A/n: Been in my mind to write this since last night. Suffice it to say, until now I had never cried while writing a Sherlockian story. Regardless, I am quite open to constructive criticism of any type.
"Holmes, Holmes I'm here!" I called to catch his attention, as he seemed to be studying something on the ground.
"I knew you were getting close five minutes ago, Watson." He smiled as he looked up at me. "As did all the Downs."
Laughing, I disentangled myself from the automobile in the stiff manner which had, unfortunately, become my normal way of moving. I grasped the first carpetbag my hand found and went to meet Holmes; he had not moved from sitting on his front step. His face had a tinge of blue to it, and though he took a long while to stand his breath was labored. He did not offer to take the carpetbag; instead, he looked quietly at me.
All my glad words, all my excitement had evaporated, I could not even reach the mist. "Why didn't you tell me?"
He waved his hand dismissively. "Why did you not inform me of your worsening rheumatism?"
"That's different—but here, we can discuss it later. Sit on the couch, I can bring my things in."
He did so, and I made as fast work as I could to bring in the second carpetbag and settle them both on the guest bed. I returned to the room where Holmes was, lost in thought. His eyes landed briefly on his pack of cigarettes across the room, and then he looked down.
I brought it to him. "I understand, now, why you changed your mind so suddenly."
He took it from me, closed his eyes a moment and then drew a packet of matches from his coat pocket. "I don't like to discuss delicate matters over the telephone. I knew you would wait though, Watson, and discover the reasons on my own timetable."
"Some things never change." I sat beside him on the couch as he smoked. "I wish you wouldn't Holmes, now I think on it that can't be good for your condition," I spoke at last, gesturing at the cigarette. He merely shrugged, then after taking a sharper glance at my face he sighed and put it out. "So you have deduced it?"
"Please Holmes, I can't speak of your health like a game of deduction."
He made a noise, but I could not tell what he meant.
"Whatever you've deduced, it's doubtless correct." He rolled the dead cigarette between his fingers. "I am not a specialist in medicine, but it seems to be a cardiological matter."
"Yes. Have—have you seen a doctor?"
"I have. I would have seen you, Watson, you know that, but you weren't near enough, and my housekeeper was most insistent."
"It's alright, I am near enough now. What did the doctor say?"
"How long can you stay?"
"I—I—Holmes, I must confess. When we had made the agreement, after such a long time of debating the matter, I was so excited I—"
"Sold your practice, and most of everything else."
"Yes." I felt myself colouring. "But I was, I couldn't tell you, I—I was so taken aback when you called and canceled everything, I'd no idea what to tell you, I…so I really could stay as long as you like," I finished timidly.
He pitched the cigarette with practiced aim at the dustbin, but it fell far short. "Blast!"
I rose to pick it up and drop it in the bin. "No worries, Holmes; it didn't even singe the carpet."
He did not appear reassured. "Watson, listen. Sit back down, and listen quite carefully." He looked at his hands as he brought the tips of his fingers together in his familiar way; they were trembling, and he pocketed them with a sigh. "I have in my bureau drawer, the top drawer, on the right-hand side, you see, a quite up-to-date version of my will."
"And it has been witnessed."
"For heaven's sake, stop it!" I dashed my hand against my eyes. Then of a sudden, I turned and met his gaze. "It's—it's only a case. You're pretending, just like every other time. I won't let it be real."
He looked at me. When he spoke, my heart turned to lead. "No more games, Watson. The game is over."
I was beginning to tremble. "What—did the doctor—tell you?"
He looked out the window, but what he saw I did not know.
"He told me…to put my affairs in order. He said I must make peace with my life. There is only a thread connecting me to you now, Watson. I could die at any time."
"But I don't want you to die. I don't—I don't want you to go away," I stammered. "We were just getting it all ready…ready to start again, like the old times."
"There will be no more old times for us," he replied sadly. "Watson, I'm afraid we have no new era to look forward to. Only the era of solitude for you, and mystery for me. Fitting!" He laughed, but it turned to a cough he had to muffle with his fist. "I will go to a mystery, it's fitting Watson! For no one can know exactly what we shall see on the other side, even if we are fairly sure. Some details will always be a surprise."
By now I was trembling violently. "But—can't you get a second opinion? No, I shall get my stethoscope. I'll be back directly. Doctors are wrong, all the time!" My legs could hardly carry me but I returned, gripping the instrument.
"Watson, you mustn't—"
I silenced him sternly, even as I was putting the earpieces in. From training my hand stilled as I put the metal disk against his vest, and listened closely. "Oh god…how are you even sitting up?" I looked up, meeting his eyes in horror.
"You know me, Watson." He tried to smile.
I folded up the stethoscope, laid it on the floor, sat down and cried into my hand.
It was only later I realized that as his parting gift, he allowed me expression of my deep emotions; he did not mock, and he made no attempt to lighten the mood.
Finally, when I was catching my breath, he said quietly, "Watson, I fancy a walk to the beehives. Will you go with me? I have not been for some days."
I pocketed my handkerchief and drew a shaky breath. "Do you—do you really feel well enough for that?"
"No. But I want to go; and that's all that matters to me."
I stood. "Then let us go."
We had to pause many times on the way for Holmes to catch his breath; the cyan in his face was more pronounced than just an hour ago but his eyes were as calm as ever, and he used the time to point out his favorites trees, shrubs and species of crickets. As we traveled through his recent past, I sensed an unusual reverence in his voice.
I felt numb and detached, no thoughts in particular; my main concern was paying careful attention to Holmes' needs. I followed the painfully slow pace he set, and encouraged him to lean on me as much as he wanted. We paused for the final time before the last stretch, already hearing the industrious buzzing and seeing the clouds of bees, dim against the dark wheat sky.
Holmes turned to face me, a soft intensity to his eyes. "May I preach to you, friend Watson? I knew you'd be so good! I have been thinking lately, you see; I've come to the conclusion that to age is no more disagreeable than any other stage of life. It is only that this last stage is one we've the most time to dread."
"You—you may be right, Holmes." I wished there was not such a practical application.
"Yes, it is so; I'm sure of it. Watson I know I shouldn't choose to be an infant again," he chuckled, his grey eyes twinkling. "Unable to feed myself, even? No thank you! The last part of the journey though...we know the most we'll ever know this side, and…" he had to stop to take several breaths, head bowed, hand to his chest.
"Holmes, let us sit down." Grasping his elbow I helped him to the scrubby grass.
He looked towards the hives with a pain in his eyes. "But I…I wanted to say goodbye to my bees."
"Well…well, I…they know you, Holmes, they will be alright." I couldn't see anymore and was aware I was starting to babble. "And I'll take good care of them."
"I wrote them into my will, of course," he said conversationally, though I thought I saw his eyes dimming. "They will go to The Gables; the biology master will care for them. We've talked—" he broke off, hand to his chest again.
"Here, let me help you lie down. You'll feel a bit better," I murmured, easing him back onto the grass. "There, like so. Let me loosen your collar, as well."
His mouth twitched in a brief smile of gratitude, but he caught at my sleeve; I saw he was finally beyond words.
"Easy now, Holmes…I'm here, I'm right here." I set about stroking his gray hair, occasionally letting my hand rest on the side of his face. He looked at me with eyes that spoke a language I could not understand. I heard nothing but his halting breath, and my own unending words of comfort.
He put his hand over mine, and held it, and when he let go at last I knew it was not of his own choice.
--Six months later--
I studied the rolling hills laid before me; the familiar patch seemed empty and bare without the beehives. At last I sat, groaning at my body's protestations, and leaned back against the gravestone. "Hallo," I murmured, touching the sun-warmed surface before taking out an envelope with my name written carefully upon it, along with a strict instruction. I broke it open and put on my glasses.
My dearest Watson,
I trust you will obey my wishes and not break the seal on the envelope until I have left this world.
There are many confessions I should make, but I've never been one to leave things tidy, eh? However, if I can make one thing clear before I go, only one, then let it be this: you called me the best and wisest man you have ever known. My dear fellow, too long have I delayed returning that title. I bestow it now, and you will know it in the end.