"Oh my God. Call 999! Now!"
Sherlock opened his eyes to see a crowd of people standing round him.
"He's awake, he's awake!"
"Fucking liability…Christ. Get Jeremy on the phone."
Sherlock closed his eyes again.
"Oh, shit –"
Interesting. None of those faces were familiar. Sherlock inhaled slowly. Freshly sawn wood, heavy makeup, dry cleaning fluid, bodily effluvia from the surrounding figures – whoever they were, they'd been here all day, some sitting around, some sweating and straining. At least three of them had eaten the same chicken piccata, mashed potatoes, and garlic string beans. Two had eaten the pasta salad, one the raw vegetable platter, and some foolhardy soul had consumed a large salami-and-Gouda sandwich. Ugh.
"Should we rub his hands?"
"No, don't move him! Where's the goddamned ambulance?"
"I've called, I've called. They'll be here shortly."
Sherlock opened his eyes again. A blonde middle-aged woman leant forward.
"Oh, darling, don't try to move. You've had a bad shock. Can you hear me, love?"
"Of course I can hear you," Sherlock snapped. "That wasn't enough of a current to damage my nerves, my chochleae, or my tympanic membranes."
The woman shook her head sadly. "Don't worry, we'll get you looked after." She stood and made a broad sweeping gesture. "Clear away, please! Give him some air." Sherlock tried to sit up, but she knelt and pushed him back down gently. "No, love. Don't move."
Sherlock hesitated. Through the forest of legs he saw what looked like his kitchen – but when he cut his eyes left, he saw a huge tangle of cables and what looked like film equipment. And when he looked up, there was no ceiling, only blackness.
As he sank back, staring upward into nothingness, a bright light blinded him, and he shielded his eyes with his hand.
"Turn that off, for fuck's sake!" someone shouted.
Only a few moments ago, he'd just seen his exact double wearing what looked like one of his suits and having a panic attack. At first he'd thought he was having some sort of momentary reaction, a neurological response to electric shock, complete with tactile hallucination. Then he'd thought perhaps it was hallucinogen persisting perception disorder – he'd consumed enough MDMA, mescaline, and psilocybin over the years to make it at least a remote possibility.
Now – to his immense discomfort – he wasn't so sure what had happened. The odd bit was that during that moment of communion – sticky as the word was, it fit the situation best – with his doppelganger, he hadn't felt any of the known symptoms of electrical shock. On the contrary, he'd felt perfectly lucid and healthy, which was likely why none of the drug or shock-related indicators had occurred to him, and the myriad wonders of the realm of physics had done.
"The ambulance is here. Oh, thank Christ –"
Physics didn't matter now. His panicky, overly-emotional double with the secret boyfriend named Tom didn't matter now. What did matter was that he was apparently in some bizarre mockup of 221B, everyone around him thought he was an actor named Ben Cumberbatch, and if he didn't make a move soon – immediately, in fact – then he'd find himself trapped in a hospital with no way to work out what had actually happened.
He sat up. "I'm fine. I'm fine."
A dozen hands took hold of him and held him.
"No, Ben. Lie still. The paramedics are on their way. We'll get you to hospital, have them take a look at you."
"I'm fine!" Sherlock twisted fruitlessly. The hands held him nearly motionless.
"You were unconscious, love. You've got to wait, you'll be fine, I promise –"
Multiverse? God, where had he picked up such twaddle?
"They're coming, Mr. Cumberbatch. Up here!"
"John!" Sherlock shouted. "John!"
"Oh, God, he's in shock."
"I'm not in shock!" Why did people always defer to shock when they hadn't the faintest clue what was wrong with someone? Who were these idiots? And if John wasn't here, when he'd been just a moment ago – Film set?
Sherlock stopped struggling. "Improbable," he whispered. "Highly, highly improbable."
He'd always trusted his senses, and he wasn't injured; he'd be able to tell if he were. His brain was working normally – rapidly he scanned the sea of faces in front of him and focused on the blonde woman who'd tried to soothe him. Clearly in charge since everyone had obeyed her immediately when she'd told them to move, also no ID hanging from a lanyard round her neck like most of the others, therefore high up enough not to have to wear one. Short nails, chipped lacquer, bit of gunge at the quick; not afraid to get her hands dirty once in a while, casual but smart clothes, expensive tennis shoes. Two children, two cats, and a dog, staying in a hotel but brought her own candles to get the staleness out of the room.
There. Perfectly fine.
He lay back and glared at the paramedics who knelt beside him. "Mr. Cumberbatch," one said in hushed, respectful tones, "don't worry, we'll sort you out. Where'd he come into contact with the cable?" he asked the crowd.
"His hand," someone said.
Well, evidently they weren't going to let him up until they'd checked him thoroughly. Standard procedure, if completely, utterly boring. Sherlock closed his eyes and retreated to his mind palace. Surely there was a bit more data on doppelgangers and multiverses; he hadn't pulled the information out of nowhere, after all.
Another flood of white light jolted him back to the present. He was lying on a bed, an oxygen mask strapped to his face. They'd undressed him down to his briefs (boxer briefs, not his brand) and attached electrodes to his chest and an oxygen monitor to his finger. There was a nurse beside his bed, starting an IV, and two women and a man in pale blue scrubs – two doctors and a physician assistant – hovered close by, watching him with triplicate expressions of anxiety.
Sherlock frowned. "Relax. I've got no plans to die on your watch." His voice sounded crushed and hollow beneath the mask.
One of the doctors raised her eyebrows. Not much movement. Botox. "You've been unresponsive for half an hour, Mr. Cumberbatch. We're just being careful. How do you feel?"
"Absolutely fine. I'd feel a lot better if you took this stuff off my chest and let me go home."
"Mr. Cumberbatch, do you know why you're here?"
"My na –" Sherlock halted. Wherever he was, they thought he was Ben Cumberbatch, actor. Questioning of the perceptual grasp of experience through physical objects dated at least back to Plato and his cave allegory, without the encumbrance of religion. Not the most popular or encouraged questioning, though current thinking disputed it less and less. Why not expand accepted laws of physics and the distribution of matter into and even beyond the reaches of the known universe, Vilenkin's Level 2? A thousand layers of reality with a thousand Sherlocks lying on a thousand beds, and in some of those layers, Sherlock's name was Ben Cumberbatch. Everything else seemed absolutely ordinary. Disappointing.
Well, until someone proposed a better hypothesis, he wouldn't rule out the entirely improbable. And probably, even in this universe, if there were hospitals, there were psych wards, so Ben Cumberbatch he would be until he got this sorted.
He forced a thin smile. "I touched a cable. I assume you've got me here to look for physiological signs of damage."
The second doctor smiled. "That's right. When's your birthday?"
Sherlock reached up and took off his mask. "I don't think I need this, do you? Look, it's reading 96, that's about perfect." He pointed to the digital oxygen readout and bestowed his most dazzling smile on the first doctor, glancing at her name tag. "Dr. DeMille? It's all right, isn't it?"
She blinked, then smiled in return, taking the mask from his hand. "I suppose so. The strangest thing, Mr. Cumberbatch – you said you touched the cable?" Her voice was soft, with a faint Scots burr. Happily married except for insecurities about her looks, played the guitar in her spare time, recent anniversary judging by the indent on her finger (thin circlet of all diamonds next to the band and engagement ring, too small but too vain to tell her husband to have the ring re-sized).
"That's right." Find a computer. There didn't seem to be any perceptible lag in technology. Maybe he'd just been blasted to Glasgow.
"The strange thing is that there doesn't seem to be a burn site. No blistering, not even a reddened patch of skin," said the PA (just broke up with his girlfriend, using her shampoo and lotion in a desperate attempt at connection – no, she broke up with him). "Frankly, we're relieved – you were out for a few moments on the set, and then for the ambulance ride and triage – it wasn't more than half an hour, all told, but still."
"Fantastic," Sherlock said. "I guess that's it, then."
"Hold on," the second doctor said (juggling two lovers, one male, one female, recently engaged in threesome and is afraid – reddened eyes, evidence of recent and repeated dihydrocodeinone use – that the other two are beginning to be attracted to each other, leaving her out in the cold – unlikely, judging from imperfectly covered beard-burn and tawdry suck mark by female with small bite). "You seem all right, but we've still got some tests to run. Any neuropathy – loss of feeling – in your hands or feet?"
Sherlock flexed his hands, then pulled up the sheet and wiggled his toes. "None at all."
"We've got to do some sensory testing nonetheless. And some neurological testing as well. When's your birthday?"
"Actually," said Sherlock, flashing another smile, "could I use the loo? I'm bursting."
DeMille frowned slightly. "I think it might be better –"
"Oh, God, no catheters, please." Sherlock opened his eyes wide and gave the trio a beseeching stare. "Please. I can manage."
"All right. Alan," the second doctor called, "would you walk Mr. Cumberbatch to the toilet?"
A nurse in black scrubs ambled up. "Sure. Glad to."
They disconnected the electrodes from the monitor, but left them attached to Sherlock's body, gave him a flimsy gown, and a pair of socks with rubber bits on the sole. The nurse took his arm, and it was all Sherlock could do not to snatch it away. He smiled again – his face was starting to hurt from all the idiot grins, but the medical staff seemed to appreciate and even expect it – and forced himself to speak amiably. "Really appreciate this."
"God, are you kidding? It's an honour. Listen, I hope it's not too intrusive, but could I have your autograph? My daughter just loves your show. She's started to collect your older stuff. She'll probably murder me for not calling – hey, would you mind if I took your picture?"
Sherlock gaped, then shut his mouth. "Er – yeah, that'd be great. My pleasure." He saw the nurse's desk, unattended. What luck. He gave the nurse a quick once-over. "Maybe you should go and get your phone, though."
"How did you –" The nurse laughed. "God, the show must rub off on you! Will you be okay? You seem to be walking all right. No dizziness, light-headedness?"
"Nope." Sherlock popped his P. "I'll be fine. Thanks."
"Here we are. Ring the bell if you get dizzy. I'll be back in a flash."
"Okay." Sherlock gave another moronic grin, then rolled his eyes as the nurse dashed away. He slipped behind the desk and hit the enter button. The hospital login was password protected – but Internet Explorer [Internet Explorer in a parallel universe. This seemed less and less likely] popped up with nary a blip. Swiftly, he opened up Google and typed.
Eight thousand results. Not very impressive.
Oh. Benedict Cumberbatch. Thirty-seven million results.
He went to Wikipedia, glad that no-one was watching (Wikipedia, for God’s sake), and gleaned the essential details, scanning rapidly. Theatre, television, film, radio work, personal, etc., etc., etc. Boring, boring, boring, dull, dull, dreary, mildly interesting, dull – good-looking, but the worst hairstyle, dear Christ! – dull, dull, dull –
Well, everything was a bit clearer now. Wait. What had the actor said? 'Doyle canon?'
"What the hell?" Sherlock straightened, scowling as his gown threatened to separate in the back. He clutched it closed. "Fictional?"
His scowl deepening, he went back to Google and typed in Sherlock Holmes.
80 million results. More than 'Benedict Cumberbatch', he noted smugly.
Wait, who was that dodgy-looking man with the scruff of beard? Surely that wasn't meant to –
"All through? Oi, what are you doing, Mr. Cumberbatch? Sorry, but you can't –"
Sherlock straightened and smiled again, backing out of IE. "Sorry. Just checking Twitter. I don't want this going public, if you know what I mean."
"Oh, right." The nurse smiled a bit nervously. Already called the papers, likely, promised them some sort of exclusive. "About that picture – do you mind?"
"Not at all." Sherlock held still while the man fumbled with his phone. If he was here, then Benedict Cumberbatch was probably…there.
Sherlock almost laughed. How on earth would John react to that jittery, chain-smoking bundle of nerves? They were nothing alike at all. Oh, God, poor John! He was probably having Cumberbatch committed at this very moment.
"Oh. That might not be good at all," Sherlock mumbled.
Sherlock blinked. "Nothing, nothing. All set?"
"Lights, camera – action!"
Sherlock grinned once more.
"Well, that's it, I suppose. Everything seems in order. Heart, lungs, brain function all normal. CT and MRI are clear, no neuropathy, no burns. I admit you had us all worried, but you're fit as a fiddle, Mr. Cumberbatch. No reason for you not to return to work. Ms. Vertue's got a car out front for you." Dr. DeMille was businesslike, but her manner had become shyer, a bit more hesitant. Ridiculous what the presence of a celebrity did to an ordinarily competent individual.
"Fantastic. Thanks for all your help."
"It was a pleasure to meet you." A small crowd of medical staff had gathered round and was smiling timidly at him.
Dear God. "Oh, that's very kind. Thanks." He glanced at his watch. Nine o'clock.
"This way, sir."
On his way out of the hospital, Sherlock heard whispers and sudden excited, if swiftly strangled, cries. He saw phones aimed at him, and turned round to scowl at one of the intrusive photographers, but the blonde woman came up and tucked an arm in his. "Come on, love. We'll get you back to the hotel."
"I think I should get back to the set." If there was a point of egress, then there had to be a point of ingress. Sherlock could manage quite well in this reality, especially as it seemed to be as deadly dull as London could sometimes be – but he could only imagine the havoc that Benedict Theatre-Studies-Round-the-Bend-Awful-Hair Cumberbatch was wreaking in John Watson's world. Whatever was happening, it was sure to be not good.
Not good at all.