mostly just annoyed and horrified at the continued evidence of his soulmate's age. He tries not to think about it.

After that, they decide to focus on basic mathematics. It takes his soulmate about a week to go from addition and subtraction to multiplication and division. Then another two before the process is repeated with double-digit numbers. Triple-digit numbers. And…no signs of them stopping anytime soon. Four. Five.

More complicated sequences. Patterns by an addition of two. Multiplying by three. Subtracting by seven. Starting from one hundred and dividing by five. Negative numbers.


James isn't sure this is normal. Was he this fast with math? It's not like he can ask anyone about the normal progress of a…primary school student? He's pretty sure this kid is in primary school. Maybe. Hard to be certain. Home-schooled, perhaps. Whatever, why is he contemplating this again?

Parachuting is spectacular. He loves the rushing of the wind and the screaming pull of gravity, but what he remembers most vividly when he leaves is an incident during free fall training. Some idiot, Lieutenant Cameron, apparently, got his pins jammed and decided the best way to react was to panic uselessly while he fell, face-forward, towards the unforgiving earth.

For fuck's sake, honestly. 

James didn't even hesitate before manoeuvring himself around in mid-air to deploy the idiot's chute, despite the not-inconsiderable threat of damage to himself. And it was fantastic. If he could, he would do it again…not to endanger the idiot's life, of course, but just to feel that adrenaline rush once more.

Also, his little stunt and his exemplary results earn him the 030 Special Forces Unit, rather than the standard SBS Units in Poole. Which is more than satisfactory, in his opinion.

James recalls the loneliness and desolation he felt as a child when no one responded and buys one of those special pens on his way out.

James is more at home with the 030 SFU than he ever was anywhere else.

To be honest, he feels a little like a boy in a candy store. He's had his fun with the sea, so now his love affair is with the sky, although his first love will always be beneath the waves. Assault helicopters, Harrier-class jets, fixed wing aircraft, and hovercrafts; he has it all. The marine assault vessels and armoured vehicles are really just the icing on top.

When he has time between training other candidates and initiating athletic competitions, James tries to get back into the habit. The first time he has a black pen poised above his skin, he feels inexplicably ridiculous. For a moment, he debates simply recapping the pen and going on with his day.

But he casts his mind around and alights on the training course he will set up later. He writes a series of lines that could mean anything on his upper arm but represents the jumping bars the trainees will have to use and hides it behind his long sleeves. 

Then, he goes off and doesn't spare the matter another thought. 

After that, James sets his goal on one message per day. Most of it means nothing, even if the inspiration inevitably comes from his military life. He has no idea who his soulmate is, and there's a reason confidentiality and security clearances exist.

Endangering his soulmate with knowledge they should not have on their skin sounds like a terrifically bad idea.

One year passes in the service of 030 SFU, at once regretfully fast and worryingly slow. He manages to successfully meet his quota of one message per day through sheer stubbornness. James doesn't know if any of them have gone through since he actually has to consider what he puts down when he writes but shrugs it off.

Meanwhile, his soulmate is scribbling basic weather patterns like the cycle of water and drawing questionable lightning bolts and lightning rods. He hopes that they're not going to electrocute themselves by accident while he is in Libya, because, from their dialect, he's willing to bet they're British.

Thank God. He doesn't want to consider what he would have done if they were enemies of his country. He's heard more than enough stories about situations like that to know they never end well.

James spends most of his second year running around. He's promoted to Lieutenant Commander by the end of it and finds he's routinely doodling on his skin when he has nothing else to do. Little things like the shape of buildings in Iraq and the layers of the sunset in Somalia and the explosion he set off in Iran.

Actually, he hopes his soulmate won't figure that last one out but isn't holding his breath because, from the looks of it, his little soulmate is smart.

(James ignores how he is more or less over the problematic matter of their age. He'll cross that hurdle when he gets to it. If he ever does.)

Ramblings show up on his skin every other day, with no discernible pattern to the topic. Sometimes philosophy, sometimes violent crimes...which does a good job of freaking James out when he reads the police report. A great deal on politics, and, to James' mild discomfort, the Gulf War he's currently participating in.

What the hell is this kid involved in?

At the end of his third year, James is recruited by the RNR Defence Intelligence Group and awarded the rank of Commander after saving a good one hundred men in Bosnia from a Serbian militia. It's instinctive to write his thoughts down now, in short-hand and vague terms that no one but himself will understand, and he has no idea what they think of him and his incoherent notes.

And, at last, he finally develops the slightest of grasps on the identity of his soulmate through painstaking attention to detail and logical leaps.

Young, for obvious reasons. Well-connected, judging from the rare info on high-level politics. Smart, oh so smart. Possibly, probably, a genius. 

Rich. Posh. Cultured.

James bases those last three on the recent reminders that his soulmate has been writing down. Again, how old are they exactly? What sort of household are they growing up in?

Knife placed with cutting edge towards plate.

Red wine does not go with complex sauces.

Dessert forks/spoons brought in right before dessert.

Watch the place cards.

Cut: double vents, padded shoulders, flap pockets.

Salad course last.

Dinner knife to right of dinner plate.

Table arrangements symmetrical.

James has never been one for the rules, and he can't help but feel frustrated and indignant on his soulmate's behalf. Yes, he appreciates the classics, but there's really no need to be this strict, especially with, he's fairly certain, a child. Just a child. When he was a child, he was running around and getting in the mud and laughing without a care in the world.

Still, he's hardly in any position to interfere…and it's not like he sincerely wants to find his soulmate.

(Right? Right.)

James leans back in his plane seat and frowns deeply as he nears Chicksands, the Defence Intelligence and Security Centre.

His sleep is restless.

Not that far away, a ten-year-old boy who will one day be known by the moniker of 'Q' tosses and turns in the Holmes household, brilliant mind racing even in dreams, a vast, fearful, brilliant future ahead of him, unknown military secrets dark against the pale of his skin.