Saturday, October 27
As Sherlock followed John into the trees, he couldn't help but glance at the shotgun slung over John's shoulder. He was no expert with shotguns — handguns were far more common in London — but it didn't strike Sherlock as an appropriate weapon for casual target shooting. Of course, he also didn't know why they were going out into the woods, rather than using the makeshift firing range at the airstrip. Perhaps John's heavier weaponry was in case of bear attack.
The thought made Sherlock's skin crawl. He'd rather face down a hundred of London's worst criminals than meet a single bear in the wild.
"Where are we going?" he asked softly. The cloudy forest seemed to encourage quiet conversation.
"Thought I'd show you some of the property." He flashed Sherlock a quick smile that seemed genuine, though even Sherlock had difficulty reading the nuances through John's dark sunglasses. "I promise, no fishing," he added with a laugh.
Last night had been tense and awkward, even for Sherlock. John had cooked dinner, made coffee, and settled in at his typewriter without commenting either on Sherlock's interest or on his own misunderstanding. Finally, Sherlock had gone to bed — frustratingly alone — and had stared up into the darkness, listening as John's typing finally achieved a quick, steady rhythm that lulled Sherlock into a doze.
At some point, John must have slept, though he was awake and cooking breakfast when the dreary grey light of dawn came through the windows and woke Sherlock. Apparently accustomed to little sleep and exercise, John walked with easy, casual confidence, showing none of the wariness he'd demonstrated in Fairlake. To him, the unknown predators in the forest (which Sherlock imagined lurking behind every tree and in every shadow) were no threat. Rather, John perceived people as a threat. Not Molly (though she was just as unthreatening as her absurd dog) and, until last night, not Sherlock. And apparently, Sherlock had gone back to being a non-threat this morning; otherwise, John wouldn't have armed him.
He shrugged his shoulders to adjust the fall of the backpack he wore over his new parka. John had insisted they both carry emergency supplies, even though they hadn't planned on walking far. He'd packed for Sherlock, showing him where everything was stowed for quick retrieval — mylar emergency blanket, small first aid kit, torch (with batteries tested), folding knife, cigarette lighter (with redundant waterproof matches), granola bars, and water. He'd even apologised for not having two-way radios on hand, and warned Sherlock not to stray too far from his side.
Not that Sherlock planned on letting John get away from him that easily. After last night, he was more interested in John, not less, but John seemed to have gone the opposite way. He was friendly, courteous, and caring, but he'd reverted to the polite, quiet distance of their first day together. Embarrassed over his disproportionate reaction, most likely.
As they walked, Sherlock considered and dismissed various strategies to manipulate John into getting past this awkward distance he was attempting to maintain. An injury was the most obvious way to get John close and evoke a deeper sense of concern. A firearms accident seemed ideal at first, but Sherlock dismissed the thought at once, realising that would just bring back John's own traumatic memories. Best to avoid any injury at all.
Flattery usually worked well. John was obviously more knowledgeable about this unpopulated wilderness. A few carefully-chosen questions would reinforce his ego and allow Sherlock to safely express his admiration. But there was the very real possibility that John might actually expect Sherlock to pay attention, even to remember whatever they discussed, and Sherlock had no desire to memorise information that would be useless once he was back in civilisation.
He stopped, his eyes going to John's back as he realised he'd be going back alone.
He didn't want that. Oh, he desperately wanted to get back to London. He'd already been away for far too long. He craved the city more deeply than he'd ever desired any chemical release from reality, as if London's streets were engraved through his veins and nerves, his bones constructed from her buildings.
He closed his eyes, immersing himself in the sense-memory of the smell and sound and sight of a thousand windows looking out into the London night, every one of them hiding the possibility of mystery and intrigue, danger and pleasure, and he realised at that moment that he didn't just want to go back. He wanted John to go back with him. He wanted to see how John, after years of self-imposed isolation, would react to Sherlock's city.
Forget the tourist destinations and arts and culture. Sherlock would take John to the hidden city underneath the public veneer. He'd show John the back alleys and forgotten streets and unknown restaurants. He'd take John into his world of nightclubs and private parties — and that was an image that nearly overloaded Sherlock's imagination, John in tight jeans and a shirt straining across his broad chest and shoulders, showing off his forearms. At first glance, John seemed so harmless, so forgettable, as though his allure crept up in unseen, unnoticed increments until the full impact of John's physique and willpower and competence overwhelmed the observer, just as it had with Sherlock, who had been so quick to initially dismiss him.
John's sigh scattered the lovely, distracting thoughts. Sherlock opened his eyes, suddenly glad that he'd bought a parka that hung well past his hips, and saw John standing a careful eight feet away. His gloved hands were shoved into his pockets as though he were making a point of not even touching the rifle hanging over his shoulder or the handgun under his jacket.
"Look, I know this must be... uncomfortable," John said apologetically. He was turned in Sherlock's direction, but Sherlock had the impression that his gaze was averted, hidden behind the sunglasses. "Why don't we just go back? I can take you to Molly's house on the quad. It's safe enough."
So much for a manufactured excuse to bridge the distance between them. He physically crossed that distance, watching the way John tensed, not to attack or defend but to back away. He didn't move, though, which was encouraging, and Sherlock didn't stop until he was only a foot away, close enough that their winter-fogged breath mingled in a pale cloud between them.
"Much as I look forward to returning to London, I have no intention of doing so now, nor do I have any desire to spend any significant time with your neighbour," he said, letting his voice pitch low and smooth.
John shifted his weight, prepared to step back, and Sherlock caught his sleeve, cursing the bulky jackets and gloves that separated them both. At the touch, John went still, saying, "Sherlock —"
"John," he interrupted quietly. He wanted to pull away the sunglasses but sensed that John needed that little artificial distance. If Sherlock pushed too hard, John would shut down completely, and Sherlock might never get another chance at him. Even this might be too much, but Sherlock had to try.
Lightly holding John's sleeve, Sherlock raised his free hand and used his teeth to tug off the glove. John's head turned sharply to watch the path of the glove as Sherlock tossed it aside. Cold air bit at Sherlock's fingers, but he didn't care. He set his fingertips to John's face, for an instant feeling the golden brown stubble and icy skin of his jaw before John flinched away.
"John," Sherlock repeated quietly, soothingly, and touched again. This time, John didn't pull back. He parted his lips and took a quick breath. The motion drew Sherlock's eyes down, and he saw no reason at all not to chase that breath.
Tight with tension, John's lips tasted of cold and snow. Subtle, burning points of contact connected them skin to skin — Sherlock's fingertips on John's face, his thumb on the thinner flesh over John's cheekbone, their lips touching lightly, barely more than the air they shared for one breath, two, before John's exhale shuddered against Sherlock's mouth.
Encouraged, Sherlock licked at John's cold, chapped lips, gently pressing with his fingertips. Stubble prickled against his skin, shifting as John's mouth opened just enough for Sherlock's tongue to flick across his teeth. John's inhale was sharper now, and a hand pressed against Sherlock's side not to pull him close or push him away, but simply to touch. His mouth opened further, and the brush of John's tongue — just the tip — crackled through Sherlock like lightning.
Then John did move, shifting a half-step closer and standing taller, swiping his tongue across Sherlock's before he pushed into Sherlock's mouth, bringing with it heat and nerve-snapping tension and fierce desire. Their noses bumped coldly, nostrils flared as they both tried to breathe without losing their connection. Sherlock's hand on John's sleeve tightened into a fist as John's hand slid to Sherlock's back, and it was maddening that Sherlock couldn't feel John's body through the ridiculous layers of down-stuffed Gore-Tex and wool and far, far too much clothing.
It was John who broke the kiss. His hand fell from Sherlock's body and he stepped back with a deep breath as though to steady himself. He licked his lips, an action Sherlock mirrored, wanting to capture the lingering taste of John's mouth before the cold stole it away. He felt John's absence like a bone-deep ache that made him shiver from the effort to recapture John's closeness. The tension was returning to John's posture — not like last night, but enough to warn Sherlock to tread carefully or risk chasing John away.
For a moment, they stood in the silent, snowy forest, breathing out of rhythm but equally deeply. Sherlock wondered if the cold felt like fire in John's lungs the way it did in his own. He wondered if John's body tingled painfully at the absence of touch and if he could still feel the impression of Sherlock's lips against his own.
John broke the silence as well, boot crunching through the light snow and into the fallen leaves beneath. He bent to retrieve Sherlock's castoff glove, his free hand automatically dropping to steady the rifle at his side.
"Idiot," he said as he offered the glove to Sherlock, a strange affection in his voice. Sherlock couldn't see his eyes, but he imagined the way they were tight with humor. "Do you want frostbite? Put that back on."
Sherlock took the glove with a laugh and put it on as he fell in beside John, both of them walking again. Neither of them mentioned the kiss, and there was no attempt to hold hands or touch, but the distance between them had disappeared, which was good enough for now.
Kissing Sherlock Holmes — kissing anyone, in fact — was a spectacularly bad idea. Without even trying, John could think of fifteen or twenty reasons not to have a repeat.
It was just a kiss. No big deal. At least, at one point in John's life, it wouldn't have been. Back in school, he'd had a hell of a reputation, both with women and men. Molly had kissed him, back when they'd first started to build a friendship. He'd been tempted; she was sweet and pretty and John was admittedly sick of being alone, but he'd turned her down, knowing it was the best choice for them both. They were still friends. So there was no reason to think he couldn't do the same with Sherlock.
But he wanted it. Desperately. After all these years, he'd thought he'd trained himself out of craving intimacy and closeness, whether it was the rush of sex or the sweet laziness of cuddling with a loved one. He'd convinced himself not to think about Molly in that way, and he'd been so successful that he'd grown cocky. That was the only explanation. False confidence had made him vulnerable, and now Sherlock had slipped past his guard and under his skin and there was no way in hell that he'd be able to say no.
As it turned out, Sherlock already knew how to shoot (though not as well as he kissed, a treacherous corner of John's mind supplied), so John was able to give him a couple of tips to improve his aim and then lean back against a tree, watching him and trying not to overthink the situation.
Once Sherlock seemed to get bored with target shooting, John challenged him to lead the way back, thinking it best if Sherlock started learning his way around the forest in case he got lost. To John's surprise, Sherlock didn't try to backtrack. Instead, he looked thoughtfully into the distance for a moment before he started walking. John followed, trying not to give any hints, lazily keeping an eye on their surroundings. Bears weren't usually a problem now, but an encounter with wolves or coyotes could be disquieting. He was more interested in game animals, though, so he kept his attention on the low brush near small clearings.
When they came in sight of the cabin, John asked, "All right, how'd you do it?"
Sherlock glanced back at him before looking up at the sky. "Position of the sun, slight contour of the ground, sound of the river. I never get lost, especially not in an open area without many obstacles to one's path — unlike in London, with twisting streets and an interfering river."
John laughed, and Sherlock shot him a closed, defensive glare. "I'm impressed," he said quickly, realising Sherlock thought the laugh was mocking. "You yourself said you're not the outdoorsy type."
"Neither are you."
The truth of that hit a little too close to home. It was John's turn to bristle, though he tried to hide it with another laugh. "You have noticed where I live, right? I've been here for... six years now? Almost seven," he said, a bit of bleak amazement creeping into his thoughts. On December 31, it would be seven years.
Seven years, and he hadn't expected to even live out one. Hell, sometimes he thought he'd chosen to move out to the wilds to save someone else the trouble of cleaning up his body after he finally got sick of the nightmares and put a bullet in his brain. Seven years of surviving — not really living — weighed heavily against a lifetime built in small, happy pieces, from childhood to medical school to the terrible exhilaration of war. He struggled against the weight pressing down on his chest, the hot tension knotting up his throat, the pressure behind his eyes, until his mind lost the battle against his body, and he was able to take a breath.
When he exhaled unsteadily, he realised Sherlock had stopped walking and turned back to face him. "Sorry, planning the dinner menu for tomorrow," John lied clumsily. He'd never been a particularly good liar — not when honesty had served him well through most of his years — and Sherlock didn't miss anything.
Now, Sherlock's blue-grey eyes sharpened, fixed intently on John's face as though he knew every thought slithering around in John's fucked-up mind. Panic seized John's breath all over again, but this time, he channeled it into motion. He might have said something — Let's get inside, perhaps, or something about the cold — but he had no idea what. He pushed past Sherlock and headed with brisk steps for the cabin's front door, forcing himself to think only as far ahead as the next hour: build up the fires, set up dinner, clean the guns. Everything else would have to wait.
Dinner was sausages made by the Coles, a family of butchers and taxidermists in Fairlake. Last winter, John had shot a bear not too far out of town and had managed to get it to his quad and into town before the meat could go rancid. The Coles had butchered it and traded half the meat and the pelt for sausages, burgers, steaks, and roasts enough to fill John's deep freezer. He served the sausages with beans that had been soaking since yesterday and pan-fried cornbread made with the morning's bacon drippings.
After John washed the dishes, he dried out the skillet, listening as Sherlock finally pushed his chair away from the table. Usually, as soon as his plate was clear, he'd be in the living room to check his email. John had grown accustomed to bringing Sherlock his coffee at the desk before he went back to the kitchen to clean up after dinner. This time, though, Sherlock had stayed at the table for coffee, and what had been a comfortable silence turned awkward as John's imagination took flight, filling the silence with expectation and prying curiosity.
He left the dry skillet on the counter and went to the pantry, watching Sherlock out of the corner of his eye. Instead of going into the living room, Sherlock crossed to the pantry and asked, "Dessert?"
John's breath caught. He'd never heard 'dessert' laden with such innuendo — or maybe it was just his imagination. He wasn't just rusty at flirtation; he couldn't even reliably tell when it was actually happening. "Coffee," he managed to say.
"I don't want more coffee, John." Sherlock pulled the door open so he could get closer to John, who was trying to remember which of the plastic tubs held the green coffee beans. After their walk, Sherlock had showered and changed clothes. He smelled of soap, and the cool humidity had dried his hair in messy curls hanging down towards his right eye. All through dinner, John's fingers had twitched from the desire to brush those curls away.
"We'll be out in three days if I don't roast more. Maybe two, the way you go through coffee," John answered, resolutely not looking. He finally pried off one of the lids and glared at the rice inside. He replaced the lid with a loud snap.
"It can wait."
Realising they were about to have the talk, John took a breath to steady himself, rose from his crouch, and turned to find Sherlock standing much closer than he'd expected, only inches away. "Look, I —"
"Must we?" Sherlock asked sharply as his hands came up, long fingers skimming over John's face, sliding back along his jaw to brush lightly, chillingly over his hair. "I prefer not to waste time in unnecessary conversation — as do you."
It was true, and another time, John might have said so. He wanted to say something, but he knew he'd come off sounding like a babbling idiot if he started to talk.
Sherlock took his silence for consent, which, in a way, it must have been, because when he leaned down to steal a kiss, John couldn't find it in himself to protest. He leaned into it, hands sliding up to grasp Sherlock's waist, holding him lightly but closely. The kiss was sweet, tasting of coffee, and full of confident aggression as if to encourage John to let go of his inhibitions.
Seven years of self-denial proved too much of a strain. The last of John's reservations dissipated like fog, and he pulled Sherlock close to take control of the kiss, reveling in the feel of a body pressed to his, warm and hard and very real. Sherlock's fingers twisted in John's hair as he parted his lips further, allowing John to explore his mouth and nip at his lips.
Somewhere on the other side of the kiss, John knew things would be worse. First times were always awkward, especially since there wouldn't be a first time, since hadn't actually bought condoms since he'd moved to the cabin. For now, though, the kiss was enough — almost too much, in fact. He was starved for intimacy, for knowing that he had someone in his arms and that person wanted him just as much.
He broke the kiss to taste Sherlock's skin, feeling the heat of his throat before he licked right over Sherlock's pulse. The answering exhale was just shaky enough to hint at a desire for more. Experimentally, John bit, being over-careful because it had been so long and he didn't want to hurt Sherlock. A shiver passed through Sherlock, who shifted and got one foot between John's, pushing his hips forward as his thigh abruptly pressed against John's erection.
Heat arced between them, scorching away another layer of John's fears and reservations. He stopped counting the reasons not to do this and started thinking instead about the sofa, which was close to the kitchen, versus the bed, which was much larger. He dropped his hands, feeling the back pockets of Sherlock's jeans and tense muscle and tight curves, and braced himself before pulling Sherlock's hips against his body.
With a muttered curse, Sherlock pushed John back a step and twisted, crowding him back with another overwhelming, devastating kiss. John's shoulders pressed back against the wall beside the pantry and Sherlock pulled his hair, tipping his head back, so he could run his tongue up John's throat, the motion translating into a sinuous press of their bodies from knees to chests.
Sherlock's free hand braced on the wall beside John's shoulder, and John's breath stuttered, catching like gears knocked out of alignment before he stopped breathing. Suffocated and trapped, he felt panic rise up through him in a single heartbeat. He pushed, awkwardly at first, hands sliding over a soft cashmere sweater, before his instincts took over. His second push was a solid shove to the sternum, a twist of his hips putting strength behind the blow that freed him. He wrenched away from the wall, getting out into open space, gasping in a breath as though he'd been drowning.
Sherlock, he thought, realising what he'd done. Thank God he hadn't actually hurt Sherlock, who was standing warily back, his eyes locked to John's. He stood balanced and ready, as though prepared to be attacked. He hadn't run, though. He hadn't fled the cabin or tried to barricade himself in the bedroom, nor had he fought back.
John exhaled, confusion snapping through him as if his fraying thoughts were finally breaking under the tension. He realised his left hand was on his gun — thankfully, he hadn't actually drawn it — but he couldn't pry his fingers away. He could still taste Sherlock's kiss, and his throat had a single icy strip etched into the skin where the open air froze the path Sherlock had licked.
Abruptly, he turned and rushed out of the house, needing to escape himself.
Author's Note: This brings the version of Northwest Passage to a conclusion, due to 's rating policy. The story continues, with an explicit rating, at Archive of our Own. Thanks to 's ridiculous policy on linking, I can't put a direct link in, so to find the story, either remove all spaces from the following short link:
bit. ly / TjScTc
Or google Archive of our Own, go to that website (it's a dot-org), and search for Northwest Passage by Kryptaria.
Sorry this is so complicated, but actually censors out links to competitor sites.
Thank you for reading! This story has been a fantastic exploration of character development, and all of it was based on very simple prompt: John is Canadian. I never expected to come close to 90,000 words full of love and friendship, heartbreak and joy, but I'm thrilled to be able to present this to my readers. Again, thank you!