So much for "getting this done before Christmas." Me and my big mouth. I really am sorry that I kept you all waiting so long (over a month, oy vey!), and for a chapter that isn't even longish! It was just… problematic. Very problematic. Writing Maiwand turned out to be the least problematic, and that itself was difficult!
Hopefully, some of you lovely peeps that read and reviewed are still interested enough to pick this back up!
To my reviewers (an unprecedented [for me] 9 on a first install):
insideouttouoedisni: I salute a fellow Wonderful Life lover! =D I guess I can understand the skimming, and I'm sorry that you had to do that. =/ This chapter should be much better, though, as it's much more original—and I think the following chapters will be good, as well.
machi-tan: Thanks! Sherlock will make his entrance next chapter. =)
The Pearl Maiden: Like I would kill you! Hmph! But thank you, and I hope you enjoy this chapter just as much (if not, hopefully, more). (And Christmas is over, but go find It's a Wonderful Life anyway and watch it. ;D)
matt harper: Thank you!
Faithful Bozwell: Thanks! Hope you continue to enjoy!
LuffyMarra: Sorry you had to wait so long, and thank you!
nomdeplume30: Thanks! Well, hopefully this chapter will deliver to you and the other readers who wanted a bit more originality!
A Young British Soldier
The boy shook his head. "No. No… no, no, no. Now, look here, Joe, I want a large one." He stretched out his arms to demonstrate. "Like so. I'm going to medical school, for heaven's sakes—I need something larger than a bag for one night."
"I see… a flying carpet, mm? I don't suppose you'd like—" the clerk pulled up a suitcase from under the counter—"this old thing, would you?"
"Now that's more like it," John grinned, inspecting the piece of luggage. "Good Lord, you could use this thing as a lifeboat. How much does this cost?"
"No charge," Joe smiled.
John blinked. "I beg your pardon?"
Joe simply pointed to a name engraved on the upper corner of the suitcase.
The boy gaped. "What is my name doing on it?"
"A little present from old man Gower. Came down and picked it out himself."
"He did?" John shook his head in wonder. "Imagine that—my old employer…"
John stopped by Gower's pharmacy and thanked him heartily before heading home. To his delight, the young man recognized the driver of the nearest empty cab and whistled for him. "Hey, cabbie!"
"Ha!" The cabbie waved and drove his cab over to the pharmacy. "Well, if it ain't Johnny Watson!"
John laughed. "Hello, Bill, m'lad. Say, any chance of London's newest medical student getting a ride home?"
"You've been accepted?"
John turned at the new voice, recognizing another old friend, Constable Bertram Ward. "Bert!" he grinned. "I surely have."
"Well, Doctor, get yerself in," Bill advised. "Free of charge for the occasion!"
"Oh, now, Bill, you don't have to do that!"
"Yes, I do!"
"Yes, he does!" Bert chimed.
Outnumbered, John resigned himself and climbed into the cab. "Sentimentality," he groused. "I shouldn't be taking you away from your paying customers."
"Eh, they'll never know, now, will they?" Bill chuckled and whipped up the horse.
A few minutes later when the cab pulled to a stop, John left the denied fare upon his seat and hopped out, waving to Bill and practically bursting into his house. "Father?"
Henry Watson emerged from his study, holding an accounting book. "Ah, John, you're back."
"Aye—look at what Mr. Gower gave me." Grinning, John held up the suitcase for inspection.
Mr. Watson smiled back. "That was good of him. Seems that today is a good day all around for the Watson family."
"Oh?" John's hazel eyes lit with understanding. "Harry's coming home today!"
"That he is, son, but there's more. I've been looking over the books, and this has been the best year we've seen in quite a long time." The older man beamed at his son over the top of the book. "We're completely out of debt, as of this week, John."
Forgetting that he was now a prospective physician, John whooped and threw his fist into the air. "But that's wonderful, Father! We have to celebrate!"
"We will," Watson assured him. "Tonight, when your brother gets home."
John whooped again and ran for the stairs, but was halted in mid-flight by his father's voice. "Oh, and by-the-way, the Bicks visited the office today."
John looked down over his shoulder. "Violet was there?"
Watson nodded. "She asked me to give you her congratulations." He gave his son a knowing look, to which John responded with a halfhearted scowl.
"Father, she's had an eye for me since we were nine. I'm not interested, truly."
"If you say so, son."
"I do," John said firmly, marching up the remaining steps.
A knock on the door that evening brought John flying back down the stairs, nearly knocking their housekeeper over as she let in their visitor. "Harry!" The younger Watson brother threw his arms around the elder, making Harry stagger backwards.
"Halloa, John, my lad! Ha-ha, missed me, did you?"
John pulled away from Harry, grinning fiercely. "You've no idea, old chap."
Henry Watson reemerged from his study, holding out his arms for his heir. "Harry!"
Harry grinned. "Father! Oh!" They embraced tightly.
"We've missed you mightily, my boy," Watson murmured.
"Well, I'm home to stay," Harry assured him. "I know how to turn the business around now."
"No need for that, old man!" John cried merrily. "We're already turned!"
Watson nodded. "It's true, son. We're out of debt. In fact, we shall have profit, soon."
Harry's brown eyes sparkled. "Truly? Hurrah! I say this calls for dinner out on the Strand! What say you, Johnny?"
"I say 'right on,' but only if you don't call me Johnny."
"You still call me Harry!"
"No one's called you Harold since you were born!"
"Well, I like that!"
"So did John go to medical school?"
"Yes, he did, and Harry eventually took over the family business from their aging father. John graduated from the University of London with his degree of Doctor of Medicine and moved on to Netley, where he studied to become an army surgeon."
"So he did have adventures."
"Yes, but not before receiving a telegram the same day he graduated from Netley."
John stared at the paper in his hand.
FATHER HAS DIED STOP COME AT ONCE FINAL STOP
The paper was soon spotted with water stains.
"Are you sure you want to do this?" Harry repeated for what must have been the dozenth time.
"I'm certain," John said firmly, removing his journals from his desk and stuffing them inside his valise. "The change will do me good."
"Joining the army… that will do you good? Getting yourself shot at…"
John stopped his packing and looked his brother in the eye. "I can't stay here in London, Harry—you don't need me in the business, the city doesn't need another general practitioner… and besides, I studied for this." More quietly: "There's nothing for me here."
Harry sighed. "Not even your own nephew or niece?"
John looked up sharply. "Harry?"
The older man nodded. "Adelaide is two months along."
John smoothed his hair back and sat heavily on his bed. "I suppose," he said slowly, "that I'll just have many adventures to regale your child with when I return."
Harry looked down and nodded jerkily.
"I'm sorry, old boy," John said quietly. "But I have received my commission. I'm obligated to go, now."
"Go, then," Harry said thickly, turning and leaving the room.
And now he joins the army, right?
Yes, Clarence, now he joined the army. He was attached to the Fifth Northumberland Fusiliers, stationed in India. But by the time he reached his regiment, the Second Afghan War had begun.
"I can't believe it. We arrive only to find our corps gone."
"C'est la vie," John sighed. He gave his fellow medico a weary grin. "Try to look on the bright side of things, eh?"
"Easy for you to say, Doctor Sunshine," the other man complained. "No rain ever dampens your spirits."
John's grin became a sad sort of smile. "I wish that were so."
To make a long story short, Assistant Surgeon John Watson reached his unit in Kandahar, Afghanistan. But the frontline needed doctors badly, so he was reattached to the Berkshires 66th Foot. He took part in the Battle of Maiwand, one of the bloodiest days in the entire war.
The air was alive with bullets, singing all about him. The heat wrapped around him and seemed to cook him thoroughly, the temperature far higher than what human beings should have to endure.
He crouched down over a fallen soldier, checked the pulse, and was torn between saying a prayer for the dead man's soul and cursing. He settled for the curse. He wasn't sure anyone was there to listen to the prayer—not in this living hell.
"Murray!" he called, his voice hoarse from use and dehydration.
"Over here, sir!" A sunburnt young man picked his way towards Doctor Watson. "I think that's everyone!"
John—a lifetime older than the boy that had entered the University of London—nodded grimly. "Very well, let's g—argh!" Fire erupted in his left shoulder, leaving him gasping for breath. The hand that shot up instinctively to the pain came away red.
Murray breathed a curse as he hurried to his superior's side. "Doctor… here, allow me." He took the medical kit from John's trembling fingers and began bandaging the wound.
"Murray, you have to go."
"I'm not leaving you, sir."
"I'm ordering you. Go."
"Doctor, there is not a chance in Hell that I am leaving you behind," Murray said firmly. "If I have to knock you over the head and sling you over my shoulders, I'll bloody well do it."
John's vision chose that moment to swim, and it did not stop. He squeezed his eyes shut and gritted out, "Murray, I won't drag you down with me."
"You—" John heard an odd note of hope in his orderly's voice—"won't have to. Come on, Doctor." Murray hauled him along a short distance—John wasn't sure how far—and abruptly lifted him into the air. John felt something solid ripple beneath him as he distantly heard Murray shout something.
His world quickly smoked away to black.
*gasp* Was that some "brief language"? ^_^ …I'm not actually sure whether or not to classify that as profanity, lol. Well, I guess a language filter would. xD
(Btw, the chapter title is Kipling's, not our own dear Pompey's. ^_^)
I won't make any promises concerning the next chapter, 'cause it might be a long wait again. A Study in Stardom is on a roll, as is At the Mercy of the Mind, and I have to update A Time to Heal one of these years. (Not to mention, I've got some Star Wars fics that haven't been updated for months, and some of my readers are probably about ready to kill me. *gulps*)
Anyway, no matter when it comes, next time, we'll meet Sherlock Holmes and see at least STUD if not also SIGN in a hopefully fresh way.