It has become a nightly ritual, punching the familiar numbers into the keypad while his hand trembles until it's a wonder the phone doesn't slip from his grasp.

It's a relatively old model, painstakingly cared for by its owner (the screen's been replaced twice and the keypad is worn down but regularly cleaned). She has probably noticed its absence by now. But he had no choice. He will slip the phone back into the rightful owner's belongings tomorrow, and she will wonder how she possibly missed it in the half a dozen times she ransacked her purse the previous night.

It rings once. His heart pounds in his ears.

Twice. He realizes he's holding his breath.

A third time. Not long now.

Halfway through the fourth ring, there's a beep and a crunch of static that makes his spirit leap.

"Hello?" says a voice. It is brittle with restrained emotion. So tonight is a bad night, then. A crying night. There are too many of those.

"Hello, is someone there?"

What waves of pain and delight are roused by that sound! He wants to throw the phone across the room, shout for joy and cave into sobs all at once. He is shaking again, quite involuntarily, wanting the conversation to last but fearing to prolong it.

The person on the other end becomes annoyed. "Can you hear me, or what? Is this some sort of joke?"

Sherlock's lips twitch, but his finger presses End Call with the sudden purposefulness of a gunman's on a trigger. He abandons John to wonder, yet again, what has just happened.

Forgive me

I just needed to hear your voice.