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Eleven Ounces (Give or Take)

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A heart weighs eleven ounces—  give or take. Variables can impact the weight of it, the shape, the function Lifestyle. Sex. Illness.. But, on the average, a human heart weighs no more than eleven ounces.

A heart cannot feel like a tonne of lead in his chest. Logic dictates that his heart is still a fleshy mass and not the lump of metal it feels like. Alchemy cannot touch it, cannot change one state into another. A heart is muscle and no amount ignoring, exercising, or removal will change the base state of it. Eleven ounces. Three hundred eleven grams.

He has held the weight of one in his hand, observed the way it sits in a chest cavity. A corpse is a corpse is a corpse. One heart looks much like the next, and he has seen enough of cadavers to know hearts are not the seat of the human soul, the source of reasoning, or the reason why we love. A heart is meat and nothing more.

And yet:

His heart stutters in his chest. They had given up on whipping him hours ago and have since resorted to beating him with a lead pipe. He tried holding in his screams at first, the pain mounting and mounting, as his heart beat furiously against his ribs. The stubborn, hateful muscle pounded away. Alive, alive, alive . Blood caked on his back and dried and was replaced with fresh blood. Through it all, he grit his teeth, refusing to give them what they wanted.

What was it that they wanted?

 

A painting—  

Submarine plans—

A jade pin—

A formula—

 

State secrets—

 

John.

John.

John.

John.

 

His screams are nothing more than whispers now, barely flitting past his chapped lips. But the first scream, oh the first, had ripped out of him in surprise and shock. After being whipped and beaten until his body was numb with pain, they had let him rest. His body had fallen uselessly to the ground; the chains cut into his wrists as they attempted to hold him upright. 

He slept. Or he thinks he slept. Or he thinks he thought about sleep. Or or or or…

Behind closed lids, he runs. Upstairs, down hallways, through darkened dungeons, past empty graveyards where little voices sing. He bursts into one room, then the next. Redbeard barks at him and then laughs, high and happy—  a child’s laugh. He pushes past, heart kicking up in unexplained fear. There. Just up ahead: the door to the flat. Home. Warmth.

John.

The door gives way under his hand and John raises his head from where he is reading the newspaper. Same chair. Same jumper. Same wrinkled brow. A smile begins to form on both their faces. Here, Sherlock breathes. His heart slows its incessant, angry flight. John opens his mouth to say something, but his face twists suddenly with rage. Not at Sherlock, no. Something else. Sherlock reaches for him, knowing what is coming next, but his fingers only just brush John’s jumper before he is jerked away.

An unseen hand grips Sherlock by the hair and drags him back, back, back, into harsh fluorescent light and dampness. Distantly, he hears John screaming for him, but he is gone. Sherlock is left with nothing but burning. 

He screams. In his dazed state, the room sways: empty pool, a hospital roof, a locked room with padded walls. The smell of his own burning flesh grounds him in reality, briefly: a too cold room in Serbia, far from London and home.   The guard presses the red hot poker against his chest again, right above his heart.

Behind the guard, Moriarty grins at him—  no, he’s dead. His heart stopped shortly after the bullet ripped through his brain. Mycroft told him so. A normal heart for an abnormal man. No twisted black blood in his veins. No gaping maw in his chest. Would it have felt any different in Sherlock’s hand? 

Still, Moriarty is there and Sherlock’s heart burns.

“How much do you think your heart will weigh after I burn it to ash, Sherlock? Light as a feather? Heavy as a stone?” Not-Moriarty taunts him. “What if I put it in a tonic and drank it? Do you think I’d grow a heart just like yours?”

For a moment, Sherlock feels him pressed against his back, breath hot on his overheated skin. He can’t answer Moriarty’s questions in between his own screams. Lead or feathers—  they all fall in the end and Sherlock is plummeting. Fever simmers, boils, breaks. He is ablaze. He imagines his heart turning into a block of ice—  frozen, hard, and untouchable.

None of it matters in the end.

 


 

A healthy heart beats between sixty and one hundred beats per minute. Sherlock tested his throughout a variety of experiments: sober, high, resting, running, bored, excited. When resting, his pulse registers at seventy beats per minute. It would be lower, he supposes, if he avoided nicotine and caffeine, but then he has so little in the way of vices these days. He longs for something stronger as his pulse pounds past seventy-five, eighty, eighty-five. His chest judders with his next breath and a cold line of sweat collects along his hairline.

John’s hands pause. Even through the latex gloves, Sherlock feels the warmth of John’s hand resting on his chest. The thin rubber catches on his sparse hairs there.

“I’m hurting you,” John says.

Yes. No. Always, Sherlock doesn’t say. “It hurts no matter if you are changing the bandage or not. At least this way, I don’t have to worry about some nurse that Mycroft hired.”

Three days out of hospital and Sherlock still can’t sit up in bed without getting winded. Ridiculous. His chest is intact. No doctor cracked it open, despite the way his ribs feel. The bruising from chest compressions had been relatively minimal, nothing broken. Lucky , John had said. Sherlock bit his check at the thought. Luck never entered the equation.

John peels back the bandaging and tape and presses his fingers along the edge of the still healing scar. Sherlock’s heart jumps then falls, a flutter he attributes to adrenaline and exhaustion. He ignores the poet in him that says otherwise. Biology is far simpler than poetry, and less given to flights of fancy. A heart cannot be shattered. Pain is fleeting, even this one.

God, let it be just as fleeting.

John clears his throat. “It’s healing nicely. Um. No infection. Which is good. Just need to keep an eye on it. Probably can switch to a smaller bandage in a day or two.”

John keeps his eyes firmly on Sherlock’s chest, never wavering, never once lifting to look Sherlock full on in the face. He wouldn’t. Not now. Not with Mary. His movements are brisk and businesslike, refusing to linger tenderly or to pause in their ministrations. Anger, barely checked, shadows John everywhere, and remorse has become its constant companion.They simmer under John’s skin, but he never explodes. Not at Sherlock, at least. Maybe it would be better if he did, lancing his own infected wound and letting all the rage finally out.

Sherlock watches John’s hands and marvels at how small the scars are.  Shouldn’t the wound reflect the pain? Shouldn’t his heart be in shreds? A bullet carved a path into his torso, wrecking muscle and organs much like it wrecked John’s marriage. No one predicted its trajectory or the damage it would make, yet now Sherlock must piece everything back together.

But both can heal. They’ll have to, whether Sherlock wishes it or not.

 


 

A heart is the shape of a fist and Sherlock can easily picture John’s heart. The first hit landed like a heart attack, like a blessing. He had never been so thankful to feel John’s rage, because his rage was proof that John still cared, was still connected to him. John shakes him, slamming him again and again against the mortuary wall.

A miscalculation. So simple, and yet Sherlock missed it. John is no longer throwing himself between Sherlock and Smith; he is now simply throwing himself, teeth clenched, fists raised, at Sherlock. Sherlock knows he has pressed John too far this time. John’s rage quivers and snaps, there in the sharp kick to Sherlock’s ribs, the spittle clinging to his bottom lip, the mussed hair no longer perfectly combed. Sherlock ruins him, has ruined him, will ruin him again and again. John shakes him harder. His head clanks against the wall.

He’s back in Serbia. Back in an alleyway. Back on the roof. Smith laughs and laughs, rattling around in Sherlock’s head as John hits him again. He tastes blood on his tongue and his vision blurs. In between hits, he hears John’s breath come out in ragged gasps.

“Stop this. Stop it now.” John’s violence cloaks his fear, wraps it up with a strike against Sherlock’s face. The next hit follows soon after, a torrent. Unstoppable. Inescapable. They are being swept away in the flood.

Sherlock bears it all. His hands shake as he tries to rise from his prone position. Another miscalculation. His life is becoming a series of unbalanced theories and shoddy thrown together plans. A hit in the bathroom before walking down the hallway now seems recklessly stupid. He’s taken far too much. The chambers of his heart stutter-skip, squeezing his life out in seconds. Hell yawns before him and pulls him down. Time and space warp.

 

Bending.

Bruising.

Breaking. 

Again. 

Again. 

Again.

 

The guards pull John away, and with distance comes clarity. They are surrounded, frozen in tableau. A Renaissance painting of loss; a Rorschach of Sherlock’s own hubris. The both of them have never been more alone. When did they lose their way? When did they both stop being Sherlock and John?

Fists still clenched at his sides, John drifts just out of his reach. They stare at one another, finally seeing each other for what they are, what they have become. Sherlock breaks his gaze first. After all, this is Sherlock’s penance and John’s retribution. 

“I killed his wife,” Sherlock confesses.

“Yes, you did,” John damns him.

Sherlock’s heart continues its relentless death march, even as John’s steps echo out of the room.

 


 

But a heart also weighs sixty-three kilograms (up to seventy upon occasion—  though he denies it and tightens his belt); nine stone (give or take); one hundred forty pounds and fits just under Sherlock’s chin.

John sobs into his chest, ugly and heartbroken. He no longer tries to hide the tears in shame, but instead gives into burying his face in Sherlock’s chest. Their heights match, slotting John perfectly into Sherlock’s arms, like he was meant to be there.

He scolds himself for such thoughts, even as he pulls John closer. John’s hair tickles his cheek. He smells of sweat and sorrow, and Sherlock’s heart is full and heavy in his chest with the responsibility he now holds in his arms. He will be whatever John needs. The promise, still fragile, grows. He has made so many promises and broken just as many, but here, with John shaking against him as if the very earth is falling apart, he knows he will never make a promise as important as this one: he will always be here for John and Rosie, and all that may entail. He swallows down his hurt at the thought of John never needing him the way he needs John: a primal need, past want or lust, a need that drives the electrical current of his heart. 

He slides his hand through John’s hair and cups the nape of his neck. John sobs go quiet for a moment and then begin anew. Sherlock can’t fix this. He can’t reverse the path of a bullet or change the trajectory of a fall from grace, but he will pull John back together. Sherlock’s hand brought about destruction, wrecking John’s life, but now he will pay his price. If he pulled down John down into the depths of hell with him, he will be his guide back out. It is the least he could do. 

“It’s okay,” he mutters into John’s skin. It has to be.

John pulls his closer, clinging to him and refusing the let go. When he manages to speak between body-shaking sobs, his words come out harsh and waterlogged. “No, it’s not.”

“No. No.” Sherlock lets his hand caress down John’s back. Nothing about this is okay. None of it can be, not yet. “But it is what it is.”

And he tells his traitorous heart that that will have to do.

 


 

Given the right conditions, a heart can continue to beat after being removed from a body. Sherlock’s has been ripped from him, leaving a yawning cavern under his ribs. He can hear it: a waterlogged thump deep underground, slowly dying.

The water is rising. Up ahead, he can hear John’s screams, but his feet slip and sink in the loam each time he gets closer. His heart is valiantly trying to stay alive, clinging to the hope that Sherlock will make it to him in time.

Moriarty had promised to burn the heart out of him, but water proves to be far more effective. He’s drowning on dry land, meters away from where John is trapped. Sherlock falls, hands planting into mud. It sucks him down; his lungs fill. Too slow, too late. Darkness rises up and—

“— it. Fuck, Sherlock. I’m here.”

Sherlock snaps awake, hands already clawing at John’s arms. John doesn’t hesitate and pulls him closer. Sherlock paws at him, but John’s vest is dry, his skin is warm. The coldness of the watery grave fades in the pre-dawn light seeping into his bedroom.

“C’mon. Just like I’m doing it. Deep breath, Sherlock.” Under Sherlock’s hands, he feels John take a deliberate breath. Another one. Sherlock attempts to mimic the calm way John’s breath eases in and out. His pulse slows its jackhammer tempo in his neck. John loosens Sherlock’s death grip and guides Sherlock’s hand down to his chest.

Sherlock squeezes his eyes tight and concentrates on feeling John’s heart thumping away under his hand. He envisions oxygen and blood pumping through atrium and ventricle and back again. Just eleven ounces of John, carrying so much weight, so easily crushed and snuffed out. Sherlock’s next breath chokes him.

“Hey, hey. I’m here. We’re okay.”

A hysterical laugh bubbles up in Sherlock’s throat. He shakes his head. Behind closed lids, he can still see Eurus. Her face flashes from murderer to lost child—  a mask over a mask over a mask. A puzzle that Sherlock cannot solve that nearly killed the most precious thing in his life.

John gently cradles Sherlock’s head in his hands. “Stop it. Stop it right now and look at me.” 

Sherlock pries his eyes open. John smiles at him, small but hopeful. His eyelashes are still matted from sleep and a crease from his pillow mars his cheek. A bit of dried drool crusts his chin. Warm. Safe. Home.

“There you are.” John rubs his thumb along Sherlock’s cheekbone. He seems unaware of it, as if nothing feels more natural than his skin touching Sherlock’s.

Sherlock pulls away before John can notice what he is doing. He will not be coddled. John is never willing to give Sherlock exactly what he wishes for.  “I— sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you.”

“It’s fine.” John settles himself on Sherlock’s bed more firmly, as if he has no better place to be.

“You should head back upstairs. Rosie will—” 

“Not even notice I’m gone. You know she sleeps like a rock these days. Thank Christ.”

“Still. You have work in the morning.” Sherlock smoothes the blanket under his hands, seeking out each wrinkle with steadfast focus.

“Sherlock, you aren’t getting rid of me that easily.” John shifts on the bed. His knee brushes up against Sherlock’s thigh and then stays there.

Sherlock swallows and curls his fingers to keep from running his hand along the blonde hair gathered on John’s thigh. The lines of his bedding blur; the edges grow watery as his vision fills with unshed tears. He blinks them back. “No, I suppose not.”

Despite everything, John is still here. And isn’t that a miracle?

John taps his knuckles under Sherlock’s chin, forcing Sherlock to look at him again. “I know I— we find this sort of thing hard to do. Talk, that is.”

Sherlock grimaces and tries to pulls away, but John’s fingers turn firm under his chin. He gives in and looks at John. It hurts.

“No, let me just say this. We don’t talk. But you need to know.” John’s lips purse as he struggles with himself. He nods once, and rushes on. “Yeah, no, you need to know that I am grateful. For you, that is. You saved my life. No— you did. You saved my life and I never thanked you. Not really. This past few months have been shit, if I am being honest. But you have been there. Not just for me, but for Rosie, too. So, thank you.”

“Of course. Where else would I have been?”

John looks at him in wonder, eyes soft and warm. “You really do mean that, don’t you? It never even occurred to you to walk away. Not even after what I did.” John brushes his knuckles over Sherlock’s cheek, tracing the ghosts of long healed bruises and cuts, then cups it in his hand. “You know you can ask me. For whatever it is. You deserve happiness, Sherlock. Real happiness, not playing at it. You’ve given so much. Tell me what you need. Please.”

“John?” He pours everything he can into saying John’s name: the nights spent alone in far off countries barely clinging to his own sanity, the agony in his chest as he raised a glass at John’s wedding, the terror of not being fast enough or brilliant enough to save him. In spite of himself, he leans into John’s touch.

“Yeah.” John moves then, both hands hot against his face. He hesitates for a heartbeat, a millennia, before finally letting his lips rest on Sherlock’s. He moves like Sherlock is precious and fragile, a broken wing in need of delicate mending.

Sherlock whines and John tilts his head just so. Their lips grow wet and humid as they find a rhythm. John nips and teases at the tender flesh of Sherlock’s bottom lip. Sherlock opens for him, reveling in the feel of John’s tongue and the wet slide of their lips against each other. John’s hands wander down Sherlock’s arms, around his back, and up again, setting Sherlock ablaze with each pass.

Sherlock had never given much thought to kisses. They were a means to an end, much like all things physical. But John kisses long and slow, a Sunday morning unfurling with ample time to wander. He coaxes Sherlock through it, first with pecks, then heated kisses that leave Sherlock panting for more. He bumps nose with Sherlock and laughs softly in the small space between them.

“All right?” John’s voice has gone soft, a whisper tinged with laughter. He brushes a kiss against Sherlock’s eyebrow, over his eyelids, across his cheeks.

Speech leaves Sherlock. Thought takes flight. His chest constricts. Too much. Not enough. John kisses him again, mouth, tongue, and body working together to bring Sherlock back. He gasps for air and tastes John. He grabs for him like a man lost at sea finally seeing rescue. John spares him the indignity of begging and follows him down. He hovers over Sherlock, arms braced on either side of Sherlock’s head.

“You’re here. You’re here. You’re real and you’re here,” Sherlock babbles as his heart kickstarts in his chest. Sherlock lets his fingertips explore the lines of John’s face, mapping the dip of his cupid’s bow, the rough stubble along his jaw.

John’s smile turns wistful, the corners turning down ever so slightly. “Of course, I am. This is real. Feel it?” He kisses the tips of Sherlock’s fingers then the palm of his hand. John dips down to kiss him once more.

Sherlock’s body knows what it is doing, even if it feels like his brain has left him. He meets John halfway. He licks into John’s mouth, nibbles at his lips, and learns the sounds John makes when Sherlock deepens the kiss into something harder, raw, and primal. John tastes of sleep and feels like a barely remembered dream, like a homecoming, but a home Sherlock never realized he had fully left. Pressed together like this, John’s pulse races against Sherlock’s own.

A heart cannot sing, but Sherlock’s feels his join a duet, an aria of want and longing finally joined by another voice. John’s heart beats with his, two halves of a heart working in time, keeping time, driving time. Higher, faster, a rising tempo, a crescendo. John conducts him through it all and finally brings him back down to earth.

John stretches out next to him, pulling him close against his chest. Sherlock settles his head just above John’s heart. Eleven ounces that contain all that is John within it and, whether John knows it or not, he carries Sherlock’s heart with him as well. Soulmates or something like it. Entangled, the two work in tandem to feed into a life together. Sentiment. Poetry flying in the face of simple anatomy.

The romance of it makes it no less true.