Author: Ariane DeVere
Word count: This chapter: 4,296 (18,248 in total)
Please heed/revisit Warnings and Disclaimer at the beginning of Chapter 1.
Return to Chapter 1
Martin couldn’t breathe properly and his eyes were so wide that they hurt as he stared in utter shock at the man beside his bed.
“It’s really good to see you,” Arthur told him happily.
Inside Martin’s head there was a grating noise, sounding like massive rusty bolts sliding shut inside the imaginary door which had been crashing open and closed on him for so long. He had still never visualised the door, nor had he been able to find it in the Mind Palace which Mr. Gregory had helped him to build but despite the pain that its slamming had been causing him, the feeling of it locking itself shut filled him with dread.
“You all right, Skip?” Arthur asked.
“What are you ...? How did you ...? Arthur?” Martin asked faintly.
“Yeah, it’s really me!” the steward smiled. “We’ve been trying to get in to see you for ages but the hospital staff wouldn’t let us. But I really really wanted to visit, so Douglas came up with a plan for us to get in over the wall. It was ever such a high wall, Skip, but Douglas boosted me up – but then I couldn’t pull him up behind me.” He lowered his voice to a confidential whisper. “He’s a bit heavier than I thought – I think he’s been eating too much of the cheese tray since he’s had it to himself.”
He smiled cheerily and his voice returned to its normal volume. “He had to wait outside in the end ’cause I didn’t dare try and open the gate in case anyone spotted us, so I came in on my own. And look at you, Skipper! You look brilliant!”
“Arthur ...” Martin still couldn’t get a breath. “This isn’t possible.”
“Yes it is!” the steward told him. “I’m really good at not being noticed when I want to, so I just sneaked in.” He looked proud of himself. “I’d even invented a name in case anyone asked me who I was, ’cause you know I’m not good at making one up on the spot, but no-one even saw me!”
“You’re not ... real,” Martin faltered.
Arthur’s face fell. “Oh, Martin,” he said sadly. “What have they done to you?”
“You don’t exist. You’re not real. Douglas isn’t real.”
“Well, of course Douglas is real,” Arthur told him. “He’s waiting outside! How else could I have got over the wall if he hadn’t helped me? I’d never have got in on my own.”
“But they told me ... You can’t be ... He proved it!” Martin said desperately.
“Poor Martin,” Arthur said sympathetically. “That horrid psychologist has told you all sorts of fibs, hasn’t he? He’s got you all confused and now you don’t know what’s true. He’s told you that me and Mum and Douglas don’t exist, and he wants you to think that you’re not really a pilot and that GERTI isn’t a real plane, and that Wendy isn’t your mum.”
His face became serious. “But it’s so much more complicated than that, Martin,” he said. “I’m going to tell you the real truth – and you know how bad I am at telling lies, so it must be the truth, mustn’t it?”
Standing up and stepping closer to the bed, he reached into his back pocket and took out a small mirror. He handed it to Martin, their fingers touching for a moment, and Martin gasped at the contact. Arthur smiled sadly. “Yes, I’m real, Skip. So maybe I’m not a figment of your imagination. Now, look at yourself.”
Martin lifted the mirror with shaking fingers and looked at his reflection.
“Look,” Arthur said quietly. “The hair. You saw it before, and it’s still there. Dark at the top, even though you’ve never dyed it. Hair doesn’t change colour, does it? I mean, I know you’ve been through a lot lately, but shock doesn’t make your hair go dark. So how can that be possible? These people in the hospital have been telling you that you’re not really Martin Crieff, but here I am proving that you are Martin – but you don’t have red hair. None of it makes sense, does it?”
Inside his Mind Palace, Martin could feel the rooms into which he had locked his family and friends moving forward from the depths of the structure and sliding towards the front entrance. The locks on the doors were bigger than he had previously imagined them and the keys were prominent, jutting towards him and urging him to turn them. He looked at Theresa’s room wistfully. He so wanted to see her one more time and his hand lifted and reached towards it, but then Jack’s face superimposed itself over the doorway, looking at him pleadingly and shaking his head. Martin turned to his mother’s room but the face of Mrs Henson – someone he had only met once – appeared on the wooden panels, dabbing at her eyes with a tissue as she looked at him sadly. Frantically, Martin looked at Simon’s room. Surely his brother could help him? But when he reached for the key Mr. Gregory stepped in front of the door, leaned on his umbrella and looked at him sternly. Martin snatched his hand back and whined, bewildered and afraid.
“You’ve lost your mind,” Arthur said softly, sitting down in the armchair again. “You’ve got no idea what’s real and what isn’t. They’ll never let you fly again. You can’t even remember how to fly GERTI, can you?”
He gently took the mirror from Martin’s hands and put it on the bedside cabinet, then reached into his pocket and took out a small bottle. “I’m sorry you’ve been through all this, Skip,” he said. “It’s not fair, but you’ll never get out of here, and you’ll never know what really happened to you. You don’t want to spend the rest of your life this confused and frightened, do you?”
Patting his arm sympathetically, he held out the bottle towards him. “Five of these will be enough,” he said quietly. “No pain – you’ll just go to sleep.”
Martin stared at him numbly.
“I’m so sorry, Martin,” Arthur continued. “I don’t want you to die, but it’s for the best. I’ll always remember you. You were the best skipper in the world, and I loved flying with you. But you need to let go now. Leave us with happy memories of you, and get away from all this horrid confusion. You can fly forever in your dreams. It’ll be brilliant.”
“Arthur ...” Martin said shakily.
“Just take them, Martin,” Arthur urged him softly. “It’s the only way out of here.” His eyes were locked onto Martin’s and his voice was hypnotic and impossible to resist. Martin reached out and took the bottle.
“I’ll stay with you,” Arthur told him. “I’ll stay with you right to the end. You don’t have to be scared. You’re not alone.”
Trembling, Martin unscrewed the lid of the bottle while Arthur poured a glass of water and held it out to him. Martin tipped out the capsules onto the blanket and stared at them.
“Here you are, Skip,” Arthur said, and Martin took the glass and picked up one of the capsules. Slowly he began to raise it to his mouth, then winced as his internal door rattled violently in its frame, struggling against the bolts holding it closed. His left hand jerked convulsively and splashed some of the water onto the blanket, and the fingers holding the pill shook as he waited for the gunshot that never came. Despairingly, his eyes turned to meet Arthur’s.
“Be brave,” his friend told him.
Martin put the capsule into his mouth, then sipped from the glass and swallowed. He picked up a second one and gazed miserably at Arthur, who gave him an encouraging nod.
“Fly safe, Skip,” he said.
Martin began to move the pill towards his mouth, but then Arthur’s head lifted and he rose to his feet and looked towards the door, his entire demeanour changing in an instant. Martin stared at him, shocked. He would never have imagined that he could look so different. His gaze was sharp; he looked intelligent and very aware of everything around him. His stance matched his face. This wasn’t the friendly and slightly dopey airline steward who Martin thought he had known for years; this was a man ready for anything, and woe betide anybody who got in his way.
“You might as well come in,” he called out in a harsh voice that sounded nothing like Arthur’s gentle tones. “I can hear you existing out there.”
A card swiped through the door and Jack cautiously took a couple of steps into the room. “Evening,” he said calmly.
“What’s in your hand?” Arthur asked, nodding toward Jack’s left arm which was obscured behind the edge of the door.
Jack shrugged. “Didn’t have time to fetch my gun,” he said casually, walking deeper into the room and revealing the broom he was holding.
Arthur snorted. “Put it down, dear,” he said, simultaneously backing closer to Martin. “I can snap his neck before you get any nearer.”
Martin dropped the glass onto the bed. He was now so confused and afraid that he didn’t even notice the water soaking into his bedding as Jack reluctantly laid the broom on the floor and stepped away from it.
“What gave me away?” Arthur asked curiously.
“You should have brought your own drugs instead of raiding the medicine cupboard,” Jack told him. “We figured you would turn up eventually, so our security staff ...” he rolled his eyes slightly to express his opinion of their recent proficiency, “... as well as the hospital staff are under instruction to report anything untoward. One of the nurses just finished an hourly check and told me that the bottle was missing.”
“But you didn’t stop me getting in, did you?” Arthur asked smugly. “I’m surprised you don’t have cameras in this room.”
“What, and run the risk of you hacking into them and filming him?” Jack said scornfully. “Hardly likely. And we figured that if you were planning a visit, you’d manage to disable them without us getting suspicious. We just hoped that ...” his eyes flickered towards Martin, “... Mr. Gregory’s people would be more efficient at spotting a stranger breaking in in the first place.”
“Ah, yes, dear Mr. Gregory,” Arthur said with a smirk. “How is he?”
“He’s fine,” Jack said. “He’s really looking forward to meeting you.”
“I bet he is,” Arthur preened. “I’m going to have to disappoint him, though.”
He glanced at Martin, then grinned at Jack. “Didn’t manage to get him back, then.”
“It’s a work in progress,” Jack shrugged. “But why a pilot? Why did you decide to make him think he was a pilot?”
“Putting him in a crashing plane and filming his demise was always going to make good telly,” Arthur said. He smiled proudly. “Good plan, don’t you think? Did you like the little touch with the red hair?”
“Oh, excellent,” Jack said sarcastically. “But your plan failed, so what are you doing here?”
Arthur’s expression became grim. “He killed my boss,” he said. “You don’t think he’s allowed to get away with that, do you?”
“Your boss killed himself,” Jack said sternly. He pointed towards Martin. “He didn’t do it.”
“Of course he did,” Arthur snapped, and Martin flinched both at the viciousness of his glare and at the revelation that – just as he had feared – his real self had a terrifying history. “And just because your man was rescued in time, I was hardly going to just let him go, was I? He still has to die for what he did. I was hoping for a larger audience but unfortunately nobody but you will see it now.”
Martin let out a groan. Arthur smirked down at him.
“I’ll get to you in a minute, dear,” he said, then straightened up and cracked the knuckles on his right hand as he looked at Jack. “So,” he said cheerfully, “shall we get started?”
“Or you could just leave,” Jack suggested, his stance becoming more alert. Martin gaped at him. He didn’t look like a hospital orderly any more. He looked like a fighter.
“Oh yeah, I could do that,” Arthur said casually, then abruptly hurled himself across the room. Despite his speed, Jack met his assault readily and the two of them struggled with each other, trading blows and kicks. Martin slid lower in the bed, terrified and confused and unable to believe what was happening. For some time neither of the men could gain the upper hand but then they crashed into the side of the bed and Arthur threw himself forward, pinning Jack down on top of Martin’s legs. Gasping, Martin tried to pull himself free and Arthur lifted his head and grinned at him, his smile venomous and horrifying.
“Soon, dear,” he told him.
“Always the bully, eh, Bambi?” Jack snapped.
Martin flinched against the internal sound of the rusty bolts grating while the door rattled frantically. Arthur frowned down at Jack, who took advantage of his momentary confusion and brought his left leg up, jamming his knee ferociously into his side and forcing him to loosen his grip, which gave Jack the opportunity to get his knee under the man’s body and lever him upwards. Arthur jumped upright, pulling his opponent with him and swinging him round to throw him violently against the door. The impact drove the air from Jack’s lungs and he slumped forward, and Arthur seized his head with both hands and slammed it back against the door before twisting around and hurling him to the floor. Jack landed heavily and Arthur kicked him viciously in the side. Jack coughed and curled up around the pain and Arthur kicked him again and again, and eventually Jack slumped sideways, barely conscious. Arthur straightened up and looked across the room to Martin.
“Ready?” he asked.
Terrified, Martin scrambled out of the other side of the bed and managed to totter to the far corner of the room before his knees gave out under him and he slid down to sit on the floor, curling up tightly and hugging himself.
“Aww, come on, Skip,” the man said in the cheery voice of the air steward, “don’t be scared of me.”
And for a moment, Martin wasn’t afraid. He raised his head and looked at the smile of his friendly colleague who was holding out a hand to him as if to help him up. Unable to stop himself, he began to raise his own hand but then Jack, his face contorted in a rictus of pain, uncurled his body and grabbed at Arthur’s feet, pulling his legs out from under him and sending him tumbling to the floor. Roaring with fury, Arthur rolled onto his back and pulled his feet free, kicking out at his opponent. Jack slid out of his way and Arthur climbed swiftly to his feet. Jack lay and watched him warily but Arthur stood still, breathing heavily but grinning down at him. After a moment he deliberately took a step backwards, then opened his hands on either side of his body with the palms towards Jack before twitching his fingers in a provocative, ‘Come on, then,’ invitation.
Jack levered himself to his feet and leaped forward, and Arthur immediately feinted towards Martin. Jack swerved to intercept him but the change of direction threw him off balance and Arthur stepped aside, grabbed his arm and punched him savagely in the face before hurling himself forward and bundling him to the floor again. He followed him down and landed on top of him, kneeling on his torso and trapping his arms under him. Jack tried to knee him in the back but Arthur slid downwards to prevent further movement, then wrapped his hands around his neck and began to throttle him.
“That’s your weakness right there,” he snarled triumphantly. “Always wanting to protect others, and especially him.”
He grinned as Jack writhed helplessly underneath him. “But he’s already dead. He just hasn’t stopped breathing yet. You can’t save him this time.” Increasing the pressure on his throat, his voice filled with sarcasm. “If it’s going to make you unhappy watching him die, you’d better go first, Doctor Watson.”
’Doctor Watson.’ The door in Martin’s mind struggled to wrench itself open, the bolts creaking with the strain. He stared at Jack, unable to move, unable to do anything to help his friend whose face was flushing a deeper red as he suffocated. Jack turned his eyes towards Martin and locked his gaze on him.
’He’s dying,’ Martin realised and as if in response, Jack’s voice sounded in his mind.
‘Please, God, let me live.’
Let me live ... let me live ... let me live. As the phrase echoed in Martin’s mind, the bolts holding his internal door shut drew back sharply and a crash of pain thudded through his head as the door flew open and smashed against the wall before slamming closed again; and now at last Martin began actually to see it. Its panels were painted a deep black, and there were three doorbells on the right-hand door jamb, and then a brass door knocker slowly phased onto the door, gradually becoming more and more solid and visible; and then a set of brass numbers appeared one after the other above the knocker ...
2 ... 2 ... 1 ... B
... and finally the door was clear in his mind and this time instead of bursting open, it slowly swung on its hinges until it rested against the wall and revealed the hallway behind it. It was dark in the hall and Martin couldn’t see a thing but then Jack ...... John was there, standing just inside the door, reaching for the light switch and turning it on. Light flooded into the hallway and Sherlock blinked in the sudden brightness and squinted up the staircase in front of him. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew exactly the layout of the floor above and he could feel the door opposite the stairs beginning to open. Inside the living room behind the door, information buzzed around like a swarm of bees, angry at their confinement and full of indignation about being locked away and deserted for so long in a small space after being used to much more luxurious rooms in the Mind Palace. As the door opened wider the information bees gathered together and flew through the gap, racing down the stairs, pouring into his head and then swarming around frenetically inside his mind. The pain was tremendous and Sherlock clutched his head and groaned as each information bee competed for his attention, desperate to be heard, contemplated, catalogued and properly filed in the Mind Palace. He could feel their indignation as they swirled around, each one buzzing loudly in a bid to make him notice it first, clamouring for the proper appreciation.
Staring across the hospital room, Sherlock realised that John’s struggles were becoming weaker. He knew he must do something but the information bees were so distracting and he just couldn’t think ... until the baritsu bee surged angrily forward, forcing all the others to retreat a little. ‘Don’t sit there!’ it buzzed loudly. ‘Save him! You know how to save him!’
Sherlock’s gaze skimmed rapidly around the room, looking for a weapon as he realised that he was too physically weak to pull Arthur off his friend.
‘In the corner!’ hummed the baritsu bee while rapidly teaching him the moves which he had forgotten, and Sherlock tensed his legs and surged up and forward in one smooth movement, lunging across the room and dropping to one knee to snatch up the broom. Arthur was already releasing John and rising to meet the new danger but Sherlock was faster, pushing himself to his feet and swinging the broom handle viciously round to slam it against the side of his head. As Arthur reeled from the blow, Sherlock shifted his grip and jammed the end of the handle into his solar plexus. Arthur’s breath left him in a pained wheeze as he stumbled back and Sherlock followed him, stepping over John while simultaneously drawing back the broom before he whirled it around and up and then lashed it down onto the top of Arthur’s head. The man fell to his knees, blood trickling down his forehead. He peered up at Sherlock and his face morphed back into that of the harmless airline steward.
“Skip,” he whined plaintively.
“The only captain in the room is behind me,” Sherlock told him, then he spun in a circle and rapidly brought the broom handle round with all the strength he could exert. It shattered against the side of his opponent’s head, splinters flying in all directions, and the man who had never been Arthur Shappey slumped down and was still.
Looking down at him for a moment to ensure that he was fully unconscious and not faking it, Sherlock dropped to his knees to check John who clutched at his arm panting and coughing before he eventually managed to croak weakly, “Taking him down with a broom? That’s the most ridiculous thing you’ve ever done.”
“At least I didn’t invade Afghanistan,” Sherlock replied immediately.
John choked out a giggle, then his expression changed to one of panic when Sherlock sagged sideways, slumping off his knees and onto his backside as dizziness struck him. John struggled into a sitting position and grabbed his arms.
“How many pills did you take?”
Sherlock stared at him, the annoyed and demanding information bees still taking up most of his attention. John shook him roughly.
“Sherlock! Martin! How many pills did you take?”
“Don’t call me Martin,” Sherlock said in irritation. “And I only took one.”
“Oh, thank Christ,” John breathed, sinking back down to lie on the floor and pressing a hand to his side where Arthur – or whatever his name was – had kicked him. With his other hand he took out his phone, hit a speed dial and demanded back-up in Room 221 immediately.
Sherlock felt exhausted. The information bees were matching his tiredness, sulkily quietening their attention-seeking buzzing and hovering down to land on a leather sofa inside his mind. Even though it didn’t seem possible, the bees were definitely pouting as they realised that they weren’t going to get back to their correct places in the Mind Palace any time soon. As one, they flounced round on the sofa and petulantly turned their backs on him.
John lowered his phone and propped himself up on his elbows, looking across to Sherlock while simultaneously keeping a wary eye on the unconscious man behind him.
“Just prove to me how much you’re back, please,” he requested hoarsely, still breathing heavily. “What’s your name?”
“You’ve already called me by my name,” Sherlock pointed out.
“Full name, you twit.”
Sherlock sighed. “Sherlock Holmes,” he said exaggeratedly. It felt good to speak his own name again.
“I don’t have one.”
“What’s your date of birth?”
“The sixth of January nineteen seventy-six.”
Sherlock sighed again.
“Indulge me,” John said sternly.
“Two two one B Baker Street, London W1.”
“Full post code?”
“No idea,” Sherlock told him.
“What’s your sister’s name?”
Sherlock smirked. “He may behave like the Queen sometimes, but my brother’s name is Mycroft.” His face became serious and he grimaced in exasperation. “Damn – he’s been the one treating me all this time. He’ll never let me hear the end of it.”
“Who’s the Prime Minister?” John persisted.
“Not a clue,” Sherlock said after a moment’s thought. “Does it matter?”
John grinned. “Oh, you’re definitely back,” he said happily, and sank down onto the floor again. A moment later he lifted his head.
“How much do you remember of the past weeks?”
Sherlock frowned. “All of it since I’ve been here,” he said, “though I’m fuzzy on what happened before I arrived at the hospital.”
“We’ll explain everything later,” John told him, “but not now. That pill you took is going to kick in any time. It won’t do you any harm on its own, but you’ll sleep for hours.”
“I don’t really mind,” Sherlock said tiredly. “At least it’s keeping the bees quiet.”
“Okay ...” John said cautiously.
“I’ll explain that later, too,” Sherlock said, already resolving never to mention the information bees again. He yawned.
“Let’s get you to bed,” John said, grimacing as he tried to sit up. Sherlock stumbled to his feet, ignoring John’s protest and wobbling dangerously for a few seconds before he caught his balance. Then he reached down and held out a hand to his friend, who took it but put as little pressure on it as possible while pulling himself upwards. When he was upright, he stood breathing heavily for a moment, still clinging to Sherlock’s hand and bracing himself on his shoulder with his other hand.
Inside Sherlock’s head, one of the information bees drowsily buzzed a short phrase which he recognised immediately. It seemed appropriate to the current situation.
“Got your breath back?” Sherlock asked as the sound of hurrying footsteps began to approach along the corridor.
John’s grin was all the reply he needed.
... Or maybe Not.
Get your own breath back, then head to the coda.