The Nature of the Soul Mate
Rosalinda StMatthew

The last time she saw him, he was covered in blood not his, not hers. Theirs. Not theirs. Theirs. The others.

There were no others now. There were no others the last time she saw him, either they'd ceased to exist just before he'd come in the room.

"Julia," was all he said. He took her hand and led her from the glorified closet she'd been shoved in some unknown number of days before.

"My hero," she whispered. She wanted to say more, but the look in his eyes told her to keep quiet. Were they not safe yet? How could that be how could there be any danger left, when his hair was plastered to his skull with the lifejuices of so many other men? But still, she held her tongue and followed him through the carnage in silence. They exited the building, and began walking down the gravel road, under the cover of night.

She didn't know how long they walked her sense of time had already been numbed by the lack of light in her makeshift prison, by the irregular feedings, the refusal to engage her beyond beating her when she made too much noise. She only knew her feet and legs ached, her throat was parched, and she wanted to crawl into the nearest bed and sleep forever, wrapped in the safety of her hero's arms. She tried to take his hand once and he flinched. She knew she wasn't going to be sleeping in his arms that night.

What she didn't know was that she would never sleep there again.

He delivered her to another small building, a clean building with running water. He said what she later realized would be his last words to her. "Don't move until Uncle Sam says so." He showed her the bed, the bath, the soap, the clean linens, and went to the kitchenette to heat up a pot of water. She watched him move through the tiny living space and wanted desperately to invite him into the bath with her. But she also wanted to soak away the grime and bruises and tears, and to give him the space he so desperately needed. She wanted him to know that she trusted him to return to her.

When she finally emerged from the bathroom, he was gone. There was a note scrawled on a bit of scrap paper, sitting underneath the pot of tea in the middle of the table. "Uncle Sam" was all it said.

It had taken her three years to forgive him for not saying goodbye. In the blink of an eye she'd lost her family and friends, her job, her world, her whole life. Another one had been recreated for her, presented to her on a goddamned silver platter, as if these *people* knew he was going to disappear as soon as his final task was done. She wasn't sure who she hated more.

On what should have been her second wedding anniversary, she'd decided it had been him.

On what should have been his next birthday, she'd decided it was their sinister and demanding Uncle.

On what had once been her next birthday (a date that came a month and three days after her new coworkers helped her celebrate a year that had passed long ago), she decided that in fact, it was that stupid lake she hated. She'd always been a sucker for the water. She'd told her big sister once that she was going to meet her soul mate by a body of water. When he showed up that day, she was so damn sure she'd been right. How fucking foolish.

Still, she moved away from Uncle's tight grip after that, to find herself another body of water she could attach herself to. It wasn't the same, far too chilly and foggy to be anything like that sparkling magical day, but close enough that maybe, just once, she could take the ferry and look out into the crowd, and maybe she'd find her true knight in shining armor, the one who would hold her heart aloft and protect her from the demons of the world.

Six years to the day. It was the sixth anniversary of the end of her marriage, the end of her life, the death of Julia Hunt. She knew she wasn't supposed to mark the date, or any date associated with the late Mrs. Hunt, but this time she couldn't help herself. She wasn't stupid about it she didn't tell any of her friends that it was a special occasion. She just invited them for drinks and a show, all on her dime. "For being there," was what she told them.

They'd taken the ferry into town, planning to get smashing drunk in the sweet little American bistro near the waterfront. They'd chosen the location, not her. She'd promised herself she wouldn't search for her soul mate anymore. She couldn't be who she'd been born to be, after all, so even if she found him, she could never give herself over. She closed off that part of herself and stayed away from the pier. And yet, here she was, stepping off the boat, smelling the fresh, cold air, reveling in the spray of the water. Eyes front, she told herself. Stay focused.

She nearly made it.

She hadn't even been thinking about her childhood dream. She'd simply glanced over her shoulder, at the crowd by the water. In the middle of the open air seafood joint, stood a man. A small man, dressed in dark, comfortable clothes, with a mop of shiny dark hair. Dark hair and a soft, sweet expression she'd recognize anywhere.

He had returned to her.

Someone inside called her name. Her new name. She glanced at them, at the people who'd come to know and love her, the people she'd come to trust. They were steady people, with steady lives who could always come through in a pinch.

She looked back out there. He hadn't moved. He was simply watching her, the way he'd watched her in those days before he finally admitted where it was he really went. He had returned to her, but it wasn't to stay.

She wanted to scream and cry and throw the heaviest tables and chairs she could find at him. She wanted to jump into the icy water and swim across and drag herself onto the deck at his feet and grab him and never let go. She wanted her life back she wanted Julia's life back.

He nodded at her, almost as if he knew exactly what she was thinking. Hell, maybe he did. Maybe he wanted her to have her life back too. She could see the rise and fall of his chest, the way he shuffled his feet. She'd become painfully familiar with that look the job was calling, and he couldn't say no.

There had been a fucking UFO down in California a few weeks back. And now Ethan Hunt was standing in the chill of Seattle, looking at the ghost of Julia Hunt.

What no one had ever told her was that a soul mate is not someone who stays with you forever in this world. A soul mate stays with you in spirit. He was always there. And now, he was showing his face, reminding her that yes, he was the one. There would be no other.

She raised her hand, not in farewell, but in simple passing. She'd see him again, she knew, just as she knew she'd meet her knight on the water. She'd see him again, and he would protect her again (even if it wasn't exactly in that order). She went inside the bistro and refused to look out again.

She trusted him to return to her.


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