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.
6. Develop Strategies for Coping
John stared at this one for a long time. Strategies for Coping. He was managing to get out of bed each morning. He considered that a fine “strategy for coping.”
He thought of his blog, long-defunct, because what was there to write about now that Sherlock was gone? He had always been the only interesting thing on his blog. But that had been the last Strategy for Coping that had been suggested to him.
John, for the first time in a long time, navigated to his blog. He had told himself it was unhealthy to just sit and re-read the entries. He had also told himself not to delete it all entirely. Because there had been nights when the only thing he had wanted had been to erase the mark Sherlock Holmes had left on his life. As if, with the deletion of the blog, he could go back to before it all happened and not be as heartbroken as he currently was.
John scrolled down, looking at his earliest entries. Nothing happens to me.
To go back to life before Sherlock would be to go back to that. And, regardless of how he felt now, he would never have missed the eighteen months with Sherlock. Never. Not for anything in the world. It was only in his very darkest times that he had ever thought that, and he was glad he’d got through them.
John spent the entire evening re-reading his blog. He laughed in some places, and cried in more. He typed a farewell entry. There’s no point in continuing this blog without Sherlock, so I’m going to formally lock it and declare it done. It’s okay: I’d rather have had eighteen months with Sherlock than a lifetime with any other person on Earth.
He looked at it for a long time, fingers steepled in front of his lips in an unconscious mimicry of the way Sherlock had used to think things through. He thought it would be a good Strategy for Coping for him to post the entry, close the door on that portion of his life, his brief, brilliant time as Sherlock Holmes’s blogger.
He didn’t post it. It seemed too final to him. He simply could not convince himself that it really was over.
He was failing at developing a Strategy for Coping, he thought.
7. Learn to Forgive
John called Mycroft Holmes. For the first time ever.
Mycroft picked up immediately, with an extremely concerned-sounding, “Hello?”
“Mycroft,” said John, as if this were normal. “It’s John. Watson,” he clarified, in case Mycroft knew other Johns, which was probable. Unlike the way Mycroft tended to sign his communications with John as Mycroft Holmes, as if it was likely John knew other Mycrofts (he did not).
“I know. Is something wrong?”
“No, no. Nothing’s wrong. Just…thought I’d call…and see if you were free for lunch.”
“Lunch?” repeated Mycroft, after a moment.
“Yeah, it’s a meal in the middle of the day,” explained John, feeling self-conscious and ridiculous and hating this stupid happy-people list.
“Is something wrong?” Mycroft asked again.
“Nope. No, just…wanted to have lunch. That’s it.”
Mycroft was silent for a moment, before saying, “I’ll send a car for you at noon.”
“Of course you will,” said John, resigned, but he was talking to dead air.
The car arrived punctually at noon and drove John to the Diogenes Club, where Mycroft was seated in the room John had met him in before, reading the Sun.
“You still read the Sun?” John asked him, reminded of the last time Mycroft had been reading a Sun in this room. Mycroft would make this difficult.
“The Sun,” responded Mycroft, from behind the paper, “has some interesting articles sometimes.”
“I bet,” muttered John, reminding himself that he was Learning to Forgive.
Mycroft folded the paper. “Please sit down.”
“Thank you,” said John, and sat.
A waiter appeared immediately, asking, “What would you like to drink?”
John looked at him a bit blankly, and then glanced at whatever Mycroft was drinking, and hesitated.
Mycroft lifted his eyebrows, as if confused by John’s continued silence.
“The same as him,” John decided, eventually, because he had no idea what to order in this sort of place.
“I’ve signed out a private dining room for us,” said Mycroft, “we can go there as soon as they bring your aperitif.”
John’s stomach sank. He didn’t really want a three-hour lunch with Mycroft. “I have to go back to work, eventually…” he said, helplessly.
Mycroft sipped whatever it was he was drinking, which John would also shortly be drinking. “So do I,” he replied.
Which was utterly missing the point, thought John. “We couldn’t have just gone to grab a sandwich somewhere?”
Mycroft stared at him as if he’d suggested they start dealing drugs together. The waiter came with his aperitif and Mycroft tore his gaze away from John to say to him, “We’ll go to the dining room now.”
“Yes, sir,” said the waiter, and John followed he and Mycroft into a dining room, where he was presented with a menu where absolutely nothing sounded appetizing and where it appeared he was expected to choose three courses.
Because he wanted to get the meal over as quickly as possible, he chose the first course blindly, saying to the waiter, “The goat cheese one.”
Mycroft looked surprised by the hasty ordering but said merely, “I’ll have the same,” and then sat back in his chair and looked evenly across at John, clearly waiting for him to take the conversational lead.
John delayed by studying the choices for the second course. “Possibly the guinea fowl,” he said. “What do you think?”
Mycroft did not reply, waiting patiently, all disconcertingly watchful silence.
“I forgot to bring your umbrella,” John blurted, finally, to have something to say.
“That’s quite all right. You may keep the umbrella. I have told you several times before.”
John fidgeted with his aperitif, not really wanting it, and said to Mycroft, “I’m learning to forgive.”
Mycroft said nothing.
“So,” said John, quickly, “I forgive you.”
Mycroft still said nothing.
Which made John bristle with anger. “Why don’t you defend yourself? Give me a reason to forgive you? It would make this a lot easier.”
Mycroft placed his elbows on the table and threaded his fingers together, a gesture John had seen him make before. “I haven’t any defense to offer you, John. I would have mounted one long before this, were there one for me to mount. I can only apologize, which I have.”
“I don’t know how you sleep at night,” John said, in amazement. “Although I imagine you sleep very well. Look at you. How your life has improved since your brother’s death.”
Mycroft didn’t rise to the bait. He said, evenly, “If there were anything I could do to fix this, John, I would. If I could bring him back for you, now, I would. I’m sorry, but I can’t.”
John sighed. Because he knew this. “It’s very hard,” he said, with a tight smile, trying to lighten the mood. “This learning to forgive business.”
Mycroft smiled without it reaching his sharp eyes.
“Sometimes,” John continued, “I lie awake at night, and I think of all the ways I failed him. All the little things I could have done better, and maybe we wouldn’t have ended up here.”
“There was nothing—”
John cut him off. “I know. I just…Tell me you do that, too. Tell me you go over everything, making lists of the things you wish you’d never done.”
Mycroft looked at him for a long moment. When he spoke, it was with heavy weariness. “Constantly,” he said.
John believed him.
8. Increase Flow Experiences
“Are you serious?” John asked the website he was viewing, and then heard Sherlock’s voice in his head, feigning boredom, tinged with genuine amusement. Don’t argue with inanimate objects, John. You’ll never win.
But seriously? Increase Flow Experiences. He’d had plenty of flow experiences, back when he had been happy. They weren’t just ten-a-penny, flow experiences: experiences that made you lose track of time, of anything but what you were doing and how you’d do it the rest of your life if you could. The website suggested it so blithely, as if he could read the suggestion and walk outside and run into another man like Sherlock Holmes.
If he could figure out how to get back into flow experiences, then his problems would be solved and he’d be happy again, wouldn’t he? Telling him to increase his flow experiences wasn’t helping him. It was merely reminding him that, so far, he hadn’t managed to do it.
John wracked his brain for something he could do that he could get lost in, that would swallow him up and make everything else—all the rest of it—seem small and meaningless by comparison. His medical practice no longer filled that role. He had been an army doctor, anything else was always going to seem a bit mundane by comparison. He could think of only one thing that would make everything else fall away: Sherlock Holmes returning from the dead and walking into his flat. The only other thing he could think of that might make everything else fall away was a good crime.
All of a sudden, frustratingly, a good crime was hard to find in London.
He phoned Lestrade and said he was bored and would take anything, reminding himself strongly of Sherlock as he did so, and Lestrade gamely let him tag along, but it was even worse to be on a crime scene that was dull than it was not to be on a crime scene at all.
“It’s just a lull,” Lestrade told him, as they stood to the side of the fourth open-and-shut case that week. “You know how it goes sometimes.”
“Oh, I know,” John agreed, grimly. “I used to be subjected to much whinging during lulls. Those were the times when bullets would be shot into the wall.”
“It really wasn’t safe to have a gun in that flat,” commented Lestrade.
“It really wasn’t safe not to have a gun in that flat,” countered John.
“Fair enough,” allowed Lestrade, and then, “Everything okay?” He took his eyes off of Colin, who was supervising, to look in concern at John.
“Everyone is always asking me if things are okay,” John said, irritated. “No. Of course everything is not okay. If everything were okay, then I think it would be cause for you to be alarmed about me, don’t you?”
Lestrade watched him patiently. Because Lestrade knew by now—and John knew he knew—that every Watsonian outburst was followed by an immediate apology.
Which he did now, sighing, “Sorry, sorry, I’m sorry.” He paused. “I’m looking for a flow experience.”
“It’s something you do that you love so much that time basically stops while you’re doing it. Something you do that you could do the rest of your life—you can’t envision what your life would be without it.”
“Huh,” remarked Lestrade, his hands in his pockets. “That doesn’t sound like something that’s easy to find.”
“Tell me about it,” muttered John, in agreement, looking back to the crime scene.
“Well, cheer up,” said Lestrade. “As we used to say to Sherlock, maybe there’ll be a nice murder soon.”
But there was no nice murder. And now that John was thinking harder about the things he spent his time doing, the lack of flow experiences in his life made him want to shout in frustration. Monotony clawed at him. He needed a hobby, or a project, or something.
The idea came to him while he was considering his options. He didn’t want to learn a musical instrument, or a foreign language, or how to draw. Those things would not capture his interest. He would just spend all of his time thinking about Sherlock’s reaction to them, hearing Sherlock’s voice in his head making snide remarks. So, if all he was going to do was think about Sherlock anyway, he might as well make this his flow experience. He might as well immerse himself in Sherlock.
He rang Lestrade.
“I still don’t have anything, John,” Lestrade said, apologetically. “Trust me, I’m combing every call that comes in.”
“It’s okay,” John told him. “I’ve had an idea. But I need to ask a favor of you.”
“Sure,” said Lestrade, agreeably.
“It’s really a favor of Mycroft.”
“Then you should probably ring Mycroft.”
“But you could just ask Mycroft for me.”
Lestrade paused. “He’d do anything you asked him to, you know.”
“I know, but he’d judge me while I was asking for it.”
“No, he wouldn’t.”
“Yes, he would. He does that. You’ve just got used to ignoring him. This way, if you ask him, he’ll judge me at you, and that’s less annoying.”
“Less annoying to you,” Lestrade pointed out.
“Obviously,” said John.
Lestrade sighed. “What’s the favor?”
“I want to catalogue Sherlock’s belongings. The stuff in Baker Street.”
“Why?” Lestrade sounded curious.
“It’s a flow experience, Greg.”
Lestrade wasn’t sure that was what he would call it, but if it was going to keep John busy while the criminal masses in London were being unusually law-abiding, then Lestrade thought it was a good idea. So he agreed to ask Mycroft.
Mycroft was working, but Mycroft tended to always be working. Lestrade had learned that, when Mycroft genuinely wanted to focus on work, he didn’t come home. If he brought work home, that meant he didn’t mind if Lestrade interrupted him. Once Lestrade had deduced this—and living with Mycroft was a constant puzzle, which made it a good thing that Lestrade had become a detective because he liked puzzles—he thought it was an arrangement that made perfect, logical sense and had adopted it for himself.
And this was the reason why, upon finding Mycroft in the library with a pen in his hand and a document on his desk, Lestrade didn’t hesitate to walk in and sit down and say, “I need a favor.”
“Oh, dear,” said Mycroft, and turned a page.
Lestrade had rather expected Mycroft to simply respond with What is it? so he said, “What’s that reaction for?”
Mycroft put down his pen and leaned back in his seat. “You never ask me for favors. Ever. If you’re asking me for one now, I can only conclude that you must have murdered someone.”
“I haven’t,” said Lestrade.
“How reassuring,” Mycroft responded.
“It’s really a favor for John.”
“John.” Mycroft frowned. “Why isn’t John asking me for this favor then?”
“Because John thinks you’ll judge him for asking for it.” Lestrade held up his hand as if to head off whatever Mycroft might say next. “Before you protest, I’ve no idea where John got that impression. I told him you’re the least judgmental person I know.”
“I don’t think you’re amusing,” said Mycroft.
“Yes, you do,” said Lestrade. “He wants to catalogue Sherlock’s belongings.”
“The ones in Baker Street.”
Mycroft paused, and Lestrade could tell he was determining how to react to this. “Why does he want to do this?” he asked, finally.
“Do you mind if he does it?”
“No, I don’t mind. Of course I don’t mind. I told him months ago he could have everything in the flat, and he didn’t want it. So I don’t quite understand why he suddenly wants to catalogue all of it.”
“It’s a flow experience.”
Lestrade recognized the look on Mycroft’s face. It was his resigned-to-ridiculousness look. “And what, pray tell, is a flow experience?”
“As far as I can tell, it’s falling in love with something, or someone.”
“And you think it is entirely acceptable for us to permit John Watson to wallow in falling in love with Sherlock Holmes’s possessions?”
“I think he isn’t in love with Sherlock Holmes’s possessions, but if they can stand in for Sherlock and take his mind off everything for a little while, then maybe it’s not a bad idea.”
Mycroft sighed. “‘Flow experience.’ Where did he even get this idea?”
“He might be reading self-help books.”
Mycroft laughed without humor. “If I texted Sherlock that John was reading self-help books, I feel sure he’d come back immediately.”
“Then maybe you should do it,” suggested Lestrade, lightly, as if it were not an unwinnable argument they’d been having periodically. Mycroft censored reports to Sherlock, made light of John’s mood. Lestrade thought this a terrible idea. Mycroft thought it a brilliant one. They had, so far, agreed to disagree on the point.
Mycroft acknowledged Lestrade’s jab with a brief smile and moved on. “He can catalogue everything, but do ask him if he wouldn’t mind being careful with leaving it as it is as much as possible. That really was a request from Sherlock. I think he assumed John would just go on living in the flat and keep everything in place as a shrine to him.”
“Of course he thought that.”
“So I find myself in the situation now of preserving my brother’s shrine to himself.”
“I’ll tell John you can’t bear to have it disturbed and moved all about. You have become quite sentimental since Sherlock’s death.”
“Go away,” said Mycroft, without heat, “I’ve work to do.”
Lestrade chuckled and stood up. “Thank you.”
“I am delighted to assist in the perpetuation of flow experiences in the world.”
“That’s what I tell people about you,” remarked Lestrade, as he left the room, texting John.
“No doubt,” rejoined Mycroft.
Lestrade smiled absently and texted, M, without judgment, says it’s fine. Please don’t tidy up, though – he’d like it left as is as much as possible.
Lestrade was halfway down the hall on his way to the drawing room when Mycroft’s Sherlock-emergency-only mobile chirped with a text message from where Mycroft had left it on the ridiculously enormous antique sideboard under the twelfth-century tapestry. Lestrade picked it up, glanced at it, and carried it back to the library.
Mycroft looked up from his papers. “Is it Sherlock?”
Lestrade held it out to him. It was a text from John Watson, and it read: Thank you.
“Text him back,” said Mycroft, turning back to his papers, “and tell him he should have just asked me directly. And remember to sign my name.”
“He’s going to know it’s from you; you’re in his contacts list.”
“Informality is slowly creeping into all human interaction, Greg. I shall not assist its insidious invasion.”
Lestrade sighed but obediently began texting John back in Mycroft-speak. “You know, when you say things like that, it makes me amazed you ever call me ‘Greg.’”
“I make exceptions for you,” said Mycroft, making a note on the paper he was reading.
Lestrade smiled and hit send on the text.
No gratitude necessary. Intermediary not necessary either. Mycroft Holmes.
So John, with Mycroft’s blessing, spent many happy hours completely lost in Baker Street, carefully going through Sherlock’s varied and hodge-podge possessions. At the end of every period of time he spent at Baker Street, he felt as if he’d just spent an afternoon with Sherlock. Sherlock had been quiet and hadn’t said much, but then Sherlock could be like that sometimes, and it was easy to pretend Sherlock was deep in thought and that John was merely waiting for him to say something, suddenly, as if they were in the middle of a conversation, confident that John would be there. There had been a comfort in Sherlock’s silent presence—just as John knew Sherlock had taken comfort in having him near even when he wasn’t speaking—and the only place John could approximate that comfort these days was in Baker Street, surrounded by the only things left of Sherlock Holmes. John’s life had been the space between Sherlock’s speeches, and in a way it still was, it was just that the next speech was never going to come.
Some of Sherlock’s things made him smile: the Cluedo board they’d fought over the one time they’d played, a comic-book drawing of them sketched in payment by one of the clients from “The Geek Interpreter,” the crutch from “The Aluminium Crutch.” Some of them confused him, and he wished desperately he could ask Sherlock about them. What had he been planning to do with fifty-two samples of beach sand that John found stuffed at the very back of the silverware drawer in their kitchen? Where had the scimitar come from that John uncovered under a pile of six different types of red velvet fabric? (For that matter, what had the fabric been for?)
He worked his way through the flat, systematically, usually working cross-legged on the floor with his laptop on his lap, careful to catalogue the item and its location and then put it back exactly where he had found it. He understood Mycroft’s impulse for everything to be left as it was. He had the same impulse. He was sure it was unhealthy, but he couldn’t shake the idea that Sherlock couldn’t possibly be dead. It was too unbelievable. It was more believable to think he was still out there, somewhere, and that eventually he would come back, and if one sock had been disturbed in his sock index, John knew he’d be subjected to days of insufferable sulking over it.
When John had that thought, he stood up and purposely moved a sock out of the sock index, hoping someday to be subject to Sherlock’s sulk over it. He looked forward to it. He desperately wanted to be the object of Sherlock Holmes’s displeasure.
Mrs. Hudson brought him tea periodically and they chatted. Mostly Mrs. Hudson chatted and John listened. It was exactly like old times, except much quieter.
Eventually, John found himself cataloguing the desk they had shared. He had deliberately saved it until last because it had been the place where his things had most intermixed with Sherlock’s things, and somehow that was more painful than Sherlock’s things on their own, to see the places where Sherlock’s unyielding personality had yielded to him and let him in.
Sherlock had seldom kept notes when he worked, but he had saved John’s notes from their cases. John had never realized that before. He went through piles of paper covered in his own handwriting. The thought that Sherlock had saved his awkward and confused notes made his heart hurt. Literally. A pain pressing his chest that threatened to strangle him. He refused to cry, but when he took a breath it still sounded like a sob.
The very last piece of paper he found was a fortune from a fortune cookie. It is all just beginning. John stared at it for a very long time, forcing himself to breathe slowly and evenly. Then he turned to his laptop and typed into it, “S’s fortune from Chinese, night of ASiP resolution.” Their first Chinese together. John did not type that.
It was the only thing he moved in the flat. But he put the fortune on top of every other pile of paper, in the middle of the desk. He liked the proud defiance in its tone. Here in this flat where time had stopped, everything was always just on the verge of beginning. For the rest of time. Or at least time as John knew it.
John turned back to his laptop, saved the file, and shut everything down. He wasn’t sure exactly how long it had taken him to catalogue everything. He had lost track of time while doing it. But he did know that it had merely reinforced the problem with flow experiences.
They always, eventually, ended.
9. Savor Life’s Joys
This was another impossible one, and John frowned again at the website. Savor Life’s Joys. What joy? This would have been advice to give him when Sherlock had been alive. Savor every irritating moment of frustration. You won’t have him long, and you’ll miss him so much more than you’ll be able to comprehend. He agreed. He should have savored life’s joys more. But what was there to savor now?
He liked London, so he tried to savor London. He wrote up a list of his favorite things to do in London, but every single thing on the list reminded him painfully of Sherlock. Sherlock had loved London, too, although he’d never said it in so many words. But John knew it was true because Sherlock had permitted John to nudge him out into the city when Sherlock was in particularly terrible moods, and it was always true that a dose of London did Sherlock good. Wherever they went—whether a quiet café or King’s Cross Station—Sherlock observed and deduced, telling John everything he could about every person who passed them by. It was endless stimulation, the city of London, which was what Sherlock Holmes needed, and John cherished the memory of every minute, even the times when he was convinced Sherlock was merely making things up to test the limits of John’s credulity. John had especially loved to choose crowded places for them—Piccadilly Circus or Trafalgar Square—because, in a crowd, to keep up his running commentary, Sherlock found it necessary to stand that much closer to John, head bent and lips at his ear, breath on his skin, as he murmured in that sinfully rich voice just for John. Sometimes there was even a warm, surprisingly light hand on his shoulder or arm, easy to mistake for a caress if you so desired but more likely intended to keep him still, as if John had any inclination to move away from him, ever. If he were going to admit it, he had probably been most effectively seduced by Sherlock Holmes in the middle of London crowds. So how could he possibly savor a London crowd without him?
Savor Life’s Joys.
John thought. Before Sherlock, what joyful moments had he had? What did he remember?
Eventually, he took a deep breath and, with finger shaking only slightly, dialed his sister’s number.
This was an enormous risk. The last time he’d spoken to his sister she’d been very obviously drunk, and he’d been an emotional wreck, and it had been impossible for him to think of any way to deal with her when he could barely deal with the act of having to brush his teeth, so he had tried to ignore her.
He was still an emotional wreck, and if she was still drunk this was just going to invite more guilt to topple down on him. As if he did not have enough from watching his best friend leap to his death during a telephone conversation with him. But, prior to Sherlock, Harry had been the source of joy in his life. His adored and adoring little sister. And it had all fallen into terrible pieces, and John tried not to let himself think about that, but it would be nice, if she were okay, if he could have a source of joy, someone who loved him who was not dead. That would be nice.
She answered with, “John,” and she sounded, all at the same time, fragile and shaky and steely and determined.
Which was a huge relief to him, because she sounded sober. “Harry,” he said, and thought he was going to collapse into undignified sobs at the idea that maybe one thing in his life was moving in the right direction.
“I’ve been meaning to ring you,” she said, “but I didn’t…I didn’t know what to say. John…”
“It’s okay,” he said, fervently. He had never meant anything as much as he meant that. “It’s all okay.” He would forgive her anything in the world if she would be okay from this point on. Maybe he was finally Learning to Forgive, he thought. “Can we have coffee?”
They met at a café. Harry looked small and thin, and it was a bit painful, because he had remembered her as a round-cheeked girl, laughing at him when he teased her, and now she had become a sad and ravaged adult. But, then again, so had he, and they were quite the pair, these Watson siblings.
She stood up and hugged him when he entered, and he hugged her back tightly and kissed the top of her head. Then they sat opposite each other, and Harry shredded a serviette with nervous fingers.
“How are you?” he asked. He tried to keep his eyes sharp, to think like Sherlock, to be objective and catalogue anything telltale to show that Harry was slipping, that the sobriety was leaking away from her, that the next time he spoke to her she would be back off the wagon and he would be all alone again. But he couldn’t. He was rubbish at that. It was why he’d needed Sherlock. He looked at her and saw his little sister, and his heart swelled with love, and he wanted more than anything else to believe everything was okay, and if he didn’t look too hard, he could convince himself of that.
He very much lacked Sherlock’s courage to see the world as it was, he thought. He always had.
“I’m okay,” said Harry, hesitantly.
She attempted a bright smile. “Getting there. I think. Yeah.”
“John.” She reached her hand across the table, took one of his in hers and squeezed. Her eyes were filled with tears. “John, I’m so sorry. You needed me, and I wasn’t there, and I—”
John stared at their intertwined hands, because if he looked at her he thought he might start to cry. “It’s okay. You’re here now.” He forced himself to look up at her.
She was smiling at him, a watery, but loving smile. “We can get over our addictions together,” she said.
He half-laughed. He didn’t know how long it was going to last, this rare sober persona of his sister, but, just now, he wasn’t going to worry about that, he was just going to let her be there, now. Savor Life’s Joys.
10. Commit to Your Goals
This was another ridiculous one. What had he been doing for the past nine steps if not committing to the goal of being a happier person? Getting over Sherlock? He was beginning to think it was impossible, an exercise in futility. But he was Committed to His Goal.
He looked around his flat and decided that there was one thing he could do to show his complete devotion to moving on from Sherlock: He could decorate.
He rang Mrs. Hudson. “I’m going to buy some things for my flat,” he told her. “I thought you might want to help.”
Mrs. Hudson was only too eager to help. And if he ended up with a bunch of knick-knacks more suited to a woman of Mrs. Hudson’s age than a bachelor of John’s age, well, that was fine with him. Truthfully, John no longer had any inkling what his taste or style might be. Sherlock was his taste and style. The accessory his flat needed was Sherlock Holmes, draped on the sofa with petulant grace.
He didn’t think there was a store where you could buy a Sherlock Holmes, so he let Mrs. Hudson pick out fussy pink-rosed china and tried not to envision the look on Mycroft’s face should he ever stop by for tea. The thing was, Mycroft himself probably possessed fussy pink-rosed china, but he would still manage to look disapproving of John’s.
“You should paint,” Mrs. Hudson told him. John noticed she didn’t suggest wallpaper, and John agreed with the obvious reasoning behind that. “And put some things on the walls. It would help.”
Help what? John wanted to ask her. But he chose a paint color, a yellowish creamy color that the expert at the store said was guaranteed to provoke cheerfulness in the inhabitant of the room. John asked if it was a money-back guarantee, which made the shop assistant falter.
His new yellow walls did not provoke cheerfulness, but he supposed they were committing to his goal. He considered things to hang on them. Mirrors? Paintings? Photographs?
In the end, he gave in and allowed himself to frame one photo of Sherlock and himself, in amongst the impersonal seaside landscapes he put on his walls. It was his favorite one from their newspaper days. It had accompanied a standard and unremarkable story about Sherlock Holmes, ’Net Detective, but John had seen no other newspaper run that particular photograph, and he had eventually written to the photographer and asked if he might have a copy. This had been before Sherlock’s death, and he had never been quite sure what he’d intended to do with the photograph, other than that he liked it and wanted to have it.
He found it now, tucked in a medical textbook he’d been carrying around with him needlessly since his school days, and framed it and hung it on the wall. He contemplated it during his lonelier moments, examining every aspect of it. In it, he was speaking to Sherlock, his eyes squinted at the sun and one of his arms extended, pointing into the distance at whatever point he was trying to make. He looked unremarkable in the photo. He liked the photo because Sherlock, in his scarf and coat, with his hands in his pockets, was smiling at him. Not a sneer or a mockery but a genuine smile, his pale eyes alight on John’s face. Whatever John was saying in that photo, it had, unbeknownst to him, caused Sherlock to smile at him.
John wished desperately that he knew what it was.
11. Practice Spirituality
John hadn’t been to church in years.
He did, most of the time, believe that there was a God. This was either habit or genuine belief, he wasn’t sure which. Sherlock had called it “unimaginative.” He still remembered the first conversation they’d ever had about it, over breakfast shortly after John had shot the cab driver. “Did you really ask God to let you live when you were shot?” Sherlock had asked, sounding as if it were too impossible to believe. “Yes,” he’d answered, briefly, not wanting to get into it. “But why?” Sherlock persisted. “What does ‘God’ have to do with it?” He had a way of pronouncing God as if it were an alleged name, an alias for something entirely different.
Sherlock had never understood the elemental thoughts that might flit through one’s brain in the moments before possible death. A childhood of turning to a Higher Power, and it had been automatic for him to do it, powerless and terrified, for him to pray to a God he was sure he’d stopped believing in until that moment. And that moment had betrayed him, forced him to acknowledge that he only stopped believing in God until he thought he needed a God, and then he was convinced there must be one. He thought of Jennifer Wilson, who had been leaving them a message, but John had genuinely thought that she had just been thinking of her dead baby daughter. The regrets of a lifetime, the desperate pleas that betrayed exactly what you were and what you found important…
Sometimes John wondered what Sherlock had thought as he was falling, but he never let himself think about that for long because that way lay madness.
John went to church. Not to a service—that seemed too much—but to church. He sat in the church’s chilly dimness and listened to the way the sounds outside were drowned while the sounds inside were amplified. He looked way up, to the ceiling high above him. It was a gray dreary day, and only a half-light fell through the long, narrow windows. He looked at the flickering candles, glowing feebly all around him.
He tried to feel as if there were a God, but the church seemed empty to him. Life had been emptiness lately, and it yawned ahead of him, and John did not understand, could not comprehend, how he had been shot and survived and Sherlock Holmes had leaped off a building to his death. In any universe conceived by a divine being, what sense did such an exchange make? To deprive the world of Sherlock Holmes and leave the world with John Watson? What was John supposed to make of that, other than a confirmation that in this, as in all things, Sherlock had probably been right, and there was no God. He had survived because of modern medicine, not because of divine intervention. And Sherlock Holmes had died because he had deliberately placed himself beyond the abilities of modern medicine.
John closed his eyes and bowed his head and curled his fingers around the pew and listened to emptiness.
Which was when the church bells began to ring.
And that was nothing more than timing, Sherlock would tell him. He had subconsciously wanted to be at church when the bells would ring, and so he had sought church near such a time. That was what Sherlock would say.
What John heard, though, was bells ringing, and he heard them through his childhood, through dazed pain in Afghanistan, through his current frozen state. They beat with his heart, a rhythm to accompany him, a little less emptiness, a little less loneliness.
John squeezed his eyes shut a bit more and prayed the most impossible, audacious prayer, a dare of a prayer, a slap across God’s face. If I am right and Sherlock is wrong about You, prove it: Bring him back.
Satisfied that he had practiced spirituality, John walked out of the church. His steps timed, unconsciously, with the ringing of the bells.
12. Take Care of Your Body
Mycroft had been out of the country on an unexpected trip during which he had not slept, and when he got home he kissed Greg hello absently and fell immediately into bed. Which meant that when the mobile chirped with a text message, it was still in his pocket and woke him.
It was the Sherlock-emergency-only mobile.
John has joined a gym.
Mycroft frowned, rang Sherlock, and left him a voicemail. “And?”
He dozed until the mobile chirped again. Why has he joined a gym? And then, after another second, Did I wake you? Why are you sleeping in the middle of the day?
Mycroft deleted the second text and rolled himself out of bed and went in search of Greg.
He found him in the drawing room, sitting on the floor by a roaring fire. Greg always made the fires too big. Mycroft was convinced he was going to burn the house down eventually. He had a pen clamped in his mouth and was surrounded by crime scene photos. The drawing room was where Greg always worked. Originally, he had commandeered the dining room table, until Mycroft had politely asked him where they were supposed to eat. The table, Greg had said, seats twenty; they could surely eat at one end of it. Mycroft had been unconvinced, which Greg had immediately seen, which was why Mycroft loved Greg.
Except that then Greg had moved himself into the library, which was a nice idea, that they could work at the same time, but Greg’s encroaching piles of paper had made Mycroft half want to tear his hair out. Another thing Greg had immediately seen, without Mycroft having to say anything, and the drawing room had been his compromise. Mycroft didn’t mind this. He associated the room with Greg, so the mess seemed acceptable here.
Greg glanced at him as he sat in the chair by the fire and took the pen out of his mouth. “Are you sick?”
“What?” Mycroft hadn’t expected that question. Because he’d taken a nap? “No, I was tired. I didn’t sleep on my trip.”
“You’re in a wrinkled suit. You never wear wrinkled suits.”
“I had a text from Sherlock,” answered Mycroft.
Mycroft handed the mobile to Greg.
“John has joined a gym,” Greg read out loud. “Why has John joined a gym?”
“Do you know anything about this?” asked Mycroft.
“Yes.” Greg handed the mobile back. “It’s part of John’s get-over-Sherlock program. He’s moved on to ‘take care of your body.’”
“Ah.” Mycroft rang Sherlock and left him a message. “Don’t worry, he’s still all yours.”