Sherlock hadn’t had a meltdown since he was twelve years old. He’d stopped the day that he declared to himself that his body was just transport, and if other people (like certain fat, dull brothers) could control things like cars and trains, he could control his own body.
Shutdowns, of course, didn’t count—he spent so much time ignoring the rest of the world that it wasn’t as though anyone could tell.
Neither did the time he was sixteen and locked himself in his room before he started crying and rocking and keening (not screaming, he didn’t scream, but the noise coming from his throat would not stop). No one had seen him do that, and Mycroft wasn’t home to notice the bites on his arms and raise a knowing eyebrow and give him his favorite cherry-chocolate biscuits even though he hadn’t had supper yet.
Bad highs and (eventually) withdrawal didn’t count either. Everyone else had fits during those, so his were perfectly acceptable.
No, Sherlock hadn’t had a meltdown—a real meltdown, like the ones Mummy got upset about, the ones that made people point and stare and whisper—for most of his life.
He rather thought he was about to have one now.
He’d been prepared for the punch. Three years, after all, was a long time to be playing dead. John would be shocked, hurt, angry. It would be unpleasant, but no more so than the things he’d endured for three years.
And he didn’t know how much longer he could stand not seeing John.
But John, as he’d been doing since they first began their acquaintance, had surprised him. Sherlock would normally be pleased about that—it so rarely happened from anyone, and from his friend it was even better.
Today, though, he was in no state to deal with it. He hadn’t eaten in three days and slept in longer. He’d just travelled across an entire continent after killing a man. And he was in an unfamiliar—and frankly horrible—bedsit, with strong (trembling) hands on his shoulders and an ache in his jaw while John shook him and shouted at him and cried.
Shut down, he told his body. Just stop. Stay quiet. It will pass.
“Three years, Sherlock!” John yelled. “Three bloody years, and then you just show up at my door. I thought you were dead. You made me think you were dead.”
Something in his chest ached at those words. He couldn’t let himself think about it. He had to stay quiet.
“You had better have an explanation, Sherlock. You had better have a damn good explanation, and you’d better start explaining now, or I swear to God that I will leave, just like you left me, and you can go to hell.”
No. John couldn’t leave. He’d spent so much time getting back to John. If he left, it was all—no. Sherlock opened his mouth, to protest, to apologize, to explain, to do anything that would stop John from leaving.
What came out instead was a half-choked sob.
John didn’t notice. He was too caught up in his own pain to hear something so quiet, no matter that that soft gasp was Sherlock’s breaking point. Over two decades now, and there he was again, about to fall apart the way he did as a child.
If he hadn’t been so upset, he would have felt humiliated.
“I…” He shook his head, trying to clear it, trying to get rid of the wrongness inside it. He shook it again, again, again, faster than John was shaking him, faster than he could think—no, that wasn’t right, he could think faster than anyone could move—his cheekbones brushing the wall occasionally, his hair snagging on an unevenness in the plaster for brief moments.
His eyes squeezed shut, trying to keep everything out, trying to keep something—what?—in. Warm tears welled up under his eyelids before sliding out and onto his face. His hands, clenched into fists, raised to the sides of his head and pressed down down down on his ears.
Noises pushed out of his throat, half-words, incomplete thoughts. Sorry and please and John John John, sobs and whimpers and voiceless screams that became something high and keening and breathless.
He slid down the wall until he was sitting, knees pulled up to his chest, rocking back and forth while he shook his head. And—no more hands on his shoulders, no more John shaking him, no more John.
He hadn’t explained. He hadn’t explained and now John was angry, John was gone, he’d worked and worked and was so tired and he’d wanted John, wanted home, wanted and wanted and tried so hard to get back and now there was nothing.
He sobbed and wailed into his knees, rocking and rocking. No no no no no, John no John please John sorry sorry sorry John John
His throat hurt. That was what registered first, when he started to calm down. His throat was dried out from weeping. His mouth kept moving, but no sound came out.
Throat is too dry to produce sound.
He caught ahold of that thought, clinging to it like a lifeline. Rational. Observing. He was back to normal.
Sherlock drew in a couple of shaky, dry breaths, evening out his breathing. He blinked away tears and removed his hands from his ears. (He noted that his nails had dug into his palm hard enough to draw blood. He’d deal with that later.)
Warm fingers touched his shoulder lightly, cautiously. “Here. Drink this.”
His head snapped up immediately and he stared stared stared. John. John was still there, standing in front of him, tousled and tired and holding out a glass of water. John hadn’t left.
He sagged with relief.
“Sherlock?” John was frowning. “You went quiet, so I thought… sorry, you still out of it?” He made to take a step back.
Sherlock whimpered and tried to lunge forward, reaching for John’s arm. His legs were stiff and unsteady, though, and he wound up grabbing John’s wrist and then collapsing against him.
“Wh—Sherlock!” Water spilled from the glass, mostly splashing Sherlock. John at least had the presence of mind to keep his hold on the glass itself. “Oi, let go! Look, you—”
“I—” His voice caught in his too-dry throat. He couldn’t talk. He had to talk. Had to explain.
“Sherlock. Sherlock! Calm down. Drink.” John held the glass to his lips, and Sherlock sipped at the water that hadn’t spilled. Swallowing was difficult, but it was necessary.
Finally he could talk again. “John.” God, but that was a good word to say. “I have an explanation. I’ll tell you everything.”
John’s forehead creased for a moment before realization dawned. “Sherlock.”
The detective barreled on, words rasping out of his mouth. “Just listen, John, I know that you need to know. Don’t go away, because then I won’t be able to tell you, and I am telling you, I know I was slow but—”
“Sherlock. No.” John knelt down, bringing himself level with Sherlock. “Stop talking.”
“No, no, John, just stay, you have to hear this, don’t go, I have to tell you—”
John’s shout made Sherlock go still and silent. Ah. Yes. He didn’t want to hear it. Of course not; Sherlock had broken everything, and he couldn’t fix it.
(He’d never been good at fixing things. Finding out what happened to them, yes. But fixing? He couldn’t fix Mummy’s lamp when he broke it during a meltdown, or the dead victims at crime scenes, or the scars the needles left in the crook of his arm.)
(He couldn’t fix himself, either, the way he was always always always a bit not good.)
He shook himself back to the present, staring up at John. “What?”
John sighed and ran a hand through his hair (was it more grey than it had been?). “I said, when did you last eat?”
“…Monday.” Why was John asking that, the way he did before the fall?
“Good, good.” John nodded, frowning. “Less than two days, then, not bad. For you.”
Oh. John thought it was the most recent Wednesday. For a moment Sherlock considered not correcting him, letting him think (maybe) that Sherlock had been a bit good.
But he was trying to gain John’s trust back. Lying would do him no good.
“Wednesday of last week.”
John cursed softly. “Christ, Sherlock. No wonder you collapsed.”
“You are not fine. You’re malnourished and sleep-deprived. Likely you never even considered taking care of yourself, three years alone. I swear, I don’t know how you survived without me.”
“Okay. All right. I—all right.” John straightened his shoulders, going into what Sherlock recognized as his doctor mindset. “We’ve both had our breakdowns, and explanations can wait. You need food and sleep, and I need a cup of tea. Possibly with something in it.”
Breakdowns. Ah. Sherlock hesitated as he had with the Wednesday mistake, but then let it go without a comment. Breakdown was a close enough term for it. And he’d only just gotten John back. He couldn’t lose him to his old, old diagnosis.
“If you’re making tea…” he said instead.
John blinked, then huffed out a short laugh. “It’s been a long time since—well. All right, tea then, although I’m not adding anything to it but milk and sugar. You’re in no state for alcohol.”
Sherlock just nodded and allowed himself to be helped off the floor.