I had not been feeling too well of late. It looked like I only caught a cold, but no matter what my efforts were, it did not seem to get better quickly. Holmes was worried, and I assured him over and over again that this was unnecessary. But I knew better. This was more than just a case of influenza.
The other day I had returned home from a walk and out of a sudden drowsiness relapsed into a chair. Before I could even do anything, I felt my eyelids get so very heavy that I couldn't prevent them from automatically closing. I instantaneously fell asleep.
After some time, I felt something touching my face. At first I was convinced I had dreamt this, but when I realized what it was, I quickly opened my smarting eyes. Holmes was leaning over me, his hand caressing my cheek. He smiled at me, and said: "Awake at last, Watson?"
His smile abruptly faded when I quickly, and probably too fiercely, grabbed him by the wrist and said in a warning voice: "Don't touch me."
He looked hurt, and wanted to reply something: "But, Watson- I..."
My fingers now wrapped more gently around his, and I cut him off:
"Please don't get me wrong... Holmes, you know what I feel for you, but for now you'd better stay away from me. Certainly I caught some disease, and I don't want you to be infected."
My symptoms had over the days increased in distinctness, hence my caution. I was already very vaguely aware of the nature of my disease, though I hoped imploringly that my reason would deceive me.
The confusion disappeared from Holmes' face, but was replaced by an expression of taciturn sorrow.
At night I insisted on separate bedrooms, even if Holmes would protest ever so strongly.
"But what if something was wrong with you...!", he had argued. I had remained unyielding.
It was only for his own good.
Some minutes after he had retired to his old chamber and when I had just turned around to sleep, I became aware of a low and continuous sound, a scratching and rustling, as if something was being dragged over the floor. Nevertheless I was so tired that I was dozing off without caring any further about the occurrence when I again noticed an indistinct, even motion in the air. I opened my eyes, and had to suppress a disbelieving laugh.
Fast asleep, Holmes was laying on a mattress on the floor, placed only a few inches from my bed. So that had been the source of the dragging sound!
I quietly shook my head. "...you're so incorrigible...", I whispered, smiling at the huddled figure beneath me. Stroking the dark head upon the pillow in an absent-minded way, I fell asleep to the even sound of Holmes' breath.
In the morning I awoke to the bustling noise rising up to our flat from Baker Street. Sleepily I gazed down at the floor and found that Holmes was already up and had returned his things to his room, meticulously leaving not one trace behind. If I had not seen him, I probably would never have known he had spent the night here.
In that moment the door opened and my friend, as good-humoured as if he were on a case, entered. "Good morning, Watson," he said cheerfully, "have you slept soundly? I did not want to wake you earlier than necessary."
I nodded, and replied slightly impishly: "And how was your night?", with a glance indicating the spot where the mattress had been, and so letting him know implicitly that I had noticed tonight's manoeuvre. Instead of answering, he smiled enigmatically and when I asked what time it was, he told me without having to glance at his watch that it was 10:30.
I almost jumped out of bed but instantly had to sit down on its edge again, for my knees felt weak and obviously I had moved too quickly for my state. Holmes of course noticed it and rushed to my side. "You really should see a doctor, you know.", he proposed, resting his hand on my leg. I shook my head, smiling. "I am one myself, am I not?"
He fell silent for some time, then I said: "Listen, I know you worry about me, but I'll be fine."
When there was no answer, I rose to go. After I had gotten ready, I felt somehow better, but when I glanced into the mirror I noticed how pale and worn out I looked. Whom was I still fooling?
Outside I heard Holmes rummaging around, humming a low tune. What he did not know was that I had long made my diagnosis. I had recognized the symptoms, and my prognosis was increasingly negative. Slowly, almost painfully slowly, my days were drawing near to an end.
Burying my head in my hands, I thought of Holmes. I could not tell him. Some day I would have to do so, I knew that well, but just could not yet.
The reason was that I wanted to spare him the sad news as long as I could. Despite my disease, we led a happy life. And I feared that this knowledge would replace the happiness with sorrow. I still kept my secret from him, but I myself had to face the truth:
I was dying.
This disease which affected me was hereditary; some members of my family had already fallen victim to it. All of my life I had been fearing this. Holmes did not know about it; but there also were many things I did never know about him or his family, so I always had thought this was alright. In most cases the first symptoms- very light ones though- appeared at the age of 35, then inevitably leading to an untimely death at approximately 40 years. Since I was 46 now, and no sign of it had ever been visible, I had stopped to be afraid. But now I felt the old anxiety well up again. Looking back, I realized that only a healthier lifestyle than that of some relatives of mine- for a moment I thought of my brother- had caused the delay in the outbreak. So here I was, finally having accomplished the goals in life which were important to me:
I had secured an income and a comfortable place to live, and my life was hardly ever boring.
I had a dear and most trusty friend at my side, and I was with the person whom I loved and who loved me- which, in my case, were one and the same.
In a nutshell, I was leading a happy life. But it seemed that Fate was not on my side.
Holmes' voice could still be heard humming a tune outside, and my heart clenched upon his light-hearted merriment. As heavily as my conscience sometimes reproached me, I just could not bring myself to tell Holmes. It would break his heart.
This was much more than a white lie.