Mrs. Hudson sent him an e-mail. She was not yet what John would call e-mail proficient. And, recalling Sherlock’s scathing commentary on John’s typing skills, if John thought Mrs. Hudson’s computer skills were lacking, then they were really lacking.
Saw this and thought of you.
That was all the e-mail was. There was no link, no attachment. John stared at it, then carefully typed back.
Sorry, Mrs. Hudson, what did you see? I think you forgot the attachment.
The following day, she had e-mailed him back.
Oh, dear! I did forget! Sorry! This is all very tricky, isn’t it?
Did I do that correctly?
John frowned at the URL. He sighed heavily. And he typed back: You did it correctly. Cheers, Mrs. Hudson.
1. Express Gratitude
John began saying thank you to everyone he encountered. He had never been especially rude, but he made a special note to thank everyone extra sincerely. He thought it possible this resulted in some mixed messages to, for instance, the barista whose flirtations he’d been deflecting since Sherlock’s death. Upon his looking her seriously in the eye and saying, meaningfully, “Thank you,” she had blushed and perhaps got the wrong idea. And one of his patients, a paranoid little old lady who showed up once a week because, he was teased endlessly, she had a crush on him, responded to his gentler version of his intense Thank you with a welling up of tears and an “Oh, dear, am I about to die?”
After they had calmed down her hysteria, one of the other doctors came in and said, “She said you said ‘thank you’ to her in a frightening way.”
John scowled. “I was expressing gratitude.”
No one seemed to understand this.
He asked Lestrade to meet him for coffee, and said, “I want to thank you, for being a really good friend, especially lately, through some difficult times.”
Lestrade stared at him and said, “Sorry, what?” around a mouthful of doughnut.
“I am expressing gratitude for your friendship,” John persisted.
“Why are you doing that?” Lestrade swallowed his doughnut and looked at John in concern. “Jesus, you’re not dying, are you?”
“Why do people always think a nice ‘thank-you’ means impending death?”
“Do people always think that?”
“More people than you’d think.”
Lestrade regarded him uncertainly. “Are you okay?”
“I’m being happy,” John informed him, resolutely.
“Clearly,” agreed Lestrade.
2. Cultivate Optimism
John decided to tackle the cultivation of optimism on a blustery day when his umbrella blew inside out and couldn’t be fixed and a taxi simply could not be found. Sherlock had never had a problem finding a taxi, ever. Had it been the coat? Or just the height? Maybe if he were taller, he wouldn’t be standing on the pavement getting poured on while cars splashed him. There was not a single bit of him that was not soaking wet, he thought, miserably. And all he’d done so far that day was leave the flat. He hadn’t even gone to work. Who knew what terrible things might lie in wait for him at work?
Cultivate optimism, he reminded himself. Maybe something amazing was going to happen. Any minute now. John closed his eyes, envisioning the amazing thing that was going to happen. An umbrella would appear. And a taxi. Sherlock would be holding the umbrella and hailing the taxi for him.
The rain stopped.
John opened his eyes and found himself sheltered under an umbrella with a Holmes. Just the wrong one.
Mycroft looked dubious about all of John’s life choices, but Mycroft generally looked that way, in John’s experience.
“Go inside and change out of your wet things,” said Mycroft, as if John were his misbehaving child. John thought it possible Mycroft had transferred his half-fraternal/half-paternal scolding of Sherlock onto John.
“I’m late for work.”
“You’re going to catch pneumonia,” Mycroft said.
Mycroft lifted his eyebrows. John always envisioned someone, somewhere, cocking a gun in readiness whenever Mycroft lifted his eyebrows. So he turned and resignedly headed back into his flat.
“What are you doing here anyway?” he called out to Mycroft, as he located a new jumper and pulled it over his head.
“Lestrade said you were acting strangely,” was Mycroft’s laconic reply from the lounge.
John imagined that Mycroft called Lestrade “Greg” at least some of the time, but he had stayed firmly “Lestrade” whenever referenced in conversation to John. John wondered if Mycroft could possibly think he didn’t know exactly what was going on between them.
“I’m not acting strangely,” he said, padding out in his bare feet to the lounge, where he sat and pulled on dry socks.
Mycroft stood in the middle of the room and watched him, impeccably dressed and not even a little bit wet. “Hmm,” was what he said.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” asked John, a trifle defensively.
“Haven’t you an umbrella?”
“It blew inside out and broke.”
“In between the door of your building and the street?”
“You’re not really helping me cultivate optimism, Mycroft.”
His eyebrows lifted again. “What’s this?”
“I’m cultivating optimism.”
“I thought you were expressing gratitude. An endeavor, by the way, during which I was offended not to hear from you.”
“Is that a joke? Are you making a joke?”
“Anyway,” John continued, tying his shoes, “why can’t I do both? Express gratitude and cultivate optimism.”
“Careful, Dr. Watson, not to multitask too much.”
John scowled at him, especially since he looked amused.
“Here,” said Mycroft, and handed John his umbrella.
John was quite frankly shocked. He had never seen Mycroft Holmes without his beloved umbrella. “What?”
“I can’t possibly take your umbrella!”
“You can, and you will. I can’t have you catching pneumonia.”
“But…it’s your umbrella.”
“It isn’t a special umbrella, John. Take it. Although do be careful, if you tap it on the pavement too energetically it explodes.”
John stared at him.
Mycroft smiled again.
John decided he didn’t like the new joke-cracking Mycroft Holmes. “I don’t know why Lestrade thinks you’re funny,” he informed him.
Mycroft chuckled. “Take the umbrella. And wait a few minutes before you leave again; I’ll have a car sent for you.” He was already exiting the flat.
“But…” John walked over to the door and watched him as he walked down the stairs. “You’re going to get wet.”
“I’ll survive,” he called, without looking back. “Good day, Dr. Watson. Cheer up. Maybe things are looking up now and your day is about to improve dramatically. Cultivate optimism.”
John watched Mycroft disappear into the pouring rain outside, frowned, and looked at the umbrella in his hand.
The trouble with Mycroft Holmes telling him his day was about to improve dramatically was that it meant John spent the entire day waiting for Sherlock to walk into the clinic. It seemed like the sort of elaborate joke the Holmeses would play on someone. That someone specifically being him. John thought of Irene Adler, returning from the dead, and cultivated optimism.
As a result, John was feeling decidedly not optimistic as he trudged home. The rain had stopped at least, so he was holding Mycroft’s umbrella and considering that it was a sorry state when the cessation of rain was the only bright spot he could think of.
He paused before going into his building and looked up and down the street. There was no tall figure in a dramatic coat lurking in any of the shadows.
Cultivate optimism, John, he told himself. Maybe Sherlock will show up tomorrow.
It was possible his particular brand of optimism cultivation wasn’t entirely healthy.
3. Avoid Over-Thinking and Social Comparison
John could hear Sherlock’s reaction to that one. Over-thinking! There is no such thing! John desperately wanted Sherlock to be so offended by even the idea of John Watson doing less thinking that he would come back from the dead simply to berate him. It seemed like exactly the sort of thing that could provoke such a miracle.
But, although John even literally held his breath for a bit, waiting to hear a step on the stair, Sherlock did not arrive, and John decided to start his day of avoiding over-thinking and social comparison.
The over-thinking was actually fairly easy to accomplish. He was almost always exhausted these days because he slept poorly, and thinking sometimes took energy he didn’t have. He treated his patients in a manner verging toward the automatic, relying on things learned in other sleepless nights back in medical school. Luckily, all of his patients had either cold or flu, so it wasn’t as if they were exactly challenges.
Really, the biggest trick to avoiding over-thinking was not to think about Sherlock, so he just made sure he didn’t. A whole day of trying not to think about Sherlock. He could make it through that.
Except that, just before he was settling in for his nightly battle of insomnia, Lestrade rang him.
“Did I wake you?” he asked.
“No,” said John, honestly.
“I have an interesting case. I thought you might want to take a look.”
John hesitated. A case was not conducive to the avoidance of over-thinking. But he couldn’t bring himself to turn down a case. Cases were few and far between, and they were delightful reprieves from the monotony of the rest of his life.
Cases were the closest he could come to having a conversation with Sherlock.
“Yes,” said John. “Where shall I meet you?”
“The morgue,” Lestrade told him.
Molly and Lestrade and Lestrade’s new sergeant, Colin, were all there when he got to the morgue. Molly looked jumpy and seemed to be avoiding having to talk to any of them; Colin still looked terrified of Lestrade; and Lestrade looked bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, holding a cup of coffee and greeting John warmly. John imagined Sherlock would have been able to pick up a million small details about Lestrade that told of a happy relationship. Probably the way he combed his hair, or the better-pressed nature of his shirts, or, for some reason known only to Sherlock, some telltale mark on Lestrade’s index finger or something. All that John saw was that Lestrade was almost uniformly cheerful these days, and it grated on John’s nerves, which was unfair.
And, John realized, was social comparison. He was supposed to be avoiding over-thinking and social comparison. Oops.
He listened to what Lestrade had to say about the case and examined the corpse. Molly stood at the opposite end of the morgue, pretending not to watch them but watching them all the same. Colin stood ready to hang on the every word of whoever decided to speak next.
John closed his eyes. He heard Sherlock’s voice, the luxurious velvet of it in his ear, talking so quickly that John felt out-of-breath trying to keep up.
John opened his eyes and over-thought.
4. Practice Acts of Kindness
This one, thought John, he could do. And he threw himself into it wholeheartedly. Everyone who came in contact with John Watson that day got extravagant tips. He was extra-careful not to steal anyone’s taxis. He took on some of the other doctors’ patients. He brought cuppas to the busy receptionist.
And, at the end of the day, he went to see Molly. He had checked earlier at the hospital, to make sure she would be on duty, and he brought her hot cocoa because it seemed appropriate.
Naturally, when he arrived, she was in the middle of something. He managed, somehow, to knock on the door and pull it open while juggling two cups of hot cocoa, and she looked up from the middle of an autopsy. Then he felt awkward.
“John,” she said, in obvious surprise, her eyes wide with alarm.
“Sorry. I should have thought that you would be…It’s just…I brought you cocoa. So there. Shall I just…leave it here with you?” He put it down on the counter.
Molly walked over to him, looking wary and suspicious. “Why did you bring me cocoa?”
“It’s an act of kindness,” said John.
She looked like she didn’t know what to say to that. “Oh…”
“Listen, I…I just wanted to see how you were. Make sure you were…okay.”
Molly’s smile was bright and unconvincing. “Oh, I’m fine.”
That was obviously untrue, and John felt a moment of kindred-spirit-ness with her. He imagined he was just as believable when he told people he was fine. “I wanted to tell you…He liked you. He did. I know he didn’t always, you know, show it, but he did. And he trusted you. You were always the medical examiner he wanted. And I just…thought you should know.”
Molly stared at him, looking stricken. John wasn’t sure this act of kindness had turned out well. And he couldn’t imagine any way of salvaging it. So he just said, “Enjoy the cocoa, yeah?” and left Molly’s morgue.
5. Nurture Social Relationships
John was having a party. To nurture his social relationships. This had seemed like a good idea at the time.
It seemed like a less good idea when he said, “Thank you so much for coming,” to Mycroft and Lestrade and Mycroft replied, “Thank you for the…invitation,” and then headed past him into the lounge.
John looked at Lestrade. “Is that a dig at the fact that the invitation was just an e-mail?”
“Ignore him,” said Lestrade.
“Oh, Inspector!” exclaimed Mrs. Hudson, swooping up to him with an enthusiastic hug and a kiss to each of his cheeks. “It’s so good to see you, Inspector! Come in! Come in! Doesn’t John’s flat look festive?”
John had done nothing to decorate the flat. He did not know why Mrs. Hudson kept insisting it was festive.
“What can I get everyone to drink?” he asked.
But he was drowned out by Mrs. Hudson offering Lestrade and Mycroft a tray of nibbles. “John made them himself,” she explained.
Both Lestrade and Mycroft looked at him in surprise.
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I bought them at Tesco’s.”
“He bought them himself, though,” said Mrs. Hudson, as if this were an equally impressive achievement.
“What can I get you to drink?” asked John, again.
“Do you have Scotch?” asked Mycroft, regarding the food skeptically.
“Yes, I can get you some Scotch.”
“No,” said Mycroft, and looked up at him. “Bring me the bottle.”
“Okay,” said John, and stood for a second surveying the odd tableau. These were his social relationships. This was depressing as hell.
He retreated to the kitchen and found the bottle of Scotch and brought it out for Mycroft, since he was the only person who had requested a drink. But Mycroft was no longer in the lounge, just Lestrade listening politely to Mrs. Hudson telling him the precise temperatures at which her hip bothered her.
“But it’s the funniest thing, if it’s over 10, even just 10.1, I’ve noticed it doesn’t ache at all!”
“Doesn’t it?” said Lestrade, and looked at John. “Is Molly coming?”
“No. I think Molly plans to never talk to me ever again, if she can help it.” John questioningly held up the bottle of Scotch.
“Phone,” said Lestrade, and nodded in the direction of John’s bedroom.
“It’s such a shame,” sighed Mrs. Hudson. “Molly was such a nice girl. A bit strange. But such a nice girl. I always thought maybe she and Sherlock would hit it off together.”
Lestrade choked on a canapé.
Mrs. Hudson looked at him. “Didn’t you think so? I thought they would have suited.”
Lestrade looked, in a bit of amazement, from Mrs. Hudson to John, and John knew that he was thinking about the awkward Christmas Eve gathering they’d had in which Sherlock had painfully insulted Molly.
“It was just that they were both so strange,” continued Mrs. Hudson.
“Sometimes,” Lestrade said, wisely, “strange people need normal people to balance them out.”
“You speak as if you are an expert,” said Mycroft, walking back into the lounge, “but I find the point debatable.”
“No, you don’t,” said Lestrade.
Mycroft ignored him and took the bottle of Scotch John held out to him.
“Did you want a glass with that?” asked John. “Or do you just drink it straight from the bottle?”
Mycroft gave him a long-suffering look. It was a look John had seen him give Sherlock many times. It actually made John happier to have provoked it—it felt more as if Sherlock was at the party.
“Here,” said John, smiling, handing him a glass.
Mycroft inspected it closely, as if it were merely a suspicious facsimile of a glass. John drew his eyebrows together and looked at Lestrade, but Lestrade was reaching for another canapé and asking Mrs. Hudson about Mr. Chatterjee and the saga of his many wives. Mycroft sighed heavily and poured himself a Scotch.
“So,” he said to John, standing in the middle of the room. “How goes your cultivation of optimism?”
“Oh. I have your umbrella. Remind me to give it to you before you leave.”
“That’s quite all right. I have others.”
“You can sit down, you know,” John told him, as he continued to stand.
Mycroft glanced at the only remaining seat available, one of the stools dragged over from the breakfast bar, and said, “No…”
“What about your expression of gratitude?” asked Lestrade, picking up the thread of the conversation.
“I stopped with that. It was alarming people.”
“What are they talking about, John?” asked Mrs. Hudson.
“Oh,” said John, and waved his hand about, trying to downplay the whole thing.
“John’s expressing gratitude,” Lestrade told her. “Or he was.”
“And cultivating optimism,” contributed Mycroft. “Or he was.”
“I’m doing other things, too.”
“Like what?” asked Lestrade with interest.
“Well, right now I’m nurturing social relationships.”
“Are you?” said Mycroft, pursing his lips as if he disagreed with that assessment.
“Well,” said John, looking at him. “I’m trying to.”
“I think this sounds good for you, John!” Mrs. Hudson told him. “Very healthy.” She nodded informatively.
John didn’t want to say that it had all been Mrs. Hudson’s idea. He didn’t want to admit, in front of Mycroft and Lestrade, that he was following a website’s dubious recommendations on how to be a happy person.
“Does your therapist agree?” asked Mycroft.
“I don’t have a therapist anymore. You told me to get a new one and then never sent me any recommendations like I asked you to.”
“You must have bought the wrong packet of crisps,” Mycroft told him.
“I see what you mean,” John told Lestrade. “He’s totally hilarious.”
Lestrade laughed, and Mrs. Hudson looked vaguely confused and said, “We should play charades.”
Mycroft’s mobile rang.
John looked at him. “You’ve bugged this flat, haven’t you? Told someone to ring you as soon as they heard the word ‘charades.’”
“Would that I had had such foresight,” replied Mycroft, dryly, and looked at his mobile. “Oh, good. A potential international crisis.” He disappeared with his Scotch and the mobile back into John’s bedroom.
“I’ll play charades,” said Lestrade, winningly. “I haven’t played charades in years.”
And so they played charades until Mrs. Hudson said that she really had to get back home.
And then John sat with Lestrade and drank beer and spoke amiably of Lestrade’s latest cases and the most recent football matches, until Mycroft emerged from John’s bedroom and announced that the international crisis had been diverted.
John locked up when they had left and stood in his lounge. What a dull party. It had really needed a few well-placed insults from Sherlock.