"John." Helen's voice was very even. "I thought you said you knew where you were going."
"I did. I do. This is where I meant to arrive." John's voice just missed smug as he ushered Helen and James into the single small wooden building under the eaves of the tall, snow-covered pines. Behind them was a beautiful and desolate slope of trackless white fields. Smug would just make Helen angry, and that was not the point of this little expedition. "I'll be right back with the others." He vanished in a cloud of bright sparkles before Helen could do more than open her mouth again.
"Well!" She said, sitting down on the (quite large, all things considered) bed. It was one of the few pieces of furniture in the room. "I venture to guess we won't be finding any salamander pangolins here."
"No, I rather think not," James said absently as he surveyed the small space, taking in the full glory (or perhaps that ought to be horror, impossible to say just yet) of their situation. The shack they were in was well insulated, and built more sturdily than appeared from the outside. There was a large stack of firewood — half a cord at least and likely more — under the extended eve of the roof, glimpsed as they'd come in, so plenty of heat. Indeed, the stove was already lit and warm. John had certainly planned this. One corner contained cupboards with canned goods and dishes and other wherewithal of cooking. A standing sink appeared connected to an external plumbing arrangement, very likely a pump, so water was available, assuming the works had not frozen. On the other hand, there was no interior water-closet. No doubt there was an outhouse out back. Curtained windows in three of the four walls let in light, and an oil-lamp hung from a hook by the door.
Further explorations found a quantity of blankets in a chest under one of the windows, in addition to the featherbed and quilts on the bed. Food, water, shelter, warmth: all the physical necessities for sustaining life. Even companionship. And presently, assuming John had not intended to leave James and Helen alone in this — well, 'cabin' was too grand a word for the structure, while 'shack' wasn't entirely accurate, given the amenities, still, shack would do — shack, their number would be complete.
As if the thought had produced the deed, there was the unmistakable not-sound of John re-materializing and the crunch of several variably shod feet in the skim of snow outside the door. Voices accompanied the footsteps; Nigel and Nikola expressing surprise, though not alarm.
Helen, sitting very collectedly in her sensible skirts and sturdy half-boots more suited to the warm climate they had thought was their destination, had an expression on her face of which James had long since learned to be wary. It seemed she had divined a reason for this change of destination that had so far escaped James. The look of 'calling your bluff' and 'pleasant retribution will most certainly and inexorably be paid' was not at all diminished by her deceptively demure posture. James found himself standing quite straight at her side as the latch rattled and the door opened.
John ushered Nigel and Nikola in with much the same flourish he had used with James and Helen earlier, though this time he stayed, shutting and fastening the door. Nigel and Nikola were looking bemused. The expression on John's face could best be described as guiltily gleeful, a state James well remembered from their schooldays. No doubt at all that John had put considerable effort into planning this. Neither the humor nor the inherent intimacy of the situation were lost on James.
"A shack in the middle of the Canadian Wilderness, John? I know you wanted to make some private, even intimate time for the five of us, but really old boy, this far off the beaten path?" James kept his voice light, the note teasing. John blushed. Helen's eyebrows rose, but she didn't look surprised. Nikola and Nigel both turned to fix John with matching looks of speculation.
James leaned against the knobby painted iron bedstead. The thing gave him an idea, especially in light of John's blush, and a shared glance with Helen made it clear she was thinking the same thing.
Helen took up the thread, saying "But now that we are here, we should certainly take advantage of this isolated and cozy retreat, don't you think?" She gave a smiling look to each of the men, getting a nod or grin in return. She left John for last. The curve of her mouth was positively wicked. "And I do think, as this was John's idea, that he should be the first object of our intimate attentions, don't you?"
James observed that John was unmistakably, intensely interested. James' own parts were stirring, and if he knew Nikola and Nigel at all, they would shortly be in a similar state, if not already there.
Now Helen was standing quite close to John. "This is what you wanted, isn't it?" Her fingers were resting lightly on the buttons of his waistcoat.
John swallowed visibly, and managed, "Yes. I wanted somewhere there would be no interruptions. Where we could do … whatever we wanted with each other, and no one to snoop or disapprove."
"You've managed that quite admirably, mate," said Nigel, already loosening his tie and shucking his jacket.
"Gentlemen," Helen said, a heated and laughing gleam in her eye, "shall we reward John for his efforts on our behalf?"
The other three advanced on John, and presently much merriment was had by all.