Words are loaded pistols.
- Jean Paul Sartre
For all that the great Sherlock Holmes claimed that he saw and knew everything, John was certain he often missed out several salient points. He couldn’t blame the man - mutant gene or not, he was only human. Just because Sherlock saw, deduced and therefore knew a lot more than the average person (or just about every person John knew), it hardly meant that he saw everything entirely.
Two days had passed following the successful close of what had been their first case, and something about the way it almost seemed too easy made alarm bells at the back of John’s mind ring. He couldn’t put a finger on it - everything seemed a little too neat, a little too cut-and-dried (or as cut-and-dried as serial murders could be, anyway) for it to be decisively over. Cynically, he mused if he was looking for trouble where there was none.
Still. All four victims had been Mutants, but none of them had appeared to use their powers to defend themselves in any capacity. To the Institute’s knowledge, Jefferson Hope had been an ordinary human - surely at least one of his Mutant victims would have tried to take advantage of Hope’s handicap? John wondered what Sherlock thought about this. He was sure that the detective had mulled over this himself, but his partner was not the most sharing of people.
It didn’t help that Sherlock was being especially tight-lipped about what had transpired between Hope and him in the Roland-Kerr Further Education College. “Oh, we conversed and arrived at a mutual understanding,” he would say, brushing off any further queries into the matter. The empath was infuriating and wholly perplexing.
John wandered around his room, alternating between flexing the fingers on his left hand and rolling his shoulder. Even since he had been wounded in the war, any split-second transmutation that he initiated in his left hand left it tingling and occasionally aching long after. His physiotherapist had recommended consistent small transmutations to ease his body back into the pattern of transformation.
He sighed, a long and hard exhale that emptied his lungs, and ran a frustrated hand through his hair. Sitting down at the foot of the double bed, he held his left hand out before him, studying the lines and ridges of the worn limb. He noted the calloused digits, the dry palm, the tired back. Glancing at the cup of coffee he had abandoned on the desk several hours ago, he abruptly decided to fuck it all. He had to practice, so why not?
Slowly, painfully, and agonizingly, his left hand transmuted into the smooth cylinder of a cup, bones and flesh shifting and rearranging at his will. When complete, he studied the cup for flaws. Tapping it several times, the resounding tink he got in response was satisfactory. The cup his hand had transmuted into was a pale ivory; comprised of what was previously the bones of his left hand. He could have formed a glass-bone hybrid cup, but that would have required him to actually stand and root around for an object made of glass - the concept of equivalent exchange and all that - and he was too lazy to move from his spot on the bed. That being said, he rarely transmuted objects out of pure bone - the material chipped easily and was surprisingly brittle. He preferred to work with steel, or titanium if he could get it.
Jefferson Hope and his four victims weighed heavily on his mind. Mind you, he wasn’t sad over Hope’s death, God no, but the four mutant victims...what a waste. An utter, fucking waste. It had nothing to do with the fact that Hope was an ordinary human; even if he had been a mutant, John wouldn’t have given a damn that a killer died. The loss of four innocent lives grated.
Afghanistan had taught him that his powers could be used for good, for a nobler purpose that was larger than himself. It had shown him that human life was a fragile, fickle thing - that men lived and died at the errant whims of chance and luck. For every man he had managed to save, five more died because he couldn’t get to them in time, couldn’t get the necessary supplies, couldn’t do enough. There was enough death in the world without murderers like Jefferson Hope adding to the tally.
He shifted the cup back into the shape of his hand, flexing and curling his fingers as the ache that came with rearranging bones set in. He stood up, moved to the window, and stared out onto the rolling lawns that surrounded the Xavier Institute on all four sides. Students frolicked and mingled on the parts closer to the towering estate, and in the distance, John could make out a gargantuan satellite dish - the site of the famous Cerebro.
He wondered what his life would have been like if he hadn’t stumbled upon Mike nearly three weeks ago. Dull. Meaningless. Useless. Even if John wasn’t half as brilliant as Sherlock, here he could still make a difference. He found himself considering how Sherlock would react if he revealed his power to him. Revolted was a possibility, but from what he knew of the empath, it was more likely that he’d be fascinated and primed to dissect him and study his biological make-up. John was keen on neither.
He loved his power; he really did. It was useful. Practical. Handy. Hell, with it John had saved lives - when scalpels or medical equipment couldn’t get to his patients fast enough on the treacherous battlefield, he had transmuted his hands into whatever tool he required at the time. But just because it was a nifty power didn’t mean it was appreciated. The transmutation process was rather disturbing to watch, John conceded in all honesty. When he had first transmuted in the Army, his unit had been horrified and had given him a wide berth until he shifted his hand into an AK-47 during an ambush a month later and saved all of their arses.
It was easy for people to say they were fine with his power. The word itself - transmutation - hardly sounded as creepy or disgusting as the actual thing, as he had been told by more than one horrified soul, some of which had even been Mutants themselves. His parents had tried to understand, had tried their best to love and care for the young mutant boy who transmuted and contorted and shifted into all sorts of forms that were beyond human. They tried their best, and John would always be thankful to them for that, even if the quiet, late-night arguments and rows over whose fault it was that a normal, ordinary family like the Watsons could produce such a freak for a child were a lot less quiet than his parents thought.
“Your maudlin thoughts have the most annoying effect,” came Sherlock from behind him. “I cut myself by accident because your emotions nearly knocked me off my feet.”
John startled, sending up a quick word of thanks that he had the mind to transmute his hand back to its original form earlier. “Oh,” he sputtered out. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realise they were that strong.”
Sherlock waved a dismissive hand, plopping himself down onto the bed even as he continued to contemplate John with his quicksilver eyes. “No matter. I used the blood from the wound to test the efficiency of the new autoclave.”
“How did you manage to feel my emotions when you were all the way in the basement, anyway?” John wondered, mind floundering at the thought of the sheer power that Sherlock must possess to have that sort of range.
“Class Five on the Mactaggert Scale,” was the blasé response.
John gaped. “Class Five? God, Sherlock, do you know how rare that is? There are, oh, slightly over a hundred worldwide. How can you be so - so unaffected about it?”
Sherlock rolled his eyes. “Whether I’m blasé or squealing like a schoolgirl over a power I was born with doesn’t change anything. I don’t see the need for useless displays.” He steepled his fingers under his chin and tipped his head back against the pillows. “But all of that isn’t the point.”
John seated himself on the chair at the desk, resigning himself to being subjected to another of Sherlock’s lengthy rants. “You, John," he continued. "I’m here to talk about you.”
Something about the way Sherlock phrased the sentence made the hairs on the nape of John’s neck rise in trepidation. “Me? Sherlock, you can’t be that bored. I’m sure Lestrade will give you a case if you bother him enough.”
“You’re trying to avoid this conversation with me. You’re feeling anxious, agitated and slightly worried, with a little curiosity thrown in. Clearly, you have an inkling of what the topic might be. You’re correct.”
“What, you’re here to discuss last night’s game?” John’s attempt at humour fell flat.
Piercing grey eyes snapped open. “Don’t be deliberately obtuse, John. It doesn’t suit you.”
“Come on, Sherlock, I really -” he was cut off by an impatient snort.
“You intentionally sidestepped Molly’s question about your powers three days ago. The section in your file where you were supposed to list your abilities was left blank. You chose to shoot Hope with a gun rather than use your powers.”
Sherlock sat up, gaze intently focused on John. “Your power is something you’re not proud of. Likely, you’ve been at the receiving end of numerous slurs and insults because of it, but more so than the typical Mutant; everyone here has encountered bigoted ordinary folk before. So no, your power is something one step further. Physical, then. Something visually repulsive to the ordinary person, or you wouldn’t have been shunned quite so much. Yet beyond the bullet scar on your left shoulder and various smaller ones from the expected injuries one can expect to suffer as a soldier - shrapnel cuts and the like - there are no physical malformations or deformities on your person.”
John gaped. “How do you even know whether I have -”
“We share a bathroom. Small enclosed spaces carry lingering traces of emotions and fleeting thoughts for longer periods. It’s hardly my fault that you feel and think so loudly that the walls practically reverberate with it. Anyway, I pulled your file, remember?”
Exhaling loudly, John attempted to reign in his anger with his partner. They were only three days (he discounted the two-week disappearing act of Sherlock’s) into their partnership, and it wouldn’t do for him to murder his partner yet. Too agitated to sit for any longer, he stood.
“Sherlock,” he bit out through gritted teeth. “There’s this thing - you may have heard of it - it’s called privacy. Generally, it’s considered polite to give your partner some of that.”
The Mutant in question looked genuinely perplexed, expression almost as if to say, is that really how ordinary, normal, boring brains work?
“Privacy? John, who needs privacy? Privacy’s boring. Politeness is boring. Social norms are boring. And if you were truly upset, you’d have punched me instead of merely admonishing my apparent faux pas. So really, I don’t see what the problem is here. You’re clearly overreacting.”
Sherlock ploughed on. “In any case, you’ve attempted to neatly sidestep my original line of questioning again.” He dismissed John’s fumble for an appropriate response with a quick jerk of his head. “No, no, I don’t need you to verify any of the statements I made about your power earlier. I know I’m right. Your facial expressions, body language and emotions are revealing enough.”
“I’m not going to tell you -”
The detective looked positively horrified at this. “Of course you’re not going to tell me what your power is. That’d defeat the whole point of the game, wouldn’t it? That would be boring. I just needed to read your baseline responses to my deductions.” He sighed, noting John’s clenched jaw and tightened fists. “You’re going to continue being overdramatic about this, aren’t you.”
Standing, he drew his coat around him. “Save your sulking for later, will you? In five seconds, Lestrade’s going to walk through the door with a new case, and it would be terribly inconvenient if you persisted in your hissy fit.”
John didn’t have time to formulate a reply. Sherlock, damned bastard that he was, was right as usual. Lestrade strode through the double doors framing the bedroom, carrying two thick binders in hand. The Supervisor took one look at Sherlock’s insouciant gaze and nonchalant stance, turned to glance at John’s livid expression and balled fists, and sighed as he pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly.
“So, John,” Lestrade began. “When would you like to transfer out? I must say I’m not surprised - I’m actually glad you’ve managed to last this long. One case is better than none. You’ve been a great help to us by keeping Sherlock in line for a bit.”
Sherlock’s gaze sharpened as he darted a look at John. “He’s not -” He quietened at John’s glare.
“What do you mean? I’m not planning to transfer,” John picked up. “Just because Sherlock’s being a prick doesn’t mean I’m going to hightail it out of here.” He sent Sherlock an indecipherable look. “We’re not finished - not by a long shot.”
Agitation. Anger. Excitement. Thrill. Faint arousal. Sherlock could feel them all; all of John’s roiling, curling emotions that wafted out, thick and heady like the finest aged wine. It was intoxicating.
Lestrade let out a low whistle of admiration. “You’re a very brave man, John Watson. I wish you all the luck in the world.” Giving Sherlock a brief once-over, he turned back to John. “You’ll be needing it.” Crisis temporarily averted for him, Lestrade walked over to both of them, handing them the binders.
“The complete analysis of the bodies of the four victims from the previous case have come in. The poison was found to be harmless to ordinary humans. It only acts on the X-gene that all mutants possess, effectively destroying it and killing our victims in the process. Because we don’t know where it came from or who manufactured it, we can’t tell if it’s a prototype of some sort by a company or a home-made drug. The governments of both Britain and America appear not to have any knowledge of the possibility of such a poison existing, but I wouldn’t put too much faith in what they say. As it is, they’d be more than happy to get rid of us if they could.”
Lestrade settled onto the chair at the desk. “Sherlock, John - I don’t have to tell you how important it is that you find out who is doing this. We can’t risk something like this going public. Tensions between our two groups are at the tipping point right now, and a drug that is only fatal to Mutants is going to put the icing on the cake for a lot of people in the anti-Mutant camp. We’ve had word that the Al-Qaeda, Russian mafiya, Japanese yakuza and Chinese triads are looking into developing their own formula for a poison like that. If they get wind that it already exists, they will stop at nothing to get their hands on it. And if an ordinary cabbie had access to it, what more of the organised crime units of the world?” He exhaled loudly.
He turned to Sherlock, gaze solemn. “Look, Sherlock, I know you’re not one to be motivated by how much good a case can bring, but this? This is not just about a noble cause, or some higher moral bullshit. This is life or death for us. All of us. Lord knows governments have been clamping down harder and harder on our community these few years. This drug will only give them further impetus to wipe us all out, or to refine it such that they can suppress and control us like damned puppets to send into fucking wars. Magneto and his gang are roaring to declare all-out war against humans, and news of this will provide them with a fresh wave of supporters.”
John flipped through his file, medical eyes scanning through the jargon to pick out the salient points before nodding decisively. “We’ll take the case.”
“Will we?” Sherlock’s left brow arched, expression haughty and imperious. “I wasn’t aware that you made decisions for us now.”
“Don’t be such a child, Sherlock. Think of someone else other than yourself for a change, will you? Mutants will die if we don’t do this. So you can go screw yourself if you don’t want to help.” Turning to Lestrade, he nodded again. “I’m in. For what it’s worth, you have my help.”
Grey eyes clashed with cinder-brown ones, weighing and measuring. Sherlock leaned in, invading John’s personal space. “I’d like to see you try and fail without me.”
“Oh, no, no - that’s not how we’re going to play this.” John shoved Sherlock back hard, with enough force that the taller Mutant had to fall back a step. “You like a challenge, don’t you, Sherlock?”
John’s smile was flinty and cutting. “The duration of the case. That’s how long you have to figure out my power before I tell you and ruin all your fun. If you manage to crack it, I’m at your beck and call for a whole month. Tea, phone, texting, whatever - I’ll do them all without complaint. I’ll let you examine and study my power to your heart’s content. But if you can’t?”
He shot a glance at Lestrade, who was watching with bemused interest. “If you can’t, then you’ll accept any and all cases thrown at you for three months following the close of this case.”
Lestrade glanced down at his wrist as inky words began to swirl and form. Grimacing, he interrupted them. “Gentlemen, I’ll leave you to settle this little, ah, dispute among yourselves. Report back to me at fourteen-hundred hours.” He wandered out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
“Oh, John,” Sherlock said, voice silky and low, magnified with their proximity. “So stupid and foolish and noble.” He placed a hand on John’s chest, smirking at the way the heartbeat beneath his fingers sped up. He lowered his head, close to John’s ear. “You’re aroused, you know. I can feel it. It’s so...strong.” His hand wandered lower, ghosting across the hard plane of John’s abdomen. “Have you thought about what I’m going to make you do during that entire month when you’re my slave? What I’m going to do to you?”
John’s breath hitched. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Sherlock was one smooth and devious bastard. For all he failed to understand about emotions, no one manipulated it better than a tactile empath. Fuck. He should have known what he was getting himself into when he started this little dance of theirs.
Sherlock’s hand slipped lower, dangerously lower. “Of course you have. Because you know, don’t you? It’s only a matter of time. I’m going to win.” A nip to John’s earlobe had him biting back a gasp. Sherlock’s smirk widened. “I always win.”
John arrested Sherlock’s hand at the cuff just as it reached his belt buckle. “Well then,” he managed to get out through his gritted teeth. “What was it that you said before?” He nudged the glove Sherlock was wearing on his hand up an inch, enough to expose the fragile skin on the underside of his wrist.
He stroked a thumb against the pale skin, felt Sherlock shudder and gasp. Touching a tactile empath was an overwhelming experience for them, John knew. He viciously delighted in it, revelling in the knowledge that he was the one who could make the great Sherlock Holmes tremble and unravel.
Bringing Sherlock’s hand up, he pressed a fleeting kiss to the skin on his wrist before dropping the limb.
"You and I," he breathed. “The game is on.”