"John, wake up."
Not a stranger to being roused at any hour of the night, the doctor immediately opened his eyes.
Blurrily, he stared at his flat mate standing next to the side of his bed. Sherlock had left the bedroom door slightly open, and the light from the hallway shone softly behind him in an ethereal halo.
"Go away, Sherlock," John mumbled, rolling over onto his other side and closing his eyes. "It's three in the morning."
"John," Sherlock whispered softly again. There was something desperate in the man's voice that made John open his eyes.
"It's Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock muttered. "I… I can't wake her up."
John's eyes widened slightly in alarm. He threw back his duvet and slipped out of bed. As he pulled on his robe he could see the worry in Sherlock's eyes and the stiffness of his shoulders.
"It's alright, Sherlock," John said, trying to keep his voice calm. "She had a long day yesterday; she's probably just tired, and likely didn't hear you."
"Her cat was meowing. I couldn't sleep," Sherlock replied in a nervous tone, his hands waving restlessly in the air. "I knocked on the door but there was no answer... it was unlocked, so I went in. The cat was upset, not in his usual hateful disposition. It actually rubbed up against my legs." Sherlock took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing, "I went to her bedroom, stood in the doorway. I tried talking to her to wake her, but she didn't answer, she didn't do anything…"
Sherlock's voice trailed off as he looked at John, his shoulders twitching uneasily as he whispered, "Will you come with me?" His eyes begged John not make him return to their landlady's flat alone.
John nodded; dread filled his chest as he realised that this was not some ruse to wake him up. As he and Sherlock walked down the stairs to Mrs. Hudson's flat, he could sense Sherlock pressing close against him.
They stopped out side of Mrs. Hudson bedroom, where John turned to Sherlock, resting a hand on his friend's shoulder. He hoped that Sherlock would receive the comfort and reassurance that John was fighting to give him.
"You didn't touch her at all?" he asked. Sherlock shook his head, trying to concentrate on John's face.
"No, I just talked to her from the doorway. I didn't go in." Sherlock didn't want to admit that he had been afraid of touching her because it would only confirm the terrible truth.
John nodded silently, he understood what Sherlock meant without further question. The look in Sherlock's eyes told him all that he needed to know. They both turned and faced the bedroom, trying to build their courage to walk in. Quietly, Sherlock walked to one side of the bed while John stood on the other. Together they silently looked down at Mrs. Hudson, both of them afraid to say or do anything until John gently patted her hand. Mrs. Hudson looked peaceful, as if she were having a good dream.
"Mrs. Hudson," John whispered, his voice shaking slightly. "It's me, John. I'm here to check on you." Her hand was cold and she didn't move. John reached out to feel for a pulse. He silently begged to detect a heartbeat but he found none.
Sherlock, who had knelt down beside the bed, fixed his eyes on Mrs. Hudson's face. He forgot to breathe as he desperately wished and waited for her to open her eyes… but she didn't.
John's heart grew heavy and he dropped to his knees before his legs could give out. Numbly, Sherlock and John finally lifted their heads to look at each other across the bed. Tears began to blur John's eyes as he looked into Sherlock's, and they realised at the same moment that their Mrs. Hudson had left them behind.
"She was never supposed to leave." Sherlock's voice cracked with grief as he wiped a trembling hand across his mouth. "I… I knew this day would come, they always do. But I liked to pretend it wouldn't, not to Mrs. Hudson."
John struggled to fight through the fog of his emotions. "I… I think she knew it was coming. Remember the last few days when she kept wanting to do things with us?"
Sherlock nodded. Over the last week, Mrs. Hudson had started asking them to have dinner with her and then coming over for frequent random visits to their flat. One day the three of them had even taken a walk around the park together.
"Do we have to have a reason?" she'd asked when Sherlock had protested. But finally he'd given in as he saw her disappointment, and after John had pinched him behind her back.
"She did know… and I should have seen it. I should have asked her if everything was alright," Sherlock whispered bitterly.
John nodded weakly. "She didn't want us to worry."
John felt his left hand trembling in his lap and he pressed his right hand over it, trying to still the tremor that matched the one in his heart. "She spent her last days like she wanted to. She was happy."
Sherlock ran a hand through his curls, unwilling to give into the tears and the reality that lay before him. Hesitantly he reached out a hand to touch her, but then drew it back. He wanted her to be like he knew her; warm and full of life. Not like this… this wasn't his Mrs. Hudson. It wasn't that he was a stranger to death; it was actually a familiar acquaintance of his. But it wasn't the same when it touched someone he loved.
Death shouldn't happen to them. It didn't feel the same and it didn't look the same. It wasn't supposed to be like this- not for Mrs. Hudson, nor John, or even for Mycroft. They weren't supposed to die before he did. They were supposed to breathe and smile and have wonderful arguments with him. Not lay still and cold no matter how hard he begged for them to get up.
"It's okay to touch her, Sherlock," John whispered, understanding Sherlock's fear and reluctance to accept the change that death had left. "It's still her, don't… don't be afraid to say goodbye. This will be the only chance we'll have…" Tears choked John's voice. He dreaded saying another goodbye.
He had said so many in his life to people he loved. It should be a natural part of him by now, but it wasn't. John secretly wished for the day where he wouldn't have to face farewells again. That's why he'd never minded the thought of dying alone - there would be no goodbyes.
John smiled tearfully at Sherlock. "She wouldn't want you to be afraid." He gently stroked Mrs. Hudson's hand to show Sherlock that it was alright to do so. "See? She doesn't mind."
Sherlock shut his eyes. Tears escaped from beneath his lashes as he lifted a trembling hand and took Mrs. Hudson's cold fingers in his. He opened his eyes to see the Mrs. Hudson that he knew and loved and who would never change. He could see her in his mind, smiling up at him. Her eyes shining as she whispered, "Hello, dear."
Sherlock and John sat on the floor, one on either side of the bed, saying their silent goodbyes. Each man held one of Mrs. Hudson's hands, unwilling to let go of the woman who had always been their shining light to welcome them home.
As the quiet minutes ticked by, Sherlock knew that he and John couldn't face taking care of the proper arrangements alone; not this time. There was only one person that would know what to do in this situation, without the routine of emotional questions.
The detective pulled his mobile out of his pocket and John nodded in silent agreement. As Sherlock dialed the number, the doctor closed his eyes. Resting his head against the side of the bed, he listened as Sherlock's voice broke.
"Mycroft, we… we need you."