"What's this?" John took the scrap of supple, folded skin from Sherlock. It wasn't until he had it in his hand that he realised there was something wrapped up in it. He angled the bundle toward the dying embers of their fire so he could see it better.
Sherlock sat down next to him, not quite touching him but close enough that John could smell the dusty, comforting scent of the fur he'd draped over his shoulders against the night chill. Sherlock pulled his legs up and wrapped his arms around his knees, which were clad in loose leather breeches. "Open it," he said. His voice was hushed, as if he didn't want any of the others in the clan to hear him. The precaution was superfluous; almost everyone was already asleep.
John glanced over his shoulder at the next hearth. Space was at a premium in the cave they'd adopted as their shelter for the season, and they were practically living on top of each other. Hudson's mate and her protegee, Molly, were already lying huddled under their piles of skins, their fire little more than a reddish glow. A baby was whimpering somewhere further back - probably Sally's latest - and a low, rhythmic grunting foretold the possibility of a new one sometime in the fullness of the hot season. Privacy was pretty much a foreign concept, but if Sherlock had really wanted it, John considered, they could have gone somewhere outside.
John turned his attention back to the bundle. Whatever was inside was rigid yet light. Possibly some kind of bone with a particularly odd deformation, or a stone with the image of a plant or shell embedded in it. Sherlock often brought back little oddities like that from his ramblings through the countryside, full of theories as to where they came from or what they might be, but he didn't usually wrap them up with such care, and he definitely never acted so secretive and shy about them.
John folded back one corner of the skin, holding his breath in case it turned out to have a foul smell and ready to spring back if it were alive and aggressive (he had had a bad experience with a crab once). It was neither. Lying on the pale leather was a knife. Formed of a single piece of black rock, it glinted and sparkled in the low light of the fire. The handle was smooth and rounded, and the blade had been painstakingly honed to a hair's-breadth edge. It obviously represented the work of several weeks. John ran a callused finger along the surface. It was warm and slippery, as if it had been oiled, yet his finger came away dry.
"Go on, pick it up," Sherlock said impatiently.
John wrapped his fingers around the handle. The knife immediately felt like an extension of his hand. He touched the blade to his tongue and felt the instant sting of its sharpness. A knife like this was made for precision work. It was without a doubt the finest knife John had ever seen, much less had in his hand.
"It's beautiful," John said and laid it back on the piece of skin. "What's it made of? How did you get it so polished?"
"It's a special kind of rock, you don't find it around here. The man who traded it to me called it obsidian. It's not particularly hard, but it can be worked into an extremely fine edge, as you can see."
John frowned. "You traded for it? When? We haven't seen anyone with goods to trade since the last gathering. Or did you come across someone while you were out prowling?"
"No!" Sherlock scowled. "As you say, I traded for it at the last gathering."
"But that was three moons ago," John exclaimed. "Why are you only taking it out now?"
"Do you like it?" Sherlock asked instead, ignoring the question.
"Yes, it's gorgeous." John laid the knife back onto its wrapping and tried to hand it back to Sherlock. "It'll be perfect for your dissections." Sherlock took apart absolutely everything he could get his hands on, be it animal, vegetable, or mineral. The time they'd come across a half-eaten corpse had been rather instructive. (Sherlock had deduced the man had got his foot caught in a small landslide and starved to death before being beset by wild animals, so at least there was that small comfort. And John had to admit seeing what was left of the man's insides neatly exposed and picked apart by Sherlock had been pretty interesting.)
Sherlock shoved the knife back at John. "It's for you," he said, rather gruffly.
"What- Sherlock, no, this is too fine for me!" John protested. "I'm fine with my flint blade. You'll make much better use of it, and you must have traded quite a lot for it!" In fact, John couldn't think of anything Sherlock might have possessed that would be equal in value to the obsidian knife.
Sherlock's mouth narrowed into a tight line. "If you don't like it-" he started to say stiffly and reached for it.
John could see then that he'd made a mistake. It was just that Sherlock had never brought back anything specifically for him before. Oh, he often returned with foodstuffs he thought John might fancy - or things he thought might be edible and turned out to be quite the opposite. Curiosities that delighted him and that he wanted John to share in the discovery of. And of course he'd shared all that he kept stored at his hearth from the beginning, from sleeping furs and clothing to medicine and tools. But something like this, something new and extravagant, something that Sherlock could clearly make use of himself - and for him to give it to John, exclusively (although John had the suspicion he might find that Sherlock had 'borrowed' it at some point in the future) - it was meaningful in a way that John suspected he had just vastly underestimated.
John put the hand that wasn't holding the knife over Sherlock's. "No," he said gently, squeezing Sherlock's hand. "No, Sherlock, I love it. I do, really. It's..." He tried to find the words to express what he wanted to say. He wanted to say he didn't need any gift other than Sherlock. He wanted to let him know that every day, every moment with him was a treasure beyond reckoning. He wanted to tell him that he could never expect to return even a fraction of all that Sherlock had given him already. But words like that were hard to say, so he settled for, "I didn't expect to ever own anything so fine, that's all. Thank you." John leaned over and kissed Sherlock gently on the cheek.
Sherlock turned his face to meet John's and caught his lips. They didn't generally kiss beyond a quick peck when it was likely that others would see them. Although they were generally accepted as a couple within their clan now, there were still those who stared openly at any expression of affection between them, and a few who couldn't hide their distaste. The notion of two men as a mated pair had taken quite a long time for John to accept as well, and especially himself as one half of it. The circumstances of how they came to be together were unusual, and at the time it had seemed merely an expedience. John had come upon the clan badly wounded, and would surely have died had Sherlock not taken him as his mate, offering his protection and a share of his resources, to the outrage of most and the amusement of his brother and chief, who had allowed the technicality.
The technicality had necessitated gratitude, gratitude had led to fascination, fascination had become friendship and friendship eventually affection, and John had ended up staying even following his convalescence. It wasn't as if there were anyone waiting for him back where he'd come from, following the bitter attack on his own clan that had left him at death's door. The transition from a partnership of convenience to one of genuine tenderness and its attendant physical expressions had been long and not always smooth, but their path had only served to teach them how precious and beloved they each were to the other. John had lost one mate and child already, and he knew how quickly this could be taken from him as well.
John laid the knife carefully aside, making sure the blade was safely ensconced in the skin. He'd have to make a proper sheath for it. Sherlock's kisses were becoming more heated, and John returned them with equal fervour.
"Come here," John whispered, pulling Sherlock down with him onto the furs he'd already laid out in preparation for sleep.
Sherlock followed readily, pressing the length of his body against John's. John could feel the hardness inside Sherlock's breeches against his hip, and his own member stirred in response. Sherlock was nearly always quicker to arousal than John, as he was quicker in everything else too. John enjoyed a more leisurely pace, prolonging not only their pleasure but the rare time when he was the sole focus of Sherlock's powerful personality. He therefore deliberately kept his hands above Sherlock's hips, although he did push off Sherlock's fur cape and helped him out of his leather tunic.
Sherlock's skin beneath his fingers was already damp and hot, and John could taste salt between them as their mouths slid and sucked and explored each other. Sherlock meanwhile, impatient, reached inside the soft leather loin sling John had already stripped down to before Sherlock joined him, fondling and kneading him with fingers that were now long practised. John's spirit essence gathered inside him, swelling his cock until it was prepared to spill out and mingle with another.
There had been a time when John wondered whether his and Sherlock's spirits would ever join to create a new life, the way his had with Mary. Molly, the clan's midwife, had laughed when he'd stumblingly broached the subject with her one day, but he'd never known two men who mingled their essences before, so it seemed a reasonable question to him. Sherlock hadn't laughed, but he agreed there must be something different about the female essence that enabled it to combine with the male, and that pleasurable as their mingling was, it was unlikely to ever lead to one of them carrying a child in their belly. Which was probably a good thing, given that John had been mostly worried about where it would come out.
Sherlock's hand was now working John quite thoroughly, a thin film of slick wetness lubricating his strokes. John reached down to press his palm against Sherlock's groin and found it heavy and hot, even through the clothing still covering his lower body. John dragged his nails over the animal skin, causing Sherlock to gasp and buck and stutter in his own ministrations on John.
"Come on, get these off," John said in a low voice, tugging at the breeches.
Sherlock lifted himself up enough to work the hide down over his hips. The sling he wore to contain and protect his own genitals was bulging and when John pulled the one end out of the strap around his waist, he groaned in relief. John folded the leather down out of the way so he could wrap his hand fully around Sherlock. The days when this had seemed odd or awkward were long forgotten. Sherlock's hot, hard flesh in his palm, the smooth, spongy head now moist with the precursor of Sherlock's own essence, Sherlock's scent in his nostrils, his deep voice rumbling his pleasure in John's ear - it all made John's chest pound with the rhythm of devotion and throat ache with the knowledge that that devotion was returned.
John kept his strokes light yet steady, slowing when Sherlock's breaths became heavy and then speeding up again when Sherlock whined his protest. As for John, Sherlock knew just what to do to keep him floating on a plateau of sensation that buzzed and tickled in a perfect balance of tension and anticipation. There was nothing but John and Sherlock; all the other sleeping, breathing, whispering, crying, copulating people around them had ceased to exist. Their world was their hearth, their only thoughts for each other.
Finally, Sherlock's patience was exhausted and he put his hand over John's and tugged at his own cock with both their hands, fast and insistent. "Now, please, I need it," he begged, pressing his forehead into John's shoulder and his knees into John's leg.
"Okay, it's okay, I've got you, that's it," John assured and coaxed. He took over once again, his hand on Sherlock now flying firmly up and down his shaft. He wrapped his other arm around Sherlock's back and held him, mumbling encouragements and praise until Sherlock tensed and grunted into John's neck, his spirit's essence splashing warm and thick onto John's side.
Sherlock sucked a kiss into John's skin under his jaw as he groped for John's still rampant cock. If they really wanted to draw it out, John could have kept it up under Sherlock's lazy post-coital caresses until Sherlock was ready to go again. But right now, he felt as if everything - his memories of how they came to be where they were now, Sherlock's extraordinary gesture, the knife itself - as if all of that were coiling inside him, welling up, and it was either going to come out through his eyes or his cock. So he put his own hand on himself along with Sherlock's, and they rubbed him together, aided by the slippery remnants of Sherlock's emission. He needed it harder and faster than Sherlock could provide at the moment, sated and drained as he was, but they had a solution borne of experience for this too.
Sherlock put his finger in his mouth and brought it away with a trail of spit. John spread his legs further and shifted his hips up. "Oh fuck yes, Sherlock, two, give me two," he said, his arousal now urgent, demanding fulfillment and rising even further at the sight of Sherlock returning his hand to his mouth, his lips stretched and plump around his first two fingers. He pumped them in and out a few times before releasing them, dripping, to bring them down between John's legs.
John whimpered and bit his lip as Sherlock pressed into him, twisting his hand to break past the initial clench of John's entrance. The stretch was welcome, and John sighed with it, but John needed more. He needed Sherlock to touch him where no one else had, to do to him what no one else could. Sherlock sat up a bit so he could spit down onto the spot where his fingers were breaching John, adding more lubrication. He missed slightly in the semi-darkness, and his saliva landed first on John's testicles before oozing down where it was needed. Sherlock slowly worked his fingers in, turning and retreating only to push a bit further in the next time.
John was now working frantically at his cock even as he shifted his hips to help Sherlock find that elusive spot that would complete him. His chest and balls were tight and his arm was cramping with the effort of keeping up the pace on himself, especially after having just done the same service on Sherlock. Sherlock pressed himself even closer to John, if that were possible, his legs twined around John's and his face firmly ensconced in the crook of John's neck, where he was whispering something against John's skin that he couldn't understand. And then something inside John sparked as Sherlock's probing fingers honed in on their target.
John jerked and gasped, "There, yes, again," and Sherlock obliged, teasing and brushing with just the right pressure while his knuckles continued to stimulate the sensitive tissue around his hole. John felt the surge building, the pleasant tickle long gone over into a tingle that was now drawing inward, concentrating in his belly, in his arse, in his balls, taking him over and then, with one last push of Sherlock's fingers in that secret place, he spilled over his fingers, all the way up to his chest, punching the air of out of him and leaving him even more full of Sherlock than he was before. It might yet come out his eyes. He squeezed them shut hard and clutched Sherlock's body against his.
It was many minutes later when they'd used their loin slings to wipe off what they could that they arranged themselves under the sleeping fur they shared, back-to-front and with their hands intertwined.
"You know, I think it's almost a full turn of the seasons since I came," John realised. It had been a day not unlike today, in fact, sometime between the hot season and the snow, when the rabbits were still plump but starting to fill in their cold-weather coats.
"Exactly a full turn," Sherlock corrected him.
"Really? I remember it being colder." His first memories of the clan seemed inextricably entwined with shivers and chills.
"You were sick with fever and half delirious. Of course it seemed cold."
John sighed and hugged Sherlock a bit closer. "You're probably right."
"I am. It was precisely at the half point between the solstices." John knew that Sherlock had some sort of internal system to keep track of individual days. It wasn't important for the rest of the clan; they only needed to remember the general patterns of the migrations of the animals they relied on for food, and the order of the seasons so that they were prepared for the next one. But thanks to Sherlock, they were always the first clan to arrive at the annual gathering of all the clans that took place around the time of the high solstice. That was advantageous, as it gave them the pick of the best site to set up camp.
"And that's today?" John asked, surprised and pleased at the coincidence. It didn't really mean anything, of course, but it was somehow comforting to know that he and Sherlock were part of the seasons now.
Sherlock hummed his agreement, but there was something more behind the sound. A smugness.
All of a sudden, John realised: "Is that what... the knife. That was because of today."
Sherlock shrugged in his arms. "I simply thought you might like it."
"I didn't get you anything," John said, now dismayed. Exchanging gifts between mates was only traditional on the day of their promise, but they hadn't given each other anything then either, circumstances having been what they were. The knife was now, in John's mind, a gift of promise, and he felt, as in most things related to Sherlock, that he was now lacking.
"You've already given me everything," Sherlock assured him, and even though John knew Sherlock believed that - as surely as John felt the same about Sherlock - he was now determined to find some token to express that belief. By the time the next turn of the seasons had passed, he vowed.