A PC walked up to Lestrade as he bent by one of the flags SOCO had left. "Sir, there's a call from the Chief Super. He'd like you to call him back."
"Why didn't he just call my mobile?" He peered at her.
She shrugged and wandered off. "He didn't say, sir," her voice trailed back to him.
He stood with a grunt and snapped off one of his gloves so he could fish his phone out of his pocket. Twenty feet away, Sherlock was bending over to examine the trunk of a tree while John pretended he wasn't examining him. Business as usual, then.
The phone rang out only once before it was snatched up and a brisk male voice answered. "Ah, Greg. Good. I was just on the phone with Tracey. He says that the body belongs to the woman who was sent the ears last week?"
"Yeah. At this point we're treating it as a related inquiry."
"Good. Listen, there's a reason I told Tracey to have you phone me. We've just had a call in. I know this sounds odd, but there will be a car to pick you up in a few minutes and take you to a meeting at Whitehall." There was a distinct sinking feeling in Greg's stomach. "I've tried to explain that you're in the middle of a case, but apparently the case is why you're being sent to this meeting, so…"
"Don't worry about it, sir." Greg sighed. "I suspect I know exactly what this is about."
As soon as he stood at the trailhead to wait for the car, he dialled Mycroft. "Why are you doing this?"
"I don't know what you mean, Inspector."
"The hell you don't. Explain to me why I'm being sent away from my own damn crime scene just to report to you."
"Because my brother won't do it."
The black car pulled up and the driver opened the door. "I'm sorry," Greg said, "but that's not a good enough reason for me."
"Then why are you getting into the car?"
Greg scowled at the driver as he closed Greg's door and walked around the front of the car to get back behind the wheel. "You've won this round, Mycroft. But you'd better have a pot of tea waiting. I've been out in the woods for the better part of the morning."
Greg huffed at him.
Mycroft sounded smugly cheerful as he said, "I will see you in twenty minutes, Inspector."
It wasn't the first time that Greg had been to Mycroft's office—his real office, not the official one in Whitehall—and yet for all that, it never ceased to impress him. On its face, it was a nondescript office building several streets away. But inside was all Mycroft's: the heart of his own little empire, the place where his army of assistants and un-spies and security staff surveilled and evaluated and created elaborate reports. Greg didn't really know exactly what they did, but he wasn't stupid, and he sure as hell wasn't unobservant.
As usual, he stepped into the lift in the deceptively-empty foyer, and it immediately took him to the proper floor. Every time Greg visited he tried to discern just to what floor the lift took him, but he could never quite decide. Was it the third? Or the fourth? There were no lights or buttons on the elevator that indicated, only one menacing button with a label that specified it was to be pressed only in case of life-threatening emergencies. Lestrade leaned back and stared at the mirrored wall and caught himself posing as a fine specimen of a human male for whomever was watching the security camera behind the mirror.
When the door slid open, Greg stepped into a small corridor that led to the outer office.
"Good…" The assistant's eyes flicked to the clock at the corner of her monitor and back to whatever she was typing. "…afternoon," she said.
Greg looked at his watch. 12:03. "Technically afternoon, yes, I suppose. But I'm not actually inclined to agree that it's a good one," he said, and thought he caught a hint of a smirk at the corner of her well-formed mouth.
"Mr. Holmes is expecting you. Please have a seat."
Mycroft was going to make him wait, now? Out here in the uncomfortable silence, being ignored by a pretty young woman and several awkwardly-placed-yet-well-tended pot plants? Greg sat and propped his hands on his knees, then blew out a breath. A wave of lethargy hit; he really hadn't been sleeping well, and it was beginning to catch up to him. There was a beep from the phone on the assistant's desk, and after she picked it and listened she put it right back down again without saying a word.
"He's ready to see you now," she said, and Greg sighed. This all felt decidedly like Mycroft demonstrating his control over the situation. Greg got the picture.
By the time Greg was sat in front of Mycroft's large and lacquered desk, he'd already had enough of the smug git's face. He looked down at the array of biscuits and tea set in front of him. "Why do you always think you can bribe me with food?"
Mycroft raised an eyebrow. "Can't I?"
"Then with what shall I bribe you?"
Greg rolled his eyes, unwilling to mask his annoyance. "Listen, Mycroft, this isn't how it works. You don't get to use me as an emissary between you and your brother. Stop being children."
"Inspector, if you did not volunteer to intervene, he would have made your life difficult throughout the..." Mycroft tipped open a folder from his desk and scanned it. "…Vinelli case. Don't you agree?"
Sitting back in his chair, Greg folded his arms and peered at him. "If I don't comply, you don't get his help."
Mycroft quirked his head and stared evenly at him. "That is true."
"So perhaps you ought to treat me a little better. I could walk any time. You think I'm afraid of Sherlock in a sulky fit? Who do you think picked up the pieces after the case with the cryptogryphs? Who do you think talked him down because he didn't translate the dancing men correctly? Who kept him from relapse?" Greg hadn't moved. He delivered this entire screed reclined back in his chair, holding Mycroft's gaze.
"You did. Of course you did, Inspector. Why do you suppose I continue to ask for your assistance?"
"Because you like having me as a whipping boy."
"Trust me, Inspector Lestrade. If I wanted you for my whipping boy you would know it."
Long seconds ticked over as they stared at each other. Greg staunchly refused to squirm. Then there was a brief twitch in Mycroft's eye, and Greg relaxed.
"Well," he said. "Perhaps we should get on with it?" Greg raised his eyebrows at Mycroft, who nodded briefly and pressed a button on his phone.
"Please send in those files."
After a few moments, the attractive assistant entered and handed Greg a folder which showed that the corpse in the woods, Susan Bishop, worked within Mycroft's organisation in an uncertain capacity. Many of the paragraphs were blacked out with marker pen.
"So you see," Mycroft said, "I'd appreciate being kept current on the investigation."
"It's an active investigation. Even as her employer, you don't have the right to—"
"Oh, I'm not sure that term adequately categorises our relationship." Greg's head snapped up. Was Mycroft saying they two had been… "No no," Mycroft said, looking a bit disappointed at Greg's assumption. "The relationships formed within my organisation often transgress traditional and expected boundaries, but not in that…manner." There was a look of distaste on his face. "I cannot explain why, but you must trust me."
"I don't trust you."
Mycroft pinned him with a glance. "I am aware of that, Inspector."
"What makes you think I'm going to, then?"
Greg blinked. How did Mycroft—oh, of course. "That's in my file?"
"Not your official file, no. But the one I have, yes."
Amy been a brilliant young PC, sharp as a tack, going places, and Greg had operated as her mentor and her support, being almost fatherly in his interactions. She had been killed in the line almost five years ago, but Greg still remembered how much it had devastated him to have someone who held much of his hope and care cut down so young and in such a brutal way. Was it possible the corpse in the woods was Mycroft's Amy?
No. Mycroft? Impossible.
"So how do you know about Amy, then?"
Mycroft wanted to play it this way? Fine. "I really need to get back to the crime scene."
"Sherlock will be long gone by now."
"...You do know I have duties other than caretaking your brother?"
"Yes. I do." Mycroft was staring at Greg with a steely gaze.
Greg huffed out a laugh. "Why do I get the feeling you know more about what I do than any civilian ought to?"
"That's assuming I'm a civilian."
Greg held up a hand. "I don't…want…to know."
Mycroft broke the tension by getting up and peering out the window. "That's a relief to me, since I couldn't tell you regardless."
"Or you'd have to kill me?"
"No no, Inspector." He turned around. A trace of humour quirked Mycroft's mouth. "Or I'd have to have you killed."
"I appreciate the distinction."
"That's something about you I enjoy."
"I'm glad to know there's something."
"Please," Mycroft said. "Do not underestimate me."
"How could anyone? You never give them a chance."
Mycroft lifted an eyebrow. "Because I show them exactly what I'm capable of?"
Greg looked around at the pristine and spacious office set in an edifice which seemed more like a well-dressed fortress than any listed building described as such. "Yes," he said. "You make your capabilities perfectly clear."
"Good. That's good." Mycroft gave Greg a wan smile, and they just looked at each other for a moment.
Greg sighed. "Fine. I'll keep you up to date on the case. But don't tell anyone I'm doing it," he pointed. "Don't get me in trouble."
"I wouldn't dream of it, Inspector."
With the fact that Susan Bishop had worked for Mycroft, Greg had been expecting the case to involve twelve governmental agencies, a cover-up, and probably a secret lab somewhere. However, it turned out to be a simple matter of revenge and passion and anger, and the expression on Mycroft's face when Greg reported this was…complex. They were sat at opposite sides of Mycroft's desk once again, and Greg had been talking so long the tea had gone cold.
"So the ears had been meant for her sister," Mycroft said.
"Yes. It was all a case of mistaken identity."
Greg watched the curious sight of Mycroft slumping in his chair and scrubbing a trembling hand over his features for a moment. He felt as if he were intruding on something private, something he wasn't meant to see.
"You know what it's like, Inspector. To be given that sort of gift, for someone to… It's more than emulation. It's…" Pain flashed over Mycroft's face, and though he'd tried to conceal it by looking down at his desk, it was plain as day to Greg. He didn't quite know how to respond to this. It was more than a little unnerving.
So he simply said, "Yes. I know what it's like."
Mycroft sighed, and it looked as if he was putting all his pieces back together, bit by bit, reassembling himself into the stark and gracefully dangerous man Greg had always known. Mycroft looked up at Greg. "Thank you, Inspector."
Greg swallowed. "You're, er. You're welcome."
Mycroft pressed his mouth into a line. "I also believe I owe you an apology."
"Yes." Mycroft looked out the window. "I believe I was a bit brusque when we were at the restaurant outside Dartmoor."
Oh. "Brusque is not exactly the word I would use."
"What would be more appropriate?"
"You were an arsehole, Mycroft."
Mycroft's mouth twitched. "I think that's probably true." He turned to Greg again. "Will you accept my apology?"
There were many things that differentiated the Holmes brothers, and this appeared to be one of them. "I suppose. You owe me, though."
Mycroft blinked at him. "Do I."
"The fact that I was forced to make my own way back to the inn is…"
"Doesn't matter. You were an arsehole, and you owe me." Who knows. This could be fun, having Mycroft owe him a favour. Besides which: the words he'd thrown out about Greg's (ex)wife still stung, flying round and round in his head like angry bees. Even now as he thought about them he became angry again.
"Very well. I owe you for my indiscretion at the restaurant," Mycroft said, and Greg was suddenly sick of the sight of him.
He drank a mouthful of cold tea. "Apology accepted," Greg said, and used the excuse of paperwork to get out of there soon after.