"Was that it?" John asked, observing Sherlock questioningly. The Consulting Detective had more or less staggered to the living-room and dropped onto the sofa, curling up and wrapping himself in his dressing gown. He was facing John, however, his eyes were shut.
"Was that what?" he mumbled rather disinterestedly. It appeared to John that he was on the verge of sleep, apparently utterly exhausted, which wasn't a great surprise. Sherlock hadn't slept much lately, and even the world's only Consulting Detective, who despised sleep as merely "transport", needed some rest after all that had happened.
"That ... conversation. With Mycroft."
Sherlock furrowed his brow in apparent confusion, opening his eyes and looking at the older man.
"You should have talked to him properly," John stated, unable to hide the slight tone of reproach in his voice.
"I did talk to him, John, I even thanked him," Sherlock replied, still looking at his flatmate with a frown.
"What I'm trying to say..."
"... is that you're disappointed ." Sherlock finished the sentence for John.
"I'm not disappointed, Sherlock!" the doctor replied hastily, although he sensed that the younger man wasn't all that wrong.
"I can tell from the accusing undertone in your voice and the particular line that forms between your brows each time that you are disappointed."
John felt caught. He had expected that, eventually, Mycroft and Sherlock would talk and overcome their difficulties now that the younger of the brothers remembered what the older one had meant and done for him. Mycroft had listened to Sherlock's heart-wrenching report of his abduction, but hadn't shown any genuine reaction. John simply hadn't expected such a superficial conversation. Yes, he was disappointed.
"You had expected a tearful family reunion. But, John, we're not like that."
John snorted, pulling up one corner of his mouth in a humourless grin.
"Yeah, I know."
"Live with it," Sherlock added, closing his eyes and signalling the end of the conversation.
"I would, Sherlock, if it was true," John went on, "I really have to acknowledge one very special attribute that you and your brother master so perfectly..."
Sherlock raised one eyebrow, opening one eye and throwing a mildly intrigued glance at his flatmate. "Which of the many do you mean?"
"No, Sherlock, seriously. You are masters in denying your humanness. You're constantly trying to keep up a disguise. However, as a certain someone has pointed out to you once, a disguise is only convincing as long as it doesn't cover too much of your own self. Remember?" John pursed his lips for a second, remembering the very confusing and quite awkward moment at Irene Adler's house, the woman herself welcoming them in nothing but high-heels that didn't quite manage to draw even a tiny bit of their attention to them.
"You and your brother, Sherlock, you are not less human than anyone else. Live with it!"
Sherlock had just opened his mouth for a reply when the doorbell rang – and kept ringing.
"Doorbell," the Consulting Detective stated plainly, visibly relieved to be spared the bother of replying.
"I can hear it," John muttered. "Do you want to wait until it just happens to stop? If it ever does..."
Apparently only now did Sherlock realise that it would probably not be too clever an idea to wait until John openedthe door. He swung his feet from the sofa, using the momentum to bring his body into an upright position. Grimacing, he pushed himself from the sofa, again swaying dangerously and all colour vanishing from this already pale face.
John wondered how long the pain relief would last before Sherlock was haunted by his allodynia again. It was hard to tell, despite his general knowledge about the common dosage and effect of lidocaine, but he had never treated this exact condition before, plus, Sherlock was always good for a surprise.
The pale man had managed to remain standing on his feet and shuffled to the door, muttering something about Mrs Hudson and Mycroft not being there when they were really needed.
As, courtesy of Mycroft's hackers, Sherlock's website and John's blog had messages on them that neither of the two was available for cases or anything else, it was unlikely that the visitor was a client. It didn't take long, though, until John could hear a familiar voice chattering, sometimes stuttering: Molly was paying them a visit.
Upon entering the living-room, she waved her hand and gestured into the direction of the hallway where Sherlock was still muttering and a strenuous "Urgh" could be heard before the bell finally stopped ringing.
"Hi, John,... um, I'm sorry, the bell just didn't ..." She clasped her hands.
"Sherlock must have fidgeted with it again. No worries, Molly. It's nice that you've come around."
"So, Molly, we have met before, haven't we? At my brother's house, right?" Sherlock had appeared in the room, walking slowly past her and flopping onto the sofa again. After screwing up his face, he smiled at her.
"Sherlock!" John yelled, highly alarmed by the Consulting Detective's reaction.
Molly was startled. "What? What's wrong?"
Sherlock got in ahead of John. "Nothing, Molly. John is just a bit over-worried." Turning to John, he added, "I'm absolutely fine, John. No need to worry." His intonation was slightly exaggerated, so John understood that apparently Sherlock was just pretending that he had lost his memories again. The doctor was irritated.
"I quickly have to check whether your condition allows you to have a visitor. Let's do the little examination in your room, Sherlock. Doctor's orders!" he announced with gritted teeth.
"No, I'm fi..."
"Doctor's orders!" John exclaimed, leaving no room for negotiation.
The two men limped and staggered to Sherlock's room, leaving an entirely confused Molly behind.
"Shall I...?" she asked weakly, pointing into the direction of the front door.
"... put the kettle on, yes, thank you, Molly." John shouted over his shoulder before he shut the door behind him, leaning heavily to it and scrutinising his flatmate, who stood opposite him, looking at him innocently with raised eyebrows.
"So, Sherlock, what's this about?"
His fury was doing battle with a sense of concern for his friend's well-being. After all, Sherlock had been through a lot and it was always possible that he really had temporarily lost his memory once more. Perhaps Molly's reappearance had triggered something?
"What do you mean?" he probed.
John was enraged. "Yet another attempt at giving me a heart-attack, because I thought you had relapsed! What's this "acting memory loss" about, Sherlock?" The doctor hissed, his voice dangerously low.
Sherlock pressed his lips together, obviously contemplating what he was going to say to the furious doctor.
"Nothing. It's nothing," he then chose to say, and John inhaled sharply before holding his breath for a couple of seconds. He then shook his head angrily, letting out the air in resignation.
"I'm not going to play along, mate! Whatever sick game of yours it is to leave Molly thinking you still hadn't regained your memories, I'm not in! It's mean and ruthless!"
"Those are not unfamiliar attributes to describe my personality, John. I'll cope with that."
Despite his temporary disability, John was about to jump at Sherlock and punch him in the face straight away. Sometimes his rage threatened to get the better of him. However, Sherlock raised his hands in a gesture of surrender.
"She knows something."
John was baffled. "I assume she knows a lot, but I guess you're referring to something particular."
"She met Mycroft and she knows something about the shot."
"What – Molly? Don't be so ridiculous!" The idea of mild-mannered nervous little Molly Hooper acting as Mycroft's spy seemed so unlikely that he almost laughed out loud. Apart from anything else, when had Mycroft got the chance to know Molly well enough? Before his and Sherlock's accident, they had hardly even met. Perhaps Sherlock had gone a little crazy.
But as if to remind John that he was actually getting better, the consulting detective showed a hint of his old arrogant manner. "Oh, come on John, even you can't be that dense. It's obvious."
"You know, Sherlock Holmes, sometimes I really miss the time you had lost your memories", John ranted, angry about the fact that it wasn't all that obvious to him once more.
Realizing what had slipped off his tongue, he looked at the Consulting Detective, slightly shocked and condemning himself for not being able to control his fury.
"Nonono! No. I... didn't mean it. I just wanted to say that... it's... sometimes hard to follow you."
His words, however, seemed to have hit Sherlock at least a bit for he was standing on the spot for a moment, his face blank. When he came to life again, he just virtually wiped away the tension that was hanging above them with a sweep of his hand.
"She's nervous. Molly. She was nervous when she visited us at Mycroft's house, but this now is different. She came here by taxi – I saw it down the street. Molly hadn't opened her handbag. It has buttons that take a while to be opened – she didn't pay. Although the taxi was free, the driver didn't stop to take the passenger hailing it; ergo, one of Mycroft's men drove it. She met Mycroft and she is even more nervous than normal: she knows something she's been sworn not to tell us. Since Mycroft knows that, no matter what my physical state may be, I would go after the shooter's employer, I'm convinced it has to do with it."
Sherlock seemed to be quite satisfied with his deduction, although it seemed as if he hadn't actually spoken to John rather than to himself.
"So, what's your scheme, Sherlock? As far as I get it, you're about to manipulate Molly to tell you what you want to know by pretending you still hadn't regained your memories? Don't you think Mycroft would have told her that your memories are back?"
"No, because he uses her to spy on us – she isn't aware of it, of course - and it works better, at least this once, when she's worried and doesn't know that I remember everything."
"Holmes logic," John stated drily. "So, you two are both trying to play with Molly. Do you think it's fair?"
"It serves a purpose."
"Sodding bastards, you are then, Sherlock! She doesn't deserve it! She's your friend and you're just manipulating her in whatever way you want. Do what you want, but I'm not getting involved in this!"
"John, you don't understand..."
"Sherlock, you know what? I don't care!" John clenched his fists, trying to control is anger. "I really don't understand; that's right!" he hissed, turning towards the door.
Sherlock strode up to him surprisingly fast, blocking his way. "Ten minutes, and then I'll tell her."
John looked into his friend's face. His expression was difficult to read, but John thought that his eyes seemed to be displaying a plea that he couldn't just ignore. He wasn't happy to be dragged into a competition of taking advantage of Molly.
"Ten minutes, and not a second longer! Whatever bloody information you want to get from her!"
Sherlock gave John a short but intense look, and John caught a glimpse of the fire that he hadn't seen in his friend's eyes for quite a while. He was enjoying the prospect of acting in front of Molly!
John left the room behind Sherlock, who walked very slowly by his standards. Was he in pain again? In fact, a little devil in John's heart told him that the Consulting Detective deserved some pain for his treatment of Molly's. The doctor pushed away the thought and followed Sherlock into the living-room, cursing about having forgotten his crutch in his fury.
Molly was sitting on the sofa.
"Tea is ready," she stated the obvious, pointing to the mugs on the table in front of her and smiling insecurely.
"Thank you, Molly," Sherlock replied, sitting down on the sofa next to her but ignoring the tea. John noticed that he had briefly screwed up his face; so he was in pain.
"How...are you feeling?"
"Much better, thank you, Molly." Sherlock said lightly, smiling at the woman by his side.
"Good, um ..., I just thought I'd drop by and, um, well,..." she stammered, and John realised that Sherlock had been right. She was extremely nervous.
All of a sudden, Sherlock flinched and a constrained moan escaped his lips.
"Are you all right, Sherlock?" Molly wanted to know, glancing at him worriedly. "Just... as all right as..."
"I'm fine." the Consulting Detective hissed, interrupting her, and Molly stared at him, puzzled.
John had been slowly moving towards his armchair, but didn't give in to its appealing promise of sitting down and resting his leg. Instead, he picked up his crutch and made his way to the kitchen in order to prepare another injection for Sherlock.
"It's nice that you come looking after us. How have you been doing since we met last time?" Sherlock tried to make conversation; however, John could very well hear now that it took him a lot of effort and he was surprised about how fast the painkillers were losing effect.
The doctor listened to the slightly awkward talk between Molly and Sherlock, wondering whether the Consulting Detective's acting skills had suffered from his physical state. He had seen better performances and he felt genuine sympathy for Molly, who didn't have the faintest clue as to what Sherlock was doing with her.
He learnt otherwise, dropping the syringe with the combination of different analgesics from surprise, shooting round to look at the scene, when Molly, very calmly and matter-of-factly stated,
"Sherlock Holmes, I don't know what you're aiming at, but if again you're trying to use my... my... my crush on you to take advantage of me, you're barking up the wrong tree!"
Molly stood up from the sofa, looking down at Sherlock, whose mouth was standing open in utter amazement, almost yelling,
"You're a fascinating man, but all the same sickening! I know that kind of talk – with or without lost memories – and it always leads to you manipulating me. I took care of you when you were helpless and nearly dead and I really think I deserve a tad more respect from you! So, whatever it is that you want from me, tell me, but don't pussyfoot around it!"
John couldn't avoid a "See?!" full of schadenfreude, grinning inwardly and admiring Molly for her courage. It had been long overdue that she put Sherlock in his place.
Sherlock was motionless, scrutinizing Molly with alternating frowns and raised eyebrows. Apparently, he was trying to figure out what had gone wrong. He wasn't used to losing the upper hand.
The young woman sat back down, taking her mug and sipping at the tea without averting her gaze from the still flabbergasted Consulting Detective. She took Sherlock's mug that was still sitting on the table, untouched, offering it to him.
"So, tea then? Or do you want me to go?" she wanted to know. John was intrigued. This situation was indeed getting interesting and he was curious about how Sherlock would manoeuvre himself out.
The younger Holmes, defeated, finally replied "Tea," stretching out his hand slowly. A split-second before Sherlock took the mug, John realised that his allodynia was returning and that most likely the heat of the mug had to feel like a red-hot piece of coal in his hand. He wanted to shout a warning, but it was too late. Sherlock yelped in pain, dropping the cuppa, the tea soaking his dressing gown and pyjama. He gasped, his face all screwed up.
Molly jumped from reflex, trying to escape the splash of hot liquid, looking utterly confused. She wanted to hectically assist Sherlock taking off his wet dressing gown, but he backed away from her as if she could burn him as well. She apparently didn't know about the Consulting Detective's poor condition, so she couldn't interpret his reaction.
"Molly," John intervened, "just leave him."
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry! - I thought you had it! I'm sooo sorry, Sherlock. Shit!..." she stammered, holding up her hands apologetically.
"Molly," John tried to interrupt her, but she kept apologizing frantically.
"Stop it!" Sherlock shouted suddenly, looking at the baffled woman intently with dark eyes. The pupils had dilated from the pain. John hurried to fill a fresh syringe while instructing Molly to gingerly help Sherlock out of the dressing gown and the pyjama top.
Sherlock moaned he could do it himself, but his attempt at doing so taught him otherwise. With a painful groan he gave in reluctantly and Molly assisted the tall man, not without being scolded for her roughness.
"Sherlock, be fair!" John reminded him, limping back into the living-room, the syringe in his hand.
Molly was apparently too baffled to question what was going on, standing next to Sherlock, the wet dressing gown in her hands, staring at it with her mouth slightly open.
"Ok, Sherlock, you have to pull down your pyjama bottoms a bit for me. Actually, best would be, you'd drop them completely so that you can change into something fresh and dry."
"No," was Sherlock's curt answer.
"I can't do an IV injection. My hands aren't steady enough – and, although I'm sometimes not all that sure about it, I don't want to kill you. Plus, you can't stand there with your soaked clothes on. If you don't want to cooperate, then walk to your room with the wet cloth of your pyjamas rubbing your skin, touch the door handle and push it down, take them off there, find yourself something dry and try if that works with your skin!" John replied, a slightly mischievous smile on his face, knowing that every single step would be hell for his flatmate. He was losing patience a bit. It wasn't good that Sherlock hadn't said anything before. The pain memory made it more difficult to suppress the newly arising pain and he could only hope that the dose he had prepared would be sufficient to bring his friend some relief.
Sherlock let out a quite interesting flow of curses before resigning.
"Ok, but Molly has to leave, or at least turn around."
The doctor looked at the woman and his flatmate alternatingly, both of which were slowly blushing.
"No, Sherlock. I need Molly's help. I'm quite incapacitated when it comes to using both my hands and keeping my balance. So, I need her to help you out of and back into your pyjama trousers. Don't answer back – either of you!" he ordered when he noticed Molly and Sherlock blushing even more and opening their mouths in order to object.
When Molly had regained her composure and come to life from the paralysis she had apparently fallen into, she gave Sherlock a brief smile.
"Don't worry, Sherlock, I've seen worse. – No, no! I mean, I've seen many naked men. Dead mostly – not all! Shit! I mean, don't worry, I know what men look like, dead or alive."
John couldn't avoid a laugh at Molly's awkwardness. She could be lucky that Sherlock was occupied with enduring his pain; otherwise he would have pulled her to pieces.
"Ok, you two. Let's get this over with. Molly, go to Sherlock's room and take a silken pyjama set from his wardrobe. The softest you can find."
Sherlock still hadn't completely resigned despite the pain he was in. "Don't mess up everything! I don't want to have to re-establish my cleverly devised system again!"
"Shut up, Sherlock! It's enough. If you don't want to catch a cold, be quiet!"
Molly went to fetch the fresh garment. In the meanwhile John pulled down his friend's bottoms far enough that he could inject the painkillers. He would normally slap the skin around the little injection puncture a bit, but refrained from it now. He didn't want to risk being slapped back in response to an exaggerated stimulus of the peripheral nerves in Sherlock's behind.
When Molly returned from Sherlock's room, a silken purple pair of pyjamas in her hands, John instructed her on how to assist Sherlock taking off his pants. Molly was deep red in the face, but turned out to be very clever with her hands, thanks probably to years of taking off clothes from not very supportive individuals.
The Consulting Detective was almost as red as Molly herself, although he generally didn't have any problems with showing his body. It maybe was the awkwardness of the situation that made him feel embarrassed.
The pathologist managed very well not to look at Sherlock too intensely and after a short time he was freshly dressed, however, standing as still as possible.
Molly sighed, stretching her back determinedly. "Now, you two, what's going on?"