Being sent away to jail in the dead of winter was terrible timing. John's first glimpse of his new 'home' was an intimidatingly large grey concrete building, housing the country's most violent criminals. Bare trees dotted the frozen grass, spike branched trees reached into the white sky as if trying to escape. The entire place was walled off by nine feet high of brick, spirals of barbed wire decorating the top, so not even an idiot would risk climbing over.
He shivered in the thin suit he'd worn for his unsuccessful trial, cuffs clanking at his wrists. The correctional officer, a tall, burly man warmly wrapped in a wool coat and snug scarf, smirked at him.
John couldn't bear to look out the windows for much longer, but this was the last he'd see of London until his sentence was done, so he made the most of it. The city was a grey haze in the horizon, yellow lights barely visible through the low clouds and fog.
Stupidly, John thought of the little things. He thought of the new books he'd never read, movies and TV shows he'd never see, music he'd never get to listen to. He thought of the world spinning on without him, changing and evolving, so much so that when the day came that he finally got out, he'd be a stranger in his own city.
The van passed through tall steel gates that crashed shut behind them, and John couldn't see the skyline anymore.
He was marched into the building. Before the trial he was John, Mr Watson, sir. Now he was nameless to them. He was uncuffed and taken through a disheartening number of security measures and locked doors by the CO, his papers checked by bored officials.
In a cold tiled room, he was ordered to strip. John wasn't bothered about nudity, he'd been desensitised to it after years of living alongside other men in cramped conditions, but the CO's gaze was definitely pushing boundaries. It was hardly professional disinterest. If anything, he seemed to take a twisted pleasure in emotionally torturing John.
After an embarrassingly thorough visual search of his hair and skin and cavities, John was pushed into a shower and decontaminated, then told to scrub himself down in water that was barely lukewarm. He felt acutely vulnerable when he stepped out the other side, pink skinned and roughly towel-dried.
"Uniform," said the CO, dumping a grey jumpsuit, underwear and a vest top in John's arms. "You look like a small. I ain't got time to explain everything, you can find that out yourself later. Any trouble, don't come running to me." He slapped his hand onto John's bad shoulder, and leant in to sneer, breath huffing on John's cheeks. "I'm a busy man."
John jerked away, and tugged on the uniform with hurried movements. It fit worryingly well, soft and old against his skin like he'd been wearing it for years. "Don't I get to keep anything?" John asked.
"Don't question me," said the CO. "Let's get you settled in, I want my dinner."
John was still shivering as he walked through the wide halls, bare feet on cold linoleum. He glanced up at the high ceiling, past three levels of cells, all lined up down the hall. The sight reminded him of battery hen factories.
A couple of prisoners were slouching by the bars, silently watching John with unmistakeable interest. John self-consciously straightened his posture.
He was led up heavy wooden stairs to the second level, and then shoved into an empty cell. The CO slid the door shut, and it locked automatically.
"Wait!" said John, gripping the bars. The CO raised an eyebrow. "That was a bit rushed, wasn't it?"
The CO sighed. "Don't start trouble, Watson."
"Can you at least give me my shoes?" John asked, as the CO strolled off. He was ignored.
The cell was small. John paced out what he could, and measured it as seven feet by ten.
A single bed was along the longest side, a mattress and a thin sheet. He hadn't been given any other bedding. There was a small desk in the corner opposite the door, and inbuilt shelves stretching up to the low ceiling. By the door was a curtained off area with his toilet and sink. The cell was painted a flaky blue-green. There were marks where graffiti would have been, but most of the traces had been scrubbed off.
Nicely enough there was a window, barred of course, that gave him a lovely view of the brick wall opposite. It was dark outside already.
John slumped onto the bed and pulled his knees up to his chin. He shut his eyes and ducked his head, willing away his emotions. It was a trick that had worked for him in the army before, when he had to be a machine and act rather than think. But here, in the lonely cell, it was difficult to switch off his brain. He'd been dreaming of coming home to London after his years of serving abroad. He'd had all these plans of what he'd do, the people he'd meet, the girls he'd fall in love with.
But all his hopes had been obliterated by one honest mistake. He didn't have a future anymore.
At some point, he must have fallen asleep. He dreamt of blood and sand and star-filled desert skies.