Although they had never spoken about it, Mycroft knew that Sherlock thought highly of Ms Hooper, and he had wondered why that was the case. He had assumed, though, that it had been due to the fact that she was very easily manipulated and, therefore, was the willing supplier of Sherlock's body parts and whatever else he needed for his unfathomable experiments. Thus, he had always assumed that this woman had only been the means to an end, but had to realise now that he had been wrong. Although his brother wouldn't speak of it, Mycroft was convinced that Molly Hooper was tolerated by Sherlock because of her professionalism.
Mycroft had been lost in thought when he noticed Detective Inspector Lestrade standing by his side, taking in the picture in front of him and muttering unintelligible curses.
The older Holmes turned towards Lestrade, nodding his greeting to the DI.
"Thank you for coming, Detective Inspector."
"What the bloody hell...- who did that?!" he hissed.
"That is something yet to be found out. We need to talk. - Will you follow me outside, please?" Mycroft ordered without giving the DI the opportunity to look at his friends more closely.
Molly turned towards the two men, looking sadly at Lestrade.
"Greg..., hi. Come over here."
The DI glanced at Mycroft briefly, then went up to Molly. To Mycroft's apprehension and even contempt, she threw herself in the other man's arms, letting him hug her and mumble a soothing mantra to her. For God's sake, where was her professionalism gone now? After a time that felt endless to Mycroft, the two parted and DI Lestrade walked up to Mycroft.
"Let's get this over with," he remarked unhappily.
Mycroft gave him a cold look. "I do hope for your sake that there wasn't any possible that you could have avoided this disaster. Otherwise, dear Detective Inspector Lestrade, you may be saying farewell to your career."
Lestrade briefly hesitated before following the British Government while the threat was sinking in.
Molly watched the two men leave the ICU. Whoever's fault this was didn't matter to her; what was important, though, was that John and Sherlock survived.
The pathologist placed the stool between the two beds and dropped on it, burying her face in her hands. She felt terrible. She was cruelly reminded of the last days of her father's life in which she had attended to him, talking to him all the time although she knew that he wouldn't hear her – and never would again. She had been prepared for that moment when the heart monitor switched from displaying waves to drawing a flat line – at least she had thought so. And yet, it had hit her so terribly; the fact that at that very moment he was gone forever had struck her like lightning, throttling her throat so that it took her breath before she had burst into tears and had only stopped crying a month after his funeral when she had had her first strange and humiliating encounter with a certain Sherlock Holmes and had instantly fallen for him, God knew why!
And now she was sitting here at this very detective and his flatmate's bed, fighting against the urge to bawl. She would not. She would remain strong and help John and Sherlock. They were seriously injured, but it wasn't hopeless – not at all, just serious, she told herself. She took in some deep breaths, fighting back the tears that had been welling in her eyes. With a final little sob she pushed away all the sentimentality and started chatting, slowly and raggedly first, then more confidently. What did it matter what she was telling them? So she told them about the interesting bodies she could recall having on her autopsy table. It was good, though, that nobody else could hear her. Talking about dead bodies in an intensive care unit with two people being close to death would probably generally not be regarded an appropriate topic for cheering somebody up.
From time to time Molly stood up, checking the monitors. She couldn't help but stroke John and Sherlock occasionally. She felt it was her motherly side that forced her to. It was somehow natural with John, as he was her friend – and just that. However, with Sherlock, she hesitated. It was weird, since from the moment they had met first, Molly had always dreamt of touching Sherlock tenderly, of caressing him, but now she realized that probably it hadn't been so much only the physical contact she had been longing for, but his recognition. She did have a crush on him, but now that she was touching Sherlock, it felt odd.
Molly had taken one of Sherlock's hands into hers, stroking it with her thumb and looking at it; a hand with long, slender fingers, nails perfectly manicured, elegant and strong; and yet right now so weak - so feeble. Upon turning his hand around to look at the palm she flinched. There was a slim but tell-tale red line on his wrist. The pathologist gasped at the sight of those marks she knew too well – usually they weren't healed when she got to see them. However, this cut wasn't entirely healed, she noticed, still quite fresh indeed with little reminders of the scab still on it.
"What have you done, Sherlock?" she choked, tears springing to her eyes once again. Was this tough and outwardly cold-hearted man not so much the icy character he made everyone believe he was?
Her heart pounded and she quickly looked at his other wrist, but didn't find any traces of a slash there. Thank God! Molly wiped her eyes dry, condemning herself for being so tearful. Realizing that she had completely missed that her supposed friend had apparently had an emotional meltdown, made her gravely sad. On the other hand, she hadn't seen Sherlock in quite a while, so how could she not have missed it?
"Poor you," she whispered and lay his hand back at his side.
Molly was a hundred per cent convinced that the slash wasn't the outcome of an accident, so she guessed that the reason why the other hand didn't show any signs of a suicide attempt was that John had been there in time to prevent it. It was always John. Sometimes she envied Sherlock for having such a loyal friend and she had to admit that she sometimes even wondered how he had got himself a mate like him. It wasn't about the meeting - she had been there herself when they had met for the first time - it was about how they had become so inseparable. She wondered if she could she ask Mycroft about the slashed wrist, however, she wasn't sure if he knew anything about it as she knew that they weren't really close.
After more than an hour Greg returned to the ICU without Mycroft, looking weary.
Molly stood up, wringing her hands uncomfortably.
"Didn't go too well, did it? Uhm..., I mean, you look tired." She tilted her head, trying a wobbly smile.
Lestrade passed his hand through his hair and briefly pinched the bridge of his nose.
"I'll keep my job, so, I'd say it went really well," he replied with despairing irony. He told her that he had assumed that Mycroft's calm but disdainful behaviour was concealing the straightforward and tough nature that was required of the secret leader of an entire nation. However, he hadn't realised that being questioned by the man would be such an awkward experience. Mycroft had always remained calm, but the longer Greg had had to stand the questions, the more he had felt uneasy. He hadn't done anything wrong, though! Mycroft seemed to have come to the same conclusion eventually when he had been dismissed with the advance warning that in case of any further questions he would have to be prepared for a visit to his office by Mycroft's men.
Pointing in the direction of John and Sherlock, he said, "I'm fairly sure Mycroft has already sent out entire armies to find something out about the man who had tried to kill them. I wonder...," he let the sentence trail off.
"What?" Molly probed.
"I just wonder if... this has anything to do with the case I gave Sherlock and John only yesterday. – Nah, can't be. Doesn't make sense. I reckon we'll just have to wait until they're awake to find out what they were up to last night. Don't think they were just on a stroll through the beautiful London night."
"No,... no, I don't think so, either. What case, Greg?" Molly said with a small voice.
"Let's not talk about it, ok?" Greg replied seriously. "I... can't stay, I'm afraid. What can I do for them?"
"Help Mycroft find the perpetrator." Molly replied with a note of hatred in her voice that made Lestrade furrow his brow. He looked at the pathologist intently, then nodded and turned around to leave.
"And come back whenever you can," she said behind him. He threw a quick glance over his shoulder, nodding once again and sighing, before the door to the ICU anteroom closed behind him.
Molly went back to her stool. She needed a proper chair if she wanted to stay for longer and would ask the staff for one later. She checked the data displayed by the apparatus and pursed her lips about the figures of the cerebral pressure measured by the permanent EEG in Sherlock's head. She hadn't read their files up to now out of respect for their privacy, but she found herself reading Sherlock's now, just to familiarise herself with his current management, so she could alert a doctor should his condition become unstable.
The pressure was slightly increased - the almost inevitable brain swelling had begun and they could only hope that the catheter would be sufficient to drain enough liquid to prevent a dangerous pressure level. That would lead to another operation in which the skullcap would have to be removed and frozen, so that the brain would have enough space for swelling without destroying itself. Molly didn't want to even think about it. It was terrible enough to see those cables sticking out from the Consulting Detective's head; just thinking of all his hair and the top of his skull removed caused her waves of nausea. She had seen a number of patients – dead or alive – who had undergone the same treatment to save their lives and they had all had something of Frankenstein's monster afterwards, the stitches of the retransplantaion of the skullcap always visible around their foreheads. Plus, many of them had been left seriously handicapped - and she definitely couldn't imagine a handicapped Sherlock!
After some hours of being on guard, talking to the patients and to some of the medical staff, Molly was sitting by John's bedside in the much more comfortable chair a nurse had brought her, watching the ex-army doctor and Sherlock alternately. The intracranial pressure of the latter had further increased, but so far, the catheter, now filled with a yellowish-reddish transparent liquid, prevented it from becoming life-threatening.
Molly was exhausted, however rejected all offers to be taken home for a rest. She finally folded her arms on the edge of John's mattress, resting her head on them and instantly falling asleep, dreaming weird and terrifying pictures of creatures with metal sticks sticking out of their heads, surrounded by nasty scars, babbling and slobbering.
She woke with a start, sensing that she was being watched. Molly had no idea as to how long she had been sleeping, but she found it rather a relief to be awake after a row of nightmares. Her neck was all tensed up and after stretching it and moving her head from one side to the other, she looked up into Mycroft's tired face.
"I didn't want to wake you, I'm sorry," he said with a voice that clearly resembled his physical state of utter exhaustion.
"No, no. It's fine. I... didn't sleep well anyway. Not really the place to sleep, is it? Uhm, at least not for us... me. I mean, they sleep, but they have to..." the equally tired pathologist stammered. She hadn't met Sherlock's brother that often, but every time she had, he had been such a git. However, now he rather exuded a certain, yet mainly concealed helplessness. Molly felt sorry for him. It had to be hard to carry the weight of responsibility for a nation when your sibling was lying in a hospital bed fighting death.
"I suppose not," Mycroft replied.
Molly got up from the chair, bowing her spine backwards to ease the pain in it, before checking John's vital signs and stroking his arm up and down reassuringly. She then went over to where Mycroft was standing, checking on Sherlock.
"Hasn't got any worse, fortunately," she mumbled.
She took Sherlock's hand in hers, checking the IV in the first place. However, upon laying it back at his side, she turned it around carefully, presenting the fine red line between the tendons to Mycroft. She turned her head to look the older Holmes in the eyes, asking silent questions.
The tall man took a deep breath, shaking his head.
Molly didn't want to give up now.
"What's wrong with him?" she probed whisperingly.
Sherlock's brother sighed. "Paradoxically, his brain is sometimes almost killing him."
"Like now." Molly remarked, instantly sensing that that had been incredibly tactless, but before she could apologize, Mycroft just nodded.
"What happened?" the pathologist wanted to know.
Very slowly, Mycroft laid his head in his neck, inhaling deeply and closing his eyes, his brow furrowed as if he was in pain.
"Ms Hooper, that is private matter."
"Private matter, you say? May I ask you how private it was to bring me here to be there for John and Sherlock? I'm their friend, and I guess that's very private!"
Mycroft instantly became stiff.
"You may be the closest thing to friends Sherlock has, but if you were that close, he would have told you himself, wouldn't he?" the suddenly very formal Holmes spat.
Molly was taken aback. What had happened to make the atmosphere in that room suddenly drop below zero? Mycroft's remark stung – the truth in it stung.
"You're right. I had better go home to get some sleep," she replied, downcast and close to tears.
"Wait!" As she turned around to leave, Mycroft grabbed her arm to prevent her from exiting the ICU.
She locked eyes with him.
"You know, Mr Holmes, people tend to think – Sherlock... thinks, I don't observe; I don't count; I'm just mousy Molly, who doesn't care being taken advantage of! It's not true! I'm not... all that. If you think everything is just a private matter, I really wonder what I'm doing here?"
"My apologies, Ms Hooper, I didn't mean to offend you - honestly." Mycroft stated rather shamefacedly, still clutching to her arm. "Stay, please."
"You need me because you have nobody else, do you?" Molly stated bitterly.
"I need you because you are somebody Sherlock trusts – he would entrust his life to you, I'm sure of that, Molly," he replied softly, loosening his grip.
She looked at him for a long time in search of the truth behind those words, but she couldn't find anything apart from an unspoken plea. Molly slightly tilted her head, setting her gaze on the hand on her arm.
"I... don't want to let him exploit me, you know? It's just that... he... uhm... he... puts some kind of spell on me."
Mycroft raised one eyebrow, remarking in a slightly mocking manner, "Oh, that's what you call it..."
"Call what? What do you mean?"
"Nothing. – Stay, please, and let me tell you something about Sherlock." The older Holmes evaded a proper answer by giving in to her request. Molly was slightly surprised about it since she had thought that a man like Mycroft would never surrender, not even for such minor matters that didn't affect the whole nation.
"I'm not doing it for you. I'm staying for John and Sherlock's sake. Got that?" she replied defiantly.
Mycroft raised his hands in a placating manner.
"I know. And I am very grateful. I will return shortly, Ms Hooper."
They looked at each other for a moment before Mycroft left the room, leaving a totally confused and dog-tired Molly behind.
The pathologist let out a puff of air and resumed her old position on the chair, waiting for Mycroft to return and keep his promise. What a strange man he was! Molly could imagine that he didn't have many friends, but she wasn't sure if he wanted any after all. Like Sherlock, he showed an apparent lack of empathy and she wondered whether it was genetic or drilled into them by the way they had been brought up.
While she was mulling over Mycroft's character, she saw him enter the ICU with two cups in his hand. One had to be Mycroft Holmes to be allowed to bring coffee into the ICU as a visitor! Molly was grateful, though, when he passed her the steaming mug.
Mycroft was wondering why on earth he had succumbed to telling Ms Hooper about Sherlock. He had to admit to himself that he was fascinated by the contradiction of her insecure appearance and her secure professionalism. Although he thought that she was quite a chatty person regarding matters of little importance, he felt instinctively that he could entrust her with his brother's personal secrets without her batting an eyelid.
Mycroft sat down on the stool in his usual elegant manner despite the time of the night, leaving the chair for Molly. After having taken a few sips of coffee, Molly looked at Sherlock's brother questioningly.
"So?" she probed.
Much to his own surprise, Mycroft told Molly Hooper a good deal about Sherlock's past, the Tabun poisoning and the fact that he had told her a white lie about the Noro infection and also about his brother's abduction as a child, even a little bit about his own role later. However, his descriptions were deliberately vague, leaving out the more sensitive details. When it came to Sherlock's slashed wrists, he told her about his struggle with the memories of his captivity, but couldn't tell her anything about the true reasons for his meltdown. Mycroft felt a little uneasy about the fact that he as Sherlock's brother knew in fact so little about him from talking to him personally rather than from spying on him.
He also felt some unease, at various points in his narration, about whether he was doing the right thing by Sherlock. Although he felt he could trust Molly to be discrete and he knew that his brother had a good opinion of her, would Sherlock really want this young woman to know what he had gone through? And yet, whenever he hesitated, he glanced at his unnaturally still younger brother and had a conviction that it was for a best. Sherlock might need more than one friend to support him in his recovery. After all, horrible though it was to contemplate, John was by no means out of the woods himself and it was still quite possible that the doctor would eventually succumb to his injuries while Sherlock recovered. Mycroft could hardly bear to imagine the impact such a loss would have on his brother, but the logical part of his brain was already considering the alternative possibilities – hence his decision to enlighten Ms Hooper.
The talking became easier after some time and the older Holmes even felt a certain relief about sharing his knowledge, which was certainly unexpected. He was used to keeping secrets to such a degree that every piece of information he was entrusted with was always assessed as to their national value before being stored in his mind.
Molly sat there, listening and looking utterly baffled by what she was hearing. She didn't interrupt Mycroft's tale at any time, which he appreciated a lot, but he was wondering what was going on in her mind, having expected her to be a rather difficult listener, interrupting and asking questions all the time. He had misjudged her completely.
Mycroft felt a little friendly intimacy building up between them, something he hadn't known... since his younger boyhood when he used to have playmates he would even have called friends. It had to be a pre-school memory he was recalling right now, because he could only remember having classmates and colleagues later, none of whom qualified as a friend as such – they had rather been useful contacts. And that was what he had nowadays: useful contacts, many of them. However, Molly Hooper didn't fit into that category.
In the early morning, the exhausted pathologist simply fell asleep in the chair after some time of comfortable silence between her and Mycroft. He ordered that she was taken home to get some rest. Daylight was already breaking, so Mrs Hudson would soon be there to take over.
Before leaving, Mycroft stood between the beds of John and Sherlock, tired and empty of thought. He just looked at the two unconscious men, blinking away silent tears of something so lost that he didn't even know what it was.
Some days passed by, Molly and Mrs Hudson taking turns in guarding and "entertaining" the two comatose patients. Mrs Hudson forced herself to stay composed and less touchy, although Mycroft really could blow her top every time they met. Lestrade came by whenever he could, which was quite regularly, however, not for long each time.
Sherlock's condition didn't change much, either for the worse or the better. After two days during which his doctors worried about possible brain haemorrhage, the swelling showed the first signs of decrease. They were all relieved that no further operation would be necessary.
The night Molly had questioned Mycroft about the traces of a suicide attempt at Sherlock's wrist had amended her image of the Consulting Detective. She could now see a good deal of humanity in the man that hadn't been the image that had sprung to mind on the first occasion that she had had to deal with the younger Holmes.
All the times later that she had spent sitting at his bedside, she couldn't refrain from seeing Sherlock with different eyes, seeing the frailty in him that had been hidden so well so far. However, one thing that suffered from this new view was her crush on the Consulting Detective as it slowly turned into something firmer and more comfortable, a feeling of friendship, just friendship.
After a week in induced coma, the doctors decided that John Watson could be woken up. He would be in enormous pain due to the fractured leg, but the spleen and the liver didn't show any signs of an inflammation. He had a slight fever, but it was below any alarming state. Molly insisted on being there when he woke up and convinced Mycroft that it would probably be better if it was just her among the doctors the clinic, so after some arguing Mycroft gave in eventually, only leaving with the promise granted that he would be called as soon as John was sufficiently awake and stable. Molly reminded him of the fact that, although he would be awake, he would not be in a condition to answer any questions instantly, which would take a couple of hours' or even days' time.
So, one morning a team of doctors and nurses entered the ICU, Molly already awaiting them excitedly. After a close examination of John, the ventilation was switched off, the endotracheal tube removed and the IV with the drug inducing the coma disconnected. Instead of the tube John was given a nasal cannula to provide him with extra oxygen.
After some time the heart monitor showed an increase in heartbeats, which was the sign for an imminent wakening of the patient. Molly's heartbeat increased in the same way in eager anticipation. Everyone was carefully watching John's vitals, prepared to immediately intervene in case anything unforeseen happened. Molly couldn't help but sit down on the stool close to the bed and take her friend's hand. It was meant to be a comforting gesture for the patient, the soothing effect on the one holding the hand, however, wasn't to be underestimated.
Molly felt the ex-army man's fingers slightly twitching in her hand; then, with his eyes still closed, he moaned weakly, the heartbeat speeding up even more.
"He's in pain. Adjust the morphine dose to ten milligrams," one of the doctors instructed the nurse.
Molly kept stroking John's hand; she could feel his muscles tensing up in the still semi-conscious fight against the hurting in his body.
"It'll all be fine. You'll wake and the pain will be gone. Don't worry, John, it'll all be fine," the pathologist whispered reassuringly, though knowing that it wasn't all true.
All of a sudden, the pulse increased dramatically and John's breath came extremely fast and shallow, the heart monitor setting off a cascade of alarms – he was apparently hyperventilating, his hands becoming cramped.
"He's going into respiratory alkalosis! Arterial pH at seven point five! - Mask and rebreathing bag! Diazepam, ten millilitres! If the pH doesn't drop we'll have to intubate again!" The doctor shouted urgently.
Molly had got up from her seat, knowing that she would be in the way if anything more serious happened. She watched the doctors working hand in hand, trying to get John's breathing under control. She herself knew a good deal about medicine, could read and interpret most of the data displayed by all the apparatus in the ICU, however, in case of a real emergency, she was rather helpless. Work in the morgue was a quiet thing without the inevitably hectic nature of emergencies where every decision could be one about life or death. It felt terrible to know that the cause of this emergency was a friend, was John - and she could do nothing to help him.
Molly felt numb and cold inside. It took a while before she realised that the immediate danger was over, John's breath having evened out and the pH of the blood having gone back to slightly above normal.
"Was he panicking?" she asked with a thin voice.
The doctor turned towards her as if he had noticed her for the first time now.
"It looks like it. Sometimes traumatised people hyperventilate after cardiac arrests and upon awakening."
Molly's jaw dropped. "Cardiac arrest? – I ... didn't know that."
"He cheated death three times. He has a strong will to survive."
The shocked pathologist threw
a quick glance at the still Sherlock. "Yes, I assume he has."