"Sherlock? Sherlock, you okay?"
Benedict kept his eyes closed for a few seconds. "Martin," he mumbled, "that's not funny."
"Who – come on, Sherlock, open your eyes."
That was Martin's voice. Of course it was. He opened his eyes, and there was Martin, kneeling over him in a khaki-coloured t-shirt and a worn blue cardigan. No makeup; he must have washed it off. Benedict smiled tentatively. "Hey."
"Hey yourself. Have you got a goose egg forming back there?" Gently, Martin insinuated his hand beneath Benedict's head. "That was a hell of a fall you took."
"No, I think it's –" Benedict froze. "Martin."
"Martin. Was that the physician?" Martin probed at the back of Benedict's head. "I think your arse must have taken most of the impact. Doesn't seem to be any swelling. Want to sit up for me?"
"Physician?" A cold chill crept down Benedict's spine and settled in his belly.
"Yeah, the fellow who pronounced Frolev dead?" Martin slipped his hand under Benedict's back. "Come on, up you get. I don't want you to move from this spot, I just want to gauge your respiratory capacity. You're bloody lucky the current wasn't strong enough to hold you there. Christ, what made you take the tape off? You feel short of breath?"
Benedict sat up slowly, grateful for Martin's arm round his back. "Martin, honestly –"
"Yeah, yeah. Let me get my bag –" Martin broke off and squinted, starting into Benedict's eyes. "You're dead pale."
That was a dream, wasn't it? And Martin calling me Sherlock…. Benedict looked down and saw a slick black apron and smelled something awful. "All right," he said, conscious that his voice was trembling just a bit. "Joke's over."
"Too right it is. I'm going to get Mrs. Hudson to get that fixed this week." Martin stood up. "Back in a flash."
"That's not funny," Benedict said, heaving himself up by the palms of his hands.
Martin scowled and laid a heavy hand on his shoulder. "Don't get up. Don't."
"You called me Sherlock."
"Really don't move. What the hell's the amperage in those sockets?"
A sudden hot, irrational burst of red-tinged anger flared in Benedict's vision. He could take a joke – Martin had pranked him often enough that he'd become accustomed to it, and accepted it with relative grace, but he'd just had enough for now. He tried to struggle to his feet. "It's not funny. In fact, I'm pretty sure it's the unfunniest --"
"Hey, hey!" Martin crouched close. "Easy. Sherlock, take it easy." He tilted Benedict's chin upward. "Let me see your eyes."
Benedict swatted Martin's hand away. "Stop that!" He glared at Martin, then stilled. Something wasn't right. He peered up and saw…a ceiling. Stained here and there, and a couple of what looked like paring knives and…one of those martial arts throwing stars embedded into the surface.
His heart thundering in his chest, he looked round. The crew. The equipment? What had happened to everybody?
"Look, I think we'd better get you to A&E. Just sit tight, okay? I'll be right back."
As Martin walked away, Benedict stared after him. He heard the sound of footsteps ascending stairs.
The set doesn't go any higher. What the ever-loving hell –
Hallucination. It was a hallucination. Except that now he was wearing that other guy's clothes, the stunt double or whoever he was, he was awfully snotty, and dear God in heaven, what was that stench?
Frantically, Benedict rubbed his eyes, then his temples. Okay. Okay. Don't lose it. It's definitely, decidedly weird, but no cause for completely freaking out. Where's the crew, for fuck's sake?
Gathering himself together, he rose into a crouch, then to his feet. He wobbled just a little, but steadied himself on the table and after a few seconds, felt his equilibrium return. He glanced down at the table. It was covered with more stuff than usual, and it smelled – oh, God! – it smelled like a kipper factory. Foul.
As he looked over the table, and once more examined the ceiling, he became aware of a noise – commonplace, but one not heard on the closed set.
That can't be right.
Fearfully, he advanced toward the window. The curtain fluttered a bit, and he inhaled the scent of rain. He caught up the thin fabric in one hand, pulled it aside, and looked down at the street below. Cars drove back and forth, headlights and red taillights winking in the darkness, the distinctive rush of tyres driving over wet tarmac drifting up to the open window along with muted conversation and laughter. As he watched, a couple ran past, clinging to each other beneath the broad shelter of a polka-dotted umbrella.
A scream locked itself in Benedict's throat.
Benedict jumped and gave a little yelp. He spun on his heel and gaped at Martin, carrying a doctor's bag and fixing him with a stern glare.
"I told you not to get up, God damn it. Would you please, for once in your life, defer to my expertise?" Martin crossed the room and slammed his bag on the cluttered coffee table. His movements were very John Watson – neat, economical, none of the casual loose-limbed ease of his ordinary demeanour.
"What the fuck is going on?" Benedict demanded.
"You got an electrical shock."
"I know that. I mean, what the fuck is happening here? Where's the crew? Why is there a ceiling, and a street –" Benedict thinned his mouth into a grim line. "You're having me on."
Martin sighed. "Yeah, that's exactly what I'm doing, is having you on. Off with the apron and sit on the sofa before you fall down. Can't think why you'd do an arse-ended – never mind, scratch that. Come on, you're staring and it's starting to get weird."
"Where is everybody? Where'd he go?"
"What are you on about?"
"Me. Me, me, the other me!"
"You're starting to scare me, Sherlock."
"I get it," Benedict snapped. "I get it, okay? It's funny. Fucking hilarious. Great performance. You're a brilliant actor, you won a fucking BAFTA –" Oh, God, he'd promised himself never to let that tiny scrap of bitterness out. Martin would never let him live it down. Too late now. He sucked in a quick breath. "What I mean is – it's all very funny, but you can stop now."
Martin stared in silence for a moment. "Right. I'm calling an ambulance. Please sit down, for God's sake." He pulled his phone from his pocket.
"Oh. Good. Great. Yes. Bring an ambulance in, that's perfect. You're going to make a fake phone call to emergency services. I'm pretty sure that's illegal, you know." Desperately, he turned back to the window, staring at the curtain moving in the damp breeze. What is that, how, how for God's sake? He pivoted on his heel again. "Martin --"
"Hi. I need an ambulance, please. Yes."
"Stop," Benedict snarled. He felt like crying. He and Martin had always got along like a house on fire, but this was…cruel, on top of his hallucination. Multiverse, his arse. Too much, even for a prank. "It's not funny anymore."
Martin shook his head. "Hi, yes. This is John Watson, and I need an ambulance, please. No, not for me, for my flatmate. We're at 221B Baker Street, W1. Sh – yes. Sherlock Holmes. He's –"
"Hang it up! Hang it up, for fuck's sake!" Benedict lunged at Martin and grabbed at the phone. Martin struggled to hang on to it, but Benedict succeeded in wrenching it from his hand. Frantically, he stabbed at the END button until the screen went blank. "Jesus Christ."
Martin spread his hands wide. "Great. Excellent. Well done you. You realise they're probably going to send the police now as well?"
Benedict looked down at the phone. It wasn't Martin's sleek black iPhone. It was a Nokia, silver, a bit scratched and dented. He turned it over.
Carefully, Benedict set the phone on the coffee table next to the doctor's bag. "I need the loo," he whispered, and stalked into the hallway. He paused and pushed a door open.
A fully equipped bathroom.
He shut himself inside, turned on the light, and leant against the door.
I'm going round the twist.
He gazed at his reflection in the smudged mirror above the little pedestal sink. He was white, but that was to be expected after an electrical shock and the nastiest prank anyone had ever pulled on him. He moved closer to the mirror.
"They're phoning me back!" Martin's voice was slightly muffled by the closed door.
His scars were gone. The scarring from his Frankenstein makeup and prosthetics – gone. His skin, occasionally plagued by makeup, was clear and perfect without…no, he wasn't wearing cosmetics. His hair, usually wilting at the end of a day's filming thanks to excessive product, was perfect. He wore the same clothes that his…clone, or whoever he'd been, had worn during that freakish episode: t-shirt, pyjama bottoms, dressing gown, smelly plastic apron.
Benedict turned on the water to splash his face. He cupped his hands beneath the stream and lifted them, then stopped.
Water. Running water. In a bathroom that didn't really exist.
He was rational. If he'd gone round the twist, surely his fevered brain wouldn't have invented something so prosaic. Surely not. But a multiverse! It couldn't be a legitimate scientific phenomenon, it was too…too strange, too unpredictable. Impossible.
The water trickled through his fingers and splashed onto the slightly dirty surface of the sink.
Faintly, the noise of a siren filtred through the door.
"Sherlock!" The door rattled a bit beneath brief hammering. "Come out. It's the ambulance."
Another siren joined the first.
"And the police. Lovely."
I'll bet this never happened to Jeremy Brett. A half-hysterical spume of laughter escaped Benedict, and he clapped a wet hand to his mouth. Okay. Okay. Get hold of yourself.
The notion of Sherlock Holmes - his iteration of Sherlock Holmes – coming to independent life was absolutely, no question, beyond fucked up. There was no way that Sherlock had talked to him in a tiny white box of a room, no way that they had somehow traded places.
Oh God, does that mean Sherlock's in Cardiff with Martin and Andrew and Sue and Mark and – Benedict chortled again.
He heard pounding feet ascending the stairs.
And I suppose that means that Sherlock's going to take the train back to London and go to my house and – He gasped. Oh, Christ!
"I'm coming in." The doorknob turned, the door opened, and Martin stepped inside.
No, not Martin.
Benedict placed both hands on the sink and took a deep breath. "John."
"Don't make me drag you out, Sherlock. The paramedics are here. And the police. Look, I know you don't want to hear this, but I'm worried about TBI. You're being weirder than usual."
"TBI?" Benedict lifted his head and stared at Martin – no, John – in the mirror.
"Traumatic brain injury. Please. Come on." He stepped backward, into the hall, and held the door open. "Come on," he repeated softly.
Benedict turned and peered at him. If that's acting, he deserves more than a BAFTA. "You're worried."
"Of course I'm worried, you git. You just took current that threw you back a metre and a half and knocked you unconscious."
"How long was I out?"
Mar – John shook his head. "Less than a minute, but that's more than enough."
A woman in a green uniform joined John in the corridor. "Mr. Holmes? Would you mind stepping out here, please? I understand you've had a bad shock."
Benedict went into the corridor and back into the front room. Two other paramedics and a police officer in a City uniform scrutinised him carefully. "Hello," he said.
"We're going to get you to hospital, Mr. Holmes," the first paramedic said, indicating a mobile stretcher. "Is there anything you'd like Dr. Watson to collect for you?"
The thing to do is play along. Let them examine you; don't make a fuss and alert them that there's anything wrong. Then you can work out how to get back to Cardiff. Maybe you're just overtired.
"No," Benedict said, then almost unconsciously elongated his spine and arranged his features into an expression of irritated boredom. "I don't see why any of this is necessary, though I am impressed that you responded within the three-hour window you usually allow." He let the rhythm of Sherlock's speech pattern settle onto his palate. "I mean, good job I wasn't bleeding out because I'd almost certainly be dead now, but still – nice effort. Gold star."
"Sherlock," John murmured, "scale it back a bit, yeah?" But a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and his eyes were less anxious.
"Sorry," Benedict replied automatically. His mouth twitched, and he struggled to stifle a grin. Dear God, this was beyond weird. John Watson. Christ!
"You want to take that apron off?" one of the other paramedics asked. Benedict complied, untying it in the back. He moved to drape it over a kitchen chair, then hesitated.
What would Sherlock do?
He dropped it on the floor.
"Nice," John muttered.
The police officer was visibly annoyed. "There doesn't seem to be any foul play in evidence here. You can't just terminate a 999 call like that, Dr. Watson. Besides being cause for alarm and a clear sign of danger, it's a waste of resources. We're obliged to respond to hang-up calls, and that's time that could have been spent on actual emergencies." He gave both Benedict and John a look of withering scorn.
"Yeah, I didn't –" John sighed. "Look, it was an accident. I told them that when they phoned back."
"Still," the officer said pompously, and marched down the stairs.
The female paramedic patted the stretcher. "Right. Shall we?"
Benedict turned to John. "You'll come with me?"
John's eyes warmed. "Yeah, of course I will. Of course."
A little sigh of relief shivered through Benedict's body. Thank God for loyal friends.
Not for nothing had Benedict made a really thorough study of the identity and character of Sherlock Holmes in the 21st century. He had his full name, date and place of birth, parents' names, even his NHS number memorised, along with sundry other information that might have proved useful. He paused in the midst of filling out forms. If I hadn't memorised all this stuff, would it be happening right now?
He sat through a battery of visual and reaction tests, and a CT scan to check for brain injury. He felt absolutely fine, though, no headache, nothing. The hospital staff pulled the curtains round his bed and left him alone with John.
Benedict sat silently, pondering over what had happened. The ambulance, an honest-to-Christ ambulance, had driven him through the streets of London. He'd started on a set in Cardiff and wound up in London. Meanwhile…meanwhile, he supposed, impossible as it seemed, that some version of himself, or Sherlock Holmes, or…God knew what…was running round Cardiff. He had to get back and fix things, but how?
He still couldn't quite accept it. It was too mad. Suddenly he wished he'd taken the time, when he'd had the utterly amazing opportunity to meet Stephen Hawking, to ask him some really penetrating questions about the possibilities of a multiverse, instead of just babbling about what an utterly amazing opportunity it had been to meet him. Well, it wouldn't have worked out very well because of Dr. Hawking's capacity to answer questions, but still. Anything would have helped. Maybe.
John turned Benedict's hand over and marvelled over the lack of injury. "You didn't do that…er, deliberately, did you, Sherlock?"
Benedict blinked. "Sorry?"
"You know how you are. Can be. Bit of a diva at times. You didn't fake the shock."
"No!" Benedict scowled in genuine annoyance, then remembered to slip back into Sherlock. "Honestly, John. You think I'd waste my time like this? I've got one or two better things to do."
"Yes," said a cold, sharp voice. A hand pulled the curtain aside. "For example, having the courtesy to answer my telephone calls."
John's hand tightened on Benedict's, then let go. "Hello, Mycroft."