It had been so long since he'd seen the London skyline that he'd almost forgotten how beautiful it could look. Pity there was no time for him to admire the scenery. John Watson leaned heavily on his cane as he limped down the pavement. The cool night air had slipped underneath the collar of his jacket, allowing a persistent chill to settle into his bones. His left shoulder ached with a deep pain that he tried his best to ignore.
Sweat beaded across his forehead in spite of the wind and he shivered, hunching his shoulders protectively. The clouds overhead finally shifted, allowing the nearly full moon to shine through, and he felt a strange wrenching in the pit of his stomach. He placed his hand across his belly and took a series of slow, deep breaths. The sensation was peculiar, and, even though he was inexperienced with the whole matter, he suspected it wasn't normal. Probably the sort of thing he should have sought treatment for. Exactly the sort of thing he would ignore.
Once the unfamiliar feeling had receded a little, he continued on his way, the faint, steady tapping of his cane his only companion. His destination came into sight shortly. It was a tall, brick building about three stories high, completely non-descript and ordinary. No one walking by would have known what was inside, and for that, he was grateful. He grimaced as he hobbled up the five stairs and pushed the door open.
Warm air rushed out to greet him and his senses sang with relief as he stepped inside. A young girl glanced up as he entered, golden eyes flashing in the brilliant light. "Welcome, stranger," she said, rising. "Are you John Watson?"
"I am," he said, discomfited by the fact that she knew his name already. "I take it I'm in the correct spot."
She smiled. "You'd be correct. My name is Mary. We've been waiting for you to arrive, Dr Watson. I had expected you a few hours ago."
John merely shrugged in reply, not deigning to answer the inquiry, however gently it had been phrased. It had taken him some time to re-orient himself. Being back in London was a shock to the system after months in the dry climate of Afghanistan, and part of him hadn't been sure he should be here at all. Yet he had nowhere else he would rather be, and that summed up his life quite perfectly at the moment.
"Alright, well, I'll take you to your room. The army has agreed to pay for your lodgings for a full month until you're better able to get yourself on your feet." She stepped out from behind the desk with a spry bounce that left him feeling envious. "I assume you've already taken care of... everything?" Her eyes dropped significantly to the small patch he wore on the breast of his jacket. "I was told that the Centre would explain the way things work around the territory."
"They did," John replied. Once again, he saw no reason to elaborate or enlighten her to the fact that, though the centre had undoubtedly explained everything in great detail, he had not listened to a word of it.
Mary's smile grew brilliant. "Excellent. You wouldn't believe how many pups we get around here with no idea of what they're doing. Causes a bit of trouble, I tell you." She led him towards the back of the building, down a long corridor, around a corner, and then stopped before a door. "Your room. We serve a small meal for breakfast at half past nine but you're on your own for lunch and dinner. If you need anything, you can come find me."
"And for the full moon?"
For a moment, she looked confused. Then understanding dawned and she chuckled. "We're not like the Centre, Mr Watson. There is no designated space. As long as you've taken care of everything, we encourage you to roam around freely. I assure you that the people of London are quite used to seeing us and those that aren't have been advised to remain indoors." She looked once more at his patch. "In your case, special accommodations can be made when the time arises."
Some part of him wondered what she meant by that, but he was so tired that he didn't have the strength to stand there and chat any longer. "Thank you, Mary."
"No problem! Let me know if you need anything."
The room was small, with just enough space to house a small single bed that had seen better days, a nightstand, a desk and chair, and little else. It was shelter, though, and for that John was grateful. He set down his army-issued backpack and sank down onto the bed with a sigh. It felt good to rest his aching leg and he rubbed his thigh absently as he looked around, noting the dreary white paint that was so dirty it had become an unflattering shade of grimy grey.
"What am I doing here?" he muttered, shaking his head. Automatically, he opened his backpack and searched through the meagre contents until he found his cell phone. It was the one item of good quality he owned, not that he really needed one. He wasn't surprised to see that there were no new messages waiting. Harry had promised to call, but such was the nature of family: they were easily driven from the mind by the bottom of a bottle.
He placed his cane against the nightstand and then slowly, awkwardly, shifted until he was lying down. His backpack fell against his thigh, sending a smattering of pamphlets across his lap. John scowled. The woman at the Centre had forced them into his hands as he was leaving, insisting that he would need the material to be fully prepared for the experience. But what more was there to it? During the nights of the full moon, he lost his humanity. What else did he need to know?