Author's Note: Please please review?
Sherlock was cold. The wind bit at his face wherever it could creep between the seams of his fake fur lined coat. It seared like a burn, different in kind from the cold he knew. Sherlock drew his blankets tighter, ignoring the haughty glance it earned from his snowmobile driver. It was three o'clock and clear skied but the day was dim, the sun barely rising over the mountains in the distance.
He hated this place. Miles and miles of flat, unyielding land. Packed snow and barren frozen trees. There was no data here, at least none that he understood. The snowmobile driver navigated their way across the ice without hesitation, his eyes catching on the wooded mountains. He likely knew every tree. An odd level of spatial memory for a common idiot but then, Sherlock noted, there was nothing else out here to do with one's brain, even a vacuous one. He'd probably memorize every individual pine quill, were he here for long.
It'd taken two airplanes and a flying deathtrap called an Apollo CSA to get to this middle of Arctic nowhere, but Sherlock wasn't planning on staying longer than strictly necessary. The snowmobile roared and the wind flapped against his ears, blocking out everything else. There was nothing but white, trees, and wind here.
Their destination was obvious. There was nothing to break up the endless stretch of white but one very ramshackle half-buried hut squatting in the snow. The driver drove straight for it, his eyelashes pinched against the wind. His eyelids were threatening to freeze closed. The man rubbed them occasionally, breaking off the tiny collected icicles building beside his eyes.
The driver's face was white with frostbite, left exposed to the wind. Pride, Sherlock figured. The man wore a red parka and jeans beneath his home-sewn fur hood, cuffs, and boots. There was no shortage of modern fabrics, then – he could buy a balaclava. It was a cultural thing, probably. The man's whole outfit was likely culturally driven. Meaningless, then. Sherlock turned his face back to the approaching hut, desperate for more data. The roof was fuzzy where it was exposed – dry grass stood up from its light dusting of snow and waved in the faint breeze. Sod insulation, Sherlock thought. Apparently this barren land thawed enough in the summer for such plants to grow.
Five dogs were chained away from the house and barking like wild things. Their chain had dug a channel into the bark of the tree holding them back, a wound which had long since begun to heal. They'd been here for years, then. The house itself was clearly aged. The roof's sod had faded to a lifeless brown from years of exposure. The wood beams before the front door were similarly stained with age. The door frame showed signs of rot at the bottom of the poles where they disappeared into the thick snow. The snowmobile rumbled to a stop outside the squalid little home, shuttered, and silenced itself.
There were notches in the home's door frame, where heavy objects had scraped and banged against it. A series of small notches by the top of one supporting beam showed where someone had begun to saw through it, only to stop and change their mind – an inexperienced carpenter or a sudden change of design? Snow was piled on either side of the doorframe; it'd needed to be dug out recently. There were footsteps in the snow banks, leading behind the house and back toward the dogs. Only one size of snowshoe; likely only one person. Likely a man, given the size. Sherlock watched the heavy, fur-covered door push open, feeling his stomach flip uncomfortably.
A short, stocky man stepped out and quickly shoved the door back in place. He was not dressed like the native snowmobile driver. He wore an animal hide coat, a fur hood, boots, and mittens, and pants made of some mottled white material – likely yet more animal skin. Sherlock tried to focus his eyes in the horridly bright sun. His insides felt like they were trying to climb their way into his throat; was this yet another false alarm? Another extreme adventurist trying out a few months of miserable living to write about it on their social media outlet? Sherlock snarled quietly, taking in the confident stance, the way the dogs quieted, how the driver's shoulders relaxed, his jaw loosened – burying his pride. No, this man was respected – in an environment notoriously antipathic toward whites and newcomers. This was a white man raised in this environment, someone who could live it without considering any other way.
"Driver, turn around," Sherlock ordered, his voice muffled by his blankets and the wind. Sherlock jerked the cloth down and pulled off his ski mask, stripping it off his face and over his hair. "Driver -" he started again, but stilled, his eyes finally filling in the details that he'd missed; the weathered face, the twitching hand, the dark eyes he'd never be able to forget. John Watson stood outside that squalid building, his animal fur hood still shielding his head but nothing on his rapidly whitening face. Sherlock gripped his ski mask in his fist, wishing he could put it back on. John's eyes darted over each of his features, as if searching for signs of plastic surgery, an elaborate ruse.
Sherlock swallowed, unsure what to do with his hands, anticipation surging through him. He suddenly felt like a child, wrapped up in the thick quilts. He could barely get out of the snowmobile's sidecar fast enough. The packed snow crunched beneath his thick soled boots and John's eyes shot down to stare at his feet, as if that meant something.
John looked older. Wrinkles had carved their way around his lips and eyes where they hadn't been before. He'd lost weight and gained muscle, though it was hard to estimate how much he'd changed beneath the thick animal hide coat he wore.
What are you doing here? Sherlock wanted to snarl, but stayed silent.
How long have you been here?
"Special delivery," the driver groused, apparently tired of waiting while they stared at each other. John straightened suddenly, his stance stiffening and his brain visibly clicking back online.
"Taikuu," he replied, his voice steady and unhurried. Sherlock blinked. He'd heard the word before in this horrid tundra. Some pleasantry, unimportant, he'd thought – but now it was the first word he'd heard John utter in years.
"Yuay," the man replied and it sounded like a joke. John's lips jerked slightly in that way he had of faking amusement to be polite – definitely a joke, then. "Qilamik," the driver growled at Sherlock, glancing meaningfully at his duffel, though he clearly knew Sherlock did not speak the language. Sherlock sneered at him, quickly deciding not to comment.
John sucked in a breath. Sherlock whipped his head around to look at him, but the man's face was closed again, staring out at the tundra as if there would be answers there. Then he turned, walked inside the sod house, and shut the door behind him.
The dogs started barking again. Sherlock's face and fingers burned as the cold reasserted itself. The driver busied himself throwing Sherlock's duffle bag off the snowmobile. It landed with a muffled thud. The snowmobile rumbled back to life and darted across the snow. Sherlock listened to the roaring engine slowly fade into the distance, his palms sweating and instantly freezing to his gloves.
He wanted to stay out here, stand and wait until John's closed expression broke and he came outside to join him. It'd be a dramatic gesture, waiting for the man but Sherlock had no illusions about the nature of negative forty degree weather. He would die out here and quickly.
Would he let me die? Sherlock wondered, hesitating. He wanted to know. He wanted to see John open that hide-covered door again and usher him into the relative warmth inside.
Idiot. It'd be meaningless. John wouldn't stand and watch anyone slowly die of exposure. John would open the door to his worst enemy, even if only to kill him mercifully.
That was still a possibility, Sherlock thought, eyeing the closed door. He had no illusions about John's skills – if the man wanted him dead, he'd be dead.
His calves were slowly going numb, the epidermal layer hardening in the cold. His snow pants were insufficient and his boots stopped at his ankles. He'd have frostbite in minutes without the blankets and warm snowgo beneath him.
John would either bring him inside or kill him. He wouldn't let him die. Standing in the snow would only make him angry. Sherlock sighed and bent down to grab his duffel bag.
The door pushed open stiffly. Some type of hide was wrapped around the inside of the door and nailed along the edges, thick enough to press against the outer frame. A well-insulated door but the room was still cold. Sherlock shoved it closed behind himself and did not turn, letting his eyes adjust to the sudden darkness. The hide on the door smelled faintly of mold and rot. A snowy mist clouded the air around Sherlock and slowly settled into a wet film over his clothing – condensation from the briefly open doorway, Sherlock realized. Something crackled behind him and Sherlock breathed in the thin, smoke-flavored air of a wood-burning stove. Sherlock turned.
The small kerosene lamp hanging on a metal hook from the single crossbeam lent the room a dingy orange glow. Shelves lined the back wall by the iron stove, stacked with large metal cans and a few dented pots. There were no extra hooks by the door for a stranger's coat. There was only one cot, a
mattress clearly made with hide and covered with yet more furs - worn on the edges where the hides had scraped against the exposed wooden walls for years.
John pushed another log into the stove and pressed the metal door closed until it clicked. His hands were heavily calloused, evidence of shovels and picks and gripping rope. His muscles bulged in his arms, firm beneath his skin. His hair had been self-cut many times over with a sharpened knife – likely the same one he used to shave. That blade was dulling now, clearly. Stubble broke out over John's face and neck, though only in patches. He wore a thin button-up shirt and jeans in the house – like he'd just walked straight out of London and arrived in an Inupiat igloo by mistake. His face was hard, whipped by wind and red with healing frostbite. He glanced up at Sherlock and ran a hand down over his mouth, his face rippling for a moment, breaking the stoic, solid mask. Sherlock opened his mouth to speak, but John's gaze tightened, turning angry, and Sherlock hesitated. He could feel his hands sweating and cursed his body; why would that help? John stood up and stretched to grab a pot from the top shelf of the tiny kitchenette, the silence reestablished.
Everything in the squalid little place ached with passed time. The axes and saws hanging by the door were thinned by too much use and sharpening. The floor was scraped where the single chair had dragged, back and forth from its cramped place between the tiny table and the wall, where no right-handed man would sit. There was water damage on the wall, beneath the single coffee cup hanging on a nail above the stove. Where the water had dripped down the handle as it dried, where only a left-handed man would place it. No, the evidence was consistent. A left-handed man had lived here – alone – for two years at least.
The table was better carved than the chair, the small countertop better than that. John was improving at this fetid life.
Most men did not retreat to the Arctic when their friends died. They moved on, healed, got new friends. Sherlock felt something ugly twist in his gut. What had he overlooked?
Three years alone in this place. Why?
John's face was white. He looked sick. He swallowed too often, like he was fighting back bile. He pulled a barrel from beneath the kitchen shelves and leveraged it open. Water, Sherlock recognized, watching John scoop some out with his pot and put it on the heating stove. Sherlock felt a smile twitch at his lips, relief flooding him at the familiar sight of his friend making tea. They'd both survived.
Small broken strands of fur were sprinkled on every surface, gray strands that didn't match any of the white and black dogs outside. Sherlock picked one up between his fingers and snapped it curiously. Hollow strands- definitely not a dogs. Caribou? Muskoxen? Some other kind of large game that lived here? Sherlock had no data.
John sighed, a heavy mournful sound in the quiet, and dropped into the single chair. Sherlock's smile melted from his face at the sound. John clasped his hands in his lap and stared at them.
"So you're alive, you lied to me, and whatever it was that made you jump is dealt with now so you've come back," John concluded, his voice rough. Sherlock nodded cautiously, a reminder tingling in his brain that this was John's tone when things had gone spectacularly, horribly wrong.
He won't forgive you, Molly had said. Why? Why not? Sherlock didn't know what to say. He gazed around the room again. Why was John here?
"Yes," Sherlock stated finally, because for once John's conclusions were accurate. John nodded, his jaw tightening. Anger, Sherlock identified, unsure what to do with that knowledge.
"Right. Yes," John said. His way of processing aloud, Sherlock remembered, closing his eyes against the flood of memories that that information brought. He looked up to find John staring at him, his sturdy brown eyes moving over Sherlock's hair, his coat and gloves, his boots and snowpants where his thighs were starting to thaw and burn.
"So. You jumped," John stated, glancing up to meet Sherlock's eyes.
He won't forgive you. Sherlock swallowed, unable to talk. John frowned heavily, his wrinkles digging deeper into his mouth.
"Three targets. You, Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson," Sherlock listed. There was not much more to say. John nodded slowly and glanced back at his hands. He rubbed his thumb deeply into his palm and sighed.
"And this was the only solution that came to you?" he asked.
No. But this was the best option, the one that best guaranteed John's life.
Sherlock didn't speak.
"Right. I'll drive you back into town," he stated and pushed himself up from his chair. Sherlock stared at him, trying to process. That was not right. John would be angry, he'd predicted that, but John didn't look angry at all. He looked tired.
"I'm not leaving," Sherlock replied, keeping his voice deep. That always helped make John agree with him. John's jaw tightened. He was grinding his teeth now, Sherlock noted.
"That is not your right," John stated, like an order, his face flickering in the lamp light.
"You are angry with me," Sherlock replied, hoping John would snap and yell at him. Stating the obvious tended to help with that. But John only nodded and walked past him to reach the layers of strange clothing hanging by the door.
You're alive, you lied to me, and whatever it was that made you jump is dealt with now so you've come back. That was what had happened; what more was there to say? Sherlock faltered and John jerked open the door, sending another blast of fog into the room. He turned, just outside the doorway, apparently waiting for Sherlock to follow. Sherlock tipped his chin up in defiance and stood his ground. John's face rippled with fury and he slammed the door in front of him, leaving Sherlock alone in the dim home.