“Hey, get off! This is supposed to be your round.”
“How d’you reckon that?”
“Because you’re my guest, and I brought you, and if you don’t get me completely drunk, I will stick your hand in a bucket of water tonight. Plus I think the bar staff undercharge when it’s your round.”
Greg wrinkled his nose. “Why would they do that?”
Faye stared up at him stupidly. “Have you seen yourself, Greg? You’re my cousin and I’d shag you senseless ninety ways from Sunday.”
He started to run a hand across his short, dark hair, then felt the spikes, and remembered he was on vacation. He settled for scratching at the back of his neck instead. “Oh, come off it.”
“Seriously, Greg. No, really. Look, just get the fucking drinks, would you?”
“Yeah, but look - the staff are all male, see? They don’t give me a second glance.”
“You’re in Cambridge, Greg. Think about it. Do the fucking maths.”
Greg made a face at her, rolling his eyes as he reached across and snatched up her empty glass. “Fine.”
A large group had entered the pub, and it took quite a while for Greg to catch the barman’s eye. And this time, when he did, he was watching, so noticed the blink, the eye-shift, the blush. “Two Pride,” he said, holding his gaze steady. And yes, there was the small smile, as well. He didn’t even bother to look at the change, leaving the coins behind on the bar. He was never, ever going to admit this to Faye.
By the time he made it back to the table, Faye had been absorbed into the edge of a crowd, who seemed to be watching some kind of argument. She didn’t notice him until he nudged her with his elbow, handing over her drink. “What’s going on here?”
She grinned up at him. “You forgot to say ‘now then, now then.’”
“Shut up.” He watched the argument for a bit. It seemed to be a truth-or-dare kind of thing that had gotten out of hand. One young man was sitting on a chair in a corner, tilted onto the back legs, leaning against the wall. His arms were folded on his chest, and Greg had never seen such a look of bored disdain on the face of anyone under 50 before. His opponent was leaning one shoulder against the wall next to him, and had a small notebook in one hand.
“Okay, that’s eleven.”
“Hoekom het jy so vervelig te wees?”
“You’ve already done Dutch.”
The one on the chair rolled his eyes up at him, and simply raised his eyebrows.
“Right after French. German, Latin, French, Dutch.” He held out the notebook, and pointed.
“How many guesses did we say you get?”
Greg grinned involuntarily at the dry, sarcastic tone of voice. The voice was lighter than his own, polished. The contest was already over - with one side upset and finding fault, and the other calm and generous, it seemed fairly obvious. But the voices around him were still cheering on different sides.
“It was bloody Dutch!”
“Afrikaans,” Greg said suddenly, drawing all the attention to himself. He took a quick gulp of his beer.
“Correct,” said the man on the chair, surprised, but pleasantly so.
“That’s more of a dialect than a language difference,” the one with the notebook muttered, but he was writing it down, all the same. “I’ll give it to you. Twelve. You’re over halfway.”
The next time the man on the chair spoke, Greg had no idea what he was saying, but everyone knew it was Russian. “Вам придется научиться считать быстрее.”
“Tudja valaki, hogy a férfi a sötét szemek?”
“What the hell was that?”
Again, raised eyebrows, no response. “Czech?” A slow shake of the head. “Romanian?”
“Magyar?” Greg called.
This time, he got a grin and a raised eyebrow. “Well done.”
“What the hell do you mean, magyar?” the one with the notebook demanded, turning on him.
“Shouldn’t you have to answer that?” drawled the man on the chair.
“Oh come on, Pete, you should know magyar,” someone in the crowd called.
“Yes, I know it’s Hungarian,” Pete snapped back, his eyes returning to Greg. “Who are you, a townie?”
“Visitor,” Greg said, raising his chin.
“Well stop helping him. He doesn’t need it.”
Greg raised his own eyebrows and bit his lips with a slow blink and a shrug.
“Nid wyf yn gwybod pwy yw e, ond byddwn yn rhoi ffortiwn ar gyfer ei rif.”
“Welsh!” Someone in the back shouted immediately. “And how much?”
“Eich tab bar am wythnos!” the polyglot shot back.
“Do my best!”
“Os ydych yn rhoi i mi ffug, byddwch yn cysgu yn y gwter. Cadwch ef i chi eich hun a byddaf yn eich lladd fy hun.”
“Oi, you’ve done Welsh. You don’t get double points for doing more of it,” Pete sighed, scribbling in the book.
في سبيل الله، دعونا نترك هذه البلهاء وأعود الى بيتي.
“What the fuck are you… are you just making this up?”
“At least guess, Pete. It’s your bet.” The man on the chair wasn’t gloating. He was mildly impatient, but it seemed he was entitled. If the bet had been who could speak more languages, he’d already won. But if it was about how many he could speak, it was looking like it would be a very long proof.
“I don’t know… Arabic?”
“Shit. Why do you know Arabic?”
“How many do you have so far?”
“You can’t count and talk at the same time?” Pete shot back.
“By my count, you should have sixteen.”
Pete paused while he checked his notes, and the glare he gave was answer enough. “Four more.”
“Let me see…” He tipped his head back, closing his pale blue eyes. “ Hesab edirəm ki, qocalmaq isə əllərinizi keçirilməsi sevgi olardı.”
“Oh, God,” Pete muttered, lowering his hands limply in despair. “No fucking clue.”
“Shit. Where the hell are you from, Holmes?”
“Et eller andet sted langt væk fra hvor de fødslen lille lort som dig.”
“Danish! Wait… what did you just call me?”
“Chiedo scusa. Ma io ho già vinto. Vuoi continuare?”
“Faccio io. Figlio di una cagna. Italiano.” Pete made another note.
“Bure katika mwisho. Kama nusu ladha nzuri kama wewe kuangalia, mimi suffocate kama mtu furaha.”
“Fuck you, Holmes. Fuck you.”
“You’ve no idea, do you?”
“Something from Africa. I don’t know. Swahili.”
“Very good, Pete.”
“You actually know Swahili?”
“Apparently. Would you like translations?”
“Next time, I’m bringing a book. And I’m taping you.”
“Do what you like. I’ll have a brandy, by the way.”
Pete pushed his way through the crowd, ignoring the prods and pokes as he fought his way to the bar. Greg stepped well out of his way, as he looked the type to bear a grudge.
“Sorry,” Faye said, turning back to him. “I just got caught up in it. I’ve seen them in here before. There’s usually a crowd, and this is the first time I’ve been able to see and hear it.”
“Some kind of regular language club?”
“I dunno. But last week I thought they were doing something with maths.”
“Too much for a lowly theatre student?” Greg grinned down at her.
“This lowly theatre student has studied dance and fencing, and I don’t bloody care what they cover at Hendon - I can kick your ears out through your eyeballs if you push me, mate.”
“At least wait till I qualify for the pension, eh?”
Greg felt a prod in his back, and twisted to look. “You all right?” he asked the stocky young man behind him.
“You don’t speak Welsh, do you?”
Greg blinked, and laughed. “No, but…why?”
“Can I get your phone number?”
Greg looked at Faye, and she shrugged, her eyes wide. “Nothin’ to do with me. But you’re not using my bed.”
He turned back to his admirer. “Look, I’m flattered and all, but really, I’m not interested. Thanks.”
“Oh, it’s not for me,” the man said quickly. “I mean, I don’t… No. But…” He nodded back toward the corner of the pub, where the contest had taken place. “Himself over there was askin’, see.”
Greg followed the nod, and saw the linguist, his arms now leaning on the table in front of him, his head turned aside as he listened to a conversation. He frowned, and looked up, right at Greg, catching his eyes.
They both froze. Greg had the impression that even though he was older, this was not a fact that would intimidate the man staring back at him. There was now no way to pretend this wasn’t happening, so Greg glanced an apology aside at the stocky Welshman, and moved past him, toward the corner.
The blue eyes stayed on him as he advanced, completely calm, unapologetic. He didn’t move his head; he simply tracked Greg with his eyes, until Greg was standing beside the table, and the man was looking up past a swirl of dark curls on his forehead. When Greg didn’t speak, one eyebrow finally twitched higher, and he leaned back, leveling his gaze.
“You’re not staying. It would hardly be fair.”
Greg blinked. “Eh?”
“In Cambridge. You’re only visiting. You did say.”
“What wouldn’t be fair?”
“You were asking for my phone number a minute ago.”
“Yes. I was.”
“Bit of a presumption, isn’t it?”
“You’re the one who came over to my table.”
“I’m not giving you my number.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I’m trying to be polite. So thank you, but… no thanks.”
“Then you’re welcome, and you may consider it a standing offer.”
“No offense, mate, but… I’ve had better.”
“And now who’s presuming?”
“Can you really speak all those languages?”
“Gach ceann díobh agus níos mó. Bhí mé ar fud an domhain, agus ní fhaca mé ar aghaidh chomh foirfe mar mise.”
“See, that’s Irish,” Greg said, gesturing with his pint.
“Irish, Welsh, Magyar, and Afrikaans.”
“I don’t speak them,” Greg added quickly. “But I can recognize the first two when I hear them. The other two… just guesses.”
“Educated, however. Better grasp of geography and history than the average London copper.”
“Wha - how did you…?”
“I heard you mention Hendon.” He nodded past Greg, toward Faye.
Greg didn’t glance back. “You could hear that? In this place?”
“I have good hearing. It helps with the languages.”
“You bloody must.” Greg hesitated, covering it with another swallow from his pint. “Right. Well. Thanks for the show, mate. And cheers for the… yeah.”
Greg waited a second, expecting him to look away first. When he didn’t, Greg grinned awkwardly, and turned away. He only glanced back a couple of times.
“In with a chance there, Mycroft?”
Mycroft Holmes looked up at Pete, now sitting across the table from him. “Hm? Oh, no. I don’t think so.”
“He gave you his number, though?” Pete nodded at Mycroft’s hands, toying with something on the table.
“No, alas. I do happen to find myself holding the official identification of a very new member of the London Metropolitan Police, however. I think I’ll just turn it in at the bar, in case this Lestrade person should happen to miss it.”