Although I tried not to let it show, I was terribly worried about my Watson. He told me that it was only a cold which bothered him- but I could see the lines on his face deepen, I saw how pale he was, how his hands were sometimes shaking heavily. Slowly a notion started to become obvious: that something serious was amiss.
Since I didn't want to force his confidence, I waited patiently until he would tell me what really was the source of his increasing consumption. But when he never mentioned anything for weeks on end, I finally had to inquire into the matter which he kept like a sealed book from me.
"Say, Watson," I casually addressed him when one evening we were sitting on either side of the fire, "how much longer do you think this cold of yours will take to get well?" He shrugged and with an air that indicated he didn't wish to be bothered with further questions, said: "I don't know for sure..." Innocently I continued: "Don't they say something like '3 days coming, 3 days blooming, 3 days recessing' in connection with influenza and such? It already have been more that 3 weeks, as a matter of fact!" He suddenly looked angry, and said: "Honestly, Holmes- I now will no longer dwell on the subject."
I meant to reply something, but then I fell silent and only looked into his eyes, which appeared to be glassy and tired. Under my glance he suddenly gave up his forbidding demeanor and slumped down, his eyes turned to the ground, leaving a most piteous impression on me. I rose to cross the space between us and sat down on the floor in front of his chair. When I looked upwards into Watson's face, I noticed my companion had turned quite pale and his lips were pressed together.
"My dear friend..." I whispered, "pray tell me what's wrong..." His eyes met mine, and he answered in a shaking voice: "I'm so... sorry, Holmes." A single tear following the outlines of his cheek ran down his face.
Sorry for what?
I intended to ask, but he continued on his own: "For not telling you. I know very well what's wrong with me- I knew all along. But... I just couldn't..." Watson's shoulders were violently shaking as his sobbing quickly turned into a crying fit. Obviously weakened, he slowly slid out of the armchair onto the floor, just before my feet. Gently I pulled him to my side.
"Shhh. It'll be alright, my Watson." I whispered, stroking his head. "I don't think so...", he whined in a feeble voice. "But you should tell me about it."
Swallowing down the tears, he whispered: "The disease, Holmes... It's not just a cold." I nodded in an understanding way. "I thought as much, my dear. Is there anything I can do?" Watson's lips were quivering, and he looked at me with a strangely resolute and at the same time desperate expression when he continued: "This ailment is an incurable one.
And- it's lethal."
It took me some moments to fully grasp the meaning of this word.
It meant that I would inevitably lose him.
This was too much- even for me with my 'exemplary self-control', as Watson called it.
He, my Watson, my dear friend and Boswell... he would die?
Before I knew what was happening, we found ourselves in reverse positions: I was crying on my friend's shoulder, while he was holding me and tried to calm me down, slowly whispering into my ear. But how could I have calmed down when I now had realized that he would forever leave me, unknowing for how long he would still be with me?
"You should have told me - earlier...", I said in a low voice filled with lament.
"I'm so sorry." He repeated, "I could not bring myself to do so. I knew it would affect you deeply. I wanted to spare you this grief."
I hardly noticed when he pressed a soft kiss to my sleeve. In my head my pulse pounded so loudly, muffling almost any other sound. It was like a voice repeating this one sentence over and over again:
I would lose my Watson.
At night, after we had retired, I was laying beside him, his head leaned to my chest, and was silently staring into the almost complete darkness of the room. Suddenly I noticed in surprise how my behaviour had changed since that day when my friend and I had discovered what we both felt for each other. I was gentle, tender, even affectionate. I was for the first time genuinely in love- so much that now I would have done even the most irrational thing to only have Watson survive this. Never had I felt something which I could try to compare to this. Was this the real Sherlock Holmes?
I also realized that I never actually told Watson what I felt. Love was not a trivial thing, and I did never wish to be frivolous about it. But now I feared that if I wouldn't say it now, he might not live to hear me do so. Who knew how much time we had left? Yet it did cost me some effort to bring myself to now actually do it. Finally I smiled, and opened my mouth to rather whisper than say: "I... love you, Watson."
He turned his head to look into my face. In the dim light coming through a gap between the drawn curtains I could see his eyes brighten considerably when he after a moment answered. His voice was reverberating with kindness and emotion:
"I love you too, Holmes. I love you dearly."
I fell asleep, indistinctly aware of the sweet weight of his head against my chest slightly heaving from my even breath.
Soon matters appeared to be even worse for my friend. The symptoms claimed their due: He could do nothing but to stay in bed all day, weakened by his relentless disease. I spent my hours sitting by his side and out of fear for his life didn't dare to take my eyes off him. Sometimes he would wake up in the morning and not recognize me. These were the times I feared most. I would hold him in my arms, trying to blink away my tears, and whisper, desperately hoping to evoke something in him:
"Watson... It's me- Holmes. My dear Watson, don't you remember me?" After some moments, which often felt like hours, his eyes would brighten up with recognition:
"Oh... it's you. My detective." I would hold him even tighter when finally answering breathlessly.
"My doctor." And my friend would murmur into the folds of my clothes, his feverishly hot forehead resting on my chest: "I'm sorry..."
The other day, at noon, Watson surprisingly told me he would all of a sudden feel much better, and asked me if I would kindly accompany him on a walk. Though I was not sure whether to trust his state of health, I agreed. It was a warm Autumn afternoon, but our breaths turned to small clouds in the air. We were walking along an avenue through Regent's Park, Watson's hand tucked on my arm, and I noticed that the farther we went, he pressed himself even closer to my side. When we finally had reached Baker Street again, my friend looked paler than ever. I instantaneously put him back to bed. Then a thought stole into my consciousness.
Didn't fatally ill persons often- as a sign of their body giving up the struggle against the disease- go through a short phase of feeling better, just before... before they... I didn't want to follow this thought's conclusion to the end.
Sitting motionless, like a guard dog, in the dimmed room, I thought that Watson had fallen asleep, but then I noticed cold fingers reaching out. "Holmes...?" The word came hoarse and weakly. When I rose and knelt down bedside in order to take his hand in mine, I sensed his wet palms and the quivering nature of his grasp. With an unnatural glow in his weary eyes, Watson's sight held more of the appearance of a ghost than ever. Abruptly it became clear to me that he was very close to his end.
"Holmes... I think that I..." His voice faded away before he could finish his sentence, but I knew what he'd been trying to say. I could not reply anything, but squeezed his hand, now feeling cold and sick myself. My fingers brushed over his cheek, sensing the trail of a tear rolling down his face. "Hold me.", Watson whispered in a feeble voice.
Slowly I sat down on the edge of his bed, let go of his hand and instead opened my arms. His weak body, frail from the disease, slid into my embrace. My hand passed over his hair, and I felt his uneven exhaling of breath on the skin of my throat. I was not ready to accept that I should lose him. "Please, don't let me say what I say..." My thoughts sounded like a prayer, while I did say the things I had hoped I would never have to.
"Watson... I will always..." Tears welling up inside me didn't allow me to continue.
Under his breath, he spoke. "Don't let me out of your arms... dear Holmes..."
"Never.", I murmured earnestly. The intervals of his intakes of air became longer.
The end was approaching and I knew I couldn't prevent it. I was helplessly watching my friend die.
"Can you just... give me a last kiss?", he asked, with rattlings of breath. I looked into his glassy eyes when I granted his wish, my hands trembling and my heart filled with grief.
Watson slowly tipped his head and started to soundlessly cry for us both. Gently I lifted the weight of his head and pressed my lips to his forehead, to his sleeve. Watson's pale skin left a salty taste.
Then he leaned against me again and when a violent shiver ran through his whole form, I tightly wrapped him in my arms. His quick heartbeat was a fluttering of butterflies against my core. He whispered my name.
"My dear Holmes..."- "Oh, Watson..."
It was the last time I would ever hear his voice.
Suddenly the fluttering ebbed away. Numbed, I felt for his pulse, unknowing whether I actually wanted to know the inevitable result.
His head was still nestled to my neck, but no more there was a soft breath from his lips. I still held my liveless Watson close, while unrestrained tears were running down my face.