A few years earlier...
The man shivered against the cold. His hands were thrust into his pockets, his chin tucked inside the collar of his coat, but the frigid, night air chilled him to the bone. He walked unsteadily towards one of the apartment buildings that lined the streets. He’d been trying for hours to find one that wasn’t lit, but there was always at least one flat per house whose lights glared into the darkness all the way through the wee hours of the morning. Looking warily through the windows, the man then sighed with relief. No one appeared to be in, or at least on the first floor. He groaned loudly as he sat down on the cold stoop. He stretched out his legs and leaned back. It wasn’t comfortable by any means, but at least it wasn’t the prison. He’d nearly been nicked close to a dozen times, but dumb luck had always seen him through. Oh, but he was tired. Extremely tired. He could probably sleep for a thousand years! The man smiled at the thought, then he closed his eyes. But he’d barely taken another breath when he suddenly heard the creak of the door behind him. He shot to his feet, but his legs were so numb that he immediately fell to the pavement. “Are you alright?” A gentle voice called out. “Fine, I’m fine,” the man sputtered as he struggled to pull himself up. “Oh, sweetheart,” the person said again, and two small hands wrapped around his arm. “Let me help you up.” The man, utterly shocked, allowed himself to be assisted in getting to his feet. “Thank you,” he murmured quickly, then turned to run away. But those hands grabbed him once more and twisted him back around. An older, funny-looking woman stared up at him. “Now then, young man,” she said sternly. “There is no bloody way I am letting you leave like this.” The man took a step back, his blue eyes frantic. “Please, ma’m, don’t call the Yard. I’ll go now. I don’t mean to make trouble.” The woman shook her head. “You boys can be so blunt.” She grasped the edges of his sleeves. “I mean to say,” she started, “that you are going to come inside and half a nice cuppa before you go back to freezing your little arse off.” The man’s lips cracked as he tried to smile, and his vision blurred, eyes flooded with tears. “Thank you” was what he tried to whisper, but he had no words. This lady was a miracle. The woman took his stunned silence as compliance, so she took him by the hand and led him up the steps to the door. “Ma’m,” he said quietly. “Thank you so much.” She patted his hand gently in understanding. “I want to help you, sweetheart, but I really can’t have you calling me ‘Ma’m,’” she replied. “I’m not that old, am I?” The man’s eyes widened. “No, ma’m!” He said, but immediately he realized his mistake. “I mean, no, no, you’re not!” The woman ruffled his hair and laughed. “Oh, you silly. I was only joking!” The man attempted a chuckle, but all that came out was a burst of air. “Then,” he started, “then what shall I call you?” The woman took hold of the corner of her skirt and curtsied. “Mrs. Hudson,” she said grandly. “At your service.” He took her hand and kissed it, bowing - and wincing - as well. “It is wonderful to meet you, Mrs. Hudson,” he said, with all the regality of a king. Mrs. Hudson flinched and jerked her arm from his grasp. The man looked up at her in shock, not sure what he did wrong. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I didn’t mean to react like that. It’s only, my husband---” And then she stopped suddenly, realizing all at once that she had said too much. Clasping her hands over her mouth, she apologized once, twice, three times more, then turned away to rush inside. But this time it was the man who stopped her. “Tell me what’s going on,” he said gently. “I can help.” She pulled away from him and snarled, “The bloody hell you can.”
He took her little fingers in his hands, and as much as she wanted to, she couldn’t seem to leave. “I can help you,” he said. “I can. I’ve dealt with this before. I’ve gone through this.” His voice choked at that last bit, but he quickly regained his composure. “Let me help you. Please.”
After a moments hesitation, and Mrs. Hudson stepped closer and into his arms, enveloped by his coat and warmed by her tears. “I will help you, Mrs. Hudson,” the man said. “I swear it.”