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Aptronyms

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Aptronyms

One of the most vivid memories he had from his childhood was of opening a copy of “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Even now he remembered pouring over stories of thieves and crooks, villainy and deceit. He also recalled a lot of service revolver use and trap doors. At the heart of every story there was the sleuth himself, Sherlock Holmes, and his loyal companion John Watson. Sherlock, he remembered reading, was a tall dark haired man with an eagle-eyed gaze and a hawk-like nose. He had a habit of being bitingly sarcastic and generally very witty. Watson, by contrast, was a long suffering but brave and dependable man who balanced his detective friend’s less appealing traits well. And together, he recalled, the pair had solved impossible crimes and gone on amazing adventures.

He had hated every single page of those books and the reason was readily understandable. It was, after all, somewhat unnerving at the age of seven to read that he was, apparently, a master of disguise, of the martial arts and of identifying soil types. It was very alarming to read how he fell down a waterfall in Switzerland and that he had an arch-enemy. People surely didn’t have arch-enemies.

And so at age seven, Sherlock Holmes came fully to appreciate how big a pair of prats his parents were for naming him after a fictional detective.

*

John Watson was a long suffering man by middle age. It was hard not to be in the circumstances, having by this point in his life come to accept the different reactions his name had in people.

There were two standard responses . The first was for people to tell him that they loved those stories. Having only endured the one about the big glow-in-the-dark dog he would just give those people a nonplussed but polite smile. The other was to give him a conciliatory smile and mutter something about aptronyms. The sentiment was appreciated but a little worn out by this stage in his life. Indeed, the only memory he didn’t loathe of introducing himself to someone was at a work Christmas party where he had greeted a radiologist he only knew by sight.

“John Watson,” he’d said. The man, in an apparent flood of relief, had stuck out his hand and told him in weary but sympathetic tones that he was Harry Potter. The meeting had humbled John rather.

There was still no getting away from the torment though, not fully. He would relish that memory but it did nothing to stop him recalling that other, dreadful memory from not so long ago. There he had been, the years of stress and of overwork finally paying off as he wore his mortar board in the sunlight outside King’s College, posing for photos with his proud parents and sister. He had basked in their pride and his own triumph as much as he had the sunlight only for the photographer to address him and the words to hit him like a bucket of ice water.

“Dr Watson - just a photo of you by yourself now, if you don’t mind.”

It had sounded every bit as bad as he knew it would. The snigger from someone nearby confirmed it and John had had only two words to say as it had dawned on him that this was the rest of his life.

“Oh, fuck.”

He could have been a plumber. John would lay awake at night and think those words like a bitter mantra.

*

The squirming and wriggling of Mike Stamford had been building throughout the drinking of their catch-up coffee and John was glad when the man eventually exploded with the sentence he’d obviously been dying to say. His mouth twitched with a desperate bid to suppress a giggle as he spoke.

“Look, John, don’t hate me,” the man said and John prepared himself full well to hate him. Still, he was long suffering. He was Dr John Watson and he responded as came naturally with a polite and weary smile of encouragement.

“You said you’re looking for a flatmate, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” John agreed, interesting perking.

“You’re not the first person to tell me that. Remember that when he introduces himself, alright?”

*

The stranger was tall, dark and while perhaps not conventionally handsome he was certainly striking and instantly memorable, all eagled eyed and snappily dressed. His expression, however, when he held out his hand for John to shake in the lab at Bart’s was one of mild despair.

“John Watson I take it? Dr John Watson?”

John’s eyes flew wide.

“How the hell did you know that?” he made to turn to Mike, “Did you text him?”

“He didn’t,” Sherlock sighed, turning back to his experiment, “It’s really quite simple. Nothing else would have reduced Mike Stamford to sobbing with laughter other than introducing his friend Sherlock Holmes to Dr John Watson.”

If possible John’s eyes widened further still. His hand clamped a little tighter on Sherlock’s as they finished shaking.

“I know,” Sherlock grimaced as he regained the seat in front of his microscope, “Your parents had an unfortunate lapse of judgment but mine were genuinely sadistic.”

*

“Aptronym” was actually a term for having rotten luck, John decided. That was the only way he could explain how he had come to share a flat with a Mr Sherlock Holmes. At first he had successfully taken to calling the man Sam Haines but, in a wonderful display of rugger-playing-cockery Mike Stamford had happily begun to announce the truth to anyone and everyone who would listen. Naturally the conversations had soon spiralled into demands to know when they would be buying matching deerstalkers and moving into the Sherlock Holmes Museum since it was surely their rightful home. John honed his calm smile although the twitch of his eye was harder to subdue.

And yet that hadn’t been the only trouble. The rotten luck manifested itself in other ways and while he had not mentioned them to Sherlock he was sure the man was perfectly aware of them too.

There was, of course, the fact that the man dabbled in detective work.

“It’s purely coincidence,” Sherlock had told him, “I have an eye for detail and while I like shirts I hate wearing ties. I had to invent my own career.”

“Or steal one from Arthur Conan Doyle?” John had noted. The detective had pointedly sulked for the rest of the day.

But it wasn’t even just that. It was how their daily lives seemed to constantly intersect with what could only be described as “adventure”. John tried and succeeded in avoiding the description when the pair first stumbled across the body of a woman in an alleyway as they walked home with bags of food shopping. When the next body had been flung from an exploding building to land practically at their feet it had been rather harder to avoid and when at length that severed head had wound up inexplicably in their fridge it had just been plain fucking unfair.

And, to his credit, John had done his best to resist the call of all the damned adventure. He had been long suffering and he had tied his tie and trotted off to work as a locum every morning to be bored out of his mind by the monotony and he had tried not to drift into imagining what interesting possibilities he was missing at Bakers Mews (take that fate). He tried to tell himself he was boring John Watson. He liked to click clicky pens and he enjoyed watching that clip online of the cat falling off the shelf. Best to stay clear of adventure, John, he said firmly to himself.

 

“Could be dangerous” the text had retorted and he’d been arrived back at the flat with a sprint finish.

*

“Serial murderer!” Sherlock said delightedly as he threw his coat on, “It’s like Christmas!”

He spun around to face John and his joy was somewhat dampened by the man’s having wilted into his armchair, a haunted sort of expression on his face.

“What? I said “dangerous” and here you are! You can’t back out now!”

“But-“

Sherlock frowned harder at him.

“But what?”

“We’re going to seem,” John resisted saying the word, burrowing further into the plump cushions of the chair, “We’re going to, you know?”

“What?”

“Seem like,” he cringed, “Fanboys.”

Sherlock joined in the cringing.

“We’re not. It’s coincidence. We’ve agreed about this. Come on, I need you-“

“Said Sherlock Holmes to Doctor Watson as they went off in search of the midget with the wooden leg.”

Sherlock quirked an eyebrow at him and John shrugged his shoulders.

“Oh I don’t know, people always told me I was looking for people with peg legs or who were vertically challenged or both.”

“Well, my dea-“ Sherlock was wise enough to quit while he was ahead, grinning, “Well John, this is far better. Serial murderer, police baffled. I need your help identifying the cause of death, I need a colleague.”

The sigh John took was a slow, cleansing one. He sent a silent prayer to the gods that if by some amazing chance they did help capture the bloke their efforts would go unnoticed by the police or else he would appear in the newspapers as a Professor Joe Watkins.

“Come on,” Sherlock dragged him from the arm chair and he acquiesced, jumping to his feet with a wry smile. They stormed to the doorway and rushed down the stairs. Their landlady (who happened to be a busy body and therefore only resembled a housekeeper) came to give them a quizzical look as they tore along the corridor.

“Sherlock?”

“Not now Mrs Hanson! The game-“

The detective and doctor shot each other tortured looks. John saw Sherlock’s mind whirr as he rephrased. With a clap of his gloved hands the man hit upon a solution and he continued his lengthy stride out of the front door.

“Shit’s going down! Come, John!”