A.N.: This one turned out longer than I thought and has a higher rating due to Harry Watson's mouth (there was a reason he had to delete her comments off his blog!) Trigger warnings for traumatic injury and discussion of mental health issues. Please let me know what you think. Might write another chapter. Will see how it goes. Thanks for reading.
"Watson!" Someone was yelling through the din. John snapped around to see Haines, lying on the door their group had kicked in moments before, reaching out towards him. He could tell even through the dappled shadows cast by the broken ceiling of what could charitably be described as a building and the dust that permeated this part of the world that the man was bleeding heavily from an upper leg wound. The private's eyes pleaded for help. Automatically, John tore back through the narrow alleyway to kneel beside his latest patient. The sheer heat and noise would be enough to get to most people but pressurised situations always lent John a kind of tunnel vision, a close focus on what needed to to be done that made him ideally suited to this job. One glance was enough to tell that it wasn't looking good. Already a dark red stain spread beneath the younger man's thighs and he was shaking.
"Bad s'it?" Haines slurred, attempting to turn and face his commanding officer.
"S'alright, Ben. I'll sort you out. Just stay still for me, ok? Keep talking."
"Hurts". John snorted. That must be an understatement.
"Yeah, mate, I know. Just keep talking to me, yeah?"
"S'at an order, Sir?" Haines asked wryly.
John gave a tight smile before reaching for his medical kit.
That was when his world exploded into the staccato crack of gunfire. He heard the bullet sink into his left shoulder with a sickening wet crunch before feeling it. A burning, throbbing pain pulsed across his entire left side before his head connected at speed with the rubble strewn on the ground behind him. Blinding white and black flashes danced at the corners of his vision and he was distantly aware of words - orders - being barked in a language he did not know. The only thought his rapidly fading consciousness could come up with before it winked out was 'Please God, let me live.'
Two months later Captain John Watson MD had won his fight for life. It hadn't been easy. Due to lack of proper medical facilities near the village where he had been injured, an infection which resulted in septicaemia had set in. By the time he had arrived back at base camp, he was in such a bad way that the decision was made to send him home on the first available plane. The staff at hospital he was taken to did not expect him to survive. Thankfully, he had responded to treatment but was still in a coma for a few weeks, during which time he lost a considerable amount of weight. Once he had woken up, he had to contend with rehabilitation and visits from the rest of the boys, his commander, Major James Sholto and, most stressful of all, his sister. Their conversation as she dropped him from the hospital to the temporary accomodation provided by the state to it's recuperating servicemen had been rather taxing for both of them.
"Hey Johnny!" She had shouted when he climbed into her car. A fairly risky decision but considering it was this or the bus, he opted for a comfy, heated vehicle. He winced at the childish extra syllable on his name.
"Hey Harry. Thanks for doing this."
"Get me! Giving my big brother a lift like a proper adult! Where is this place anyway?"
He grinned and gave her the address for her sat nav. After a few moments of small talk he casually asked "How's Clara?"
"How should I know?" She bristled.
"Well, you live with her...unless you don't anymore. You said you two were working things out."
"That was before she started being a bitch."
"About?" Prompted John.
Harry sighed. "About me falling off the wagon again."
John groaned "Oh Harriet!"
"I know, ok! I know, I just...I was at Sandra's leaving do and they told me to have a Champagne and before you know it, I'm puking my guts out in the car park. So they phone Clara. Then she goes off on one about how I've got no willpower and I'm a complete mess. So we have a massive row and she ends up nearly slapping me. So I kicked her out. To be honest I've had enough of her treating me like some errant kid. I think its for good this time."
John couldn't hide his disappointment. Harry had always been the family firecracker but she seemed to have calmed down a bit when she met Clara. Clara was a lovely girl and had supported Harry through AA. When they got a civil partnership, John had thought his sister's life had finally settled down. Now, everything appeared to be in disarray again. He was beginning to be glad he hadn't taken her up on her offer of a place to stay.
She was looking hard at him. "Don't you bloody start."
"I didn't say anything!"
"You were doing the look. What's with the bloody traffic in this city!" She pressed the horn on the steering wheel which emitted a high pitched whine.
"The disappointed look. The 'why are you such a fuck up' look. Do you have any idea how frustrating you are sometimes?"
"Me? what have I done?! In case you haven't noticed I've been in Helmand for the last nine months!"
"I dunno. Been so perfect. Perfect Johnny with his good grades and perfect manners and 'isn't it wonderful he became a doctor?', 'isn't it wonderful that he followed Uncle Bob into the army?'. Fantastic golden boy John!"
"No!" She was getting tearful now. This was going to be a long drive. "They were always so bloody proud of you! And y'know what the worst part was? You deserved it. I'm fucking proud of you! I mean you're a war hero for Christ's sakes and what am I? Some drunk with no prospects, constantly changing jobs, never right for anything!"
"Harry, you are very talented, you've just got to apply yourself is all."
"Is that all it is? Is that the secret to being liked? 'Just apply yourself'? It's alright for you, you were always their favourite, all our family. It would have been nice if at least one person had preferred me. Even t out a bit."
"It's not a competition."
"Felt like it sometimes. You know Grandad stopped talking to me? As soon as I came out, he didn't pick the phone up anymore. Yet another reason for him to be disappointed in me, I guess!"
John sighed. He had never quite forgiven their grandfather for that. "I know. I told him nearly every time I saw him to pull his head out of his arse and join the twenty first century but, y'know, old habits. And Harry, Mum and Dad didn't have a favourite. You know they weren't those people. They loved us both."
She sniffed "I know. I'm sorry. I'm the one with a problem. The family head-case."
"Yeah well I'm not doing too great in that department at the moment." He gave a small grimace into his lap as they let the tension and talking drain from the car. Harry busied herself with finding an acceptable radio station and John busied himself with a copy of the Metro. When they arrived at their destination. Harry reiterated her offer of a place to stay. John had to decline again. As much as he loved his sister, they had always clashed. Neither of them were in a good headspace right now and she was trying enough to spend extended periods with at the best of times. He knew neither of them would improve if they lived together.
"Take this then." She offered him a black smartphone.
"Harry, I've got a phone."
"No, John, you've got a brick that can just about manage a call if you're lucky. Just take it, please."
John accepted the device with a small smile and began pulling the small carry on full of his belongings behind him.
Harry leaned out of the window and shouted; "And stay in touch!"
"Will do!" He called over his shoulder.
After another couple of months, it became apparent that John would not be returning to duty. His physical health was still fragile and he now walked with a pronounced limp caused by leg pain. The therapist they had referred him to had written 'psychosomatic' next to his description of that particular symptom. As far as he was concerned she could call it what she liked. It still hurt. That was another issue. Since the incident that had lead to his being discharged from the Fifth Northumberland Fusileers John's mental health was still shaky. He was experiencing recurring nightmares of that arid afternoon on an almost daily basis and felt a deep sense of disconnection from the rest of the world, as though he was watching a bland documentary on TV instead of living his life. His therapist said this was a common problem for those returning from war as though this was supposed to make him feel better. She had also wanted to explore the issue of survivors guilt. They had spent several sessions discussing how he felt about the fact Haines hadn't made it. 'Just great. As a doctor, I love loosing patients! Especially when I've got to know them!' he had thought flippantly. Ella was a kindly black lady with soft reassuring features and a low, calming voice. Even her handwriting was soothing. She was the perfect type of person for her profession and John hated it. Not her specifically, that wouldn't be fair. She was only carrying out her job according to her training after all but John wished that somebody would tell him to just get on with it and push it all to the side as he would do in combat rather than insisting on dissecting his psyche.
"You say you're having difficulty reconnecting to the world at large, John" she had said during one of their sessions "the internet can be a valuable tool for finding that connection. We tend to loose our inhibitions online and to say things that we wouldn't otherwise be able or willing to express."
"I'm not sure that's such a good idea. We have inhibitions for a reason, don't we?" He had argued.
Ella nodded "I take your point but I think keeping a blog, a sort of online diary, would help you to overcome some of the issues you're describing."
John couldn't help but feel the exercise pointless. He had gone back to the room he was currently living in and had dutifully set up the blog regardless. It only seemed to give him a new problem to worry about however; writer's block. After all, nothing happened to him anymore. What could he possibly write about? After about six weeks he had written perhaps two paragraphs in total. Now once again, on this chilly day in late January, he found himself staring at his laptop screen until it gave him a headache. He opened the drawer of the desk next to him to find a couple of paracetamol pills and the gun that he had kept not strictly legally. With the depth of his ennui being what it was he wryly contemplated which of these painkillers he would stop his headache with. In the end he decided to choose neither, opting to go out for a short walk in the park. He forgot about the blog for a while and contemplated his near future. He couldn't remain in the military accommodation for that much longer and the current state of his finances meant that he would probably have to leave London pretty soon too. He was so lost in his thoughts that he almost didn't hear a distantly familiar voice calling his name. A moment later he found himself drinking takeaway coffee with Mike Stamford, a fellow student from back before his army days, discussing his current predicament.
"Y'could share with someone." Mike suggested.
John snorted "Come on. Who'd want me for a flatmate?". He wasn't exactly the best company lately. Mike chuckled softly. "What?" asked John.
"You know you're the second person to ask me that today."
John's curiosity was piqued. "Who was the first?"