Mrs Hudson was the first to arrive. When the automatic door to the ICU opened, Mycroft would have felt a strange urge to giggle at the sight of the short woman in the green gown with the ridiculous cover for her hair and shoes, had he not been aware of the fact that he looked pretty much the same and had it not been obvious from the expression on her face that she was in complete shock at the sight of Sherlock and John.
She covered her mouth with her hands to obviously avoid a shriek, then took in a ragged breath, tears welling from her eyes and trickling down the wrinkles of her face that told of happy as well as hard times.
Mycroft rose from his chair and approached Mrs Hudson when all of a sudden she stepped forward and embraced the baffled man. Due to his tallness she rather hugged his waist, his arms forced to his side by the tight clutch of the surprisingly strong elderly lady. He cleared his throat, his eyebrows raised in a mixture of embarrassment and astonishment. Mrs Hudson loosened her embrace, eventually letting go of the older Holmes completely, stepping a little backwards until she had brought a more comfortable distance between them.
"Oh, dear! I... I'm so sorry, Mr Holmes, it's just so... awful!" she staggered in a high pitch with her voice almost failing her. Her cheeks were still wet, but after her impulsive reaction she seemed to have returned to a slightly more composed state.
"It's alright, Mrs Hudson, in the light of the events it is, I assume, acceptable that you overreacted a bit," Mycroft stated, causing Mrs Hudson to furrow her brow in dismay, straightening her back and inhaling deeply.
"Overreacted?! Mr Holmes, at least I did react! I don't know how you manage to display such inappropriate heartlessness! Is it possible that I misperceived your worry entirely when we spoke on the phone?" the old lady scolded indignantly.
The addressed man was slightly taken aback – due to his inability to deal with people's emotions, let alone with his own, he had pulled himself together and resumed his usual behaviour. He hadn't really meant to offend his brother's landlady – it was just the way he was, the way he felt safe with. However, it seemed that Mrs Hudson's nerves were hanging on a silken thread.
"Apologies," he mumbled.
She continued to glare at him for a moment before her eyes softened and she nodded briefly, clasping her hands in front of her chest. Possibly close proximity to his brother had prepared her for occasional examples of apparent heartlessness. As if his behaviour had reminded her of Sherlock, she tilted her head in the direction of the two beds and whispered, "Can I... go to them? Can they hear us?"
"I don't know if they can hear us, but I was told that talking to them might... be useful."
"Useful?" she asked, obviously newly outraged.
"Help them recover," Mycroft corrected himself, sensing that "useful" had apparently sounded somewhat cold.
Mrs Hudson looked at the older Holmes intently, then nodded slightly. Mycroft had seen the trace of fresh disapproval in her glance. Gosh, that woman could be somewhat intimidating! He wondered what he was supposed to do, what Sherlock's landlady expected of him. Although he had experienced unfamiliar emotions lately, he would never be a sentiment-driven human being, it just wasn't his nature. It was one thing to reveal his inner self to his brother, but it was an entirely different thing to do that in front of strangers.
Rather hesitatingly, Mrs Hudson went to Sherlock's bed first, wringing her hands helplessly.
She just stood at the bottom of the bed for a while, watching the still man, her shoulders shaking ever so slightly from time to time. She was apparently sobbing quietly. Mycroft couldn't see her face, but her body language wasn't too difficult to read. After some time she wiped her face, stepped up to the side of Sherlock's bed and gingerly took his limp hand in hers.
"I feared something like this would happen sooner or later, Sherlock! Why do you always have to chase those ... bloody criminals? They do get put out by you snooping around in their business. I told you it wasn't decent to just consider everything a game! But Sherlock – don't... let me have to rent the flat to somebody else, will you? Don't!" Her voice broke and Mycroft could see the tears running down her face again.
She walked around the bed to John's side and in the same way like before took the ex-army man's hand in her own cautiously. She quietly supressed some sobs.
"You... you... shouldn't have gone with him. I knew you wanted to protect him, but, John, if only there had been someone to protect you!"
Suddenly, she let go of John's hand, turning around slowly and piercing Mycroft with an accusing look.
"You should have protected them, Mr Holmes! Don't you have your men everywhere?! Why weren't they there when your brother and John needed them? Tell me that!"
Mycroft cleared his throat in exasperation. How dare she!
"Mrs Hudson! As much as I tolerate and even appreciate your worry about my brother and his fellow soldier, don't you think that this is none of your business? Don't even dare to think that I neglected my duties in keeping a careful eye on my brother! Perhaps the next time I need surveillance for him, I'll engage you for it, shall I?"
She looked at him with a tear-stained face, eventually lowering her gaze. "I'm so sorry, Mycroft, I – just can't believe that this has happened! Forgive me."
The aristocratic man ignored the fact that Mrs Hudson had just called him by his first name. She was older than him, but he was in a position of considerable authority and was not used to people using his first name casually, whoever they were. He didn't feel like suggesting that she use his first name officially, so he made no comment.
With a nod of his head he signalled his acceptance of her apology.
"What can I do?" she wanted to know.
"They will remain in the induced coma for a couple of days and they need someone to talk to them, to read out a book to them, provide them with gossip or whatever. I thought you and Ms Hooper were the perfect choice for this task."
"Mycroft Holmes! This is your brother! Don't you think you would be the perfect choice for it? Don't you think England could manage some time without you?!"
"In fact, it has already for more than fourteen hours, and – with all due respect to my subordinates – no, I don't think so."
"You are a cold-hearted man, Mr Holmes! Shame on you!"
"Now, now, Mrs Hudson. Don't forget yourself! You'd better think twice before jumping to wrong conclusions. I feel it's time for you to leave now. You'll be taken home and picked up tomorrow at eight in the morning. Be ready. Good bye."
With that he literally pushed her out of the door to the anteroom where a nurse helped her take off the ICU clothes and led her outside.
Old women could be exhausting. And yet, seen from her angle, she wasn't that wrong; but Mycroft had no intention of adjusting her image of him.
Only shortly after Mrs Hudson had left, Molly could be heard chattering in the anteroom before she entered the ICU.
"I have just met Mrs Hudson and she was quite upset... uhm... – Good Lord!"
At the sight of Sherlock and John Molly stopped short. She stood there, the baggy trousers peeping out from the ICU gown, the stout shoes complementing her unflattering look. Mycroft wondered how such a highly-educated woman could never have developed any sense of dressing well rather than just comfortably and practically. In fact, the people she was dealing with all day long never complained about her look as most of her clothes were covered by her white gown, almost like now, and the people were dead anyway. If ever she intended to attract anybody, which obviously she had been trying with Sherlock, she would have to attend a seminar on how to dress properly. Mycroft knew she didn't come from a posh background, fought her way up – or rather down – to become a pathologist, but hadn't her parents ever taught her how to look after her appearance just a little bit? He and Sherlock had always been used to wearing tailored suits and shirts as a flawless appearance had been one of the highest principles in the Holmes house. He had despised it when he had been very young, dreading the reprimand that inevitably followed playing outside, but these days he almost felt uncomfortable with his suit jacket taken off.
What on earth was wrong with him? What did it matter how Ms Hooper dressed while Sherlock and John were lying close to death? He shook himself mentally and focused on the pathologist, forcing a small smile.
"Good day, Ms Hooper."
Molly's hands, that she had been kneading a fold of the green cloth with, dropped to her sides, her gaze fixed on Sherlock and John.
"They look so dead. – Err,... no, sorry,... I didn't mean..., no. I know they're not, but they're just so... pale and lifeless. – Not lifeless, motionless, that's it. Motionless, yes."
She briefly threw a glimpse at Mycroft, not bothering to greet him properly. She went to John's bed, looked him up and down, her hand hovering just above his skin as if she was sensing something with it. She finally placed it on an electrode-free spot on his chest, closing her eyes for a second.
Mycroft watched her, intrigued by her strange behaviour.
With a rather determined movement, she took her hand away only to stroke John's hair in a motherly gesture before turning around and stepping up to Sherlock's bed.
Some tears were making their way down her cheeks, but to Mycroft's surprise she was otherwise fully composed. She obviously hesitated slightly, then did as she had done with John, only now the older Holmes could see her face better than before and he realized that she was mumbling silently to herself. What was she doing? He was just about to ask her, when she looked up, facing him.
"It doesn't look too good, does it, Mr Holmes?"
Mycroft looked eyes with her, very slowly shaking his head. This shake of the head felt like an admission to himself, something that he had been aware of, that he had known but hadn't truly realized. It didn't look too good.
"Do you want me... to stay with them and talk to them? You know, I can do that," she offered a little shyly.
"I do assume you can; and yes, I would very much appreciate if you could stay – and talk. The doctor says..."
"... it helps."
Molly finished the sentence. How was it possible that this mousy woman didn't
seem to be intimidated a tad neither by the hospital nor by his presence. She
rather showed a surprising strength, something that all of the three men, including
himself, needed after this terrible shot in the dark.