Disclaimer: I dont own anything, I am simply borrowing them to my delight!

AN: Inspired by this little plotbunny, which simply jumped at me and forced me to write this out. Therefore the credit belongs to Barbossa's Monkey, who gave me this great idea!

[74] Pain

The agony was excruciating but it was well worth suffering the pain and misery of the gut shot wound if it meant that Watson would still be there to fret and hen peck over him during his recovery rather than laying buried under six feet of dirt from the bullet that had been meant for him.

- Barbossas Monkey (The Adventures of the London Duo)

Thanks belong also to nomdeplume, who helped me a lot by looking this story over to look for stray errors or mis-used words. Thanks a lot Stacey, you helped me a lot!

The title was chosen, because of someting my Grandfather has told me when I was a kid. "The greatest sacrifice is to risk your life to save another." Quite good advice I think, thanks Granddad!

I hope you enjoy this and are kind enough to leave me a review with some feedback!

The Greatest Sacrifice

Time slowed suddenly as I saw mad Jenkins whisk out a concealed revolver. Never had time slowed like that, a creeping sensation, allowing me to see everything in painful clarity and detail. For that very instant I saw everything almost terrifyingly clear, each and every detail forever ingrained within the confines of my memory. The gleam of the lamplights breaking on the steel of the gun barrel, the brief and clear flash of knowledge in Jenkins' eyes as he realized that shifting his aim from me to my companion would deal a blow more deadly than any bullet could. My own realisation that the shot could not go astray from that short a distance.

I knew beyond any shred of doubt that the bullet aimed at my companion would kill him. Within the span of less than a heartbeat I acknowledged that I was not strong enough to survive his loss.

So I reacted the only way I could. I moved between him and the bullet.

For a moment I feared I had been too slow and the bullet had missed me, but then searing pain engulfed me as I fell to the ground, no longer able to keep my body upright.

Everything was strangely intensified during that agonizingly long moment, I felt the cold cobblestone beneath me, smelled the stench around us and felt the warm fluid pouring out of the wound (I could not pinpoint the entry of the bullet, my whole chest area hurt), and then I heard the enraged roar of my companion as he charged the man.

I heard a brief scuffle, followed by a shot and someone hitting the ground and I felt dread seize me.

Had he been hurt?

Had his blind concern for me and his anger at Jenkins brought him to harm?

For an instant all was still then, so dreadfully silent. Were we both to bleed to death in this grimy alley? I in a foolish attempt to save his life and he in a pursuit of avenging my shed blood?

I needed to know.

Dimly I could see shapes around me, the darkness was advancing fast; already it was swirling at the edges of my vision, would my sight fail me before I could see if he was injured? I heard my strained gasp as I tried to take a breath and failed miserably.

And then he was there.

Unharmed as it seemed.

I still cannot fathom the depth of relief I experienced at that realisation. He was not hurt, at least my admittedly foolish action had prevented that.

I perceived that he was concerned -terrorized rather- as his hands tried to stem the blood flow. I could feel his shaking hands pressing down upon the wound, sending me into another fit of sheer agony. Shadows passed in my field of vision, sometimes obscuring him.

But his presence was oddly reassuring, if I was to die, at least I was not alone. His movements and his voice gave off a burst of professionalism, he was as determined as ever to aid me. But in the brief moment when I could see his face -and his eyes- clearly, I knew he was concerned. Very concerned. The gleam in his eyes dimmed for an instant, doubtless the fool blamed himself again. He would be doing so until I would tell him to stop it.

But I could not do so.

I tried to speak, but could not find the energy to.

Clearly I knew why I had done it, why I had moved and caught the bullet, and a simple look in his face told me that somewhere within his brain he knew it also.

I perceived he was talking to me, but I could not determine what he said to me, his frantic face swam back and forth in my vision, caught in a haze between oblivion and awareness. I saw his lips move and caught the form of my name, but could not find the strength to answer.

I did not know how long I had lain there already, his form bent over me and his hands on my chest, but gradually the pain dulled. I felt calmer than I had in all my years.

I attributed it to his presence.

Surely he would know what was to be done, surely it was only a superficial scratch (though some part of me insisted that it was not) and he would know what to do. After all, he was the one man in the world whom I trusted without so much as a second thought.

It would be safe for me to close my weary eyes for a while, to still my racing thoughts for a bit. While the shadows advanced upon my thought processes; slowed and slurred them to the point of blending together, I allowed the haze to swallow my being.

His voice was the last thing that penetrated the darkness.

"Holmes, stay awake!"

A last thought emitted out of the haze and I wondered why he sounded so afraid.

The first thing that I registered as I emerged from the darkness was the smell. It smelled clean, some tinge in it I was yet unable to place and I wondered where the blazes I was. That I could not say for certain where I was and the fact that my thoughts moved much too slow compared to my normal level could only be attributed to some medicine. Judging by the sluggish drag of my thought processes it could only have been morphine.

I lay on something soft and warmth engulfed me. I was in a bed therefore, since that was the only explanation for it. But was it my bed?

Was I in Baker Street?

It seemed unlikely, it did not smell like home.

Something was also wrapped around my chest, I moved to touch it only to find that my arms would not obey my command.

And still that wretched smell lingered, I could not place it completely and I wondered, where in the world I was.

I couldn't remember what had been before the darkness. Why couldn't I remember? Lying there, in this foreign environment, I racked my mind for any morsel of information.

Suddenly I could see the face of my dear friend Watson, that horror-stricken look he had given me, but why? What could possibly have terrified him so?

Was it something I did?

Or something I didn't?

It was a memory, something that had happened before the darkness had swallowed my thought. What had I done that had sparked such terror on my friend's face?

The harder I thought, the more shreds returned to my memory. Cold cobblestone, terrible stench, searing pain and dread.

And suddenly I knew.

Jenkins, the mad man whom we had been hunting, whom the whole of Scotland Yard hunted, the man whose hands were stained with the blood of at least six children. Scotland Yard had requested my help and I in turn had requested Watson's assistance and so we had moved out together, hunting our quarry. In the East End, after several hours of meticulous tracking, we had found him finally. That wretched creature, barely called a man, cared no ounce for another life and even less for his own, he had already been stalking his next victim. One of my Irregulars no less. I could not deduce his motivation, he simply seemed to enjoy mutilating and killing children.

We had been on the verge of apprehending him, having disturbed his hunt for the night, when he had pulled out a gun.

When he had aimed for Watson.

Somehow he must have sensed that I held his life of greater worth than my own.

And I had moved in between him and Watson, had acted on instinct rather than coherent thought. I was effectively shielding the doctor and received the bullet meant to end his life. I remembered dreadful agony, radiating from the point where the bullet had struck.

And with that memory my ability to think clearly returned also.

The smell, that distinct smell of antiseptic and medicine could only belong to a hospital. Since St. Bart's had been the closest to our location when I was shot, it seemed likely that this was where I had been taken.

The material around my chest could only have been bandages, since that was the area where the pain had been, currently reduced to a dull throbbing, one which would give way to searing pain soon enough as I was sure.

The relief from it was no doubt caused by the morphine in my veins. And the drug surely was also to be blamed for my inability to move.

Presently a murmur reached my ears, unclear and dim at first, but getting clearer by the minute. Two people speaking, not very far away, doubtless in the room with me. Hushed, quick words passed between them.

"You really should get some rest Doctor. You look as if you'd pass out soon. He'd agree if he were awake and you know that."

I recognized Lestrade's voice and his was closely followed by my dear friend's exhausted words. I did not need to see him to deduce - by his voice alone - that he indeed was on the verge of collapsing.

"I'll rest when Holmes woke up."

Just this one sentence, spoken with that exhausted, worried voice, told me all I needed to know at the moment. It must have been some time - ranging from several hours to some days - since I had been sentient. And Watson, true to his character, had kept his place beside me, disregarding every thought of himself.

That alone led me to believe it must have been a rather close call indeed.

I wished I could only find the energy to move or open my eyes, but that blasted narcotic still bound my limbs to the sheets. Cursing inwardly, I shifted my focus back to the conversation, temporarily ignoring the fact that I could do nothing else. Undoubtedly it had carried on while I was preoccupied, or perhaps the morphine had caused me to black out for a few moments.

"I don't know Lestrade. He's lost a good deal of blood and we had some trouble extracting the bullet without causing further damage, but at the least his lung has not collapsed. And he's lucky he hasn't caught an infection as well."

He sounded tired, downcast; almost broken in a way; while my intellect supplied me with all the possible endings this business could have had. But whatever had happened to me, I was oddly glad the bullet had hit me instead of Watson.

Lestrade broke into my thoughts - for the first time ever I was glad he did - as he implored Watson to go home and rest, though his voice alone spoke of the futile attempt it was.

"I appreciate your concern, Inspector, however I think I'll be of more use here. When he wakes up, the fool might do some imbecilic stunt like trying to get up. You know Holmes, he's bound to do that without someone here to restrain him in some way."

Silence erupted after that last statement and I had to give my friend the credit he deserved. He was right, had I woken without him close by I would have assumed the worst. I would have deduced wrongly (as few times as that actually happens) and would have believed him to be injured or killed.

Suddenly the stillness was broken by the downcast voice of my dear Boswell, dripping with guilt and misery.

"Why didn't he tackle Jenkins? The shot would have gone astray, and none of us would have been hurt. Why did he take a bullet that was meant for me?"

How could he even think for so much as a moment that I wouldn't?

Surely he must know that his life meant more than mine, at least in my opinion! Not even my grand intellect was able to think of my reaction if he had been wounded or - heaven forbid!- killed.

I had asked his assistance on that case, it was my responsibility to make sure he was not injured in the pursuit of the solution. It would have been my fault if he came to harm.

Besides that, the idiot would have done exactly the same thing, had our positions been reversed. Of that much I could be absolutely certain, I knew Watson long enough.

How then could he think - even for so much as a moment - that I would not shield his life if he just as readily would have surrendered his?

In my little argument with myself I again had missed part of the conversation, surely this was attributed to the medicine. I only just caught Lestrade taking his leave, his voice fading as he evidently moved towards the door. A second set of footsteps followed him, without a doubt Watson was accompanying him to the door.

"As for that wretched creature, he's in custody. He is sporting a rather blue head, additionally to the broken nose. Not that he would care too much about his looks, he's for the gallows anyway. I'm telling you, I would not want to be at the receiving end of your right cross, Doctor."

Who on earth would WANT that?

"Well, he sure is one lucky bloke. I could have inflicted a lot more harm than just a broken nose and some bruises, but I was otherwise occupied." Watson answered calmly. I knew he meant every word that he said.

"I don't think anyone would have minded that Doctor. Good night."

I could practically see the cold grin on Lestrade's face as he left. The man hated child-killers with a vengeance that was interesting to perceive. I still had not found out why exactly.

I heard a door close quietly, followed by the tell-tale footsteps of Watson as he approached me. The limp was clearly heard. Then a rustle of clothing as he sat down and a quiet sigh.

Silence reigned again and I used it to determine if I could at least open my eyes. Surely that must be in the realm of possibilities.

I wanted to see my friend and the fact that I had hitherto been unable to gnawed on my thinning patience. Not that I have ever possessed a lot of that anyway.

When I finally, after a few minutes struggle as I was sure, managed to open my eyes for a bit and peer around the room, I caught a glimpse of my dear Watson. Lestrade was right, the man looked as if he would fall out of the chair with pure fatigue. Even though I could not see his face -for the simple fact that he held his head in his hands- the way he sat spoke whole volumes.

His shoulders were slumped, his back bent as he leaned forward, his hair unkempt and still dressed in the same suit he had worn that fateful night. Overall he looked terrible. His hands trembled slightly, as if the task of standing and talking to the Inspector had exhausted him.

I was tempted to try and speak, when he sat up and looked at me. For a brief moment he seemed unable to comprehend the fact that I was looking back at him, but then I only saw relief on his features. A relief so pure that it stunned even me.

"You're awake!" he exclaimed excitedly and drew closer, a broad smile on his features.

"Don't try to move." he ordered, his face stern for a moment, before happiness emerged again and he flashed a grin at me.

I found my own lips quirk in a crooked half-grin at the sight of my friend, whose emotions seemed to toy with him and change every half-second.

At the moment it seemed to be joy, coupled with relief.

That alone was telling. Proof to my assumptions that it had been some time since I had lost recollection. But I could -and would- not let assumptions lead my thoughts, I craved precise data. Therefore I forced myself to speak, though doing so sent a sharp stab of pain through my chest.

"How long?"

Dear me, was that hoarse croaking truly my voice?

A shadow passed over his features, concern flashed as his eyes flickered over my chest and I felt my brows crease in a frown. I had not deduced that my simple question would have that drastic of an effect upon him.

"A little over four days. The bullet passed between two ribs and lodged itself in your chest. You were lucky it didn't penetrate your lung. I must confess, you gave me rather a fright there, old chap."

"I assure you, that it was quite unintentional."

Watson raised his eyebrow, and gave me a slightly odd look as I realised my error. Damn that narcotic, my thoughts worked terribly slow compared to my normal pace.

"The fright, old friend, not the action which provoked it." I clarified.

I had spoken quietly, yet loud enough for him to hear and again I saw guilt surfacing in his eyes, the blasted fool blamed himself for something I had done!

Though I have to admit, that was not surprising in and of itself, yet I hated to see Watson blame himself. No matter the reason for it.

"You shouldn't have done that, you could have been killed." he said quietly, his face turned away so I would not see his emotions. Not that I needed to. I knew what he was thinking, this was Watson after all, he never had been good at hiding his emotions and deceiving others. Least of all me.

He blamed himself, probably thought that he had been careless, had not paid proper attention and the soldier within him (which came through in crisis-situations) felt like he had failed.

Of course it was nonsense, but he had four days to convince himself that it was the truth.

Now it fell to me to convince him otherwise again, though how I would achieve that feat was beyond me at the moment. Under a different condition I would have tried and reasoned with him, but how could I do that if I could not even find a sufficient reason for my actions myself? I had simply reacted, I could not find a different reason other than the simple desire to shield his life.

How could I explain that to him?

Thankfully I was saved for the moment from justifying my actions, as he spoke again.

"That was among the most foolish things to do, Holmes." he said, finally looking back at me. In his gaze I could perceive the worry he had endured, the long hours he had spent here waiting for me to wake up from a drug induced sleep, the memory of the wound still fresh in his mind.

"On the contrary, my dear Watson, it was one of the brighter ideas I've had. Besides, I'd wager you would have done exactly the same, wouldn't you?"

For a moment he looked at me with a startled expression, but then he flashed me a wry grin and I knew I was right.

"I suppose I would have."

I must have drifted off soon after that, but I recall myself mumbling something along the lines of "Why should you assume then that I wouldn't do the same?". That narcotic sent me back into the black abyss of unconsciousness, and once again I lost all concept of time or space.

There was however one thing I could be absolutely certain about and that was that Watson would continue his vigil at my bedside, I knew it was quite useless to convince him to get some rest himself. And he had the nerve of cautioning ME about my unhealthy habits!

I knew that I would wake again to much the same picture as I had before, him sitting next to my bed, completely exhausted, but too stubborn to admit it. Or possibly to him sleeping, as I had been awake and that seemed to have calmed him considerably. And in the following weeks and perhaps months he would nag at me every opportunity he got, would fret and hen-peck until I would become positively enraged over his fussing, but I would not have it any other way. He would have died, had I not shielded him.

And though I still could not fathom the exact reason why I had done that, the pain I would have undoubtedly endured had he indeed been shot would have been so much worse. With the last coherent thought I acknowledged that I would rather have him fussing and alive than dead and buried under a layer of dirt by the bullet meant for him.

The End

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