Mrs Hudson and John looked at each other.
“I’ve had two of those calls,” said Mrs Hudson carefully, stepping across to replace the handset in the cradle, “Sunday nights, quarter past midnight both times. I was just going off to bed. I was awfully cross. I’m too old to put up with nuisance calls, so I gave that wicked boy an earful. I don’t think he realised I knew so many rude words. Pranking a woman of my age with his midnight calls and heavy breathing.” She gave a delicate, derisive snort.
John’s eyes widened as he tried to work out how much of what she was saying was for the benefit of unknown someones who may or may not be listening. He was vastly amused at the idea of Mrs Hudson giving Sherlock a cross earful on the phone. When had she realised who it was?
“And afterwards I thought, oh teenaged boys are such dreadful things, aren’t they? They do the stupidest things for the saddest reasons.”
John remembered his own teenaged years far too vividly. “Yes, they certainly do.”
“So I thought if he called again I might just let him be.”
“You’re a wise woman, Mrs Hudson.”
“But if he calls again after tonight, I’ll get you. Just to make sure it doesn’t turn nasty.”
“An excellent idea, Mrs Hudson. Come and get me, whenever it is. I won’t have you being bothered.”
The next day he took Mrs Hudson to lunch at a noisy pie and mash shop near the Shepherd’s Bush Markets, and she confessed that she had cussed a blue storm into the phone only to hear a familiar laugh cut suddenly short.
“Gave me a turn,” she said, her face creased in vexed memory, “I thought I was being haunted. But I don’t believe in ghosts, John, never have. And he’s always loved surprising me, though I wish more of them were nice surprises. So I decided that if I heard Sh… him on the phone, then I heard him. Besides, if he was going to haunt Baker Street he wouldn’t do it over my old phone.”
Her certainty made John smile, because he knew exactly what she meant. The skull was a likelier bet. Or the violin. Something he’d actually liked.
“What are we going to do,” Mrs Hudson asked, her tone suddenly tense. Her eyes, when they met John’s, were worried and bright with imminent tears. “What’s it all about? Why won’t he speak?”
John took her hand and squeezed it, trying to be reassuring. “As far as Mycroft and I can work out, he’s trying to keep both us and himself safe while he finishes dismantling Moriarty’s empire.”
“You knew?!” Her eyes blazed momentarily with fury.
“Not at the start, no. He… he got a message to me, a little while back. To Mycroft and me.”
“And you didn’t think to tell me?!”
“I did,” John confessed ruefully, “But I didn’t know what was safe. His life may depend on this staying secret. You know that’s why he doesn’t speak, don’t you? And keeps the call short? Even if your phone is tapped, it’s not enough time to trace it to the point of origin. I guess he doesn’t speak, so that if we’re bugged, anyone listening can’t be certain it’s him. He can’t give away anything by accident. That could apply to wherever he is at the other end, as well.”
Mrs Hudson nodded, as though John was just confirming her own suspicions.
“I’ll get Mycroft to sweep the place,” John said, “And… I’m sorry I didn’t tell you.”
Mrs Hudson patted his hand. “You’re keeping him safe. I understand.”
John laid his free hand over the top of hers and pressed her fingers. “I don’t know what to do to help him,” he said, some of his misery leaking out, “He’s alone out there, and I don’t know how to…”
“He’s letting us know,” Mrs Hudson said quietly, “Maybe it’s just this, dear. Voices from home. To know we’re all right. I know what he did for us, John – you and Greg Lestrade, and for me too. Mycroft came by to talk to me while… while you were staying with your friend Mike. I know.”
They sat, holding hands at the café for a while, taking what comfort they could from their shared knowledge. He did it for us. He’s alive. He’s letting us know.
He’s doing something more, John thought, but I don’t know what. As usual.
On Wednesday, John caught up with Greg after work for a beer, a game of darts, a bit of a natter. Several pints in, and Greg was lamenting that Molly had been in strange moods, on and off, since Sherlock… since he… passed.
Greg still hated using the ‘d’ word in front of John, and John hadn’t found a way to let Greg know that it was okay, that ‘dead’ didn’t hurt the way it used to. It’s not like he could tell Greg that the word had lost it sting because it wasn’t actually true.
“Oh, we’re still all right,” Greg continued, “We’re still dating – what a strange word for a man of my age to use, dating – but it’s not anything more, yet. It’s not anything less either. It’s just… do you think she still has a thing for Sherlock? Some days… I don’t know. It’s like one of us will say something, or she’ll see something, and she goes quiet. You know Molly. She’s not really introspective, but she goes away somewhere, and when I think about it later, it always seems to have been something that reminded her of him.” Greg took a long pull of his beer. “I really like her, John. I could even… well, maybe. But I can’t tell if we have any kind of future, if this is what it’s still like for her six months after… after.”
It was at that exact moment that John knew. Without a doubt. Sherlock would have needed help, to fake the death certificate if nothing else. John, in fact, felt very stupid that he hadn’t realised earlier.
For about ten seconds, he toyed with being absolutely crazy-livid with Molly, because of course, of course, she’d helped Sherlock, and therefore had known all along and therefore not told him that Sherlock wasn’t dead.
And then he remembered Mrs Hudson and why didn’t you think to tell me? and you’re keeping him safe, and the rage passed. John covered the silence with a drag at his own beer. He peered at Greg over the top of the glass. Another person he couldn’t tell. To keep Sherlock safe.
Would Greg forgive Molly, wondered John, if he knew the secret she was keeping? Would he forgive John for keeping it too?
John’s beer glass clinked onto the counter with more force than he’d intended. Instead of answering, John had a brainstorm.
“What do you reckon about a band, Greg?”
“Not as up in your face as that festival gig. But it might be fun. Doing a band again. Just for a lark, eh? Weekends, let off some steam. You, me and Molly.”
Greg grinned. “Not a Gladstone’s Collar revival, then?”
“Christ, no. Just for mucking about. As I recall, Molly responded very positively to you in those jeans.”
Greg’s gaze went a little distant and his smile nostalgic. “DI Hot,” he murmured, then he realised what he’d said in John’s hearing and cleared his throat. “We could give it a go, I guess. Next Saturday? My place?”
“We’ll need a drummer.” The pause got a little tense.
“Let’s just… see,” said John.
“Yeah,” Greg nodded, a little woozily because he’d had at least three pints too many. Hence the discussion of his love life. “I’ll ask Molly.”