„John, don't be like this!"
„Harry, I told you. I don't need it!"
„I'm not asking for your opinion. I want to give it to you and you are going to accept it."
That's how it started. John Watson, Captain of the 5th Northumberland Fusiliers has been invalided from service just a few months prior. He had a tiny little bedsit in London which he couldn't afford, his pension being extremely low. So he started to work in a clinic as a GP and was already bored with it. He missed the war, the rush of adreline that came with it, to be precise. Working as a doctor was dull, monotonic and the cases were ordinary ones.
Harry, his sister saw his boredom. She was rather observant when she wasn't tipsy or outright drunk. She tried everything to cheer him up which made John rather anxious. Going out with your sister is embarrassing. It's even more embarrassing when your sister is Harry. She wanted John to meet new people, probably a girlfriend or at least get laid. Despite of this, it was always Harry who ended up bringing a girl home.
After 5 night-outs she gave up. John thought that now he might have his own life back when Harry visited him. It was already more than strange for Harry to visit him as she hated that little flat – well, John did, too. Harry sat in John's chair next to his desk while John made tea. He handed her a mug and collapsed on his bed. The awkward silence was dragging long when Harry started to speak.
„Look, John. I know you really don't want my help but I can't stand seeing you like this."
John frowned, confusion written all over his face, though he knew exactly what Harry meant. When he didn't open his mouth to speak, Harry continued.
„I also know that those nights at the bar were complete disasters."
„You're telling me…" John couldn't help it. Sarcasm poured out of him like a very expensive cologne.
„Yes, John, thank you. So listen. I have another idea. Remember that Clara and I had our anniversary in April, but broke up right after that, in June?"
„…Yes… Why are you telling me this?" John was confused. What did Harry's relationship with Clara have to do with him not going out?
„Well. We got a lot of presents." Oh dear, this was getting weirder and weirder. John wasn't sure he was following.
„I'm not sure I underst-"
„Just let me finish it!" yelled Harry. She was getting angry at John for interrupting every sentence she said.
„Okay, go on then. I'll shut up." retreated John and held up both hands.
„Thank you!" sighed Harry and took a huge sip as if gathering her willpower. „As I was saying we got presents. And I want to give one of them to you."
„Jesus Christ, Harry, if you're planning to give me a fucking dildo I'm not going to talk to you ever again!" John practically screamed, his voice high-pitched and shocked.
„Holy shit, don't be disgusting, John! No one gave us a dildo for the anniversary. Though now that you mention it, I'm wondering…"
„Harry." John's voice was low and bordering menacing.
„Sorry, yeah, okay, gifts. So one of them is a prepaid holiday. It's for two so…"
„Forget it, I'm not going anywhere with you." John sounded disgusted and couldn't look Harry in the eye.
„John, I would never take you on a holiday with myself. Especially to Spain. You would ruin my chances! But anyway, what I mean is that I want you to take the tickets. I want you to go to Alicante. You should relax a bit. See the sun again. I know you miss the Afghan heat. You could dive, try parachuting and other slightly dangerous things. And you might find a nice girl there, you know." Harry shrugged and looked at John with her 'I'm not saying you need it but still' look.
„You want me to go on a holiday in Spain." John was dumbfounded. He eyed Harry with disbelief in his eyes.
„Yes, John, that's what I just said, thank you for trying to comprehend." Harry pouted and waved with her right hand while she sipped at her tea.
„Why would I want to go on a bloody holiday?" asked John because he really didn't see how this would help his situation. Because he was in a 'situation', he and Harry both knew. The gun in his drawer was tempting sometimes. No, of course he wouldn't shoot himself, no, but he was tempted to roam the streets at night, looking for trouble.
„Because you could do interesting things there, not like here. There would be no job, no traffic, nothing urgent for 3 weeks."
„Three weeks?" John felt his hairline moving as his eyebrows pushed it toward the crown of his head.
„Yes, John, three weeks. The price includes travelling, accommodation, food, outdoor programmes and entrance to the spa area – saunas, jacuzzis, massages and other things you can get in a spa."
God, a good massage could do wonders with his shoulder and limping leg. Yeah, and the feel of talented female hands on his back… It was a long time since he felt that.
„Why would you let me have it? Why don't you take one of your friends with you?" John was a little bit suspicious about Harry's motives.
„Because I care about you, Johnny, no matter what you think of me." She knew that calling him 'Johnny' has always had a positive effect. It reminded him of times when they were kids and none of it was real – alcoholism, war and injuries.
John shifted in his seat, moved a bit closer to the edge of the bed.
„If – and I mean it, if – I decide to leave, when do I have to leave?" John couldn't believe what he was doing. He was actually considering Harry's offer! That alone should speak volumes about how he hated his civilian life.
„Next Monday." Harry looked a little pinker than before, and had to turn her face away from John.
„Well, you're not giving me too much time, are you?" murmured John as he thought about the things he needed to do before he could leave. God, he was really about to say yes! But being honest with himself, he needed distraction. His job was shit, he hadn't friends and was bored as hell.
„I know I'm going to regret this, but to hell with it, I could use some time alone on a sandy beach."
„So you're saying yes?" Harry's eyes grew bigger and were shining wildly. She was probably more excited than John himself. That made him smile. Harry could be so child-like sometimes. But all she wanted now was for John to enjoy himself, and he appreciated it very much.
„Yes, I think I am. I don't know what's gotten into me, but yes, I accept your gift." John shook his head and rubbed his face with both of his hands.
„Perfect!" Harry jumped, ran to the bed and gave a bear hug to his brother. „Start preparing and I'll drop by with the tickets tomorrow."
„Why are you so excited?" John furrowed his brow. This wasn't her usual self. It was almost as frightening as when she was drunk. Or probably it was more annoying…
„I don't know! I just wanted to give you something so you could stop being so miserable. But I never thought you might actually accept it. So I'm overjoyed!" She was clasping her hands and she spoke fast and her voice was higher-pitched than normal. She was obviously excited.
„Well, okay, then. You'll give me the tickets and I'll arrange my hours with the others in the clinic. And then I'll leave on Monday."
That night John had a dream. Again. But this time the ending was different. It started just like all his nightmares have started.
Beams of hot summer sun touched his cheeks as dry, heated air licked his skin. He needed to blink a few times to adjust to the brightness of the desert. His body was boiling under the military uniform and the particles in the wind stung his face. He looked around and saw three men to his left and two to his right. They were all around him, encircling him, as though they wanted to protect him. They all had guns in their hands, and when John looked at his hands, they were empty. So they were really protecting him.
After a few minutes they reached a slope and he realized that the smoke he had seen was coming from down there. There was a car that emitted the smoke. Three men and a woman were around it, bruises and cuts on each of them. Two of them could walk and were trying to get the other two as far from the vehicle as possible.
John's team was a rescue team and they brought him to help the wounded. They moved down the slope fast and got to the four other soldiers.
"Doc, check them. We'll cover the area. Work fast." said one of the men on his team and they started to spread out to secure them.
John ran to a huge rock where a soldier was sitting with his back pressed against it.
"Here, let me help, I'm a doctor." John pushed the two men kneeling beside the third away and brought his medical kit out from his backpack. He looked him up and down and catalogued the injuries.
Cut on left thigh. Long, but not too deep. Needs a few stitches. Can be done here.
He tore his bulletproof vest and shirt to check his torso.
Bruised ribs on left side. He ran his fingers over them. Not broken. Needs rest.
He took of the man's helmet.
Cut on forehead. Caused by the helmet. Only a scratch. Needs disinfection.
John quickly sterilized the wound on the soldier's leg and sewed it with a couple of stitches. He sterilized his head, too.
"Okay, he's ready. He needs a thorough check-up back at the camp but he's stable enough to be mobilized. Where's the other one?" He looked around but couldn't really see the fourth of them.
"I'm here, doc.", the woman said from the other side of the rock.
"Coming." John jumped up to kneel next to her. He took her helmet off when the loud noise of a helicopter rotor blasted the air.
"Everybody down now!" yelled one of John's teammates when the machine flew out from the way they came. It brought a whirlwind with itself and clouded everyone's sight. The crew of the helicopter started firing and their team responded with fire, too. The noise was unbearable, almost deafening. One of the missiles swept just a few inches from John and a few others weren't too far away, either. He felt confused and helpless as he had no gun to protect himself or the injured woman next to him. He just stayed on the ground, not daring to move and risk being shot. He needed to be able to work and help the others if one of them got shot. The sound of the helicopter started to fade and when it flew out of firing range, one of John's comrades hurried over to him.
"Doc, we gotta go. They'll be back in a few and we have to get everyone out alive. We called for back-up, they'll be here in 2." He patted John's back and signaled for his teammates to gather around them.
John looked at the woman and the air froze in his lungs. There was a huge red stain on her torso and it was growing rapidly. He shook himself and grabbed gauze and disinfectant in his hands and ripped off her clothing. There was a huge bullet wound on her lower abdomen, just beneath the line of the bulletproof vest. This was a very unlucky shot for her. Because of the angle it went straight into her intestines, liver and kidney. There was nothing he could do, he knew. Not here, not without help and proper supplies.
"You know, doc…" the woman coughed, "I wanted to travel around the world after I was finished with my tour here. I wanted to spend days on a beach, just tanning and drinking cocktails. Relaxing, letting off the steam, you know. Maybe in Italy, or France, or Spain. I know you are going to Spain." She grabbed his arm and pulled him closer to her mouth. "You do not deserve it, you know." She shoved him away. Her voice was full of hatred and disdain. "I should be the one going there. Not you. What did you do to deserve it? Nothing. I was serving my country and this is my third tour. And you?" She looked at him, hatred and blame in her eyes. "You barely leave the camp and never risk your life to help others. You are just a coward who pretends to be a big hero." She locked eyes with him once more and raised her shaking hand to point a finger at him. "You do not deserve to go there. I do! You are not worthy of it. You have no right to think you did a good job here and this trip is some kind of reward. You are lying to yourself if you believe this. YOU. DO. NOT. DESERVE. TO. FORGET. MY. PAIN."
John woke in cold sweat, heart pumping and wet sheets sticking to his body, tangled around his limbs. His shoulder hurt more than ever since he was back to London. He licked his lips to wet them and tasted something salty on them. He stood up, still shaking and went to the bathroom. He looked in the mirror and saw streams of tears running down his cheek. He looked like he saw a ghost. Well, he did. Sergeant McRory never was this violent in his dreams. But this time he knew she was right. He did not deserve the time for himself, the time to forget all the pain he saw over there.
He was about to turn down Harry's offer.
Next day Harry brought the tickets for John. What she saw in the flat wasn't what she expected.
„You haven't packed a single thing!" she exclaimed.
„Yeah, I know. I'm not going." John was in the kitchenette making tea for himself and offered one to Harry with waving a mug at her direction.
„No, thanks. But you said you're going! I can't believe you! John, don't be like this!" She was holding both her palms out towards John, trying to reach for him as if shaking some sense in her brother.
„Harry, I told you. I don't need it!" He poured the boiling water over the leaves and headed to his bed to drink his tea comfortably.
„I'm not asking for your opinion. I want to give it to you and you are going to accept it." She was persistent. Yesterday he said yes. There's no way she would let him pass this opportunity. Harry looked around in the room and clomped to John's wardrobe and started looking through his clothes.
„What on Earth are you doing?" John was on his feet now, placing the mug on the desk next to the bed and went next to Harry. He tried to drag her away from the clothes but she was strong and had her mind on the job.
„If you're not willing to pack your bag then I'll do it. You're going for 3 weeks, but will have the opportunity to wash your stuff if any of them gets dirty." With that she threw 5 pairs of jeans in a huge suitcase. „Let me see, you'll need shirts and shorts, too." She was biting her lower lip as she was scanning the content of the wardrobe.
„God, you don't take no for an answer, do you." John asked with a sigh, which almost sounded like he was giving in to Harry.
„Well of course I don't!" Harry turned to John and put her hand on his shoulder. „Johnny, you know that I want to help you here. I hate seeing you wandering around the city like a ghost. You do your job, you went out with me, but the flame in your eyes is not the same. You are here, but you aren't living. Please, go on this holiday, and relax. Find yourself and what you want from your civilian life when you get back. Please."
It was weird for them to be this honest with each other. John hardly recognised this young woman as his sister. She really wanted to make everything better for him – by her own means, of course.
„Okay, okay. I see what you mean. And for the record, don't think for a second that I believe you when you say it will help. But God, I need sunshine back in my life." John put his hand on Harry's hand on his shoulder and for a few moments they stood there looking at each other. At last John smiled at her and let his hand down to continue packing. „And do not touch my underwear, Harry. We're not 12." His voice was hard but his eyes were gleaming.
„You know, I'm perfectly capable of taking a cab and getting to the airport on my own." John looked at Harry who was sitting next to him in the cab. She was excited, and a little bit tipsy, as far as John could tell. Her fingers were knotted in her lap and she was staring out the window.
„Okay, Johnny, I know, but I wanted to say goodbye." She looked at him and he saw sadness in her eyes. True, since he came back, their relationship was better than ever and even he could feel the strange feeling of loss when he was thinking about leaving her here with all her problems.
„It's only three weeks, Harry." He put his hand on her knotted fingers and squeezed them a little. „And I invaded Afghanistan, don't forget that." She smiled at him and sniffed a little. John tried to hide his huffed laugh.
„I don't know why I'm getting this emotional. It makes no sense. But I feel like I got my brother back. The one I lost when we were small kids." And she hugged him, and held on to him tight.
„Okay, Harry, you're overdoing it. Everything will be all right, no need to worry." He petted her back and as he drew back the cab stopped in front of the terminal.
„Come on, let's get you on that plane." Harry rubbed her nose and jumped out of the cab.
They unloaded the boot, and headed to check in. When they were about to part ways, Harry hugged John again, squeezing him hard, sniffling.
„Harry, don't do this. There's no need to be this emotional." John just stood there awkwardly and stroked Harry's back.
„Yeah, you're right." Harry released him, blew her nose and smiled at him. „Have fun, be bad and careful with breaking hearts!"
John laughed. That was his sister, not the other one, the emotional wreck, sobbing on his shoulder. „Yeah, right, sis, all those things."
„And write me when something fun happens! I want to know about it!" Harry recovered quickly and she was smiling and laughing now, no trace of the sadness from before.
„I will." And with that, John turned to leave. He took a few steps and turned back. „And Harry…"
„Yes?" Harry was looking at him with her arms around herself tightly.
„Take care." They both knew what he meant. John tried to ease the edge of the topic with a half-smile and Harry nodded, waved at him.
John took a deep breath and walked through the gate.