Pairing(s)/Character(s): John, Sherlock
Summary: Sherlock thinks either he or the entire world has to change (and it’s not going to be him). John decides he’s going to try and change both.
Part of the Affection-verse, though this can be read as a stand-alone. Not S2-compliant.
The first test of a truly great man is his humility. By humility I don’t mean doubt of his powers or hesitation in speaking his opinion, but merely an understanding of the relationship of what he can say and what he can do. – John Ruskin
“I have a question,” Sherlock announces.
John stares at his laptop screen. The sentence he’d been attempting to construct has just vanished into the ether. Sherlock having questions is nothing new. Sherlock is insatiably curious about everything. But Sherlock asking John anything – that’s new. That’s new, and very odd.
Well, unless he’s just setting John up to be insulted for his lack of intelligence again. Entirely likely.
“John,” Sherlock says impatiently. “Are you paying attention? I have a question.”
“All right,” John says, giving up. “What is it, then? How long before a severed finger can be re-attached?”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Sherlock says. “That’s obviously dependent on the conditions under which it was severed and preserved. Why do people say I’m arrogant?”
John pushes his laptop away very slowly. Surely he’s not old enough for his hearing to be going. “What?”
“Why do people say I’m arrogant,” Sherlock repeats. “I don’t think I am. Why do they say I am?”
“I –” John’s quite lost for words. How on earth is he meant to respond to that?
Sherlock studies him for a moment, then sighs. “Yes, I know why they don’t like me,” he clarifies. “I’m perfectly aware of how cruel I am capable of being.”
“Well,” John says. “So long as you know.”
He needs tea.
“In my defence, I do not instigate these situations,” Sherlock says, trailing in John’s wake. “Unless by accident.”
John makes a noncommittal sound.
“If you’re not going to be of any help, John,” Sherlock says huffily.
“That’s probably why,” John says.
A moment of silence. John stares at the water in the kettle.
“What is?” Sherlock asks.
“Just there, you were about to give up on asking me anything at all,” John says. “Probably go sulk for a while that I wouldn’t answer you. But you made it my fault and insinuated I was useless into the bargain.”
There’s another bit of silence. The water’s surface is perfectly still.
“I didn’t mean that you were altogether useless,” Sherlock says quietly. John doesn’t turn around to look at his expression. “Just that you weren’t going to answer, so you weren’t useful in me getting one.”
John nods. “It’s the way you phrase things, though,” he says. “A lot of the time, you put everyone around you down. You do it on purpose sometimes, but even more often, it’s accidental.” He considers his next words carefully. “I don’t know what others might think of that, but for me, the accidental insults are even worse.”
Still not boiling. That would be too simple, give him too easy an out. “When you’re deliberately being nasty, you don’t usually mean what you say,” John says. The words come in fits and spurts, long pauses between them, stilted in a way conversing with Sherlock shouldn’t be. “Or – no, that’s not right. You phrase it in the worst way possible, but actually you don’t think that poorly of – whoever it is you’re insulting. But the incidental stuff, the stuff that just slips out, that’s exactly what you think, and if it happens to be hurtful, it’s all the more so because I can’t tell myself it’s in any way exaggerated.”
Silence. It’s at his back and in front of him. The water takes on that peculiar stillness that is a prelude to its bubbling over. John takes it off the heat and pours it into his cup. Sherlock disparages his use of teabags, but the convenience is worth it, in John’s opinion.
“Like when I say you’re all – idiots?” Sherlock asks.
“More or less,” John says. “It’s just – you know, we’ve worked hard for what we’ve got. We really are trying our best. And we know you’re smarter than us, but it’s just – difficult when you’re putting us down all the time.”
“That’s all I have, though,” Sherlock says.
John finally takes his eyes off the steeping tea. This time, it’s Sherlock who’s looking away, studying the floor with burning intensity.
“What do you mean?” John asks.
“That’s all I have,” Sherlock repeats. “Intelligence. That’s all. I don’t get people. People don’t like me. I can pretend, for a while, that I’m normal, but something always breaks through, I always get something wrong.”
John thinks about that.
“Bollocks,” he says flatly. “You have plenty more than just intelligence to offer.”
“Oh yes, a decent body,” Sherlock says with an inelegant snort. “I’m not under any illusions, John – I’m attractive to some but I have far too eclectic a mix of features and at any rate, appearance is –”
“First time I saw you, I thought, that’s an odd-looking bloke,” John interrupts. “The next thought was, god, but he’s got gorgeous eyes. Then of course you spoke and I couldn’t figure out how on earth you knew all that about me, and I had to go home and look you up because I was so curious. That still hasn’t gone away, but from ‘odd-looking’ you’ve graduated to ‘bloody gorgeous’ and also severely underappreciated. Also,” he adds as an afterthought. “A bloody great idiot at times.”
He turns and takes the teabag out of his cup. Milk, he needs milk. The teaspoon clicks quietly against ceramic.
“You’re a very peculiar man,” Sherlock says.
“Look who’s talking,” John replies.
“I know how to make connections,” Sherlock says. “I know how to look at things and see where they came from, how to really look at them and understand them. But it never works with people. Not consistently.”
“People have a nasty habit of being unpredictable,” John agrees amiably. The tea is warm and soothing as it goes down his throat. “Especially when you think they’re absolutely predictable.”
Sherlock sighs. “This would be a wonderful example of that,” he says. “I was expecting a simple answer. ‘Sherlock, it is because you are an arrogant sod, and that is all there is to it.’”
John laughs outright at that. He’s feeling a lot more comfortable now than he had been at the beginning of the conversation. “Sherlock, you can be an arrogant sod at times,” John says, “but I don’t believe that half the time, you intend to be.”
“Would you like it if I changed?” Sherlock asks.
John narrowly misses spilling his tea down his front. “Oh. Uh. Well. I.”
“Is that another difficult question?” Sherlock asks.
“A little,” John says. He sits down on his usual armchair. Sherlock drops gracefully to the floor, crossing his legs beneath him and looking perfectly at ease. From this angle, Sherlock’s head is little more than a mass of unruly black curls. It suits him.
“I don’t want you to change because you feel obliged to,” John says. “I’d – I’d like it, of course, if you were a little more careful about what you say. But I don’t want you to feel like you have to tiptoe on eggshells either. I don’t know, I really don’t.”
Sherlock sighs again, more dramatically this time, and leans back on his hands. “That was helpful,” he mutters. Then he tilts his head to the side. “Was that –”
“That was fine,” John says. “You see what I mean? I don’t want you to start second-guessing everything you say. I guess maybe keep comments on our relative lack of intelligence to a minimum. But only if you want to. Insincerity is never nice.”
“Can you tell if a person is being insincere?” Sherlock asks.
“Usually,” John says. “I couldn’t explain it if you asked, but I have a decent sense of when a person’s… not all that nice.” He shakes his head. “Sebastian Wilkes, for one.”
“You didn’t seem to mind him,” Sherlock says.
“I was in the military, Sherlock,” John says. “I’m in the habit of not letting people I dislike know that I dislike them. And Wilkes was going to be paying you, so I didn’t see the point in letting him know.”
“You said we weren’t friends,” Sherlock says petulantly.
John blinks. “What? No, I said we were colleagues.”
“I said we were friends and you corrected me,” Sherlock says.
“Yes, because of where his brain was going,” John says. “Forgive me if I don’t feel like being labelled your fuck-buddy.”
Silence. John reviews what has just come out of his mouth, and winces.
“He thought that?” Sherlock asks tentatively.
“That was the impression I got,” John says. “I could have been wrong, of course. But that was why I said we were colleagues. It was a little annoying having him just dismiss me out of hand.”
“Why on earth would he think you were sleeping with me?” Sherlock asks. John sips at his tea. Sherlock actually looks bewildered. It’s an uncommon look for him, and oddly endearing. “Clearly you’ve got good taste – well, I’m not so sure about Sarah, but –”
“Sarah is a lovely lady,” John says firmly. “Who hit someone over the head for you on your first meeting, and furthermore was not terrified off me after a somewhat disastrous first date.”
Sherlock chortles. “She’s almost you,” he says. “Unassuming to look at, but perfectly willing to inflict bodily damage if necessary.”
“There you go,” John says. “She’s quite wonderful, isn’t she?”
“She’s not all that great,” Sherlock says, but now his voice is teasing. John kicks him in the leg in retaliation. “Ow!”
“Oh, don’t even start. That can’t have hurt,” John says. “Speaking of Sarah, I might be having lunch with her tomorrow, did I tell you?”
“Yes, you mentioned that yesterday,” Sherlock says. “You really do have an ability to stay friends with the people you break up with, don’t you? Even when you break up on unpleasant terms. I must apologise for doubting you when you told me.”
“You’re forgiven,” John says magnanimously. “And don’t think I didn’t notice you changing the subject. Didn’t mean to say that about me having better taste than to go for you?”
Sherlock hums a complicated little tune.
“I’m living with you,” John says. “Which is infinitely more difficult than going out on the occasional date. Or even the occasional tumble in bed. Doesn’t that tell you anything?”
The tune gets a little more cheerful.
“You’re hopeless,” John informs Sherlock.
“So I’ve been told,” Sherlock says. He sounds quite happy about it. John attempts to take another sip of tea, then stares sadly at the empty cup. He needs to buy a bigger cup.
“Arrogance,” Sherlock says. “It’s a matter of my not holding my tongue, then?”
It’s a matter of Sherlock thinking that his intelligence is all he has to offer anyone, John thinks. It’s a matter of Sherlock thinking that’s the sum of his worth, and his need to reassure himself that he’s still smarter than the rest of them, because without that, he’s not worth anything. It’s a matter, probably, of Sherlock having been told he’s nothing without that magnificent brain of his, of people never wanting to help him.
“Close enough,” John says. “We all know you’re intelligent, trust me. We all know you’re capable of accomplishing what you say you can. You just don’t have to put us down in proving that.”
“Am I at least allowed to defend myself?” he asks archly.
“You know, I sort of feel like I’m giving advice to a bullied kid,” John says slowly. “But would you consider not retaliating, just for a while? And perhaps allowing me to speak to any… instigators myself?”
“Are you the adult I’m supposed to tell if I’m being bullied?” Sherlock really does a remarkable impression of a child’s voice. How in hell does he do that, with his voice as deep as it is?
“Someone’s got to be the responsible one,” John replies gravely. “Consider it an experiment, if you like. Just ignore any insults at the next crime scene or two, and let’s see what the response will be.”
“Escalation,” Sherlock says promptly. “It always is.”
John gives him a wolfish grin. He doesn’t say anything. The silence stretches between them comfortably.
Very slowly, Sherlock starts to smile.