A/N: So I got this idea after I heard the eight millionth person tell me that I could get over my social anxiety by trying harder, and it just kind of went into this from there. I hope it does something to reassure anyone else out there with the same problem. And also, my great thanks to my friend Amber, for being my John and reminding me that no one really cares how well I talk to the waiter. And for occasionally ordering for me. ^-^
John arched his back and stretched, ready to be out of the flat. That was odd, he mused, normally it was Sherlock who went stir-crazy in five seconds fast when they were off of a case, but the detective seemed fine. Then again, they had just wrapped up their most recent debacle and John usually got a day or two before dead things started turning up in the fridge. He turned to the detective, who was stretched out on the couch attempting to find patterns in the ceiling tiles. It was kind of like cloud watching, but he didn't have to go outside.
"Do you want to go out? I'm going to go 'round the bend if I stay inside much longer." Sherlock glanced at him briefly, and then shrugged.
"I don't know, just… out. We could get some food. You're off the case now, so you have no excuse for not eating," John continued sternly. Despite his best efforts, Sherlock still refused to have food when they were working a case, but John wasn't about to let him get away with it while they had some down time. "We could get Chinese, or whatever you want." Sherlock gave him a slight smirk, knowing full well what John's angle was.
"Is that really a request?" John gave him a deadpan look.
"No. Let's put it this way: you're eating. Just decide where, I'll give you that much. And no, I am not backing down, you haven't eaten in two days, so get up and get your shoes on." Sherlock knew that even he couldn't avoid John's resolve when it was brought to bear, so he reluctantly put his shoes on. He didn't want to eat; it wasn't so much that he wasn't hungry (he was, but not very much), it was that he hated placing his order. He didn't know why. He could talk full well (and didn't everyone know it) but the idea of going up to someone and ordering food from them seemed to shut down his vocal cords.
"Let's get Chinese then, if you're going to let me pick." There was a Chinese restaurant on the corner a couple streets away that had a buffet, giving him a convenient excuse to avoid doing any talking. And now that he thought of it, food really might not be such a bad idea. They had no cases coming up, at least not this evening, so he could afford for his digestion to hold him back a little. John looked slightly astonished that he'd won so easily, having been expecting a more drawn out argument, but still, he wasn't about to complain.
"Alright then, we can go to that one that's just a couple streets over. They should still be open." Sherlock breathed an internal sigh of relief; of course, if John had wanted to go to a different restaurant, Sherlock could have simply dug in his heels and insisted, but he was glad he could avoid that.
Sherlock was finally warming up to the idea of eating when they reached the restaurant, but that feeling was quickly stopped dead in its tracks. The restaurant was closed, under repairs. Damn it all, now he'd have to order from someone. John scowled at the sign, not noticing Sherlock's reaction.
"I guess we'll just have to go to a different one, then," he told him. "Ah, well. There's that one that's on the next street, by the record shop. We can go there." Sherlock did not look enthusiastic, and John wondered why all of a sudden he had lost interest in the idea, but shrugged it off. He was not letting this one slide, and that detective was eating, thank you very much. His initial reluctance redoubled now, Sherlock followed John to the next closest restaurant. This one, he knew, was order only and there was no way of getting out of it. Of course, he could always feign having to use the restroom when they got there, but that wouldn't work; he had no way of knowing when the waiter was going to show up, and he couldn't very well spend twenty minutes pretending to take care of business.
There weren't too many customers, which wasn't surprising given that it was a Thursday afternoon. Not exactly high traffic time for most restaurants. The waiter was over to take their orders in a little under ten minutes, and Sherlock could feel a sort of panic setting in at the idea of having to talk to the fellow, which only got worse when it was his go. John ordered before him while he tried to delay the inevitable, and then it was Sherlock's turn. He mercifully managed to stumble through it, but his manner was strained and awkward.
John noticed his difficulty, but it didn't occur to him that it might have bothered Sherlock, having seen him in other social situations where he became aggressive and obstinate when told off for his behavior. Their food got to them in short order, but Sherlock couldn't focus on anything long enough to start eating. Inside, his mind was swirling between frustration at himself and embarrassment. There was a reason he never liked ordering food; seeing everyone else do it with seemingly no effort before he got tongue-tied threw him off, guaranteeing difficulty, and that in turn threw off his ability to concentrate. His mind started to dwell on how botched his order had been.
He knew, logically, that even if anyone but John and the waiter had noticed, neither of them cared. Chances were, they had already forgotten about it. But that was what logic said, and logic did not control social anxiety. Far from it; his anxiety cast logic out the window, and drilled its way into his head in logic's place. His anxiety told him that everyone had noticed, and remembered. It told him that people were staring and noticing and dwelling on it as much as him, even though in his head he knew that they were not. Any appetite he had initially was now long gone, nervousness clenching his stomach.
He managed to swallow down the turmoil and eat the food; after all, he'd gone to so much damn trouble to order it, by God he was going to get it down the hatch. Still, he ate in silence, as if the effort of placing his order had removed any further potential for speech. Eventually they finished their meals and left the restaurant, walking back to Baker Street.
"Alright, what was bothering you in there?" Sherlock hadn't been expecting John to speak, at least not so bluntly.
"I said, what was bothering you in there? You barely looked at your food." Sherlock shrugged non-committedly.
"I just…" He trailed off, unable to fabricate a decent enough explanation. He should've known John would notice; despite Sherlock's assertions, the doctor was far smarter than most people, and by no means an idiot.
"You were fine until you ordered your food; did it not come out right?" Sherlock toyed with the idea of just going with that as his excuse, getting out of any further explanation. However, logic was niggling at the back of his mind: why bother lying? John won't care.
"No, the food was fine, that wasn't it." He decided to obey logic, and ignore the anxiety in the forefront of his brain telling him that it would only make John think he was more of a freak.
"Than what was it?" The detective didn't know how to approach it, so he just burst out,
"It was the stupid order!" He stopped walking and John stopped too.
"What was wrong with the order?" he asked Sherlock quietly. He wasn't sure what the taller man was trying to get at, but he got the feeling that Sherlock had probably never talked about it before.
"There was nothing wrong with the order, it was me. I couldn't get my bloody words out, I've never been able to." Now that he was started, everything he'd been worrying about came through. "It makes no sense. I can solve a murder in ten minutes but I can't order my own food at a restaurant. I don't know why I can't. It's like my voice freezes up; it's ridiculous."
He stopped abruptly; the anxiety was telling him that he'd screwed up now, and John was going to react just like all the others had done when he'd tried to explain before. No one ever got it. They'd never felt that disabling anxiety at the simplest things, casting it off as nothing but an overreaction or a simple problem. They told him to get over it, or that he'd get better with practice, and finally he grew so tired of it that he simply gave up trying. John stood quietly, listening, trying to understand.
"Sherlock, there's nothing 'ridiculous' about having social anxiety. It's a genuine problem." He could tell Sherlock didn't believe him, and he searched for a way to convince him that he was telling the truth. "Trust me, no one cares how well you can place an order at a restaurant. And anyone that does is not worth listening to." Sherlock gave a humorless laugh, but inside he was wondering if John really might get it.
"I'm surprised you're not telling me to get over it like everyone else does." He stared off into the distance, continuing to talk in spite of himself. "No one ever believes me when I tell them I can't just change the way I talk to people." John could hear the worry in his voice, and found himself wondering how many times Sherlock had trusted someone and had it backfire on him; it was no easy thing for anyone to admit they had social anxiety, least of all Sherlock. He was notorious for being fearless, dangerously so, and John couldn't imagine how it affected him to try and own up to being bothered by something as simple as getting food.
"Well, I believe you," he responded. "I didn't become friends with a normal person; I couldn't care less if you change the way you talk to people, and I know that you can't just get over it. And I don't care how terrible you are at ordering food." Sherlock gave a slight smile. It reassured him to know that John, at least, wouldn't look at his social anxiety and tell him to just move on.
"We should eat in tonight," he responded. John smiled at him, catching what he meant by it, and gave a chuckle.
"Alright, but we need to do the shopping first. There's nothing in the fridge but some plastic bags I'm not going to open and a couple cans of beer." Sherlock smiled back; he was more relieved than he'd say that John had not dismissed him like all the others. He didn't normally accompany the doctor when he went to get food, but he decided that (just this time, perhaps) he had nothing against it. He'd just make John do all the talking when they got to the checkout.