It wasn't until after the incident at Khusk-i-Nakud that Watson had got a gun. Before then, his idealism, and the Hippocratic Oath, had been as much at war with his military role as the tribes of the Afghans. But there was no denying that taking a bullet in the leg was a practical demonstration of just why a wounded soldier might require a doctor to take on the role of defender as well as physician.
It wasn't until he was waiting for that unexpected wound to heal that he discovered that he had a natural talent for marksmanship. He'd sit in his chair, and take potshots at the successively smaller targets the dhoolie-boys set up along the wall of the fortress in Candahar, missing now and then just to keep the betting interesting, because it was better than thinking about learning to live with a fragment of iron lodged permanently in his fibula, just barely above the posterior inferior tibiofibular ligament. By the time the leg was mended enough for him to return to his medical duties the gun was practically an extension of his arm, and about as easy to leave behind as the fingers of his hand.
It wasn't until Maiwand that he aimed and fired at a living creature, and that first bullet was a kindness, granted to a camel that had been nearly eviscerated by a shell. But as if the taking of one life had opened a floodgate he soon found himself aiming at men. He shot to wound at first, but as the ammunition began to fail, and the desperate retreat went on, he abandoned mercy as ruthlessly as it had abandoned the Berkshires. His last two bullets saved a friend from the horror of being hacked to pieces alive.
It wasn't until he was hit in the shoulder that he lost his grasp on the empty, useless gun. Another man might have tossed it aside, into the dark night, but he'd had no desire to leave the Afghans even more tools of mayhem. Even as he welcomed the bright, honest pain which would bring him penance for his gruesome work that day, he fell to his knees and scrabbled for the revolver, meaning to bury it in the sand. When Murray came back to find out why he had fallen behind he had it in his hand, and he did not lose it again: not while Murray freed a packhorse of the burden that had once been a wounded man, not when he was slung across the saddle in its place. Alone of all the possessions which he had taken on the road to Maiwand, the revolver returned with Watson to Candahar, where he begged a bullet of the quartermaster lest the fortress fall before help could come. He kept it by him in Peshawar, like a child with a favorite toy, the one that meant comfort and an end to all fears.
It wasn't until London that he stopped sleeping with it beneath his pillow.