It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. The Adventure of the Three Garridebs

.***.

Sherlock was never very good at the whole friend business.

When he was eight, there had been another boy who, like John, had found his methods of deduction "cool" instead of annoying. Sherlock didn't know what to do about James, who would approach him after school and ask if they wanted to solve crimes together. Sherlock did not want to solve make-believe crimes. He wanted to take his bike and peddle over to the university in town to watch a lecture given by a famous professor or world-renowned astrologer or mathematician. He liked to snigger at the things they got wrong.

One day, James, who was not quite popular himself, was getting picked on (or punched, Sherlock, for some reason, didn't remember the exact details of that day, even though his memories of most of his life were razor sharp) by a group of older children. When they saw the freak, they made to go after Sherlock, too. So he ran, even though James's voice kept asking him to come back. And, despite the fact that he often thought of that day, he hadn't even felt bad about it. Not then or since.

Or with Mycroft, who was not stellar as brothers go but still cared for Sherlock in his own way. As children, it was Mycroft who used to cover for his younger brother when he snuck out of the house or dug up the neighbor's dead cat to see what its insides looked like. Often, for misdeeds that Sherlock had performed, Mycroft would be sent to bed without supper.

"Why did you tell mummy that you saw George Hubbards digging up the cat?" Sherlock recalled asking one night when he went up to their shared room with a full stomach and Mycroft was studying to take his mind off his hunger.

"Because it's what I'm supposed to do. It's what older brothers are supposed to do, even if they have the strangest little brother in the world."

Sherlock didn't know what to do about this, and ignored it, and eventually Mycroft's overbearing personality created a rift between the two brothers.

But the point is that it wasn't some new thing, this inability to communicate with people who obviously wanted, inexplicably, to have a relationship with him. No, the new thing is that, ever since John Watson had moved in, Sherlock had been working on trying to communicate, to bridge the gap that had always existed between him and everyone else in the world.

Obviously he wasn't doing a very good job.

"What happened, Sherlock?" Lestrade didn't sit across from Sherlock, he sat next to him because he knew that the world's only consulting detective had more important things to think about than attempting and failing to remember the social niceties that were performed in conversations that merited eye contact "Why was Dr. Watson at that house?"

"I told him to go there. Stupid. I didn't know all the facts. I just wanted to be done with the case."

"Why? You get bored between cases. You wear a dozen nicotine patches if you go without crime for ten minutes. I'd think you'd want to make this last as long as possible." Sherlock said nothing, just stared at the receptionist and wondered vaguely if anyone in the hospital new her husband was beating her nightly. "Sherlock, are you listening to me?"

"Yes. I don't try to 'drag out' cases. I'm not a barbarian. I know that there are victims of these crimes who would like whatever emotional closure my answer can bring them. I wanted to be finished with the case because of the toll it was taking on Dr. Watson."

"Anderson told me he passed out while you were interrogating a witness. We're not all super human, Sherlock. Not everyone can survive on an hour of sleep a night and three meals a week."

"I know that."

"Then why are you trying to break you new toy?" Lesatrade asked, exasperated. "You know, I think you were one of those kids who pulled on the girls' Barbie dolls just to see how long it would take for their arms to break."

Sherlock considered telling Lestrade that with twenty pounds of applied force, the arm would come free in two point three seconds, which he had tested in the first grade using Connie Gorman's doll, but then thought better of it.

"I'm not trying to break John," Sherlock said, and found that he was bristling at the accusation.

Detective Inspector Lestrade must have noticed his tone, because he rubbed the back of his neck and sighed loudly. "I know you're not. But if you don't show him some level of affection he will leave. A person can only take so much from a sociopath. It's a wonder the man hasn't gone barmy before now." But Lestrade knew that this didn't entirely explain Watson's behavior. The doctor didn't merely "put up" with whatever antics Sherlock had going on that week – he enjoyed them, studied them, and laughed at them, almost as if he were Sherlock's friend and not just a flat mate that would only hang around for a couple of months.

Lestrade liked Sherlock - there aren't many people in the world who would admit to that, but he liked Sherlock for his candor and bluntness, for his refusal to play by anyone's rules but his own. And perhaps it was because he saw so much potential in what others only viewed of as a freak that he found it so frustrating when Sherlock seemed content to let everything go to hell in a hand basket.

"Promise me you'll talk to him."

"If John Watson lives through this surgery – and there's a good chance he won't, mind you. I know a lot about anatomy and that was a bad wound – then what will I tell him? The man who has killed six people and tried to kill him is still loose and we have no leads because I've been sitting here unable to…to think clearly." Sherlock put his hands on both sides of his neck and drew in a deep breath. Why, why couldn't he think straight? Why did his brain keep jumping to insignificant childhood events? Why were his thoughts being colored by emotion of all things?

"He needs you, Sherlock. You're the only one he's got right now."

And Sherlock…found he couldn't argue with that.

John Watson did live through the surgery and woke up fourteen hours after he'd been stabbed in a dirty alley in the middle of London. When he woke, the first thing he noticed was that he couldn't move his hand, his right hand, the hand he'd used to perform surgery and save lives. The hand that had been cut open by someone out for blood.

The second thing he noticed was Sherlock staring at him from a bedside chair. And once he noticed his flatmate, he couldn't look away. It was like a game of chicken, both parties waiting uneasily for someone to blink first.

John did, literally blinking and looking away. He could never remember being in so much pain in his life, not even after he'd been wounded in action, not even in those first miserable days after being dragged from a frozen lake when he was young and naive.

"The man I sent you to interrogate was the more dangerous part of the duo who've been committing the murders lately." Sherlock said, his tone so conversational that they could be talking about the shopping or the weather. "He wasn't apprehended after he attacked you."

John opened his mouth, shut it, opened it again. Suddenly his throat felt very strange, like it was filled with glue and cotton balls and he had to try to swallow and breathe and make noise around it. And his stomach! Clenched up with a sick, cold, slimy feeling that had nothing to do with the gaping hole that had been there hours before. "Sherlock, I am dreadfully sorry. He got the jump on me, I'm afraid."

Suddenly Sherlock was on his feet, with such a look on his face that if John could he would have shrunk back into the darkness. As it was, he swallowed around the mass in his throat as Sherlock's face turned dark and stormy. "Nurse!" He bellowed, one hand to John's side, and John was suddenly aware of something happening, because surely Sherlock's hand hadn't been so covered in blood before...

Five hours after the next surgery, John awoke again. Sherlock was standing this time, staring out a window and muttering to himself. John tried to work up the energy to open his mouth but couldn't manage it. He leaned back against his pillows and waited for a real sleep to take him.

"You're awake." Sherlock barely turned when he spoke, "And I hope you're not going to try to apologize again for getting stabbed."

John managed a slight shrug, feeling his face redden at the mention of his ineptitude. Couldn't Sherlock see? He, John, was nothing, nobody. A war hero, an accomplished surgeon, were nothing compared to the record of the man standing before him. Sherlock could do things that literally no one else on earth could do, and in the brief time John had been involved with him he'd managed to muck things up good and proper.

"Lestrade and Mycroft have both told me to apologize. I'm not very good at that, but you already know…anyway." Sherlock finally turned away from the window, and it occurred to John that he looked disheveled and haggard as the doctor had never seen him before. It wasn't just the fact that he hadn't changed clothes since John had last seen him – there was still some of John's blood on the cuff of a sleeve. No, Sherlock often forgot such mundane things while working on a case. It was more something to do with the way his cheeks were bright and his grey eyes were dull with strain. "I am sorry, you know. For sending you to the house of a murderer."

"That's good of you to say," John said as amicably as he could muster. He really did need better pain killers, "But I should have been able to catch him. It's my fault there's a murderer loose on the streets."

"And it's my fault you nearly bled to death in my arms!" This last was said so fiercely and with so much emotion that both men were taken aback by it. John eyed Sherlock warily as the taller men covered the space between them in two strides. "It's my fault, John, not yours."

He couldn't quite bring himself to say the other things – how he'd started rushing through the case because John's limp had come back, and that only happened when he was near total exhaustion. That when John had passed out something in the pit of his stomach had somersaulted, and his heart had raced as if he were running but he was merely standing still watching the most important thing in his life crumple to the ground, ironically because Sherlock had been working so hard so they'd finish with the case so he could spare Watson. How he was sorry for acting cross when Watson finally did come to, but he was so relieved to find the doctor staring up at him his emotions – funny things that they are – had gotten jumbled, mixed, and concern was so near to anger that the two had become blurred and he'd lashed out.

Somehow, John knew anyway. John always knew.

"It's alright, Sherlock. Why don't we call this one a draw?"

"I believe my screw-up far outranks yours, John."

"Must you always be so competitive? Do something useful and call me a doctor or I might pass out from pain, and obviously you can't be left alone for five minutes. You don't take care of yourself."

"I operated just fine before you came along."

"Then why is your left sleeve covered with my blood?"

Sherlock's hand grasped John's and the doctor squeezed tight, using the slim, strong fingers as an anchor, a safe harbor to escape to when the pain got too much. "Your hand is ruined." Sherlock confessed, the secret tripping from his lips unbidden.

"I've heard that before. It'll turn to rights, Sherlock, don't worry."

The doctor came in and shoed Sherlock away from the bed, then made a small joke about doctors being the worst patients which John was too far gone, lost in a world or red pain, to even pretend to find amusing.

Sherlock watched it all from his position by the window, and made a resolution right then that this would be the one toy he didn't break. He wouldn't let John Watson down. Not again. Not ever again.

.***.

the end.

really. a million thanks for the awesome, kind, motivating reviews we got. it's becuase of you guys that there's this extra chapter (which we quite like, to be honest.) so, from the bottom of our hearts: thanks.