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Whole and Unbroken

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29th February 2000

John is on the penultimate placement of his foundation programme when Sherlock is rushed through the doors of A and E. He is convulsing on the trolley, long limbs thrashing despite him being strapped down, a thin sheen of sweat covering his face and neck and chest, where the buttons of his shirt have been ripped open. His skin is almost translucent, his eyes are wide and frightened, and there are angry red marks on his forearm. A thin trickle of blood runs from one of the needle pricks on the inside of his elbow, down to a bony hand where the blood curls slowly round a long finger.

Frowning at the state of the young man, John jogs over to talk to the paramedics and offer his assistance, but one of his fellow junior doctors beats him to it and his pager goes off and another trolley gets in the way and he is forced to ignore the pull he feels towards the struggling, spidery man desperately fighting his restraints.

John hears this: ‘Twenty-three year old male, cocaine overdose, fitting, arrhythmia, difficulty breathing, possible heart attack,’ and blinks slowly before tilting his pager up to see where he is needed. He turns and sprints down the corridor, his heart loud in his chest and in his ears, an unsteady, uneven, quick thrum. Five minutes later, as he is attending to his patient, his chest seizes and he drops his stethoscope as his left hand flies to press over his heart. A loud, pained gasp escapes his mouth and he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, he can’t breathe, his right hand clutches the bed frame and he’s almost on his knees and then his lungs fill and he’s alright again, standing, his heartbeat loud and rhythmic: stable.

29th February 2004

Sherlock wakes from a deep, post-case sleep at one minute past midnight. Detective Inspector Lestrade has just started letting him help with murders and attempted murders and suicides, and he isn’t quite clean, not just yet. He is better, though. Better, and getting there. It was the euphoria from cracking a case, from solving a mystery, a puzzle that had sent him to sleep this time, not the comedown from a rush of cocaine in his veins. He sits up in bed and screws his eyes shut at the strange sensation in his chest, a quick, steady thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum, thrum. He rubs his hand over where he knows his heart to be, through the material of his shirt that he hadn’t taken off before collapsing from exhaustion.

His heartbeat gets quicker and quicker and quicker. His breathing becomes shallow and ragged, urgent, and he grabs hold of his headboard for support.

In the Afghan desert at four thirty-two in the morning, John works methodically, with haste and narrow-minded focus. He ignores the hammering of his own heartbeat as he concentrates on his patient’s, his comrade’s, his friend’s. There had been a journey to make, two cars and one IED, shrapnel that was now embedded in the lad’s side and too hot to touch, too difficult to remove. John speaks in low, measured tones to the young soldier as he sets about controlling the bleeding, the pain, the long-term damage.

‘Watson!’ a voice shouts as John grits his teeth and wraps the wound loosely, as best he can with the soldier grunting and shaking from the pain.

‘Get him to the field hospital. Now,’ John orders, barking at two soldiers over his shoulder who had been in the vehicle with him, the one in front that had somehow missed the IED meant for it, leaving the vehicle behind to take the blast. He drops to his knees next to his next patient and sluices his hands, his heartbeat loud and fast and strong.

Sherlock does not sleep until the sun rises in Afghanistan and John’s work is done.

29th February 2008

Today they meet - properly meet - for the first time.

John limps into the lab at St. Bart’s and Sherlock’s brain is off and away with deductions before his heart can catch up. When it does, and oh, how it does, it is nearly deafening: a loud roar in his ears. He frowns and breathes in and borrows the man’s phone, and Mike and his motives are so transparent, really, he learns the man’s name is John and invites him to Baker Street and rattles off all the deductions he’s made about his potential flatmate before sweeping out of the door with a wink. Still his heart pounds, it doesn’t stop all day, but begins to slow as the sun sets and the night approaches until at one minute to twelve he can barely hear it and at midnight he can’t hear it at all.

John is affected similarly. His heart beats so quickly and so loudly all day it becomes white noise by the evening, but a comforting white noise nonetheless. He contemplates the man he met, a thousand adjectives flying around his brain as his heart beats and beats and beats and beats beats beats beats beats. He is not sure whether he is sad or relieved when at midnight, the noise and the pounding and the urgency stops. All is quiet, but still. He feels alive.

March the first comes and goes and Sherlock waits and waits and John tries and tries to get to Baker Street, gets as far as Marylebone station but finds he can’t go any further, finds something stopping him.

Neither of them hear their heartbeat for a good long while, though they both know it is there.

29th February, 2012

Four years pass. Sherlock almost dies, twice. John almost gets married, but only the once.

They meet in the tinned food aisle of a supermarket at eight in the evening. John drops the four tins of soup he’d been holding as his heart starts to beat double-time at the sight of Sherlock in his long coat. Sherlock feels it too: his head twists at the noise John makes and then his heart begins to slam against his ribcage, a trapped and lonely thing that only feels right once every four years.

‘John,’ Sherlock says, his eyebrows knitted as he bends to pick up the tins, places them in John’s trolley. ‘You didn’t--’

‘I tried. I tried but I couldn’t, I physically couldn’t, Sherlock, and I don’t know why,’ John says, anticipating what Sherlock was going to ask.

On impulse, he reaches out and rests his hand over the left side of Sherlock’s chest. Sherlock’s heart throws itself against the intricate network of bones and tissue and skin that is meant to keep it safe, keep it whole, unbroken. Sherlock gasps and stumbles forwards, gripping John’s shoulder with his left hand, his right pressing against John’s heart, which gets louder and louder and bigger and bigger until it hurts.

‘What’s the date today?’ Sherlock asks, his brain ticking and whirring, thoughts flaring up then dying, synapses sparkling. ‘The date. What is it?’

‘Uh, uh, the twenty-eighth,’ John replies.

‘What’s the year?’

‘2012,’ John says, trying to follow Sherlock’s train of thought. They are still clutching at one another. The supermarket is blessedly quiet.

‘No,’ Sherlock gasps. ‘No, it’s a leap year, it’s the twenty-ninth, John. We met four years ago, on the twenty-ninth. Four years before that, where were you?’

John thinks back. ‘Afghanistan,’ he says.

‘Four years before that?’

‘On my second-to-last placement in a hospital. I was, what? Twenty-five? I... I...’

‘You saw me,’ Sherlock says. ‘You must have seen me, it must have been what started it, what started this,’ he says, slamming his palm against John’s chest. ‘I’d overdosed on cocaine, it was the twenty-ninth of February, they took me in to a hospital, it must have been where you were, my heart, it...’

‘Twenty-three year old male,’ John whispers. ‘Cocaine overdose, fitting, arrhythmia, difficulty breathing, possible heart attack.’ The words fall out of his mouth from some deep, hidden place of memory in his brain before he has time to process them.

‘Yes!’ Sherlock shouts. ‘Yes, do you remember? Do you remember it?’

It comes back in a rush: the young man stretched out on the trolley, bucking wildly, the strange pull John had felt, his pager, the other doctor, the corridor, his patient, and oh, God, his heart.

‘I remember,’ John says, closing his eyes and swallowing, an hysterical giggle escaping him. ‘Yes, I remember.’

They spend the next two hours in the supermarket café, shopping and experiment-sourcing abandoned, talking, trying to puzzle it out, whatever it is.

Their hearts beat steadily, together, almost as one.

Ten thirty comes and the shop begins to close and they’re outside and there’s rain and they sit in John’s car and talk and talk and talk but the green LED light of John’s clock in the car flips to 00:00 and Sherlock gets out of the car and walks away and he can’t turn round and John can’t follow him.

John leans over his steering wheel and sobs, his heart a quiet, terrified thing cowering deep in his chest when not two hours ago it had roared, strong and proud as a lion.

Sherlock gets back to his flat and shoots cushions, a mirror, the wall, his heart a gnarled and ugly thing clinging to the inside of his chest when not two hours ago it had hummed and buzzed, low and quiet and content.

29th February, 2016

At one minute past midnight, John steps onto the long stretch of Baker Street where he’d been told to meet Sherlock eight years ago. He is outside the door of 221 and just about to knock when Sherlock comes barreling out, and his heart could be screaming from relief and limitless joy.

John,’ Sherlock groans, his own heartbeat deafening as he pulls John to him and kisses and kisses him on the empty street in the cold winter air. ‘I was coming to find you, I, I, John, feel,’ he moans, tearing his coat open and ripping the buttons off his shirt and grabbing John’s hand, shoving it against his chest where his heart thuds and thuds and thuds and thuds and thuds thuds thuds thuds thuds.

‘I know, Sherlock,’ John gasps, bringing Sherlock’s other hand to hold it over his own heart, which is frantic and desperate and glad. ‘I know, I know,’ he says, kisses him again, pushes his chest against Sherlock’s and oh, oh, oh.

They spend the entire day in Sherlock’s bedroom, wrapped up in one another and the sensation of being with another, being with the other meant for them, written down in an ancient book or in the stars or in tea leaves or however else this has managed to happen to them.

John runs his hand through Sherlock’s hair and kisses the back of his neck, their bodies together from toe to crown. John’s left arm is wrapped round Sherlock’s thin form, their intertwined fingers resting over where Sherlock’s heart beats, violent in its happiness. John’s chest is pressed to Sherlock’s back, the heat radiating from Sherlock, the sensation of being this close to him doing absolutely nothing to stop the continuous growl and roar of John’s heart.

‘What happens when you go?’ Sherlock murmurs, staring at the wall opposite the bed. ‘What happens when midnight comes?’

‘I don’t know,’ John whispers, kissing just behind Sherlock’s ear.

‘I don’t want you to go,’ Sherlock says, very quietly. ‘It gets so much harder every time.’

‘I know,’ John replies, kissing the top of Sherlock’s spine. ‘Try and sleep. Then at least you won’t have to watch it happen.’

‘What was it like? Watching me leave?’

‘Heartbreaking,’ John says, and he is not exaggerating.

‘I couldn’t stop it. I tried. I tried so hard.’

‘I know. Try and sleep, Sherlock.’

‘I love you,’ Sherlock blurts out.

‘I love you,’ John replies, his throat tight.

Midnight comes, March the first comes, the clock in Sherlock’s room ticks round to twelve and, despite every effort not to, both Sherlock and John have fallen asleep.

In years to come when they question it, they are not sure, they do not know whether it was the kiss, or lying together, or the declarations of love said hurriedly with little thought but lots of feeling; but in the morning they will wake in each other’s arms, their hearts beating in perfect time, everything whole and right and unbroken, no longer living a leap-year life.