Raw panic flooded Benedict's nervous system, and it took every drop of ability he was able to wring from the depths of his actorly soul to simply lie still and stare dead-eyed at Mycroft Holmes, sombrely attired in blue pinstriped worsted and a conservative wine-coloured tie that was more beautifully knotted than Benedict had ever been able to manage on his best day.
Bloody hell. John was one thing; they hadn't been living together too long, if the timeline was as Benedict suspected, but Mycroft…Sherlock's own brother, canonically more intelligent, certainly devious, at least the way Mark played him (and that was Mark's identical twin standing there, so logically, or at least as logical as one could be in this phenomenally weird situation, it was sound to align personalities), and not a little scary, staring at him with cold, narrowed eyes.
"Your ennui must be reaching catastrophic levels if you've resorted to electrocuting yourself in your own flat."
"It was an accident," John snapped, but Benedict waved a languid hand.
"Visiting the patisserie again?" Benedict clicked his tongue. Sometimes the best defence was a blistering offence. "You do realise how many miles you have to run to work off those crème anglaise tarts?"
Mycroft offered Benedict a wintry smile. "It's nice to see that you're feeling so well. I stopped by 221B, but you were out."
"So you decided to make a tour of the local hospitals," John said.
"Oh, don't be ridiculous, John," Mycroft said, his attention diverted for a moment.
"Right, right," John said. "No need, when Big Brother's on the scene."
Benedict kept his face still, but worry ate at his insides. They'd speculated, all of the major cast and producers, about the extent of Mycroft's powers. Surely he wasn't really the British government; no one person could wield that much power. He couldn't have said precisely why, not at this particular moment at least, but he didn't want Mycroft Holmes watching him with CCTV cameras and sundry spy equipment. It seemed important to stay in character as Sherlock, but the truth was that he just wanted to go home. He closed his eyes and tried to think of a quick way out of this.
"You could have just texted," John went on.
"Mycroft doesn't text if he can talk," Benedict said, his eyes still closed. It was a bit too unnerving to keep meeting that chilly gaze.
"And yet he manages to text me a few times a month at least," John said. "Huh."
Mycroft cleared his throat. "It's none of my business –"
"Almost undoubtedly," Benedict shot back. "And yet." Inwardly he smiled a bit. Getting the hang of this quite nicely.
" – but I suggest moving out of 221B as soon as it's convenient. Clearly the place is a firetrap – it's a wonder it hasn't burnt down around your ears already, considering the sheer amount of paper and volatile chemicals cluttering it up. Surely it's not money that's the problem."
Benedict wasn't touching that one. Nobody agreed on the state of Sherlock's finances. "I like it there."
"Sentiment," Mycroft replied, his tone conveying his extreme distaste of the notion. Benedict opened his eyes and gazed intently at Mycroft. What if it was all a horrible joke, despite what he'd seen? The ultimate Sartrean prank? Mycroft delicately tilted his head to one side and continued to scrutinise Benedict. "As I said, I've been trying to reach you."
"Don't care." Benedict closed his eyes again. He felt dampness between his shoulder blades. Was he sweating?
"And Mummy would like you to phone."
Benedict heard the scraping of chair legs against lino tile and the sound of a body settling itself. He kept his eyes closed. "John."
"Is he still here?"
"Tell him to leave." Benedict folded his hands on his chest and settled into the pillows.
"Ooh. I'd hate to get involved in a family quarrel." John sounded amused. "Tell him yourself."
"Leave," Benedict said.
"When you've recovered," Mycroft said, "I have something that might be of interest to you."
"Nothing you have is of interest to me," Benedict replied.
"Oh, you're wrong there, brother dear."
The chair legs scraped again. "See that you recover by tomorrow evening at the very latest. Good night, Sherlock. Do try to keep from electrocuting yourself again. I'd hate to have to have the building condemned. John, a word, please."
Benedict opened his eyes once more and frowned at John, who rose to his feet. John looked at Mycroft's retreating back, glanced back at Benedict, shrugged, and followed. Benedict pressed his hands to his eyes. God, I've got to get out of here.
But how, for the love of God? Even if the impossible had truly happened and they were stuck inside some sort of spatial or temporal anomaly (not that Sherlock knew a thing about it – he was a chemist, not a physicist, thank you very much!) how were they supposed to escape it? Benedict thought about being trapped forever, never seeing his parents again, the rest of his family, his friends, his coworkers, Tom –
A ragged sigh shuddered out of his throat and he felt the prickle of tears. He couldn't accept it. There had to be a way back.
He heard the sound of John's footfalls and quickly arranged his features into an expression of bored annoyance, keeping his eyes closed. He didn't hear Mycroft's footsteps. Thank God.
"I'm going to go find one of the staff and start things moving," John said. "Since you seem to be okay."
There was a pause. "Are you okay?"
Benedict opened his eyes and frowned at John. Of course I'm not okay. I'm trapped in a fictionalised iteration of modern-day London, I haven't got a single friend, not one person I can count on, and my fictional counterpart is back in Cardiff and if he's exactly as I portray him, Christ only knows the damage he's doing. Mycroft Holmes is scarier than Mark plays him, I don't know how this happened or how I'm going to get back, my entire world has collapsed around my ears and if I uttered one word of this aloud I'd be carted off to the bin; of course I'm not okay, God damn it. He sucked a breath in through his nose. "Fine."
John opened his mouth and closed it again.
"Mycroft –" John looked down and smoothed out a crease in the white hospital blanket. "Mycroft asked if you'd had a toxicology screen done."
Benedict gaped. Two or three weeks ago – no, a bit more than that – he'd smoked a little grass at Glastonbury, not even an entire blunt – had Mycroft deduced that somehow? Or had it been something else? He shook his head. "Wh-why in God's name would he say that? The fat git," he added. He felt hot and uncomfortable, and John wouldn't stop staring.
"He said your responses were a bit on the slow side."
"And you told him to piss off, I hope."
"Not exactly. I did remind him that you'd just received a pretty nasty shock, though."
Benedict sagged in relief. Good old John.
"You haven't, have you?"
John tightened his mouth. "Done any drugs recently."
Benedict looked John full in the face and was startled at the expression in John's eyes, and it was that – not the street below 221B, not the mobile, not the running water, not the ambulance trip nor the scary look in Mycroft's eyes – that convinced him. This wasn't Martin Freeman. Martin was a great actor, the best, but there was something different about this man's eyes. And he really was fond of Sherlock. It was obvious. He smiled. "No. No drugs."
John's frame sagged a bit. His expression changed, though, his brow knotting. "You –"
"No. Nothing." John shook his head and patted Benedict's knee under the thin bedclothes. "Right. Let's get you out of here."
The only remarkable thing about the ride back to 221B Baker Street was the ease with which John had hailed the cab – he'd simply raised his hand and the car had practically materialised right in front of them. Benedict, in a pair of sticky-bottomed hospital socks and his Great Game pyjama outfit, had climbed in without comment and leant back against the seat, closing his eyes for the duration of the drive. While he didn't feel physically exhausted, mentally and emotionally he was at the end of his tether, and he needed to regroup. John, sitting beside him, was blessedly quiet, and before Benedict had time to really rest, John was tapping his shoulder.
"Sherlock. Hey, Sherlock, wake up. We're here."
John's voice, like Martin's (or was Martin's like John's?) was soft, easy on the ear. Benedict was reminded of car trips to relatives' places – 'Darling, we're at Gran's. Put your shoes on' – and now, as then, he would have been happy to stay asleep in the cab. It could drive him away and he wouldn't have to cope with this madness any longer.
"Sherlock, come on."
"Where?" Benedict mumbled.
"Home. Up you get." John paid the fare and tugged on Benedict's arm. "Careful – watch your feet. There's glass." Gently, he manoeuvred Benedict out of the cab and onto the rain-spattered pavement, propelling him toward the door.
Benedict looked up, and with a faint sense of dread saw the familiar door, saw Speedy's. It wasn't the set, wasn't Gower Street at all.
Right. Time to stop the internal meltdown and begin dealing with this. It's got to be temporary. You won't be stranded forever. Something will happen, and you'll be back in your own reality. All you have to do is get through this, even if it's one minute at a time. You've been through worse times. Buck up, you can do it.
This little pep talk delivered, he glanced at John, who was busy fitting the key into the lock and ushering Benedict inside. They went up the stairs wordlessly, and Benedict pressed his hand to his nose as a sudden horrifying stink overwhelmed him. "Dear God."
"Oh, let's not."
"What?" Benedict stared at John in puzzlement.
"You're the one who brought home the air sac. The experiment's probably ruined now anyway – I want you to throw the syringe out. Preferably unopened."
Benedict half-gagged at the fishy smell that permeated the flat. Not just fishy, either – fishy and rotting. Foul. "You could be right," he ventured cautiously. "I…I've already got it sorted."
"Yeah, Boyle's Law my arse. Just get rid of it."
"Right," Benedict said, frantically trying to dredge up Boyle's Law from his uni chem courses, more than ten years ago. "Obviously."
"You can text Lestrade with your conclusions tomorrow. Right now I think you'd better get some sleep."
Oh, God, Sherlock had been working on a case! Perfect. He thought fast. "You text him, John. The last thing I care about right now is telling him in excruciating detail what he should already know."
John sighed. "All right…Your Highness." He shucked his jacket and tossed it on a chair. His chair. "I'm knackered. I'm going to have a shower and get to bed. You --" he pointed at the kitchen – "clean that up yourself. Then sleep. It's the absolute least you can do." He wheeled and marched upstairs without another word.
Benedict sank into a kitchen chair, looking around bleakly. The flat was horribly cluttered; Benedict was by no stretch of the imagination a neat freak (laundry and housekeeping services were just a couple of the nicest perks about having some money), but the accumulation of stuff in the kitchen and front room seemed to be approaching hoarder territory. And yet, it looked not too much different from the set. Tentatively, he got up and wandered into the front room. Everything was the same after all; funny how it seemed unusual out of his own experience. He paced from object to object, touching them as if any moment they might dissolve to nothing beneath his hands. He glided a fingertip over the bleached, smooth topography of the steer skull, decorated with its headphones. He'd invented his own little backstory for it – it had been a souvenir of a case Sherlock had solved in New Mexico, a counterfeiting operation in an abandoned mine near Carlsbad Caverns.
So much he saw, in fact, were objects to which he'd attached personal meaning – it was a game, and pure fun, but it anchored him in Sherlock's reality, too, giving weight and substance to his surroundings. When he'd tried to engage Martin in the exercise, Martin had scoffed a bit at first ('Don't be so fucking daft- it's a fucking chair in a fucking lounge, for fuck's sake' had been his exact words), but eventually he'd joined in as well, and by the time they were finished, they'd given a history to every item in the flat. Benedict went to the mantel, to his music stand (scratched and nicked in a few places, relics of self-defence after a baddie had broken into the flat to try to exact revenge for the incarceration of his brother) to the sofa with its faded, flattened pillows.
You can do this. It's acting, that's all. And somehow you'll get out of it, don't worry.
How, though? Oh, God….
John came back downstairs in a thick towelling robe. "I'm not cleaning it up, so you might as well stop stalling." He paused at the bottom of the stairs. "Sherlock."
"Mm?" Benedict looked up from Sherlock's violin case (tiny dancing figures crudely etched into the leather, a little Doyle homage – Benedict had done the figures himself) and frowned. "What?"
"You're sure you're okay?"
John's tone was warm and concerned, and it took tremendous effort not to smile and thank him for being so sweetly solicitous. "Of course I'm okay. Why wouldn't I be?"
"Well, Mycroft –"
"Oh, God, Mycroft." Benedict waved a dismissive hand. Mycroft could be a problem. One wrong slip and Benedict might find himself incarcerated in some dank hole with no means of escape. "He's not happy unless he's hounding me, you know that perfectly well."
"It was a hell of a jolt, that's all."
Benedict sighed loudly. "I'm fine. I'll just start tidying up." He marched into the kitchen and bent to pick up the hot plate.
"Don't plug it in." John shouldered past him and yanked open a drawer, pawing through it rapidly. "I'm taping it up again. Do not remove the tape, got it? Don't bloody delete the information or anything –" John used his teeth to tear off a bit of electrical tape and plastered it over the sockets.
So that was how it happened to Sherlock.
John folded his arms and glared up at Benedict. "I will get a biohazard sticker if it helps."
"Technically it's not a biohazard –"
"Oh, shut it." John swatted him on the arm, and then smiled. "Git."
Benedict smiled back. Playing Sherlock opposite Martin playing John was one thing; this was different. It wasn't that he didn't dive deeply into the role – he did, he was as immersed as a working actor could conceivably be. And yet, there was always a layer of professional distraction it wasn't possible to eliminate: nuances of gesture, of facial expression, awareness of props, hitting marks, timing dialogue. None of it was effortless, though a good enough actor made it look that way. He hoped he did. This, though….
John Watson really cared about Sherlock Holmes. Benedict knew that, obviously, but still. It was rather nice to see. Maybe it was time to have Sherlock demonstrate some appreciation. Just a little.
"John." Benedict cleared his throat a bit. "Er. Thank you. For..before. Sorry about the…phone."
"Yeah, that's – that's okay." John peered closely at Sherlock. "What was that, anyway? You were pretty disoriented there for a bit. Talking all sorts of rubbish. More than usual. When Mycroft asked about the tox screen, I actually wondered a bit myself. I didn't say anything to him, though."
Bless your discretion, John Watson. "As you say. Disoriented. Common side effect of electrical shock, you know that." Benedict turned and opened another drawer, pulling out a roll of bin liners. "If you're not going to help me clean, move out of the way."
"Right. Off to shower."
"Don't use all the hot water."
"Says the man who takes half-hour long showers." John went into the bathroom and closed the door. In a moment Benedict heard tinny music filtering through the door, the sound of running water, and slightly off-key singing. Yazoo, sounded like.
Benedict chuckled. That was a detail they hadn't bothered to explore on the show. He looked at the roll of bin liner in his hand. He'd opened the drawer and pulled it out without a second thought, as if he'd expected it to be there. It wasn't a detail from the show, either, although he (and not Martin) had gone through the kitchen, sorting things in his head.
That being the case….
Benedict put his hand on another drawer. Lab equipment. He opened it. Yes – a file, some rubber tubing, a pinch clamp, pipettes, forceps, a few stirring rods. He went to another door, opened it – good Lord, it was mucky – more lab stuff. Another door, two shelves of tubes and flasks and beakers, just as he'd imagined. Sherlock had taken over the kitchen entirely; it was a wonder John wasn't a lot thinner.
Food! Benedict went to the fridge and opened it. Carton of milk, bag of wilted lettuce, containers of takeout food, old stub of cheese, bottles of sauce, vinegar, plastic-covered plate of…something unidentifiable. Spleens, perhaps/ Benedict closed the refrigerator door and concentrated.
Bag of thumbs. Big one.
He opened the door again. No, same stuff.
Well, he wasn't God, wasn't even a minor deity – he just had a working knowledge of the accumulation of clutter that would be in the kitchen of 221B Baker Street. It didn't mean anything.
But it must mean something. This is your iteration of Holmes you've dropped into, not Jeremy Brett's or Basil Rathbone's or Robert Downey Junior's. In some small way, you've helped to create this universe – there must be a way for you to change places again.
Benedict began to walk round the kitchen, gathering up what looked like rubbish and throwing it in the bin liner. He found the syringe that John had mentioned, stuffed with something unidentifiable; it looked a bit like melting plastic. He pitched it and began clearing the table, putting dirty flasks and tubes in the sink. No dishwasher, damn it. He hated washing dishes. Anyway, John was still in the shower.
Ha. Excellent rationalisation, Mr. Holmes.
He tidied the rest of the kitchen efficiently, putting things away, sorting the groceries John had apparently bought and left on the floor. Cans and boxes, pasta, rice. More lettuce, cheese, some grapes – it wasn't much the worse for having been left out a few hours.
As he worked, he pondered his situation. Temporal or spatial anomaly, Sherlock had said confidently. Was that possible? Benedict cast back to the narration he'd done for Dr. Hawking's series and recalled Hawking's hypotheses of the possibility of time travel through a wormhole, but it would require an enormous disturbance of matter, and surely – even accounting for a multiverse, oh God, he sounded like slapdash science fiction – even accounting for a multiverse, the minor voltage emanating from an electrical outlet couldn't produce enough energy to warp a space-time string into a wormhole.
Did Dr. Hawking even exist in this universe?
"My God, it's a miracle."
Benedict turned around to see John, freshly showered and glowing with cleanliness. "Well, you told me to clean up."
"Yeah, but I didn't expect you to actually listen." John opened the fridge. "You even put the food away." He took out the cheese and grapes. "Snack?"
John gave him another smile. "You're in rare form." He took the food to the newly clean worktop and found plates.
Benedict watched him carefully. "Working tomorrow?"
"No. And you're not, either – Mycroft said he needed to speak with us."
"No." The last thing Benedict wanted was to speak with Mycroft.
"You know he'll just send his jack-booted thugs after us. And I exaggerate only slightly." John set a plate before Benedict and sat.
"God…." Benedict cradled his head in his hands. He didn't want to meet with Mycroft, or anybody – he just wanted to curl up and hide until all this was over.
"Come on, you love it. It's not as if you've got anything else on, anyhow." John leant back in his chair, his eyes twinkling. In his towelling robe and with wet hair, he looked younger, more carefree. "And he said it would intrigue you."
Resigned, Benedict nodded. Obviously he couldn't sort everything out now. He needed a good night's sleep, and then, if he didn't wake up in his own universe again, he'd re-commence acting his arse off.
John gave him a searching look, but said nothing.
Benedict managed to get seven hours of sleep in Sherlock's not-terribly-comfortable bed before the mobile shrilled next to him. Actually, shrilled wasn't quite the word – it played the first eight notes of Beethoven's Fifth. Startled, blinking, Benedict scrabbled for the mobile and answered sleepily. "Hello?"
There was a momentary silence on the other end. "The car is waiting outside. Tell me you're not still in bed."
Benedict's heart quickened just a bit. "I'm still in bed, Mycroft."
"Then get out of bed and get dressed, Sherlock. Your client is waiting. I trust last night's little debacle hasn't proved permanently debilitating."
"When did you start managing my daily schedule?" Benedict snapped. No need to act – Mycroft's lack of concern for Sherlock's safety was pretty obnoxious.
"Only on rare occasions. But I promise this one won't bore you. Get dressed." Mycroft rang off abruptly.
Benedict groaned and sat up. The curtains – blackout curtains, for Sherlock's irregular sleep patterns – were tightly drawn, and the room was comfortably cool. He heaved himself out of bed and stumbled to the connecting bathroom door. Five-minute shower, quick bite to eat, and he'd be ready to go.
He was still marvelling at how well his hair had turned out, considering that he hadn't done a thing to it – towel-dry, quick fluff with the fingers, and it was picture-perfect – when John all but hauled him out the door before he'd had a chance for a quick piece of toast and cup of tea. His stomach grumbled in protest, but he stayed in character – Sherlock Holmes existed on a diet of adrenaline and peril – and climbed into the sleek black sedan, tightening his scarf and drawing his coat closer round his body. It felt reassuring, like armour.
The two men in the front seat didn't speak to him, so he didn't say a word to them, hoping it was standard protocol for a Mycroft-engineered quasi-abduction. He watched London through the windows; it looked just the same. Everything was the same.
Almost everything was the same. Benedict closed his eyes and massaged his temples.
"Oh my gosh," John whispered.
Benedict gasped a little as the gates opened, and they drove through silently, past red-coated guardsmen, past black-clad security detail, past stone edifices that he'd only seen distantly or on television.
Benedict, John, and the two men got out of the car and were ushered into the palace, through room after room of staggering luxury and no evident purpose. At last they found themselves in another chamber, more intimate than the other rooms, wood-panelled, Gainsborough and Lely and Turner on the walls, flowered carpet underfoot, and a pair of embroidered sofas facing each other, with a low table in between, set for tea.
Mycroft sat on one of the sofas. A slender, late-middle-aged man sat next to him.
"Mr. Holmes." The man rose to his feet and extended his hand. "Good of you to come."
Benedict repressed a smile, but it was difficult.
Bit of a lag in the space-time continuum. I think I know why we're here.