For pebbles66, who suggested the bunny, and for the veterans of all wars. (Including you, Angie!)
March 7, 1881
Holmes had The Times propped up against the teapot, for all intents and purposes engrossed in the article. However, he sent furtive looks over the edge of the newspaper at Watson. The doctor, he had found, was an excellent subject for a deductive reasoned in most respects. When it came to his military service, however, Watson offered very few clues. This was hardly a surprise. He knew Watson had seen battle, had been wounded and ill, and was still recovering physically and mentally. But this he had deduced within the first thirty seconds of meeting the man. Holmes understood that the doctor had no reason to share painful confidences with a man he had met but eight weeks prior. Even so, as an amateur consulting detective he couldn't resist the challenge.
"I see Sir Evelyn Wood has signed an armistice to end the Boer War (1)," Holmes commented casually.
Watson looked up from buttering his toast. "Good."
The undercurrent of passion in that one word surprised even Sherlock Holmes. In the past two months he had come to see Watson as an amiable, easy-going man. "I take it you did not approve of the campaign," he said mildly.
"No." It was not like the doctor to offer one-word answers so Holmes waited for elaboration. It came a short while later, uttered in a low but clear voice.
"I find I do not approve of very many military campaigns anymore."
The question startled them both. Holmes was chagrinned to realize his curiosity had gotten the better of him and he had spoken out of turn. He would have to learn more control in the future. Now it was too late. No doubt his over-enthusiasm had driven Watson away from speaking further.
Instead, Watson laid down his knife and toast and addressed the question seriously. "There are a few causes worth dying for, but only a few. Gold and diamonds are not among them. Land can be, when it is one's own land that is under attack but when we are the invading conquerors, driven by greed . . . "
Watson cut himself off and mastered his growing anger and disgust. "These causes are not worth the cost of human blood," he finished flatly.
For a moment Sherlock Holmes was speechless. The horror of battle implied in what Watson had said and how he had said it shown clear. "Is that your opinion as a doctor or as a veteran?" Holmes asked gently.
"Both." Watson gave a faint, wry smile. "Though perhaps I hold it more strongly now as a veteran than I did as a mere M.D."
"Doctor, might I ask a rather impertinent and perhaps personal question?"
Watson looked faintly apprehensive but answered gamely. "Certainly."
"How on earth did a man so respectful of life end up in the British army?" That, Holmes felt, was quite the crux of the matter and he was beside himself with curiosity to hear the answer. Provided, of course, that Watson did not take offense and bring the conversation to a close.
To his relief, the doctor merely smiled tolerantly. "In hindsight I wonder that myself. At the time, it seemed a perfect opportunity to see the world, have some adventures, satisfy a young man's wanderlust. I knew I could not afford to purchase a practice anyway. Fresh out of medical school, I convinced myself I could ignore the inherent purpose of the army."
"To kill, you mean."
"Yes. Oh, I could tell myself that soldiers are protectors and peacekeepers but in the end war and death is the reason the military exists in the first place."
Holmes set aside the question of how long Watson had been in the army – he did not seem that much older than Holmes himself – in favor of the philosophy that had arisen. "Is it the military you disapprove of now?"
"Not the institution of the military itself," Watson said slowly, struggling to find words. "There is much to be admired in its precision and discipline. As with any institute, there is the risk of corruption but overall no, I do not disapprove of the army. It is the circumstances that necessitate military forces that I deprecate." He laughed shortly. "It seems quite the contradiction in terms, to despise war but still respect the military, doesn't it."
Holmes shrugged. "A contradiction, perhaps, but a valid opinion, I should think. I find that life is composed of paradoxes that are all more the more truthful for their inherent contradictions."
Watson looked both puzzled and intrigued. "That sounds like a vaguely Oriental idea," he commented.
This was the opening Holmes needed to steer the conversation into Hindu philosophies. In the meantime, he filed away his newly discovered information about his flatmate. One had to be cautious about what to fill one's brain-attic with but this, he sensed, was worth remembering.
(1) The First Boer War was fought from Dec 16 1880 to March 23, 1881. The SECOND Boer War, the more famous of the two, was fought from Oct 11, 1899 to May 31, 1902.