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Northwest Passage

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Friday, October 19

Afternoon sunlight bathed the office with a dull gold hue. Outside, pools of shadow darkened the carefully tended lawn as broken clouds passed before the sun. It was five minutes past four, and Mycroft Holmes had put the British government on hold to take this very unwelcome, unwanted trip to the countryside.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Holmes. There’s no one else available here to take charge of your brother’s care,” Director Kullek said apologetically. He smoothed back thinning grey hair and fussed with his glasses, his weak smile never disappearing fully.

Normally, he was the embodiment of serene confidence, a man tailor-made to engender trust and a calm surety that anyone given into his care, no matter how troubled or ill, would be helped. His photograph had adorned clinic pamphlets and investment brochures since he’d taken over the board. Now, though, his expression was tight and nervous, not fearful but desperate. At once, Mycroft realized that there was no threat that he could bring to bear with sufficient force to change the director’s mind.

“And what happened to Dr. Barnard?” Mycroft asked smoothly, not hiding the steel under his polite tone of voice.

“He, ah... he’s in hospital, Mr. Holmes. Um.” The glasses came off, twisted between pudgy fingers. “Suicide watch, actually.”

Mycroft closed his eyes a moment too long to qualify as a blink. “Surely it wasn’t overwork,” he said flatly. “I was given to understand my brother was his only patient.”

“No, sir. I mean, yes. Yes, he is. Was.” Director Kullek bared his teeth again and shoved the glasses back into place, smudging one lens with his thumb. He huffed anxiously and pulled them off, turning his attention to rooting through his desk drawers. “Your brother’s treatment is technically complete, at least physiologically. Now it’s just a matter of, um, controlling the addiction. There are fine therapists —”

“Yes. As Dr. Barnard was a ‘fine therapist’,” Mycroft interrupted sharply. He pressed his fingertips together and gave another slow, thoughtful blink. Really, he wasn’t surprised. This was Sherlock’s third run through rehab, and there was no evidence to point to any more of a success than the first two attempts.

Sherlock was racing towards a future that was nothing more than a blank wall, a spectacular crash and fireball, no survivors, and all the resources Mycroft had at his disposal had so far proved inadequate to the task of showing his brilliant, self-destructive brother that there was life beyond thirty. The worst part was that Mycroft understood. He knew what it was like to be trapped, overwhelmed, drowning in the sensory input, thoughts outpacing the world around him. But where Mycroft had channeled his energy into building his powerbase, Sherlock had floundered, never latching onto anything but his violin and a morbid interest in crime and death.

And then, he’d found drugs.

Mycroft had once asked Sherlock why he would risk destroying himself for artificial bliss. “You said you and I think faster than light,” he’d explained in a casual, languid drawl. His eyes had been closed but moving rapidly behind the thin white lids, tracking the sensory overload brought on by the cocaine. “That’s what this is, Mycroft. I can be my thoughts. Try it yourself. You’ll understand.”

God help him, it had been tempting, but he’d resisted. Dragged Sherlock to yet another hospital. Sat with him through the nausea and paranoia and threats. Stayed with him through the shattering, when Sherlock’s threats had turned to pleading and tears.

They’d come full circle again, though, and it was up to Mycroft to find a way to break Sherlock free. He could sign Sherlock out and bring him back home, but Sherlock would just run off again, back to London and his nightclubs and his dealers, or he could leave Sherlock here to terrorize the staff. Neither was an appealing option for anyone — least of all, Sherlock.

“Mr. Holmes... There is an excellent facility in Switzerland,” Director Kullek hinted, going so far as to slide a glossy brochure across the desk. He’d had it ready in the drawer from which he’d taken the cloth he’d used to polish his glasses.

Mycroft hid a sigh. He had no reason to believe that a change of country would have any more success for his brother’s recovery. It would take something far more radical to keep Sherlock off the path of self-destruction.

He put a hand on the brochure, prepared to push it back, to snap at the director and demand that he stop trying to pass off the responsibility and think of something, no matter how unconventional. And then he froze as he stopped thinking in terms of rehabilitation centres and sobriety and started thinking like... well, like himself. Unconventional solutions were often the only real solutions at hand, and he was expert at manufacturing them when necessary.

Sherlock had turned to drugs out of boredom. Rehab was boring. So he turned his brilliance and willpower to the only available amusement: crushing the staff. None of them had the strength of character to withstand the force of Sherlock’s personality. In fact, other than Mycroft himself, there was only one person he knew who might have the required resilience and strength of character to survive Sherlock at his worst.




The grey and blue Kitfox Model IV made a slow dive towards the thin runway edged with autumn-gold grass. Only as the ultra-light aircraft banked and came around to proper alignment did the gravel strip become visible, barely a hundred feet wide and dotted with weeds that disappeared only near the double-wide trailer that served as an airport. Standing on the back porch of the airport, John Watson shaded his eyes with one hand and watched his plane touch down and brake. The prop slowed as the plane taxied to an almost perfect stop off to the side of the building.

He picked up his frame pack and rifle and headed for the plane, followed by Chuck from Fairlake’s Grocery and Feed. The boy was carrying a sack of feed almost as big as he was. The feed was for John’s nearest neighbor, Molly Hooper, to be bartered for a share of eggs from her henhouse. Molly lived thirteen kilometers downriver from John, who exchanged visits with her once every two weeks in good weather.

“Looks good,” Mark shouted over the sound of the Kitfox’s engine. He hopped down out of the pilot’s seat and said, “I’ll take care of the paperwork to update your registration. You can pick it up when you come back for your mail.”

“Thanks, Mark.” John passed him a fifty, hidden by a quick handshake. The stringent requirements for ultra-light aircraft tended to be only lightly enforced this far out in the middle of nowhere, which was how the residents liked it.

“Think you’ll make it back before winter really sets in?”

John shrugged, keeping an eye on Chuck as he loaded the feed into the little cargo compartment behind the seats. “Might. If satellite cooperates, I’ll send you an email.”

“If not, see you next spring. You take care of yourself.”

John smiled briefly. “You, too. Fuel up for me?”

“Got it,” Mark agreed, and went to the fuel pump, leaving John to tip Chuck and secure the pack in the passenger seat. A day in town was about as much civilisation as John could tolerate. Now, all he wanted was to get back home.

Mark refuelled the ultra-light aircraft, charged the cost to John’s card, and waved him off to the runway. He owned and ran the airport, acting as air traffic control, customs, and chief engineer. When John had inherited his cabin, he’d introduced himself to Mark with a gift of choice venison cuts and two days’ help patching up the airport roof. In return, Mark didn’t give John any shit and took care of John’s paperwork.

In ten minutes, he was up in the sky, not entirely comfortable with the light, home-built frame that would do nothing to protect him in a crash. He’d never meant to be a pilot, but he’d never meant to be a lot of things. At his age, he was supposed to be in Toronto at a teaching hospital, or perhaps practicing in the States and getting rich off fat insurance companies, or maybe dead in the desert. Not living in the backwoods of Canada in a place so remote that he needed a plane or snowmobile to reach the nearest grocery store.

The radio crackled to life, startling him. “Charlie-India-One-Seven-Three, this is Fairlake tower, over,” Mark said.

Baffled, John toggled on the mic and answered, “Fairlake, this is Charlie-India-One-Seven-Three. What’s up, Mark?”

“Can you swing back ’round? Just got a message for you.”

“Seriously?” John glanced out at the ridge of pine trees that hid the blue ribbon that was his highway home, upriver of Fairlake. The only thing he could imagine was that the army needed to get hold of him — possibly some issue with his disability payments — but that sort of thing could be handled through the mail. “What the hell?”

“Uh, says to tell you it’s Python?” Mark said uncertainly.

John’s hands clenched on the controls. His mouth went dry as he heard the radio crackle with static before a posh British voice promised the impossible: Rescue. Survival.

Numbly, John said, “Charlie-Seven-Three turning back to the runway. Request clearance for priority landing.”

“Fairlake tower acknowledges, Charlie-Seven-Three. You are cleared to land. Drive safe, John.”

Taking deep breaths, John keyed off the mic and eased the Kitfox around, circling wide and studying the brilliant, endless blue sky, so pale and different than the sky in his nightmares. Only when his hands were rock-steady did he turn fully and begin his descent back to Fairlake Airport.