“I need you to go on holiday.”
Greg Lestrade sighed and scrubbed his hand across his eyes. He looked wistfully at the luggage full of dirty clothing he'd set down on the floor of his new flat to answer his mobile. "Hello to you too, Mycroft. How's things?"
"Inspector, this is important. I need you to go to Dartmoor."
"Dartmoor?" Greg pulled a face. "Why the hell do you need me to go to Dartmoor? No wait—I know exactly why you need me to go to Dartmoor."
"Yes, I'm afraid Sherlock is making friends with the locals as usual, and I'd appreciate your supervision."
"I'm not your brother's keeper, Mycroft."
"No, but your bonhomie with the local constabulary might be beneficial for this situation. Give them the 'Lestrade charm', I believe you might say?"
Greg sighed again. "Leave it to you to make what should be a compliment into something…garish. Fine, Mycroft, I'll go. Where and when?"
"I'll have my assistant text the details to your phone. Thank you, Inspector. I do so appreciate it."
"Right. Yes, sure, whatever. Goodbye, Mycroft."
Mycroft rang off and Greg stood there holding his mobile in his hand wearily. He’d just walked in the door. And he was never going to get used to the flat at this rate; he hadn't even finished unpacking yet. Greg threw himself full length on the sofa and placed his mobile on his sternum to wait for the text. This was going to be a very long night.
Greg grinned into the bright Devonshire sunshine. It was good to get London out of your lungs, but it was also good to get free of the bitterness of the holiday; the south of France was, as usual, a lovely place to visit, but it was certainly better without the end of his marriage hanging over his head. The plan for him and his (ex)wife to sign their divorce papers on holiday, to wash themselves clean of their marriage in the sea, had been a good one in theory but horrific in practise. He suspected his wife had been messing about with at least two of the resort staff by the end of it. The quicker he got used to the idea of being alone, the better off he'd be; thus, this second holiday and his inability to say no to bloody Mycroft Holmes when he sent Greg on a chase to babysit his younger brother.
He left the boys to it back at the pub and wandered around the building, spying a map posted with the local hillwalking features. He stood idly in front of it, not really reading.
"A trek through the wilderness doesn't seem quite up your street," said a familiar voice behind him. Greg spun in astonishment to see Mycroft Holmes himself standing there, cool and looking almost unrecognisable in a blue blazer, no tie, and pristine white trousers. "If you don't mind me saying."
Greg closed his jaw before he caught flies in it. "What are you doing here?" He realised, belatedly, that he sounded a bit too much like Sherlock for comfort.
"Oh, just...checking in." Mycroft waved a hand lazily, as if it were the commonest thing of all for him to put on casual-wear and be there personally. The closest to it Greg had ever experienced was being kidnapped halfway through a case to explain something. Perhaps this was a strange version of that.
Greg looked at Mycroft dubiously. "Checking in, hmm?"
"How is my brother doing, anyway?" Mycroft cast his eye about as if he didn't know exactly where his brother at any given moment, ever. It was one if Mycroft's creepiest qualities. Oh, let's be reasonable, Greg thought to himself: it was Mycroft's creepiest quality. The rest could be chalked up to some public-school-public-servant affectation that made Mycroft not seem to approve of any of your choices without specifically indicating which made him smile that wan, tight-lipped smile the least. Greg had known Mycroft for years, and didn't once think he'd seen his genuine smile.
He decided to play along with whatever Mycroft's game was. "He seems to be fine. Didn't know my name is Greg. Or he deleted it." Greg rolled his eyes.
"Yes, my brother can be very forgetful when it comes to the details of his friends' lives."
"It can be most tiresome."
Greg wanted to roll his eyes. "Whereas you don't forget a thing."
Mycroft pinned him with a look. It felt shockingly intimate. "Naturally."
Greg found it was difficult to look away, but eventually he managed to. "Mycroft, what are you really doing here?"
"As I said," Mycroft replied, raising an eyebrow. "I'm merely checking in."
This was ridiculous. "I have never known you to leave your office or club unless it's to go home," Greg said. "Or to go annoy your brother. So I can only assume this is a more extreme version of the latter. I just can't tell why you dragged me into this."
"Did I drag you into this?" Mycroft asked. This time both eyebrows went up.
Greg sighed. "That's it. I need my tea." He walked toward the car park. "Are you coming?"
He heard more than saw Mycroft splutter and follow him. "Inspector—"
"If we stay here your brother is going to see you, and I know you don't want that. I figured your next move was to whisk me off somewhere, so I'm just heading that off at the pass."
He glanced sideways during Mycroft's shocked silence and smothered his own amusement. "Come on," he said as he unlocked his car. "Get in, I'm starved."
Mycroft looked very out of place in Greg's practical, mid-sized sedan. He took up more space than a weedy toff ought to, his head nearly reaching the ceiling, and he looked so uncomfortable sitting there buckled in safely with the seat pushed all the way back that Greg actually chuckled. He snuck a peek at Mycroft from the corner of his eye as he pulled out of the carpark. "Which way?" he said. "I bet you know a good restaurant around here. You know everything."
"As flattering as that is, Inspector, I don't—oh. Well. There is a lovely little establishment which operates as an adjunct to a hotel I've visited in the past. That should suffice."
Greg chuckled. Of course Mycroft knew a place.
Mycroft directed them for about ten awkward minutes before they drove into an idyllic hamlet tucked up against a woodland on one side and a large hill on the other. Quaint shops lined the road, signs of a sleepy tourist trade, and Mycroft pointed to a large, white-fronted building with an old fashioned sign hanging out front.
Greg parked on the street, peering up at the unmistakable sight of a 19th century-style inn.
"Don't underestimate the establishment by the look of the facade," Mycroft said as they got out. "It's exactly as old as you think it is, but the character is stunning. As is the food, as a matter of fact."
When they cleared the doors to the foyer Greg understood what Mycroft had been talking about. It was classically beautiful inside, a little bit Romanesque, a little bit Gothic, clearly renovated and toned down for modern tastes but still lovely. Greg had thought the building a simple one-up one-down shopfront, but instead the entire front covered the large foyer and a wide staircase which led a stately path up to the first floor. Presumably the rest of the inn spread left and right from this central staircase. It was huge.
Greg turned to look at Mycroft and found the man already watching him. "Wow," Greg said in undisguised amazement, and Mycroft appeared gratified.
"Wait until you taste the bisque," Mycroft said, flashing Greg a tiny smirk before leading him to a large dining room down the corridor on their left.
They spoke little as they got settled and put their drinks orders in. Greg was overly aware of the poshness of this place and felt a strong pull to gaze around them at the decor, but the idea of appearing overawed was repellent so he kept his eyes front. This meant that he was forced either to stare at his menu or at Mycroft.
While Greg felt a bit outclassed, Mycroft looked right at home. He sat up straight, neck long, poring over the menu like a lord. Which, as far as Greg was concerned, was as near the truth as made no difference. Greg sipped at his tonic water and tried not to feel like someone's country cousin.
"As I said, the seafood bisque is a delight, as is the salmon and grapefruit ceviche," said Mycroft, eyes on his menu.
Greg scanned down the row of starters to find anything that sounded vaguely familiar. "Bruschetta?" he said, looking up at Mycroft.
He received a small smile. "A simple choice, but delicious nonetheless."
"Some have said the same about me," Greg said to his menu, not expecting any response, but to his surprise Mycroft actually chuckled. He looked up to find an unfamiliar light dancing in Mycroft's eyes. Greg couldn't help but smile back.
"I doubt anyone calls you simple," Mycroft said.
"Not to my face." This made Mycroft chuckle again. Greg wasn't sure what was going on, and it made him internally squirm.
It took some rapid decision-making, but when the waiter came to take their order Greg was ready. He ordered the bruschetta and something with pork, and Mycroft went with the bisque and a chestnut-stuffed chicken monstrosity. He pointedly didn't flinch when Mycroft ordered their wine for them, however he was beginning to wonder how many meals of cheap risotto he was going to have to eat over the next month to justify paying for this. Splashing out on an expensive meal was not what he had in mind when he suggested this excursion. Then he looked up at Mycroft and realised he knew exactly who was going to be paying for this meal—this meal which he wouldn't be eating if Mycroft hadn't grabbed him by the metaphoric ear and dragged him across the country to play nursemaid.
The starters were excellent.
Lestrade wasn't sure how crusty bread and tomato managed to taste that good, and the spoonful of bisque was fantastic even if Lestrade didn't really enjoy seafood.
"…So I was outside the building waiting for my friend to be finished, knocking a football about," Greg was saying, "when this guy came pelting down the stairs and out onto the pavement. He pushed me down, and while I was getting up another guy came down yelling that the first guy had stolen something. So kicked the football at the guy's head and hit it, bang on. He stumbled and fell." Greg grinned. "One in a million chance. I didn't have to buy a round for weeks."
"Is that when you decided to become a police officer?" Mycroft said, finishing his bisque.
"No." Greg pulled a face that indicated that was laughable. "That's when I decided never ever to stop playing football."
Mycroft's mouth quirked. "Seems wise. You never know when it could come in handy."
"This is what I keep telling my teammates."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "You have a team?"
"Yes. ‘Team’ sounds more official than, 'a group of people who get together and ruin themselves on the pitch every couple of weeks.'"
Mycroft gave Greg a small, insincere smile, and Greg suddenly wondered just how much of a bore he was being. He fumbled for a new subject just as the waiter brought their mains.
"So," he said, and cleared his throat. "Do you have an adventure story that happened at university?"
Mycroft talked while Greg started in on his meal. He tried the pork and was transported into another place, a world of earthly pleasure and meat and…nngh. It made his eyes roll back into his head. He made a noise in his throat that he just barely stifled, and Mycroft gave him a strange look.
"Sorry," Greg said, remembering his surroundings. "Go on." He'd vaguely been paying attention to the story; it was something about stealing the hat off some porter and how it made the rounds through a college. It didn't sound particularly like an adventure to Greg, but perhaps that was just a matter of definitions.
He tried to pay attention this time when Mycroft spoke. "So I finished delivering that poor man's hat and went back to my studio."
"I'm sorry," Greg cut in. "Your studio?" He couldn't for the life of him imagine what Mycroft was talking about. Had he missed something?
"Yes," Mycroft nodded, a note of amusement in his voice. "My art studio." Greg stared at Mycroft, dumbfounded. "Surely, Inspector, you don't imagine my brother is the only one with what our mother terms, 'art in the blood'."
"I…" There seemed no diplomatic way to answer that. Luckily, he didn't have to. Mycroft just continued his explanation.
"I carved out time while I was at university to paint. It helped me think."
"Do I detect past tense?" Gregory ate a rogue bit of endive, which gave him a chance to chew and contemplate the amusing mental image of Mycroft in some sort of smock, painting still-lives of newspapers and leaded-glass brandy snifters and expensive pens.
"Alas," Mycroft said. "You do. I rarely have time to paint anymore."
"You should make time."
Mycroft raised an eyebrow, and Greg wondered if that might not have been a bit presumptuous. Who was he to suggest what Mycroft do with his time? As far as Greg knew, the entire world would fall to pieces if Mycroft took an afternoon off to paint.
To his surprise, Mycroft dipped his head in assent. "I probably should, yes." He frowned into midair. "I was indeed happier then."
Greg felt like he was intruding on this introspection, and tried to steer the conversation onto more familiar ground: needling a Holmes. "So, are you ever going to tell me what you're doing here in Dartmoor?"
Mycroft's eyes zeroed in on Greg's face, which would be alarming if he hadn't been terribly, dully inured to that sort of look. "As a matter of fact, Inspector, I am not."
Greg took a bite of his pork. "Fair enough." And he gave him a cheeky smile.
Mycroft blinked, a caricature of amusement, then he wiped his mouth with very precise movements and stood. "If you'll pardon me a moment, I have a telephone call to make."
Greg excused him with a nod and continued eating. He wouldn't be surprised to find that Mycroft's "call" was purely a contrivance to make Greg uncomfortable, but if so Mycroft was underestimating Greg's nerve. He was nearly finished with his meal by the time Mycroft returned.
"My apologies," Mycroft said.
"Where were we?"
"I was being nosy and you were trying to make me uncomfortable, if memory serves." Greg tamped down the smile quirking the corner of his mouth and went on before giving Mycroft a chance to respond. "So what's good for pudding?"
Mycroft, it turned out, was rather fond of a fruit tart, a fact which Greg was sure to laugh sophomorically over with John as soon as they were able. Greg ended up ordering a slice of walnut-encrusted chocolate cake that almost made the whole venture worthwhile.
"Well, Inspector, this was an unexpected pleasure. Thank you for the suggestion."
Greg looked up from his cake and wondered what Mycroft's game was. "I hope it justified your trip all the way out here to…?"
"Check up on things," said Mycroft, and ate a bit of tart.
"Of course," Greg said, and did not roll his eyes in the slightest.
When the bill came, he slid it across the table to Mycroft's elbow. "I have been home less than an hour in two-and-a-half weeks," he said. "You pulled me out here, and I don't even know why because you're out here too. So you can pay."
To Mycroft's credit, he betrayed not one lick of surprise. "Of course," he said. "That does seem fair. Thank you again for interrupting what I'm sure would be a most invigorating session of unpacking and laundering to come out to Dartmoor and roam around the moor in your own personal Blyton-esque adventure. That does sound most dull."
Greg was surprised Mycroft managed not to drip sarcasm on his tie. "As a matter of fact, I had been looking forward to some down time before I went back to work."
"Oh, Inspector. Surely you can mourn the death of your marriage in slow moments while hunting a ravaging animal across the English countryside."
Greg boggled, and then he fumed. "Excuse me? What do you know about it?"
"Enough." The diners at the tables around them cast Mycroft curious glances, but Mycroft ignored them. He lowered his voice. "I know enough."
"You don't get to bring up my wife. Ever."
"Ex-wife." Mycroft blazed quietly at Greg, and Greg stared at the muscle twitching in Mycroft's jaw. "Your idiot of an ex-wife, who cheated on you for nearly two years. With whom you went on holiday to sign the divorce papers. A rather foolish idea don't you think, Inspector? Trapped in an island resort with a woman who even then was having sex with one of the resort staff several cabins over? Futilely hoping she'd see the error of her ways and come back to you?"
Greg stood. "I'm done here." His heart raced, and his vision was starting to swim with fury. "Phone your assistant," he said. "She can take you home." Greg walked out to his car, leaving Mycroft sitting at the table with the bill and his wallet and a complex expression on his face.
Greg sat in his car for a good ten minutes, just trying to breathe, fighting to clear the red from the edges of his vision before he could drive off. Luckily Mycroft didn't appear, or Greg wasn't sure he'd be able to keep from tearing the insufferable, presumptive, arsehole limb from limb.
He took a deep breath as he put the car into gear. Simply leaving and heading back to London was an appealing idea, but his luggage was at the inn and, truth be told, a rebellious part of him really was looking forward to scrubbing himself clean of the hellish holiday with a good bit of detecting and a tromp through the woods.
Damn Mycroft. Damn the man.