John limped off the plane. It was the first time in years he'd been on domestic soil, and he felt it was too soon. He didn't want to leave Afghanistan. People needed his help. Now here he was, returning to an empty welcome.
He'd heard about how, at the end of the Vietnam War, America greeted their returning heroes with vicious seething hate. He would have liked any reaction. No one was at the airport to pick him up. He'd let his family and his country down, but more importantly, the world.
Some days, he just didn't want to go on. He wanted more than anything to belong to someone or something more important than the army doctor with a dodgy shoulder and a nasty limp. He stayed in a hotel, ashamed to show his face. True, Harry had given him a cell phone, but even that made him feel awful as it hadn't been purchased specifically for him—it was a hand-me-down.
One night on the news, he heard that his old regiment had been attacked, and half of them killed. John could have saved them. He knew it. But having returned early like a quitter, he managed to do nothing.
John Watson was a coward in his own mind. He left his troops—his friends—when they'd needed him most, all because of a stupid piece of lead. He couldn't have convinced them to let him stay (though not for lack of trying), which was what he needed most. He yearned for the battlefield, not because of the danger, but because of the sense of purpose he had when fighting for freedom. It was gone. He'd failed in his reason for being.
Not for the first time that week, John cried himself to sleep.