I would love to have posted first on the AWESOME CONCRIT MEME, but at something over 17,000 words, I didn't want to flood the post with mega-long comment thread, which would have also been too impossible for me anyway. SO! I am pretending that THIS is the concrit meme, and if you feel you have anything to add regarding timing, characterization, word choice, yo mama, SPEAK UP! Of course, normal comments are welcome too, for I overflow with joy and love when I receive them.
But, plus, if you post on the concrit meme, I will totally review your story, so fear not! Everyone should go there!
Anyway, you're probably here for the porn, so off we go. Sherlock and John get stranded on an island.
Evidence of Human Life
Sherlock Holmes hated his entire life. He hated it a lot. He writhed where he lay, furrowing deeper into the sand. It was warm on top, but deeper down it was damp and cool. Sherlock focused on the way the coolness seeped through his shirt sleeve at the elbow. He scrubbed his cheek along the warm surface sand. Warm on top and cool below. Sherlock hated everything on earth.
The water roiled black around them and Sherlock clung desperately to John, one arm wrapped around his chest, hand fisted tightly into his jacket. Sherlock's shoes weighed like millstones at his feet, and his coat billowed with water, pulling him ever downwards. They rode up the face of a monstrous wave, plummeted sickeningly down the other side. Salt water invaded Sherlock's lungs; submerging himself to keep John's head from going under.
"Wake up, you fucking bastard!" he shrieked. He couldn't shed his coat without letting go of John.
John crouched at the edge of the shore, his torso bare and browning in the sun. The waves crept up and lapped at his ankles. He was fiddling with something, intestines. Squinting, Sherlock thought of loping up silent behind him, tackling him swiftly and biting his shoulder, right next to the scar. Hard. He would taste blood. Sherlock turned his nose into the sand. He rolled flat onto his stomach. He didn't feel like getting up, or he would bite John, and kick him for good measure. He would start a fight, let John knock some teeth loose. That's what Sherlock would do, if he could be arsed to move, which he couldn't. A very small crab crept by.
When John woke up, they were cresting a wave. He gasped and flailed his arms, forcing Sherlock further under. They slid down the back of the wave and in the trough Sherlock retched and sucked in a breath.
"Stop it, John, stop!" He fought to be heard over the roaring storm. Rain pelted their faces, and John spread his arms and legs into a dead-man's float.
"Sherlock?" he shouted. Sherlock pulled up close behind him, pressing his face to John's ear.
"Hang on," he said, though he was the one hanging on. He tasted blood amidst the salt and sea and rain, and knew it coursed thickly down the side of John's face. "Hang on, John," he called.
When the storm abated, they floated in the cold, dark water, warm only where they pressed together, shoulder and cheek. When the moon darted out, it caught thinly on the surface of the vast, black sea, then vanished so the dark spread infinitely in all directions. Sherlock heard John's breath clench into a shivering gasp. There was nothing they could do. Sherlock tread water slowly, steadily, fanning through the water with his free arm while John did the same, just keeping them afloat. Sherlock's knuckles hurt where they were stiff and cold, bunched tightly in the fabric at John's chest; Satan could not have prised them free. They tread water slowly and watched the night sky. Either they would drown or they wouldn't. It was still too early to tell.
The morning rose grey around them. Sherlock drifted, then choked back to wakefulness, hacking the sea from the back of his throat. He checked on John, whose face had washed clean except for the gash running temple to cheek. He had pitched from the boat at the height of the storm, careening into the railing and over, and Sherlock had followed without a thought, had only just managed to snatch his sleeve. That had been near midnight, so they had been approximately six hours adrift. The sun came up. More clouds moved in. A smattering of rain fell before the skies blew clear again. As the sun broke free it almost seemed warm. Sherlock supposed this was better than dying alone, as he would have done without John. It was perhaps a bit pathetic, but Sherlock was too cold, too tired to lie.
The sun was a few hours high when the blessed black smudge appeared on the horizon.
"About a mile," John said, voice hoarse from thirst and cold. Sherlock scissored his legs and began a stiff side stroke towards the land.
"Let go. I can swim," said John, but Sherlock's fist would not unclench. He paused and breathed, then willed his fingers to uncurl, painfully, slowly, cramped in a death grip in John's jacket. John helped him free, untangled the fabric, and promptly sank. Sherlock's voice froze in his throat, but John bobbed up a moment later, spitting and coughing.
"Fuck," he said, ducking under once more before turning onto his back and floating freely. The adrenaline had shot so fiercely through Sherlock's system that in its wake he felt frail and nauseous. The metallic taste of fear lingered on his tongue.
"Shoulder, leg," John explained. They had cramped with the cold. Sherlock began to struggle out of his coat and John turned in the water. "Keep that," he said quickly.
"It's been drowning me. I can't swim."
"I know, but we don't know - " John snaked in a breath, barely keeping afloat. "We need everything we have." That would include shoes, which Sherlock had intended to discard as well. This was going to be a very long mile.
"Can you swim that distance?" Sherlock asked.
John breathed some impression of a laugh. "I have to."
In an hour they had covered half the distance with a slow, lurching side stroke. In another hour they were four hundred yards out, and John began to drown.
"Sherlock!" he cried out. He had fallen a small distance behind, and Sherlock turned back quickly, struggling against the bulk of his coat and the leaden exhaustion in his limbs. John was clearly in great pain, written in the confusion in his face; memory fragmented with concussion and cold. He was dehydrated and probably hypothermic, lost at sea and crippled from a war. He was sinking, choking by the time Sherlock reached him, his panic only exacerbating the situation. He tried to climb atop Sherlock, clutching his hair, and Sherlock sank heavily. Underwater, he twisted free and resurfaced behind John, wrapping one arm again around his chest.
"Calm down," he commanded. John was retching and crying, spitting up seawater, and Sherlock struggled to keep them afloat.
"What the fuck!"
"We fell off the boat, John. Calm down." This wasn't the first time Sherlock had explained this. John stilled. He spread out his limbs in a dead man's float.
"Sorry. I'm sorry," he gasped. He took heaving breaths.
"It's alright. We're nearly there." Sherlock wouldn't risk John swimming on his own, not when he was this tired. He set his sight on the island and towed John the rest of the distance. When he reached the shore he let John go, then crawled away and vomited, nothing but water, still salty and scratching the back of his throat.
Sherlock rolled lazily onto his back and looked at the sky. It was a patchwork blue, with billowing cumulus in greys and white. Thin cirrus clouds swept across the upper strata. Sherlock breathed in a long breath. The wind was cool, as always, but he had hit a patch of sunlight and he caught its warmth upon his face. It was relentlessly painful in a way that had nothing to do with the sun, that lodged in the back of his throat and crept up hot behind his eyes. Sherlock rolled back onto his side and looked at John, down by the water. He rose to his feet and crept up silently. John was soaking seal intestine in the water, pulling it into a thin tight line, washing away the stiffness from having been dried in salt and sun. Sherlock stepped so that his shadow fell on John, on his face, so he would know Sherlock was there. Slowly Sherlock knelt over him, pressed his chest along John's back, pressed his cheek against the scar. He wrapped his arms around John's waist, stealing his warmth for himself. He kissed John, right beside the scar. He tasted salt.
Water was their first priority. It was noon, which meant neither of them had imbibed any fluids but seawater in at least twelve hours. Plenty of time left before they croaked, but first things first. They were on a craggy outcropping of land, stony cliffs to one side, and Sherlock had had to tack around before he had found a suitable place to come ashore; a narrow strip of sand surrounded by jagged rocks. Collected in some of these were pools of water from the recent storm, and Sherlock and John both shamelessly sucked them dry. Wiping his mouth on the back of his hand, Sherlock considered that in this part of the world, where the annual rainfall was legendary, they would likely manage to survive for some time even without a direct source of fresh water.
John had leaned back against a rock with his eyes squinted shut. He was still in considerable pain but was warm enough at least to shiver. He followed Sherlock as he picked a path to higher ground. Assess the surroundings, find shelter, food, fire. Sherlock's stomach lurched and he dug into his pocket with panic tight in his throat. His fingers closed around his magnifying glass, and he was so grateful he hadn't shed his coat his knees almost gave and he felt dizzy.
"Alright?" John asked.
There was something of a grassy knoll a short distance up the hill, though the grass this time of year was overgrown and gone to seed. Sherlock settled John against a high rock and helped him out of his sodden jumper, then cloaked him in the greatcoat and told him to wait.
The island was largely barren, aside from a few low shrubs. Sherlock estimated the highest accessible point on the island to be approximately sixty feet, giving him between nine and ten miles visibility to the horizon, which was dotted with tiny islands, little more than rocky protrusions in an otherwise empty sea. The side on which they had washed up would likely prove more accessible to nautical traffic, and it was, after all, the direction from which their own craft had come.
Sherlock started back towards the shore, stopping to hack apart a few dried, dead shrubs in case the sun emerged long enough to start a fire. Rounding the coast he spied a stony beach with a collection of fat seals strewn about, lazily pulling the heat from the rocks. Excellent. Sherlock weighed their size against the pocket knife he had with him and found his current resources woefully lacking. They would have to think of something else, but it was good to know they were there.
When Sherlock returned to the tall rock, he found John had not waited as instructed, but had spread the coat and all but his underclothes out in the speckled sunshine. He had trampled flat a small clearing near the stones, and was relieving the surrounding area of its tall grass by crouching down and cutting near the root with the army knife he always carried. He had amassed quite a pile in the time Sherlock had been gone. When the sun set, they curled up in a nest of hay; on, beneath, and around themselves, with Sherlock's coat atop it all to keep out the drizzling rain.
They ate moss the following day. Sherlock showed John the beach where he had seen the seals. They weren't there at that hour, but they would probably return. There had been a few pups amongst them, which probably couldn't swim too far. It seemed late in the year for seal pups, but Sherlock admittedly knew nothing of their habits. In any event, they had no means to cook the meat at present, or store it. They spent the day filling rock basins with salt water, and a few of the shallow ones evaporated completely, leaving behind a thin salt residue which John collected in an oyster shell and stored in the corner of their tall rock camp, beneath the hay. John said they could use it to cure the seal meat if they collected enough of it. Sherlock knew this was true, but that made collecting it no less boring.
They managed to light a small fire by midday, using Sherlock's magnifying glass, small sticks, and strips torn from receipts, which had survived the journey in his wallet, in his pocket. It boosted morale slightly, but they had nothing to cook over it. They found a small stream a short distance behind their camp, so they had water for lunch, and water for dinner, and small bits of moss which they found on stones. They curled up in their nest that evening, John against the tall rocks and Sherlock facing the fire. There were no predators on the island, but Sherlock didn't feel comfortable unless John were ensconced on the inside. It was warmer, at least, since their clothes had dried.
"We'll have to make some sort of proper shelter," John said. He was right, but it sounded ineffably tedious. Sherlock stared into the tiny flame, surrounded and partially covered with rocks to protect the hot coals at the bottom.
John began shifting stones from the beach to their camp in preparation for some sort of wall. His movements remained stiff, and he had sustained massive bruises down the side of his body where he had hit the railing of the boat. He maintained that nothing was broken, that he would be fine, but Sherlock still kept a close eye on him, until loading up stones became, as predicted, too tedious to bear. Sherlock took a walk around the island. He was developing sunburn across his nose, and the wind in his ears was a dull, monotonous hush.
Sherlock spied the seals sunning once more, and his stomach rumbled in protest. They didn't have enough salt yet. Perhaps enough for a baby one... Sherlock tensed and instinctively sank to the ground, eyes trained keenly on the seals. But a seal pup might feed them for a couple of days, and there was no way of knowing how long they would be stranded here. If Sherlock attacked the seals, it was possible they would retreat permanently to one of the smaller islands. He had no idea what seals would do.
Well. In any case, he had gone far longer without food in the heart of London, so a few more days collecting salt (good God) would hardly kill him. Sherlock cut down a bush and carried it back to camp.
John was stacking the rocks atop each other to form his wall around the nest, filling the cracks with straw and mud. It was coming along quite well, although he would need a lot more rocks to create anything decent. Sherlock watched him work, bare-chested and elbow deep in mud he had collected utilizing his jacket as a bag. John tanned well. He hadn't even a hint of burn. Sherlock watched his muscles work, the way they shifted beneath the scar. He dropped the bush to dry by the fire, then stood at the edge of the knoll and looked out over the ocean; vast and smooth, mercurial grey with hints of blue where it mirrored the sky.
John carved hooks from dense drift wood and strung them with wool unravelled from his jumper. He baited them with beetles he had taken to eating straight from the dirt. Most of them came up empty, some of the hooks snapped, but one brought in a fish, ten inches, and John held it up, grinning like it was the best thing he'd ever done. He gutted it there on the rocks, re-baited with its entrails, and caught two more within ten minutes. He could only bring in smaller fish, but he seasoned them carefully with their precious salt and cooked them on heated stones. Sherlock watched him in the dying light; intent on his task and almost happy. He looked at Sherlock across the fire and broke into a silly grin. Sherlock couldn't help but smile back.
That night Sherlock stared out across the darkness, John snoring gently at his back. He knew there was nothing dangerous on the island, so it was irrational that he should feel so afraid.
They went seal hunting. Over the course of five days they had gathered enough salt, John having found a flat, dipped stone to set over the coals, over which he poured seawater he collected in his shoes.
Sherlock had a club-like stick, driftwood he had found in his wanderings over the island. John had his army knife. They crouched downwind and looked down onto the beach, singling out the seal they would take. A big one. It might be the only seal they ever took, and they had to make it count.
They clambered nonchalantly down to the beach, clad in nought but their briefs and their shoes. The seals regarded them warily, but didn't make for the water until Sherlock dropped low and broke for the seal they had selected. It lumbered for the waves in a quick but slug-like motion, its body ill adapted for land mobility. They had selected the one furthest from the water, emboldened by what had heretofore been a dearth of predators on the island. Sherlock swung a crushing blow to the back of its head - "They've got thin skulls," John had said, but it didn't stop struggling until John plunged the knife through its spinal column. He wrenched it free and the blood spurted once, then sluiced darkly down the speckled fur.
They paused a moment, breaths heaving. It had been too quick, too easy. Sherlock could feel the adrenaline searing unused through his bloodstream, and standing, panting, over John, he struggled with the sudden urge to pin him face down on the stones, to mark his neck with teeth and tongue and rut violently against him. Sherlock wiped his mouth against his arm and turned away. His arousal showed clearly through his briefs, and so did John's.
After a time, they began the laborious task of dragging the thing back to camp. Dark grey heads bobbed up off the shore and watched them with black and glistening eyes.
When they had made it up the hill, John sat heavily and said, "Good God," wiping the sweat from his brow. "Is this far enough, do you think?" Sherlock leaned his hands on his knees and caught his breath. The seal weighed three hundred pound easily, and they had basically carried it up a cliff.
"Bit farther, I should think," he said. He didn't know if it would make a difference, but if the seals might come back, he didn't want to discourage them by littering the beach with their companion's remains. They dragged the beast another two hundred yards before John carefully split its abdominal cavity, spilling its innards onto the ground.
"Hang on, though," he said, and then loped back to camp, returning with his jacket, since relegated to the containment of All Things Unpleasant. He tucked it around the seal guts so that no birds could get to it in the meantime. They finished dragging the eviscerated seal back to camp, though really the load was only marginally lighter without the organs.
Sherlock took the knife. He had his own, but John's was larger, and he set to skinning the seal.
"We'll scrape the fat off afterwards," he said. John had never skinned anything, but Sherlock knew enough from theory. Scrape the fat, salt it, let it dry. It would perhaps be necessary to work some of the oil back into the hide, but Sherlock wasn't entirely certain. In the case of the killer from whom he drew reference, modern tanning solutions had been available. Here they would simply have to make do.
They soaked the meat and edible organs in a hand-dug pool of seawater for the rest of the day. They were busy long past sundown stoking the fire and smoking the meat. John kept the lard and melted it down in oyster shells, in case it could somehow be useful. They didn't know what they were doing. But they ravenously ate their fill of seal meat and hoped the rain would hold off long enough to dry what was left.
John had fashioned a sort of roof over their shelter, using the twisted branches available to weave a gnarled lattice which he then stuffed full of grass. It looked ridiculous, but when he tacked up the greatcoat with sticks through the buttonholes to form a sort of door, the nights spent inside were halfway cosy. In a miserable, deserted island sort of way.
That night of course it began to rain, so the seal pelt and the salted meat spent the night inside the shelter, while John and Sherlock huddled together in the cold rain.
They had been eight days on the island. Sherlock crouched against a rock, the wind buffeting against his ears, pulling his hair into wild disarray. There had never been one single human on this island before him and John. There were no stone piles, bones, or curious mounds of earth. He and John were in a place where there had never, ever been any people. Ever. Sherlock breathed heavily through his nose, his jaw clenched firmly shut. Not one human, ever.
John was carving hooks from seal bone; simple, utilitarian forms with a double barb, notched at the top to secure the yarn from his dwindling jumper. Sherlock sat down beside him and took up a piece of bone. It took him hours to finish one, and in that time John had made three.
"That's too nice to throw in the ocean," John said. Sherlock had carved a hatched pattern into his hook and carefully smoothed the sides. With a put upon sigh he flicked the hook to John and rose to walk about the island.
It was windy every day, here. The shrubs bent sadly, lopsided with the prevailing salt-thick wind. The far side of the island was nothing but rock. Less salty, though, rinsed clean with rain. Sherlock had tasted every area, and the saltiest was obviously the rocks at the shore. The smooth, sedimentary protrusions on the far side had a somewhat chalky flavour, higher calcium content, while the camp side leaned more towards iron. Sherlock wanted desperately to return to London. He longed for it viscerally in a way that clutched in his chest, burning his lungs, searing the length of his arms until his fingers closed protectively around his palms. Sherlock ducked against the rocks, head bowed and arms wrapped tightly around himself. Tears stung hotly at his eyes and cooled immediately against his cheeks. He hated it here so much. A sob wrenched itself free of his throat, and then another, each carried off and lost on the ceaseless wind.
Twelve days. Sherlock carved another hook, drilling decorative divots into the side with the point of his blade. He had made several; some with wave patterns, one with a seal. He suspected John kept them all, because he had never seen one baited on a line. As the days passed Sherlock missed his Stradivarius the most. His fingers positively itched for it. The only sound outside the wind was John's off key singing under his breath as he patched the roof or stoked the fire. Sherlock's fingers finally slipped, and he cut a long gash into the pad of his hand, beneath the left forefinger. He watched the blood well up bright red - more like the fish they caught than the seal's, whose blood had been a deeper, richer hue. It trailed down the palm of his hand to his wrist, and the cut began to sting. He tilted his hand and the blood collected and dripped off the other side, into the packed earth surrounding their camp.
"Hey," John said, and crouched beside him. He took Sherlock's hand in his own and pressed his thumb alongside the cut. "Shit, we have to wash this out." He rose, but Sherlock didn't follow. John leaned down and placed a gentle hand on Sherlock's back. "Come on," he said.
Sherlock ignored him. He was clamping down on a vicious fury that welled up inside him and seeped out into the dirt with his blood. He hated everything. There was nothing for him but the wind in his ears.
"Sherlock," John said, and Sherlock lashed out with a sudden elbow, catching John in the stomach, then he leaped upon him with a primal scream tearing from the back of his throat. He grabbed John by the neck and slammed his head into the ground, then took a hard blow to the kidney as John retaliated, rolled them over, and gained the upper hand. They struggled ferociously in the dirt until John managed to snatch Sherlock's wrists and pin him on his side, one handed. Sherlock continued to writhe and scream, curling forward to bite John's hand. John struck a sharp blow to Sherlock's head, and used the subsequent daze to quickly remove his belt and wrap it around Sherlock's waist to secure his arms to his sides. He disappeared for a moment and returned with the greatcoat, which he wrapped round and buttoned closed before Sherlock had regained his bearings. He snatched off Sherlock's belt and used it to secure his legs at the knee, then dragged him some distance away from the camp while Sherlock took up a litany of curses, spitting and struggling uselessly.
"Get me off this fucking island, John," he shrieked. "Get me off this island!"
John threw him roughly to the ground. "Don't you think I would if I could?"
He had made John cry, and he was glad. Sherlock's breath tore raggedly from him. Unable to escape, he began to bite at the coat collar and what he could reach of his shoulder.
"Sherlock, stop it!" John cried. He knelt down, but Sherlock lunged for him and he drew back sharply. "Stop," he pleaded, but Sherlock didn't. Eventually John retreated to the camp and Sherlock twisted on the ground, screaming until his voice gave out.
It was getting dark before John tried to approach him again. Sherlock had exhausted himself and he lay in a half stupor while John unfastened his impromptu restraints. He stroked Sherlock's hair, then helped him to his feet and half carried him to the fire. That night, with his hand wrapped in the sawn-off hem of John's undershirt, Sherlock slept against the inner wall while John looked out into the dark.
Sherlock wasn't sure what had happened. He was in tears, and his mouth tasted of blood. He was wrapped in the coat again, immobilised on the ground. "Please, John. Please. Get me off this island, John, please." He had made John cry again but this time he wasn't glad.
They sat around the fire. It was some time late in the morning. Sherlock had a strip of seal jerky, but he wasn't eating it. John was tying broken bits of yarn together with knots he had learned in the army. Sherlock watched his fingers, and the way he held his tongue against his lower lip in concentration.
"We should have sex," Sherlock said. John paused, then looked up, eyebrows raised as though waiting for the conclusion of a joke. When none was forthcoming he said, "Um, no," a flush spreading up along his neck. Sherlock waited, but that, it seemed, was that. He rose with a heavy sigh and stalked off.
"Don't go too far," John called. Since Sherlock had gone crazy John had taken to telling him what to do. Sherlock went as far as the seal beach, but they hadn't returned.
Sherlock gathered the coat and the belts and retreated some distance from the camp. He slipped into the coat and sat on the ground, then secured one belt around his knees. Now. If he fastened the other belt somewhat loosely around his waist, he might be able wriggle his arms out of the sleeves and down into the coat, securing himself. He heard John come up along side him.
"You'll want to leave me alone for awhile," Sherlock said.
John took a moment, then said, "Need help?"
Sherlock sighed and dropped the belt, looking away across the ocean. John knelt, unbuttoned the coat, shucked it from Sherlock's arms and then re-secured it around him, reaching around his waist to do up the second belt.
Sherlock flopped over with his back to John, and heard him walk away.
When the sun began to set, John returned.
"Piss off," Sherlock growled, and spent the night outside.
Sherlock dreamed of a dog he had seen in a film as a child. It was a massive thing, of bear-like proportions, filthy and matted, and it attacked John while Sherlock was frozen in place, and it shook him and ripped his skin, tore open his stomach and took him apart, and when Sherlock awoke he was shrieking into the wind and struggling frantically against his bonds. His face bit painfully into the ground as he squirmed, prying off his shoes, hooking a sock on his toe and pulling it off. He was able to unfasten his trousers, and he wriggled and kicked his legs until he could catch the hem between his toes, then he slowly pulled them off as well. He scraped against the ground, inching the coat over his head, and then he was free, and he stood up and spun frantically. It was windy and there was a drizzling rain, and Sherlock couldn't remember why he was afraid or what he had meant to do with his freedom. He staggered away into the dark, reached the end of the knoll, then tripped, slid, and tumbled down onto the beach. He curled up in the sand against some rocks, and listened to the waves pound a steady, brutal rhythm on the shore.
John found him early in the morning, stretched flat on the sand with the rising sun warming his face. Sherlock was tasting the sand, coating his tongue, and testing it against his teeth. He could hear it grinding, the sound travelling through his inner ear. Chickens, he knew, would consume small stones to aid their digestive process. Sherlock turned his head and scooped up a large mouthful of sand. Chewing it this way was different than having a few grains between his teeth. It was salty, of course, and clumped in his mouth. He heard John's footsteps through the earth, where his ear was pressed to the ground.
"Sherlock, please don't eat sand," he said. Sherlock tongued it out of his mouth, but a lot remained stuck up by his gums. He stretched his jaw, salivating, and tried to rinse the sand free with as little effort and movement as possible. John sat. He rested a hand on Sherlock's ankle and was quiet for a bit. He cleared his throat.
"Um," he began. Sherlock almost smiled. He liked most of John's sentences that began with 'um.' "Do you remember what you said," he paused. "About having sex?"
Sherlock's eyes snapped open. John haltingly continued.
"Well, did - um, I mean, we can, if you want to."
Sherlock raised himself up on one elbow and looked at John. He had removed his hand from Sherlock's ankle and was rubbing his thumb against the opposite palm, staring staunchly ahead.
"I do want to," Sherlock said. John's glance darted towards him.
"Okay. Um, well, good." He looked at Sherlock. His face was bright red, particularly the tips of his ears. "Ah, rinse your mouth out, though," he said. Sherlock rose quickly to his feet. Yes, his mouth was still quite gritty. He climbed up the hill and rinsed his mouth in the stream.