The trellis had been replaced since the last time Greg had John and Sherlock over for a summer barbecue. Other things that had changed since then were the plant growing up the trellis (The old one had perished in the same fire as the trellis.), the sofa in his small sitting room (He would never have gotten that stain out, and he was not such a bachelor that merely flipping the cushion would do.), and his relationship with Sophie Marquardson (They'd made nothing official, but they were comfortable with where they were as a couple.). All of these things, in Greg's opinion, were for the better.
Last time it had been just the four of them. This time it was the four of them plus Molly Hooper and her current boyfriend. Greg thought the bloke's name was Owen, but he couldn't swear to it. Whatever his name, at least this one wasn't a megalomaniacal criminal or a Sherlock look-alike.
Greg manned the barbecue grill, which this time was set up far away from flammables like trellises and climbing roses.
"Do you need a beer?" Sophie asked. She kissed his cheek and set down a cling film-covered platter of steaks, seasoned and ready for grilling.
"That'd be great, thanks," he answered with a smile. Life was good, despite his job keeping him in London and hers keeping her in Edinburgh. At least they had weekends like this one whenever they could manage it.
"Anyone else?" Sophie asked the group. "There's cider or wine, too, if you'd rather. Molly? Oscar?"
Ah! Oscar! Greg really needed to remember that.
"Wine for me please," Molly said, and Oscar echoed her choice.
John and Sherlock both requested beer. John rose from his seat at the patio table. "I'll give you a hand."
Sophie shot him a smile. "Thanks, Johnny." They went inside.
The gas grill still wasn't as hot as Greg wanted, so he closed the lid for the time being and claimed a seat for himself. He tried to come up with a topic of conversation that neither Molly nor Sherlock could turn into something macabre. "So, Oscar, what is it you do for a living? I don't know that I heard."
"I own a cupcake shop. That's why I brought them for dessert."
"Oh right! Sophie said, and I forgot. Great!" Cupcakes. Cupcakes weren't creepy at all. He felt on firmer ground at that small revelation and forged ahead. "And how did you and Molly meet?"
"I was called down to identify my uncle's body and there she was." They looked at one another all lovey-dovey and he squeezed her hand in a way that would have been sweet in other circumstances.
"I see." No. That wasn't macabre at all. Greg should have stopped at cupcakes. Fortunately he was saved from making further conversation by the return of Sophie and John.
John set the wine, glasses, and a corkscrew on the table, and Sophie set down four beers. She opened the wine and poured it first, then popped open the beers. She served their guests first, making sure everyone had what they needed before offering Greg a bottle.
"Here you go, sweetie," she said. "And John found this in the utensil drawer. How do you think it got there?"
In her hand was a pin, a gold-toned metal star with "3rd Place" printed on it. It trailed a cheap gold ribbon that looked somewhat worse for wear.
"You--" He looked at her in mortification. "You didn't tell him--?"
"Oh no," she replied innocently. "I thought I'd let you tell everyone yourself."
"What is it?" asked Molly. She rose and came over to look. Greg handed it over. There was no point hiding it and he didn't want to look at the thing any more.
He slugged back a couple big swallows of beer before speaking. "You know that jewel thief we tracked to Lochcarron?"
"The Highland Games Hand-off," said Oscar. They all looked at him in surprise. "I read John's blog."
"Cheers." John raised his bottle in appreciation of the nod.
"Yeah, well, anyway," Greg went on. "Then you'll know that Sherlock figured out the hand-off of the stones would happen at a particular event."
Sherlock smirked. "So you did end up competing, despite your claims to the contrary. I was unable to confirm it until now. Lochcarron doesn't keep quality records of their 'friendly' competitions."
"Competed?" asked Molly. "In what?"
"This goes no further," Greg said firmly, pointedly glaring at Sherlock. He stabbed an emphatic finger at John, too. "This stays out of your blog."
Sophie tucked a lock of black hair behind her ear and smiled over the lip of her beer. "Give in, Greg. You ought to be quite pleased, you know," she insisted.
Greg took another drink, gritted his teeth, and gave up. He sighed heavily and said, "The Over-50 Men's Highland Dance Competition."
"And he won third place!" Sophie's grin was positively gleeful, her blue eyes gleaming with merriment.
There was a collective exclamation of varying degrees of surprise, mirth, and respect. The latter came from Oscar, and Greg was convinced it was only because he was too new to the group to be comfortable giving Greg a hard time. None of the others had that compunction.
"So, are you going to give us a demonstration?" asked John, in full on pesky-little-shit mode.
"Did you bring bagpipes?" Greg countered.
"I'm sure we could find some--"
"No! I have to live in this neighbourhood, you know. You are not playing the pipes in my back garden."
"Who needs real bagpipes?" Sherlock held up his phone and thin music sounded from its tiny speaker. It was a traditional jig.
"Oh!" Sophie exclaimed in delight. "I'll find your ghillies."
"Don't you dare!" Greg shouted, but she was gone into the house. "Sophie!"
John clapped a hand on his shoulder in a chummy fashion. "You'd better suck it up, Greg. You're going to have to break an ankle to get out of this."
"How about a toe? Would that do? I'm not above it."
Sophie returned bearing a shit-eating grin and the ghillies he really should have gotten rid of after the case closed.
Greg accepted defeat. He downed the last of his beer and set aside the empty bottle. "Hand them over." Sophie did so with a bounce in her step. She reclaimed her drink and took a seat. Greg sat down beside her to change shoes. "If any of you breathe a word of this to anyone, you'll discover so many reasons to regret it." He looked at each of them individually. Only Oscar appeared at all cowed. "Fine."
He secured his laces and rose to his feet. "Sherlock, cue up a reel instead of a jig. I have my dignity."
"For a few more moments anyway," John teased.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event, so don't blink--and don't record anything."
John tucked his phone into his pocket in disappointment. "I had to try."
The music started and Greg's years of training took over, just as it had at the Lochcarron Games. The steps were second nature, the timing so familiar it felt as if his heart were beating to the rhythm. He instinctively knew every change the music would make, and followed them all to the end.
He finished the dance and gave the traditional competitor's bow to the applause and cheers of his friends. Sophie bounded up to him with the gold ribbon and star, and pinned it on his shirt. "I'd give you first place, but this will have to do." She planted a kiss on his mouth and suddenly he didn't mind so much being the performing monkey for others' entertainment.
But that didn't mean he would do it again. Tomorrow, those ghillies were going on eBay, and the sooner they sold, the better.
*In keeping with the previous fic, this title is taken from Shakespeare's Pericles, Prince of Tyre:
"Even in your armours, as you are address'd,
Will very well become a soldier's dance."