FANDOM: Inspector Morse
PAIRING: Morse/Lewis
RATING: PG13/NC17
AUTHOR: Elfin
Email: elfin@burble.com 
Disclaimers:  Characters beloved creations of Colin Dexter. Based on the characters portrayed by John Thaw and Kevin Whately.

Lyrics (by chapter) - 1. "I'll Stand By You", C.Hinde, B.Steinberg, T.Kelly. 2. "Broken Wings", R.Page, S.George, J.Lang. 3. "You'll Be In My Heart", P.Collins. 4. "Regret", B.Sumner, P.Hook, G.Gilbert, S.Morris, S.Hague.

With thanks to Pfyre for constant help and encouragement and for the final title! to Simon for always being there, and to my Mum, for many a Morse episode watched in total confusion.

Through The Mists


By Elfin

Prologue

'You're a good man, Lewis. You did the right thing.' Yes, he was sure he'd done the right thing. The tape - evidence that Mrs Falon hadn't been in her London flat, that she in fact was the most likely candidate to have assisted her husband's suicide - was now gone forever. He'd saved Morse yet more hurt and pain. The man didn't deserve to suffer any more than he was doing. Dragging her name through the mud would only make his heartache worse, it wouldn't solve anything.

The question of why he'd gone to such lengths, and for so long, to protect Morse from the obvious truth, still plagued him. He cared for Morse, more than he liked to admit sometimes. The stubborn, arrogant old sod had slowly but surely broken through the invisible defences Lewis had erected so long ago, he'd forgotten were there. Defences so old they had cracked easily under the right, constant pressure. There would be nothing soon, nothing between him and the world that awaited him, the questions that would beg to be answered.

His simple, easy life would soon be out of his reach, and he would be flailing for something - anything - to hold on to. The realization was both frightening and exciting. Fighting it was beyond his capabilities. He wasn't even sure he wanted to any longer.

Soon, there would be nothing left. And it was all down to Morse.


One

"Nothing you confess, Could make me love you less."

Eleven thirty on a Saturday night. As he opened the front door of his much missed home, Chief Inspector Morse pondered on how normal people spent their Saturday nights. Television, night-clubbing, a pub perhaps. Although the pub did sound like a good idea, he reflected on what kind of a man he was to prefer spending his weekends interviewing the only suspect in a string of murders making up a case that had taken months to crack. His sergeant had finally been placed under cover, against Morse's best judgement, and had spent the past three weeks posing as a shy homosexual desperate enough to join a dating agency.

It could so easily have ended in disaster, but as Lewis' "date" with their main suspect - Seth Greene - had concluded the man had cracked and admitted to the undercover policeman that he had killed four of his past six partners. At Greene's request Lewis had called the police and, even as the distraught suspect was led away, Lewis kept up his cover until it truly was all over and he really could go home.

That had been earlier on. Morse had done the preliminary interview back at the Kidlington station before charging Seth Green and leaving him in the capable hands of his colleagues on the graveyard shift. Now the Chief Inspector was ready for a whiskey and bed.

It was not to be, he assumed, when the doorbell rang just as he had sat down. Sighing, whiskey glass in hand, he rose from the sofa and plodded into the hall, switching on the porch light before opening the door with no little surprise. "Lewis?" His sergeant was standing just beyond the porch, hands in pockets, looking at once determined and uncertain. 

"Sir... I... I'm sorry about the time." Morse shook his head dismissively, and swung the door open, inviting Lewis in. As his sergeant passed him in the hall, Morse swore he could smell alcohol on his breath. As he closed the door, he checked for Lewis' new deep blue Callibra in the driveway. It was there, slotted in next to his Jaguar. He frowned slightly, suddenly guilty that he might actually be having a bad influence on his subordinate. Sighing, he locked the door and followed Lewis into the lounge.

"Drink?" Lewis hesitated, then nodded. He accepted the glass with a hand that was slightly trembling. Concerned now, Morse sat himself on the couch directly opposite Lewis in the arm chair. "I thought you'd be at home," he started gently, aware that something here was not right. 

"Aye." Lewis took a mouthful of the amber liquid and sat back, relaxing slightly. "I rang Val, told her I was all right. I... I didn't want to go home quite yet. I couldn't." There was something in his voice that was speaking more than the words were saying. 

"Is everything all right, Lewis?" The other nodded, hesitantly. 

"I.... There's some evidence, Sir, one of tapes from the equipment that was on the phone in the house." Morse nodded. They had set Lewis up in a safe house. One of the back rooms had been fitted with state-of-the-art recording equipment on the telephone line. "A... conversation... Seth... Greene and I... he mentions a party the previous night. We... well, I had to keep up the cover, like, and well... we... we kissed." Morse schooled his expression very carefully. "I just... wanted to tell you. I'm not sure I want it all over the station, Sir. It was part of the cover but...." 

He looked as miserable as hell when he finished, and Morse leaned forward, smiling softly. "We've got all the evidence we're going to need. I'll find the tape for you. Don't worry about it." Lewis let out a sigh of absolute relief and seemed to sink back into the arm chair, drowning the remainder of his drink in one swig. "I'm very proud of you, Lewis, you did a very good job. I'll be recommending commendation." Lewis almost blushed. 

"Thank you, Sir."

They sat for a while in a companionable silence, Morse finally slipping his shoes off and folding his legs up on to the sofa, leaning into the corner, elbow on the arm of the sofa, chin rested on his hand. He regarded his sergeant with concern. "You should go home," he said finally, quietly, "get some sleep." But Lewis shook his head. 

"I'm not going home, I've checked into a hotel just out of town, The Barge I think it's called. I need... some time." Morse digested this information. 

"Do you want some leave?" 

"No." Too quickly. "No... I need to be working. I just need some normality and some time to clear my head." 

"All right." The words were spoken with gentle understanding, and he was rewarded with a grateful smile from his sergeant. Breaking the cord of tension that was lengthening, Lewis looked at, then frowned at the clock on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. 

"Is that right?" 

Morse followed his line of sight and nodded. "Yes." 

"Ten past one?" Lewis looked mortified. "Sir! I'm sorry.... I knew it was late but not that.... Had you just got in?" Again, the older man nodded. 

"I was interviewing Greene at the station." 

Lewis hesitated, and then sat forward. "I'll let you get some sleep, Sir." 

Morse regarded his sergeant with puzzled sympathy. Obviously something was going on in that intelligent mind, something to do with the case they had just cracked wide open due to Lewis' astounding compassion for the people he had come into contact with during his undercover work. Others might think that he should be celebrating this night. Morse knew better; knew that so intense a case could prey on the mind long after the perpetrator had been jailed for his actions. "Look, why don't you stay here tonight. The spare room's got a single bed and its always made up. In the morning you can drive back to the hotel without fear of being over the limit." Lewis looked as if he were going to decline, but his more usual, sensible nature got the better of him; he couldn't drive. It would be simpler if he stayed. He stood, swaying slightly. 

"Thanks, Sir. I appreciate it." 

Morse nodded, smiling. "The room is the first door... well, you know your way around, you've searched the house before." 

Lewis grimly agreed. "Don't remind me. Goodnight, Sir." 

"Goodnight, Lewis."

As Morse sat downstairs for a little longer, contemplating the strange conversation they had just had, Lewis threw his jacket across the back of the chair, closing the door of the bedroom. Exhaustion suddenly enveloped him as he stripped down to his boxers and folded himself under the duvet. Pulling it tight around him, he closed his eyes. But he didn't sleep.

Ten minutes later he heard Morse come upstairs, turn out the landing light and close his own bedroom door. The house fell silent. Lewis lay awake, eyes staring into the muted darkness of the small room. His mind was busy with half-thoughts, none of which he could clearly define. Part of him wished he was still in the anonymous hotel room, but he'd been stupid to drive here, it would have been insane to drive back. At least Morse was going to deal with the tape, he knew he could trust his boss with that. That single piece of evidence would never see the inside of a court room. That was a relief amongst the ever-doubling anxieties that plagued him.

After lying there for an hour, and being no closer to sleep, Lewis got up and took the robe from the back of the door. Tying it at the waist, he silently padded downstairs.

Seating himself on the sofa, he leaned across the back and pulled open the curtains enough for him to see the moon high above the Earth. Settling into one corner against the cushions, he rested his head against the high back and stared out through the rough glass. He hadn't been aware of how comfortable he actually felt in Morse's house. Eyeing the various bottles displayed on a low table in the far corner of the room, Lewis got up briefly to pour himself a Scotch. He had never been much of a drinker, and he hoped now that the unfamiliar drug would permeate into his system and knock him off to sleep. It hadn't worked so far, though. His mind seemed far too busy to notice the alcohol in his blood stream.

Relaxing once again he noticed, maybe for the first time, the small number of framed photographs set out on the table at the end of the sofa. Turning and leaning over the arm like a kid, he looked over the intimate collection with interest. He knew hardly anything of his boss' life, he realized. He smiled at the number of different women Morse seemed to have known at one stage or another of his career. They were all quite recent... except one that caught his eye for a singular reason. The person with his arm around Morse in one of the photos at the back, was male. Lewis picked up the frame and sat back, studying it. The backdrop looked to be one of the Oxford Colleges, maybe even Lonsdale - Morse's own college. If that were true, it may well have been taken at his graduation, or perhaps a little later on. Not much, judging by Morse's appearance. Slimmer, happier, with no grey visible in his hair at all. His arm was around the other's waist; he looked contented, joyous even. Lewis felt that he was looking into a happier time, a time that could not have known the hurt that was to come.

"That's Paul." Lewis looked up at Morse where he stood in the doorway, hesitating before coming closer.

 "I'm... I'm sorry, I didn't mean to pry." But Morse waved a dismissive hand at him, and perched on the edge of the armchair where Lewis had been seated earlier. The Detective Sergeant took in Morse's deep blue towelling robe and slippers while the Detective Chief Inspector studied his colleague more intently than he could ever remember doing. In the bright moonlight his face seemed to hold none of its familiar innocent naiveté, his smile no longer that which could fool people into thinking him a little stupid while he saw immediately through them and their lies. He looked older, years older, and wiser. His slightly glazed eyes looked at the photograph he held with almost painful scrutiny, and through that stare Morse could almost feel his own soul being bared.

Only when Lewis turned his gaze on his boss did the intensity fade and the moment was lost to the past. Morse determined that he would never forget it. Something had tilted his world so that for the moment all was different. He would become used to the new angle eventually but it would take time. Sadly - or perhaps not - there was no going back from this moment, only the future was possible now. "He was... a close friend when I was at college." It wasn't the words themselves, more the tone. Lewis said nothing, but he couldn't stop his eyebrows rising once. Leaning forward, he replaced the frame. "What's wrong?" Morse's question was gentle, full of what Lewis interpreted as real concern.

Morse had been against him going undercover from the onset. They weren't trained for assignments like that, he had claimed, it was dangerous. At the time, Lewis hadn't thought of posing as someone else as dangerous as taking on, say, a knife-wielding psychopath threatening a group of influential Oxford University dons. He knew now what the wise man had meant. He wished he'd listened. He could have refused and no one would have thought any less of him for doing so. But he always had to be the one to impress. And he had stepped out of the facade into a life he no longer recognized.

"I'm fine, Sir." They both knew it for the lie it was, but along with the words was the unspoken promise that Lewis would speak to Morse when he could; when he was ready. He lifted the drink and stopped, looking guilty. "Sorry, Sir, I..." 

"Please, Lewis, I'm sure I can spare the Scotch. I..." he smiled tentatively. "I'm glad you can feel comfortable here. I've often wondered... well, I don't really have many visitors." Lewis gave him a cockeyed smile. 

"Well, you're hardly ever at home, are you Sir?" The first truly sincere smile - of many to come - lit Morse's usually sullen face. Sometimes Lewis could astound him with his intuition, his sense of someone, his delicate compassion and quiet understanding. 

"Could I...ask you something?" 

"Sure." 

"Why are you still a sergeant and *why* do you still trail around after me?" Lewis smiled knowingly, and sipped the amber nectar in his glass. 

"That's two questions, Sir." Morse's expression was wonderfully familiar; that odd mix of frustration and affection that it had taken Lewis sometime to discover was only ever bestowed upon him. He took a deep breath. 

"Well, I guess it's the same answer to both questions, isn't it? Because someone has to take care of you." Morse chuckled at that. 

"Lewis! I'm twenty years older than you! I don't need taking care of!" 

"Well, maybe not you personally. But your mind needs someone to do the leg work, while it ventures further than any of us could ever hope to go." Lewis was quietly pleased with the look on his boss' face. "Besides," he continued thoughtfully, "I don't think they'd promote me now." 

"Why ever not?" 

"I don't think Strange could put up with two of us around the station." Another chuckle. Lewis gazed across at Morse. There had always been this... ease between them, even if they'd never noticed nor embraced it. Morse was shaking his head. 

"But I... I'm so nasty to you. When was the last time I bought a round? Or let you drink and I drove? Or...thanked you for anything?" 

"Earlier this evening. You thanked me for closing this case." But Morse wasn't going to be so easily deterred. 

"I'm sorry, Lewis. I'm sorry I treat you like I do. I can't help it... sometimes I think I'm just alienating you to spare myself..." He stopped dead, and almost bashfully looked away. 

"What, Sir?" Lewis' voice could have coaxed a confession out of anyone; the harsh Newcastle accent tempered by his own innate gentleness and the alcohol dousing his usual sense. 

"Spare myself the hurt, Lewis," the answer was barely audible, yet somehow... Lewis knew what it would be anyway. 

"When I leave, you mean. When I finally get promoted." 

"As I said, I'm sorry."

Silence. This was why they never really talked. Neither could actually face the truth; that they'd become too used to one another, so close that no one else would ever work with either of them. The expectations they had of one another and fulfilled for one another were known to them and them alone. It was a partnership now. Titles didn't bare much meaning any more. It was a friendship so deep that it had blossomed, developed and survived through bitter arguments and heated debates. They could both pretend, and often did, that it wasn't there, yell and grouse at one another and it still remained, strong and eternally resilient. Nothing could replace that, nor could anything match it.

In a very rare moment of tenderness between them, Lewis leaned across and touched his superior's clasped hands. "I won't leave your side. If that means no promotion until you retire, so be it." Morse stared down at the pale hand atop his own. 

"Why, Lewis?" 

"Because... in my whole life, no one has ever been closer to me than you. Even my wife doesn't know me as well as you do." Morse absorbed the frank admission. 

"Is that why you're here, and not at home?" It was something the older man was still trying to figure out. Lewis shook his head, but offered no further explanation.

Finally Morse rose. "I'll... leave you to your thoughts." Lewis just smiled up at him. 

"Thanks." 

Morse stopped just at the door and turned back. "If you do want to talk... about anything...." 

Another smile, just as genuine, and a nod. "Thank you, Sir." 

"You're always welcome here, Robert."

Lewis gazed at the empty doorway for a long time after Morse had retired once more to bed. Only once, he remembered, had Morse ever called him by his Christian name - a long time ago in a pub somewhere, during a moment of confession rarer than those moments of tenderness. Even then it had been 'Robbie' and not Robert. The latter showed some form of respect, more than he might ever have been shown before. Something was changing between them, literally over night and he was the instigator. He wondered if he should feel happy or sad. A little of both perhaps. Truthfully he was as scared of losing his long-time partner as Morse seemed of losing him. That was why he had turned down offer of promotion time and time again, wasn't it? Hell, that was easier than any other explanation, in the light of recent events.

Sighing to himself, he relaxed back into the comfort of the sofa and closed his eyes. Finally he slept in relative peace.


Morse woke after a more restful night than he could remember in a long time. Of course, he hadn't gone to sleep until late, and he had had a busy day. As he opened his eyes and gazed at the alarm clock - just after seven - he knew instinctively that Lewis had already left. Twenty minutes later, showered, shaved and dressed - a glance into the drive as he opened the curtains confirmed it. He was worried about his sergeant, perhaps for the first time ever. Last night - earlier this morning - had been a first for them. Two men who obviously cared deeply for each other, worked closely and well together, who had never before told one another because both had assumed the other had known.

Only when he went downstairs for breakfast did he find Lewis' note on the hall table next to the telephone.

'Gone to shower and shave. See you at HQ before nine. Thanks for being there. R.'

The post arrived an hour later, earlier than usual, when Morse was on his second milky coffee. There was a bill - electricity he guessed - and a letter. Morse recognized the hand writing immediately and smiled, opening the envelope and unfolding the paper within.

'Hello Gorgeous, It's been too long. I have some time off next week if you're free. Maybe another journey to Bath? I love you, Morse. Always, Janet PS Have you spoken to Lewis yet?'

Morse imagined he would be smiling all day. It had taken the better half of his sad life - more like the better three-quarters - but he had finally found someone he loved, who loved him back. Someone with similar ideas when it came to dedication to careers and the balance of personal time. Someone who was good, someone who was separate from the job and the crimes he investigated. Janet was his last chance at happiness, he really believed that. But beyond his own regrets, she was the second best thing ever to happen to him. And she was the one who had finally pointed out the first.

Just before leaving the house, Morse phoned her flat and left a message on the answer machine inviting her out to dinner tonight. There were never any disappointments with Janet, never any rejections without reasons he believed and respected. He felt sure they'd be going out tonight.


Lewis was all ready at HQ when Morse arrived. He regarded his sergeant with measured concern until Lewis met his gaze with an almost pleading one of his own. Normality that's what he'd asked for last night. To be allowed to work. So Morse simply smiled when Lewis stood. "Coffee, Sir?" 

"Thank you. Lewis."

The evidence pertaining to the recently solved case littered Morse's desk, and remembering his promise to Lewis, he sought out the five tapes that had been recorded on the equipment attached to the telephone in the safe-house that had been Lewis' home for the past three weeks. And now he was living in a hotel. So much could be drawn from that, especially in Morse's mind. But he didn't dwell on it. And there was only one other person he would mention it to.

He took the coffee gratefully from Lewis, and held up the five tapes. "Any idea... when about?" All the forced cheerfulness that had been adopted for the benefit of those in the canteen left Lewis' face, and miserably he shook his head. In any other circumstances Morse would have scolded him for lack of observation. This time he merely shrugged. "I should listen to them all anyway, I suppose." He headed for the door. "I'll find somewhere quiet." Lewis looked at him with such bewildering thankfulness that Morse decided to try another tactic. "Er... I'm interviewing Seth Greene again later, I've already had him brought up. I... no one's told him yet that you're a policeman, but he will find out eventually. If you'd rather it came from you.... He's in Interview Room three." 

Lewis swallowed. "Thank you." He didn't miss the implication. Interview Rooms one and two had visual surveillance equipment usually switched on whenever a room was occupied. Number three didn't have that, just the usual tape deck, switched off until it was required. Morse had offered him privacy without question. It didn't escape Lewis' thoughts that Morse might have already worked out exactly what had happened. He waited a very long time before going to see the suspect.

Seth Greene was a young beauty. Emerald green eyes, sandy blond hair cut into the base of his neck. A kind, trusting face. The least likely murderer Morse had ever laid eyes on, he had commented on the previous evening. He still wore the same white shirt under a loose blue jersey, with faded blue jeans. He'd at least been allowed cigarettes and a hot coffee.

Those green eyes widened in hurt and despair when Lewis stepped into the room. The look tore into the sergeant like a physical pain. He said nothing, simply closed the door and stood there, white shirt undone at the collar, sleeves turned back. His tie was loosened, his jacket gone. He had to force himself to meet and hold the intense gaze of the other.

"Robbie?" Unshed tears roughened the soft voice. Lewis blinked back his own "What...?" 

"I'm sorry, Seth." Finding his own courage, Lewis sat down opposite the suspect. 

"Who... who are you?" The question was resigned. 

"Detective Sergeant Robert Lewis." 

Seth's eyes dropped away. "I am sorry." The other shook his head, tears falling onto the vandalized table top. "Was it all...?" He leaned forward. "No. I don't want you to think that." Spoken almost desperately. Seth laughed bitterly. "Not that it matters anymore, does it?" He looked up again. "Please, go away."

Lewis made it back to their office. He closed the door and sat down at his desk. That's when the tears started and wouldn't seem to stop.


Morse found the tape almost immediately. The conversation Lewis had been frightened would perhaps taint his reputation around the station could, in Morse's mind, be explained away in terms of necessary undercover work. But he pocketed the tape anyway; it wouldn't be missed - he wasn't above doing this for his friend. He had a suspicion that Lewis had once done the same for him.

Finally, he went straight in to see Seth Greene. The man's eyes were ringed in red, and the moisture was still clearly visible. He guessed Lewis had taken the chance to put in an appearance. "Are you ready to make a full statement?" Greene only nodded. Morse switched on the double tape deck.

It took an hour. Several times he mentioned 'Robbie', but only regarding the date they'd had the night Seth had been arrested. As to why he'd murdered four other men, he had no answer. He had a temper, he said, and when they didn't want him at the end of the dates he would get annoyed, not because he particularly wanted them, but because he couldn't handle the rejection. He looked so desolate, sitting there chain-smoking. Morse could hardly imagine him hurting anyone.

It was just gone twelve when Morse made his way back to the office he now seemed to share with Lewis. He was almost sure his sergeant had been resourced an office of his own, but he'd never seemed inclined to move himself or his things out. And Morse wasn't about to kick him out - he liked his colleague's company.

He opened the door and stopped dead. His sergeant was sitting at his own desk, staring into nowhere, wiping his eyes periodically. Stepping inside quietly, Morse put his arm around Lewis shoulders and coaxed him to his feet. "Come on, Lewis, let's get you out of here."


The small riverside pub was a favourite of Morse's when he needed to be somewhere else - entirely unreachable. It was quiet now, and the long garden down the river was empty. Morse showed Lewis - who had been driven out here in silence - to the table furthest from the pub itself, next to the river. Then he went back inside and ordered two pints and a neat Scotch.

Morse placed the liquor and second pint in front of his sergeant and sat down opposite. His absence had given Lewis time to compose himself - time he had needed. Without a word, he gripped the short glass with a trembling hand and downed the shot in one gulp. His hand was steadier when he replaced the glass, he even managed a smile for his superior.

"I'm sorry, Sir." 

"Don't apologize. We did this to you, all of us. If we hadn't have let you go undercover..." 

"...then it would have happened at some other time. With someone else." 

Never had he heard such bleakness in his sergeant's Newcastle burl. "Do you want to tell me what would have happened?" Lewis took a deep breath and followed it by a gulp of ale. All around them, the gentle sounds of nature sought to comfort and calm, yet in his head, the nose was almost deafening. His mind was racing. "You know it won't go further than the two of us." 

Lewis nodded quickly. "Aye, I know that. It's just... difficult to put into words." 

"Then don't, for now. We can just sit here. I often do." He was thankful for something else to think about.

 "You come here alone, like?" 

"I go everywhere alone after hours, Lewis." A sparkle came into his eyes when he added, "Usually." Lewis frowned. "Did I tell you about Janet?" A smile and a nod. 

"The sister, at the hospital, the one you took to Bath that time?" 

"I did tell you. I thought I must have." 

"I made you explain the silly grin on your face on the Monday morning. And you sent me that postcard, remember?" 

Morse nodded. "Yes. She made me send it. She thought... you deserved to know my name." Morse took a first experimental sip of the ale he'd bought - a new one to the pub. The taste was almost heavenly, and he decided he would spend several nights down here this month. "Janet and I still see each other, on and off. She works more hours than I do - we do - and, I think, there might be a future in it." 

Lewis smiled, his eyes twinkling slightly. "That's wonderful, Sir." 

"Yes. It won't be marriage or anything, but... I think the world of her, as they say." He looked at his companion almost shyly. Lewis smiled back.

For a while, silence settled over them and they enjoyed the ale as they watched the water passed them by. Finally Lewis put down his empty pint glass. "Did you interview Seth?" Morse nodded. "Did he...mention me?" Morse met his eyes, that intense cobalt blue gaze that had forced so many criminals to their proverbial knees. It had never failed to move Lewis; Morse often moved him, usually in the most unusual of ways and unexpected of times. 

"He did. He... just said that he thought you looked kind." 

"Was he... going to kill me? Did he think about it?" 

"I don't think he thought about any of the killings, they weren't pre-meditated, he just lost his temper."

 "You're trying to excuse him, Sir." There was barely disguised anguish in the accusation. 

"No, just trying to make some sense of it all." 

"There is no sense." 

Again, that odd bitterness in the voice that had never spoken such pain. It unsettled Morse; Lewis had always been the balanced one, the stable pillar of the working team. He hoped that in their past he had never been the source of such misery. Perhaps this time he was the one to get his sergeant through this. Whatever this was. "Why don't you take the day off?" He held up his hand to stop Lewis' instant and expected protest. "I know, you want to work. But by tomorrow we'll have charged and moved Seth Greene from the station." Neither tried for why that was important. "It'll make it easier for you." Lewis sighed and nodded. "Why don't you come round this evening? I'll cook something. It'll beat hotel food."

 Lewis smiled. "I'm not sure if I'll be great company." 

"You're always good company, Lewis." There was absolutely no sarcasm and no joking.

Lewis thought about it. To be truthful, one afternoon was about as much as he'd probably be able to take of his own company right now. And he'd felt so comfortable at Morse's house the previous evening and overnight. He nodded finally. "I'll bring a bottle." The worried expression on Morse's face at least presented Lewis with a challenge to take up his afternoon.

Morse sighed. "I should get back before Strange starts tearing the local pubs apart trying to find us." Lewis chuckled - bless him! "Can I drop you somewhere?" 

"No. Thanks, but I'll stay for a while. I'll get a taxi back." 

"Sure?" A single nod. From both of them.


Only when Morse got back to HQ, and found the note on his desk simply reading, 'Janet rang. The answer's yes.' did he remember his previous invitation. That would teach him not to be so sociable. He reached for the phone, but changed his mind and instead took up his car keys, leaving a simple note on the office door in case Strange did come looking.

'Gone investigating. M & L'


Janet McQueen opened the door of her modern, rented Oxford flat and smiled at her erstwhile visitor. "You're earlier than I expected," she commented, inviting Morse in with no hesitation. 

"I.. have some bad news... about tonight." Janet closed the door and stood with Morse in the hall. Her expression alone asked him to continue. "I... I've spent this morning with a rather... tearful Sergeant Lewis." He very briefly summed up the last three weeks, putting more time into the happenings of the previous night but still keeping details to himself. His concern obvious, Janet put a quieting hand on his arm. 

"I told you, there's only one person I would happily come second to in your affections." Morse nodded, he knew that. "So..." she stepped a little closer, "can you stay for the afternoon?"


Strange had almost knocked on the door of the infamous two's office when he saw the note. He wasn't surprised. He'd expected Lewis to request the time off certainly due to him after the last case. And Morse... Morse had been worried sick about his sergeant from the very start. Probably gone to a pub somewhere. He had been about to confirm moving Seth Greene, had come to speak to the two himself because he was feeling almost... paternal toward the odd partnership at the moment. But they'd obviously gone for the day. That - for some reason - was fine with him. He decided to move Greene anyway, to get him out of their hands for a while, until the court case at least.


Despite popular rumour, Morse was a fairly decent cook. The Thai chicken and wild rice were cooking nicely when the doorbell rang about seven thirty that evening. Wearing a soft, loose white shirt and dark jeans, Lewis stepped into the hall and presented him with a very expensive, very particular bottle of Rosemount Estate Show Reserve Chardonnay, available, Morse knew, only at the back street wine merchants hidden from the prying eyes of the public. This wasn't the usual stuff sold - although still expensively - at the cheaper high street supermarkets. "I'm impressed." 

Lewis smiled expansively. "Good. Took all afternoon to find that place you once took me to, during the DeVries nightmare." 

Morse laughed. "You didn't have to." 

"I did."

The older man followed the younger into the lounge, after depositing the wine in the kitchen, and watched with a strange, inexplicable joy as Lewis dropped, with welcome familiarity and belonging, into the corner of the sofa. "Drink?" 

"I'd love one." There was an almost imperceptible slur to Lewis' voice that made Morse's eyebrows rise.

 "You're picking up my bad habits." 

"Pardon?" 

"You've been drinking." 

Lewis frowned, reddening slightly in guilt. "Only one. How did you know? I ate my way through a whole packet of polo mints on the way here!" 

Morse poured a Scotch for Lewis and one for himself. "It's your voice, Lewis... I seem to know it better than I know my own. A neat Scotch will slur anyone's voice, even the most seasoned drinker." 

"Maybe I shouldn't talk so much." Lewis took the glass from his boss. 

"Nonsense, Lewis. We wouldn't have cracked half the cases we've cracked together if it hadn't been for you talking rubbish at me." His sly grin wiped out any anger before it even took root. It was a long-standing quarrel between them. Lewis always provided the facts, the important scraps of information that fed Morse's over-active imagination and pointed it in the direction of the solution. "I'd better chill the wine." He indicated the stereo. "Put on whatever you want."

A couple of minutes later, the wine cooling in a sink of cold water and ice, the meal almost ready, Morse heard the soft strains of Bach filter in from the lounge. It was nice to have someone around, comfortable in the house, nicer still, somehow, because it was Lewis. Again, Janet's words came back to him, 'Tell him, Morse, please. Because one day it'll be too late and he'll regret it.'

He sighed to himself, and then smiled.

Sorrowful that he couldn't get the wine even cooler, unsure of the last time someone had given him such an expensive present, he took the bottle, two glasses and a cork screw into the lounge and handed them to Lewis. "Could you?" 

"Sure." 

"You want to eat in the dining room or in here?" 

Lewis shrugged. "Wherever." 

Morse nodded and returned to the kitchen, reappearing five minutes later with two plates of Thai Chicken with wild rice, and two forks. He handed a plate and fork to Lewis, picking one of the glasses up from the coffee table before making himself comfortable in the armchair. 

Lewis smiled, pleasantly surprised. He had been one to presume Morse didn't know the difference between an oven and a microwave. "My turn to be impressed, Sir." 

Morse frowned over his plate. "'Sir', Lewis?" 

"Would you prefer En...?" 

Morse held up his fork in warning. "Why not just 'Morse'?" Lewis flicked his eyes down, suddenly quiet. He sipped the wine... and congratulated himself on the choice. Morse mirrored him, deciding to the his unanswered question until later. He thought - no, he hoped - that he knew the answer.

Lewis was more than impressed with the food. For a man more used to egg and chips than anything with remotely foreign connections, the Thai spices were music to his pallet. "This is great!" he told the chief enthusiastically. 

"Ah, praise indeed." Lewis matched his Chief Inspector's amused chuckle.

With the meal over and the plates disposed of, the wine gone and the Scotch decanter between them, Morse tried again. "Why won't you call me Morse, like everyone else?" 

More than a little drunk now, inhibitions down, Lewis folded himself into a corner of the sofa, and moving from his seat Morse made himself comfortable on the other side. "It's.. .." He nibbled his bottom lip for a moment. "When we first started working together, you were so difficult. I convinced myself that you resented me for some reason. So many times I considered requesting a different Chief, even a transfer. But... I knew of your reputation. I wanted to be a good sergeant, good for you. I wanted your experience, to learn from you probably more than anything else. So I did everything I could, and somewhere along the line it became important to me that you appreciated me. I didn't think you did, at first, but after a while I started to realize that the occasional touches, the smiles, the 'thank you's were only ever for me. And I knew that I was lucky, and I loved that. Others, at the station, are jealous of us - of me - because of what we seem to have. Even Chief Inspector Johnson called it a 'symbiotic relationship', in one of his less lucid moments." Morse was surprised by the phrase; both by Lewis' remembering it, and Johnson's initial use of it. "I called you 'Sir' at the start because it's respectful. Now I call you Sir because no one else does." It wasn't the answer Morse had been expecting; it almost bought tears to his eyes. 

"I have to tell you, Lewis... if I don't, Janet'll kill me.... When we first met I liked you. I don't... get on well with people in general, but I liked you. I appreciated your honesty, and your integrity. I think now that I was deliberately nasty to you, hoping that if I acted that way, maybe you'd leave. But you persisted, and it didn't take long before I was turning around simply knowing you would be there. I know I take you for granted. I wish you wouldn't let me. You've become... very important to me...." He paused, looking down at his hands before glancing back up. "You're the best thing to ever happen to me."

Tears blossomed in Lewis' eyes, and an expression of desolation crossing Morse's face. "I'm sorry, I..."

 "No..." Lewis smiled despite his tears. "It feels like I've been waiting my whole life to hear that."

He wiped his eyes and handed his glass to Morse. "Could I?" 

"Help yourself. Do you want anything else?" 

Lewis seemed to consider that. "You have another bottle of wine somewhere?" 

"Yes." Morse nodded confidently, slightly surprised by the request, and disappeared into the kitchen and pulled a cheaper, but no less elegant a bottle of white from the fridge, one he'd had chilling for this evening before Lewis had turned up with the Chardonnay.

When he returned to the lounge, Lewis was drying his eyes on his shirt-sleeve, and Morse for once saw the vulnerable, intelligent young man who had slowly worked his way into Morse's life and soul. He poured them both a glass of cool Sauvignon and snuggled into the corner of the sofa. "Why don't you tell me what happened with Seth Greene?" Put as gently as Morse could muster. 

The tone touched Lewis as Morse's previous words had done. He looked down into the wine-glass he held in his hands and took a deep breath. "Just...between you and me, like?" 

"Of course." He sounded almost hurt. 

Lewis nodded. "I know you didn't want me to take the case. I was really scared that if I did take it you'd be... offended. Really offended. But I couldn't work out why you didn't want me to. I don't give a toss what other people think." He mirrored Morse's knowing smile. "I get that from you. But I do care what you think of me, and I didn't want to destroy our working relationship and our friendship over one case. Not when we've worked so damned hard for it in the first place." 

Morse chuckled. "So why did you take it?" 

"I had to." The answer was quick to come, and the honest truth. "For me. It was a chance to... to find out something about myself, for sure, that I'd wondered about for a very long time." Lewis looked back at his glass, his hands wrapped around it. "I never thought Seth was the killer we were looking for. He was... he knew from the first time we met what I was looking for, what I needed to know. In the three weeks I knew him, all we did was kiss. Once. But... the night he confessed.... I had other ideas for that night. When he told me... about the murders... I wanted to kill him myself. He'd killed four men because they refused to sleep with him, and there was I, a desperate virgin, and all he could do was confess his sins." A bitter laugh made it's way out of Lewis' throat, followed closely by choking sobs.

Tears again started in his eyes, and giving in he dropped his head forward and cried. He couldn't bare to look up, didn't want to see for himself the disgust and horror that had to be written across his superior's face. Career, friendship, everything he held dear had to have gone, but at that moment he cared only about his own frustration.

Morse silently put down his wineglass and shifted into the middle of the sofa. Reaching for Lewis, he wrapped strong arms around his sergeant's shoulders and slowly pulled the trembling body against him. For an age Morse just sat there, murmuring quietly, trying to reassure. After the longest time Lewis pulled back and Morse let him, to a point. He let one hand drop but kept the other rested around his friend's right shoulder. When Lewis tried to move completely away, Morse stopped him, tightening his grip slightly to keep him there. "Don't." Lewis looked up then, and Morse's regard held only frank concern and more than a hint of sadness. They stared at each other until Lewis had to tear his eyes from the intense cobalt gaze. 

"I sound such a bastard... I feel like a shit.... Four men died at his hands and all I can do is feel sorry for myself." He could feel his own self-loathing like a cloak over his reason, but somehow Morse's thumb rubbing against his shoulder was just enough to keep him in this reality. "I just... it's been with me for so long, the wondering, the imagining.... So close...." He sniffed, wiping his sleeve across his lowered face.

Morse slipped his hand up, skimming Lewis' neck and sliding his fingers through the soft, fine dark hair, making Lewis look up before the hand once again came to rest on his shoulder. "Why do you think yourself only good enough for a suspected killer? Why does it have to be pretend?" More tears filled those soft blue eyes, and Morse's heart threatened to break. 

"Too many people get hurt otherwise." 

"But what about you? You're hurting now." 

A tiny part of Lewis' brain was listening in bewilderment to his usually arrogant boss's words of understanding. All he could do was shake his head miserably. "It's only me. At least... the kids... and Val.... I do love them, but I just... I just want to know. I *need* to know." 

"Need to know what?" Quiet and gentle. "What it would have been like if I hadn't got married to keep everybody happy." 

"Everyone but yourself, you mean." Lewis dropped his forehead against Morse's, tears still leaking from his eyes. He nodded once. Morse's hand once again stroked his neck, fingers carding his hair in a silky caress that was having more of an effect on the young sergeant than Morse could possibly have intended it to.

Turning his face, closing his eyes, Lewis surrendered to the soothing, arousing touch, trying to calm his body's reaction even as he leaned into it.

Morse kept up the light stroking, desperately fighting to think straight through the alcoholic fog in his brain. Finally he lowered both hands to Lewis' forearms, gripping him firmly. Unsteadily, Lewis fell sideways against the back of the sofa, eyes searching out Morse's. Blue locked with blue. 

"I know... I was wrong, to... plan what I'd planned. It could have messed up an undercover case..." 

"... or you could have gotten yourself killed." 

Lewis nodded. "If you don't think you can... trust me..." 

"Lewis," Morse cut him off gently. "You're the only one I trust, have ever trusted. I'd be a hypocrite if I started to lecture you on non-personal involvement now wouldn't I?" Lewis smiled. "Professionally, don't think another thing about it. Personally... Well, whatever I can do to help." 

"Thank you."

Picking up his wineglass from the table, Morse made himself comfortable in the corner of the sofa and reached for Lewis. The other went into the light embrace easily and relaxed his weight against his friend's reassuring form, turning to put his legs up and stretch out. Morse's arm tucked beneath his and around his body, just resting there.

After a short, restive silence, Lewis dropped his head back against Morse's shoulder. "Would you... tell me about Paul?" 

The question took Morse by surprise and he had to redirect his thoughts to determine what Lewis was talking about. Then he remembered his sergeant studying the photo last night. "If you want." Morse didn't have a problem confiding in Lewis, never had, but he was slightly surprised that his sergeant was asking to be bored by Morse's own personal history. "We met just after Susan left me. He was younger, still an undergraduate at Lonsdale. We became friends - close friends. One night, we both got drunk at one of the college banquets and ended up in bed together." The frank admission caught Lewis off-guard and he just managed to swallow his wine instead of spiting it out. Morse sensed rather than felt the movement and chuckled. "You're not the only man to wonder, Lewis. Some of us have experimented, in our younger days, of course." 

"What happened?" 

"I went into the army and they beat any homosexual longings out of me." He took a long drink from his own glass; the admission had been easier than he'd ever expected it to be. Only Paul had ever known. "So much has changed over the years, yet some things - some people - still manage to remain in the 1950s. I bet in ten years time a sergeant could be caught with his inspector on the Chief Superintendent's desk and no one will think twice about it." 

Lewis laughed at the suggestion, but the image his mind conjured up turned his cheeks red. He was suddenly very aware of the body against which he was rested. He sighed; attempted (successfully) to snatch the bottle from the table without forcing Morse to move his arm and filled his glass. When he offered his boss a refill, Morse shook his head. "I'll let you get drunk this time, Sergeant. Time I took care of you for once."

Very soon, however, Morse was taking the partially full glass from his sleeping sergeant's hand and placing it silently onto the table. Lewis had finally given in to the alcohol and his own soul deep exhaustion. Settling back into the cushions, Morse wrapped his other arm around the man lying against him, and closed his own eyes. Only when he was very sure that Lewis was fast asleep did he lower his head and place a chaste kiss into the soft, ruffled hair that tickled his nose. "I love you, Robert Lewis," he whispered reverently, before letting his own breathing finally even out.

And only when Lewis was even surer that Morse was asleep, did he reply very softly, "Well why don't you do something about it, you daft bugger?"


Two

"Take these broken wings, and learn to fly again"

Privately, Lewis loved it when something tragic and scandalous occurred at one of the Oxford colleges. Usually he wouldn't venture into these time-traps. In his view, they were firmly rooted in the past, refusing to look outside the grand gates in fear of the sweeping changes that lay without. Yet when a crime had been committed he was able to usher in just a little of the so-feared change that grasped the outside-world every day, often shaking it to its very foundations. Under normal circumstances, he was certain, the upper class dons of the colleges would regard him with equal measures of belittlement and bewilderment. But under these conditions - when one of their precious number had run in to some bad luck by, say, getting himself murdered on the premises - he was an official, a saviour. Someone who was there - in their eyes - to make all the bed things go away and to fix the ever-growing chinks in their ancient armour against that final enemy - change.

But it wasn't the only reason Lewis was pleased his boss had called him in, despite it being Sunday. If it had been a weekday, Lewis would have been on the spot anyway, working loyally at his Chief Inspector's side. But recently Morse had taken to calling Sergeant Adrian Kershaw out instead if it was a weekend or a bank holiday. On the last such occasion, Lewis had made his offence obvious, and had - it seemed - rather taken Morse aback. Unusually, Morse had said he'd been thinking of Lewis' family, trying to give them some of their father's time instead of him taking it all as he had so very often in the years they'd worked together.

Lewis had finally told him that for a couple of months - ever since he'd gone back home after spending three nights in a hotel (well, officially in a hotel) after the Seth Greene case - he and Val had been having "marital problems". He'd told Morse, one afternoon in a beer garden somewhere on the Woodstock Road - that his family no longer seemed to need his time, nor his attention. He and Val had grown apart (probably more his fault than hers). Although the kids loved him dearly - as he did them - they were starting to grow up and needed him simply to let go, yet still be there so that the had him to fall back upon during their struggle through puberty and those so-stressful teenage years.

Morse had shown surprising compassion, letting Lewis know that whatever he needed would be accommodated. But all Lewis wanted was for his superior to stop calling in another sergeant, and to return to his old habit of calling Lewis all hours of the day and night, no matter what day that might be. Morse had silently realized that his sergeant wanted to feel needed, at least by his Chief if not by his family, and had agreed.

And on one sunny October afternoon he had kept his side of the bargain by phoning Lewis at twelve-thirty (just as they were sitting down to Sunday roast with the mother-in-law) and requesting his presence at Lonsdale college. Lewis' reply had been a cheerful, "I'll be there in fifteen minutes, Sir."

As Lewis walked into the quad, hands in his pockets, shirt sleeves turned back, he felt more at peace than he had in ages. Morse's Jag had been parked outside, and the mere sight of the car had cheered him somehow. Val had accused him more than once of preferring Morse's company to hers. At the start, working with Morse had done nothing but put his blood pressure up. But recently, things had been better. Morse's treatment of him had improved steadily as he'd gone from being a naive student to a fully fledged Detective Sergeant, and Morse's partner.

Idly, he wondered if he'd just made an important decision.


Morse turned and smiled as Lewis trudged happily through the gateway into the gardens of the Master's Lodge. "You'll like this one," he said grimly, knowing his sergeant's love for college scandal. "Looks like our Master got carried away with his favourite dons." Lewis frowned, not understanding, but he'd get no further explanation as he followed Morse into the lavish house. Three steps into the lounge and he stopped dead. He glanced back at his boss, whose face was turned from the scene. Dr Russell - pathologist - stood up, clearing the way for a better view that Lewis really didn't need. Two men sat side by side on dining chairs facing the doorway in which Lewis and Morse now stood. They were dead, that was certain. They were tied into the chairs; ankles tucked behind the study legs of the chair frames and tied, arms pulled behind the high wooden backs and tied. Both men were naked except for two things. Each wore a finely shaped leather harness, comprised of two studded leather straps coming over the shoulders and crossing at the stomach to dip under the hips. And each wore a cock ring around crimson erections.

Dr Russell stood smiling in front of the both of them, surprised slightly by the obviously different reaction of the two detectives. Morse looked almost serene, amused even, while Lewis... he looked suddenly white, practically in shock. She touched his arm briefly, focusing Morse's hitherto wondering attention onto his sergeant just in time. A moment later, Lewis covered his mouth and pushed passed his boss as he ran from the room. Morse frowned, slightly concerned. Lewis had never been the squeamish sort. He only had a moment before Dr Russell, trying to save Lewis' honour, distracted him. 

"Throats slit, both of them... as for the blood... I don't know, but by the look of the wounds I would say they were killed where they sit now." 

Morse risked another glimpse at the bodies, trying to take in all the important details in the shortest time. He hoped the scene wouldn't stick in his mind for too long, but alas he suspected it would. He wondered what the hell had got into Lewis. 

"Dr, do you know what the... what...." He gestured with his hands, embarrassed beyond words. 

Grayling Russell just watched him, smiling kindly at his discomfort. Finally she decided to put him out of his misery. "I believe the leather wear is part of the bondage scene, Inspector." 

"Bondage scene?" 

"Christ, Morse! You're really that innocent? Bondage - people consenting to being restrained during a sexual encounter." 

Of course he knew what it meant. He just hadn't quite realized it was a 'scene'. "You think they consented?" 

She looked back critically at the gory sight. "I imagine it would have been difficult to get them into that position otherwise, although you never know." 

Morse nodded. "And... the other... things?" 

Dr Russell's smile was almost laughter. "'Cock-rings' I believe they're called, Morse. Keeps the erection, as you can see. Prevents orgasm. Very painful after a while, I imagine." 

Morse nodded in empathy. "How do you know all this?" 

"The Internet, Morse. You should get hooked up, go for a surf." She left him staring after her in puzzlement.


Lewis met him outside as he stepped into the porch. "Sorry, Sir." 

Morse squeezed his arm sympathetically. "It's all right, Sergeant." Morse could hardly blame Lewis for losing it when he could never stand to look at the corpses. "You all right now?" 

"Fine, Sir." 

"Good." Hands deep in his pockets, Morse led them out into the garden between the house and the main college buildings. 

"Who found them?" Lewis glanced back at the house, imagining the mistress of the college finding her husband and drinking partner like that.... 

"Luckily it was the college scout, a Mr Anthony Phils." 

"Luckily?" 

"He's a scout, Lewis, loyal to the college. He won't go telling anyone else what he saw. If you could speak to him, get a statement, I'll see if I can find someone who might know who the other man is. And tomorrow we'll try to find out where in Oxford sells such specialized bondage equipment." Morse enjoyed the look on his sergeant's face for a short while before smiling. "Dr Russell gave me a brief summary from her extensive knowledge of such matters." 

"Dr Russell?!" 

"Apparently such information is freely available on the Internet, Lewis." Morse looked up at the beautiful buildings surrounding him, and he missed the expression on Lewis' face. "The college will definitely close ranks once news of this spreads. If we take too long, the murderer will disappear and we'll never find him or her." 

Lewis waited, but when there was nothing more, he sighed "I'll talk to Mr Phils." His good mood had vanished.


Morse had spent the long sunny afternoon interviewing a surprisingly unhysterical mistress of Lonsdale College. They'd sat around the front of the house so serenely it was as if nothing was happening out back; her husband wasn't being taken away in a body bag wearing only a couple of articles of clothing not usually associated with an Oxford college Master. Morse wondered if he was actually wrong about that. Maybe the university was just the right sort of place to be associated with that kind of dress.

She hadn't loved her husband, that at least was clear. But he had never mistreated her and never begrudged her the life to which she had quickly become accustomed. She'd known of his sexual preferences; not strictly homosexual, not exactly straight. A mixture of both really. Still, he was quite happy for her to have discrete affairs while he also enjoyed the same freedom. Yet discrete was supposed to have been the operative word. Doing it in the back room was not part of the deal, and she seemed only angry that he'd gotten himself killed. She'd inherit everything, of course, except the title. She'd no longer be mistress of the college. Morse actually came away finding he quite liked her.

Back at HQ, Lewis hadn't returned, and Morse thought that maybe his sergeant's afternoon would turn out to be a lot more productive than his own passing of the time.

Having been twice to the canteen to fetch his own coffee, something he was not used to doing, Morse was becoming increasingly concerned. He phoned Lewis' car phone but there was no answer. For a few minutes he sat, his mind completely blank. And then he threw a few papers around his desk, searching for the single yellow post-it note Lewis had handed him sometime the previous week. The search grew almost frantic before Morse found it, and telephoned the mobile phone number of his sergeant's new toy.

It rang five times before it was answered, and not by Lewis.

"Hello?" 

"Who is this?" 

"I'm... I'm Doctor Paul Masters, can I ask who this is?" 

"Chief Inspector Morse, Thames Valley CID." 

"Ah. Well, maybe you could tell me if you know the name of the owner of this phone." 

Morse's heart was racing. "Why?" 

"A name?" 

"Detective Sergeant Robert Lewis." 

"In that case, Chief Inspector, you might want to come down to the Accident & Emergency unit at the Radcliffe."


"He's a lot more okay than he looked when they brought him in." Doctor Masters led the Chief Inspector through the maze of hospital corridors. "There was so much blood! But he isn't in any danger and he will make a complete recovery." 

"Why didn't you call us?" Morse was beside himself with worry, not at all reassured by the brusque words of the doctor. 

"We didn't know who he was. His wallet and ID must have been stolen during the attack. The mobile was apparently lying beside him when the ambulance men found him." 

"So how did you find him?" 

"Someone dialled 999 and gave the room number in the college. They asked for an ambulance, said someone had had a heart attack, but when the ambulance got there.... There are six stab wounds. There's one fairly bad one but the other's aren't dangerously deep." They rounded a corner and finally entered a small ward buzzing with activity. Striding confidently in, Masters traversed the obstacle course of nurses and trolleys until they came to the last bed on the right hand side of the ward. Masters stopped and Morse looked up - his eyes previously kept low to avoid any accidental sighting of gory wounds or other such scenes associated with the casualty units of hospitals.

The sight that befell him now, he thought, was one that would never be chased from memory for as long as he lived and breathed. Amid the chaos of A&E, Lewis slept soundly. Crisp white sheets had been tucked in around him and a light blue blanket spread on top. He had been dressed in a mint-green hospital gown (his own clothes, soaked through with his blood, had been carefully bagged once the doctors had been told of the circumstances by the medics who had arrived on the scene) that came down to just below his elbows. One hand was bandaged. An intravenous valve inserted into the back of the other was hooked up to a drip - one bag of B Negative blood and one bag of saline. His young features bore nothing of the pain and fear endured that afternoon, and his face wore a peaceful expression. 

"He has been sedated," Masters told Morse quietly. "We're waiting for a bed on the main ward, and then he'll be moved. We only plan to keep him overnight. He'll be released tomorrow if all's well." 

Morse nodded and stepped up to the bed, tentatively touching Lewis' cold fingers with the backs of his own. 

"He's wearing a ring, so I assume...." 

Another nod. "I've got a sergeant telephoning his wife and going to the crime scene." 

"Good. Well... you're quite welcome to stay with him until she arrives." 

"Thank you."

A young nurse, who some minutes later came over to check on their sleeping patient, found Morse a chair, and offered him a cup of tea, which he gladly accepted. Although he'd wait another hour before it was actually placed into his hands.

It was another two hours before Lewis was moved (still sleeping) into a ward in the main hospital. Morse went with him, knowing Lewis wasn't aware of anything yet not wanting to leave him on his own in this frightening place. After what he must have suffered, it was the least Morse could do to ensure he woke to a friendly, at least familiar face. Barely ten minutes after he'd settled into these new surroundings (a mixed-sex ward, Morse noticed with some surprise), Strange arrived with the news that Mrs Lewis was being fetched back, from an organized Harrods shopping trip to London, by someone from Scotland Yard. ("A nice bunch when they want to be.") She'd been told not to worry - although both men knew that wouldn't help in the slightest and that she'd almost certainly be a wreck by the time she got here.

Strange regarded his sergeant with sympathy. "How is he, Morse?" 

"Apparently, he's fine." 

"We picked up Anthony Phils. He's chain-smoking down at the station." Strange's face creased in remembered horror. "He was covered in blood, wondering around the college gardens muttering something to himself." 

"Did you get the knife?" 

"Dropped on the floor in his rooms. There was blood everywhere there too." He indicated the man on the bed. "I'm surprised he's got any left inside him." 

"One of the doctors told me that an artery was severed, said it would have sprayed blood everywhere."

 Strange shook his head. "Poor Lewis. You'll stay with him?" Morse nodded. "Good. Well, let me know if there's any change, or if there's anything you need." 

"Sir? Who's interviewing Phils?" Strange hesitated. "Against my better judgement, I've left him stewing. I thought you'd want to. I don't think there's too much doubt he did the two in the master's lodge, do you?"

 "No, Sir." 

"No..... Think you'll get in this evening?" 

"You can count on it. I'll be over when Valerie gets here." 

Strange nodded. He turned, and put a large, gentle hand on Morse's shoulder. "Go easy on yourself, friend. It's not your fault in any way. He'll be fine." Morse nodded, and for a moment, Strange thought he could see tears in those sharp blue eyes. And then he blinked and they were gone. 

"Thanks."


Contented for once just to sit, Morse was almost surprised when the patient moaned quietly and opened his eyes. Glazed blue stared up at him as if not quite comprehending where he was. Morse smiled and leaned forward, doing now what he hadn't quite managed to do before - covering Lewis' fingers with his own in reassurance. "You're all right," Morse told his sergeant with certainty. "You're in the Radcliffe, Valerie's on her way." Confusion played in the staring eyes for a moment, and then a pained frown. 

"Sir...." 

"It's all right." 

"No... it...." 

"It was Anthony Phils, yes?" 

A slight nod, and Lewis' eyes closed once again. Relieved, Morse stroked light fingers over dark, soft hair. "We him have in custody," he murmured, unsure if Lewis was still awake. "You're safe."

Only when Val turned up, obviously relieved to see her husband truly was all right and not as hysterical as Morse had expected her to be, did Morse leave Lewis' bedside and head back to the station to interview Phils. He nipped into his office first and duly found the note left on his desk, written in Strange's scrawled handwriting:

'I know how you feel, but try to remember the CC. He doesn't like the rules being broken.'

So it was that Morse walked stony eyed into the Interview Room that evening and stared unsmiling at the miserable, slouching form of Lonsdale college scout, Anthony Phils. At first, the man seemed happy just to see somebody. But whatever smile he had managed faded when Morse spoke. "You've been charged with the attempted murder of my sergeant. You're also going to be charged with the murders of the master of Lonsdale college, and his friend." It was all it took for Anthony Phils to finally crack and admit to everything. Almost everything.


Morse arrived back at the Radcliffe at around ten the following morning. As he stepped into the ward he could see Val sitting by her husband's bedside. He was wondering if he should interrupt when Doctor Masters appeared at his side.

 "Morning Chief Inspector." 

Morse smiled up. "Good morning. How is he?" 

The doctor frowned slightly. "Um... he didn't have a good night, I'm afraid. Woke about... five in a fair amount of pain. They had to give him some strong stuff and it knocked him out again. We'll definitely be keeping him in until at least tomorrow now." 

Morse's concern had risen once again. "He will be all right, though?" 

"Yes. The majority of the lacerations to his chest and stomach - as I said - weren't deep. He did lose quite a bit of blood, as you probably know by now, and his left hand's been sliced up. Must have tried to defend himself." 

"His left hand? Not his right?" 

"No." Now Masters frowned, his mind easily following Morse's. "Odd that, now I come to think about it. Maybe he was being held, arm pinned behind his back, perhaps. I guess that would suggest an accomplice." 

His voice took on that gruesomely excitable tone that Morse heard all too often from amateurs. But he liked Masters. And he smiled. "I'm sure Sergeant Lewis will be able to give us a full account, once he's up to it." 

"Have you arrested someone?" 

"Oh yes. Had him in custody overnight, he's not going anywhere." 

"Good. Whoever did that to him deserves to be in jail." Morse could only agree.

He stopped next to the chair and was greeted with a stunning smile from Val Lewis. "Morse," she reached out and clasped his hand, her face calm. "How are you?" 

"Oh, I'm fine." Her gentle Welsh accent soothed his few remaining concerns. "And he's fine. I know you'll worry about him." 

Morse nodded. "Can I... buy you a coffee?" 

"That would be wonderful."

The hospital canteen was quiet so early in the morning. Morse took two large mugs of freshly brewed coffee and four chocolate chip cookies over to the table Val had chosen, by the window looking out onto the busy road below. She looked tired as she thanked him and wrapped her hands around the heated mug. But she didn't seem unduly upset by this terrible turn of events. Morse decided to give his questing mind a rest. He hadn't gotten much sleep last night and his pulse had been racing by the time he'd reached the hospital. He'd lain awake for most of the dark hours, playing over and over in his mind the way in which he had casually sent his sergeant to meet the man who'd knifed him. What if the cuts hadn't been shallow? What if Lewis had died at that little man's hands? Died in that squalid college scout's room, lying frightened and alone in an ever-growing pool of his own blood?

He put down the mug, his hands trembling slightly. There would always be a long stream of 'what ifs?'. Life was made up of branches determined by simple decisions and actions. The mistress of the lodge could just as easily have been the knife-wielding maniac and he could be one lying in hospital with multiple stab wounds. Although he doubted he'd have put up as brave and fruitful a fight as young Lewis.

Val touched his hand, reassuring him when he had believed he'd come to reassure her. "I've been expecting something to happen since he joined the force," she murmured. 

"It's not usually a dangerous job." But Morse's voice was quiet. 

Val sipped her coffee. "I know. He does love the job. He loves working with you." 

Morse looked up. "Really?" 

"Yes. He says... you 'lift' him." 

Morse wondered what that meant, even as the words warmed him. "I honestly don't know where I'd be without him," he admitted. 

Val smiled. "I don't think it's something you have to worry about."

For a long time to come, those words would return to puzzle him.

"Would you do me a favour?" Val asked him as she finished her coffee. 

"Anything." 

"Would you sit with him for a while. I have some things that I must do. The kids..." 

But Morse nodded. "Of course, it's no trouble."


Taking 'The Times' up to the ward with him, Morse made himself comfortable in the chair by Lewis' bed, and settled to do his crossword. Only when he looked up - seven minutes later - from the penultimate clue, did he realize that his sergeant was watching him. Morse immediately dropped the paper and biro to the tiled floor, leaning forward. "Hello." 

Lewis smiled softly. "Hi." His voice sounded rough and his expression was pained. 

"Do you need anything?" 

"Some more of that morphine wouldn't go amiss." 

Morse was impressed. He knew from the few occasions he'd been hospitalized over the years that a coherent sentence was very difficult to form after twenty hours on morphine. He fetched a nurse, who - after taking temperature (a very quick, barely invasive method whereby she stuck a short funnel in her patient's ear for ten seconds) and blood pressure - disappeared for a few minutes and returned with a syringe. While injecting the painkiller straight into the IV valve in the back of Lewis' hand she kept her actions obvious and gentle.

Morse loved nurses.

It took only a matter of minutes before the pain was obliterated, and Lewis' mind returned to its previous state of euphoria. Yet for a short while he didn't close his eyes. "Val?" 

"Gone to sort out arrangements for the children. I said I'd stay until she got back." 

Lewis smiled. "You don't have to, like." 

"I want to. Like." The gentle, familiar ribbing earned him another half-grin before Lewis' eyes glazed slightly and his lids dropped. Morse reached out and stroked the back of his fingers over his friend's forehead. Lewis smiled, but didn't open his eyes. Contended for now, he allowed sleep to call him back. Morse was with him, he was perfectly safe.


It wasn't until the following afternoon that Doctor Masters declared Lewis in a fit state of health to be questioned. But he was still in a great deal of pain, and Masters refused to allow him to leave the hospital until they could determine if anything was wrong.

For Lewis, then, it was a long morning of tests, scans and x-rays. Another morphine shot finally - blissfully - put him out for a good few hours through lunch-time and into the afternoon. Around three PM he awoke to find Morse sitting at his bedside reading some Agatha Christie novel found in the day-room. It took a little time to struggle through the fog in his brain created by the painkiller, but as he managed to focus his gaze, Morse put down the book and moved his chair closer to the bed. "Do you need anything?" It was becoming a familiar question. But Lewis had already made up his mind not to allow them to give him any more morphine. 

"No...." He tried to sit up slightly, and immediately Morse stood to assist him. The Chief Inspector piled his sergeant's pillows and with an innate gentleness rarely seen, he helped his friend sit up and back, ensuring he was comfortable. Before sitting back down, Morse pulled the curtains around the bed to give them a little privacy. 

"Are you up to telling me what happened?" Lewis nodded. When he tried in vain to reach the water jug on the bedside locker, Morse rose to his feet once more. He poured a glass of water and perched on the edge of the bed while Lewis drank it down carefully. 

"Thanks." 

The glass was replaced, but Morse stayed where he was. A moment's silence passed before Lewis, with a deep understanding, stretched out subtly trembling fingers and touched his Chief's hand. Instantly Morse wrapped the cold fingers in his own, wiping tears from his eyes with the back of his hand. Lewis just tightened his slight grip and waited. "Sorry." 

Morse chuckled at himself. "Look at me." 

"It's all right." The quiet voice touched the senior policeman. 

"I was so scared when I rang that mobile phone of yours and a doctor answered." 

"Is that how you found out?" 

"Yes. Someone - Phils I imagine - rang for an ambulance telling them you'd had a heart attack. He stole your wallet and ID and left you there." His voice cracked just a little on the final words. But Lewis was shaking his head. 

"Anthony Phils wouldn't have called for an ambulance." 

"We found your wallet and ID on him when we picked him up. He's the only one...." 

"He wouldn't have."

Morse let it go for the moment. "Tell me." 

Lewis shifted slightly against the pillows, eyes lowered. "I went into the college grounds and asked the porter where I could find Phils. Art Jones was on duty. He told me that Anthony Phils had rooms on Staircase J. He actually walked into the quad with me and pointed out the window that was Phils'. I went up the stairs, and I could hear someone whistling... I can't remember the tune now. But I knew it. I went up the three flights of stairs and looked for the door - room 7b. The door was open, and I realized that's where the whistling was coming from. I couldn't see anything through the door, so I knocked and went inside, announcing that I was from the police. On my... right there was another door open, leading to a utility room. He was in there, by the sink. He was cleaning the bloody knife! The water wasn't running, but he had paper towels all around him, he had one in his hand. It was this... big, long kitchen knife - Val's got one - 'kitchen devil's I think they're called.... I said his name and he looked at me... and suddenly he was coming at me, brandishing that knife...." Tears sprung from his eyes, and again Lewis realized he was shaking. Morse reached out, rubbed his slim shoulder through the thin fabric of the medical gown. Lewis swallowed back against the sudden constriction in his throat. "I tried to fight him, but...." Unexpectedly, he smiled, looking up at his Chief, eyes sparking with tears picked out by the harsh ward lights. "You know, I reached for my phone... in my jacket pocket. I don't know what I thought I was going to do. Ring for the police I suppose." He was weeping now, the tears sliding silently down his face. "I really thought that was it, you know. I remember... one moment I was standing, and the next I was on the floor and I could feel the blood around me, on me. I actually saw him run out of the room, and for a moment, one crazy moment, I actually tried to stand, to chase him!" Morse smiled gently. "After that, I don't know. All I do remember is the same tune that he'd been whistling, going round and round in my head, getting louder and louder. I guess I must have blacked out."

Morse found a box of tissues on the far corner of the locker and grabbed a handful, giving them to Lewis before resuming his reassuring touch on his sergeant's shoulder and arm. Still their fingers remained clutched together, Morse's thumb rubbing softly over Lewis' cold hand. "Someone rang for an ambulance."

 Lewis blew his nose with some difficulty, not bothering to try to get his healthy hand free. "Not Phils. He tried to kill me. He left me there...." 

"But he must have gone back to you, he took your wallet and ID." 

"Yeah....." Lewis sniffed, looking away.

Had it been anyone else... but Morse dropped it. Someone called an ambulance; someone saved his sergeant's life. He could only be thankful for that. "You think he attacked you with the same knife he used to kill the Master of Lonsdale and his friend?" 

Lewis nodded. "He was cleaning it...." Morse bit back the rest of his questions, but the other man was watching him now, eyes bright with intelligence and knowing. "Ask. If I was a suspect you'd be grilling me." He squeezed Morse's hand as tightly as he could. "Please." 

Morse sighed. "It's all right. I.... Sometimes I push it too far, make the simplest things so complicated...."

 "But...." 

The Chief Inspector looked up, smiling at his friend. "'But' nothing. Phils has admitted to killing them and to your attempted murder." Lewis knew that wasn't enough; Morse always pressed for the truth, picked away at a case until the very essence of what had happened was lain bare before him. Only then would he be satisfied. Only then would he rest. "You need to recover. If I don't get you back soon, Strange'll assign Dixon to me."

Despite himself, Lewis couldn't help a smile. "What a disaster that would be!" 

"Well, precisely." The simple, familiar banter brought them back to a place where things were normal again. Somewhere just below normality there was a tension, a wonderful 'something' that was building between them, bringing them closer, entwining them in shared experiences; emotion and pain. It wasn't new. At their first meeting the seed had been sown. But now - ever since Seth Greene had broken down his own defences - the barriers between them seemed to be slowly crumbling. Whatever it was, Lewis already cherished this unique friendship. He loved that he alone was Morse's partner, his sidekick. Others were jealous, he knew that. And it made him smile when he thought about it. It definitely hadn't been easy. But it was worth everything.

Sometime later, a nurse peered in through the curtains to find Morse helping his sergeant to get comfortable so he could sleep once more. Robert Lewis was making a great improvement. Tomorrow he should be allowed home. She wondered what it would take to make him stay there.


Three

"This bond between us can't be broken"

Lewis had been given strict doctor's orders that he was to take at least a fortnight before returning to work. Five days after being discharged, he had had enough of being at home. So it was that mid-Tuesday morning he walked cautiously into the Kidlington HQ building. Everyone stopped him, told him they were glad he was okay and how terrible it must have been. He smiled and nodded. They didn't really want to know that he couldn't sleep at nights, that he awoke hour after hour, sweating profusely, pulse racing, mind clinging to the white blaze of agony that had overwhelmed him each and every time the knife had cut.

He wanted to see Morse, wanted to talk because he knew his boss of old, and although Phils was rightly being held for murder and attempted murder, there were unanswered questions that only Morse would know to ask. Yet he hadn't asked them, and Lewis was finding it becoming more and more important to him that this did not remain between them.

Their office was empty, and Lewis felt a wave of desperation the likes of which he'd only imagined before. Fighting down the panic, he hurried up to Strange's office, only just remembering to knock before entering. The simple normality of seeing his boss' boss sitting behind his desk reading the morning paper served to stop the mounting hysteria in its path, and Lewis was left standing in the doorway, white and trembling, suddenly cold.

Strange was on his feet in a moment, coming around to direct Lewis to a chair before asking Dixon to bring them some tea and closing the office door. He pulled up a chair next to his sergeant, watching the other man with barely hidden empathy. "Should you be here, Lewis?" 

It took him a few moments to find his voice. "No, Sir." He didn't look up, and began to pick at the frayed edges of the dressing on his still-bandaged left hand. 

Strange put a hand on his shoulder, directing him silently to look up. "Are you all right, Sergeant?" 

"I... I wanted to see the Chief." 

"He and Sergeant Kershaw are out checking up on a suspicious death in Summertown. They'll be back soon, I'm sure. Probably after poor Adrian's been coerced into lunch at the Fox and Hare or the White Hart." Strange chuckled, expecting the lighter note to bring a smile to Lewis' face. But Lewis only felt another stab of hurt.

Dixon knocked and entered with a small tray - two mugs of steaming tea and a plate of biscuits. He smiled at Lewis - an honest, open smile. "It's good to see you back, Sergeant," he commented. "We were all worried." Lewis thanked him. He'd received a card - signed by many - and a few gifts from the station during his days in the hospital and at home. He had yet to properly thank people, and he took this opportunity, knowing instinctively that Dixon would have been one charged with making the purchases.

As the other sergeant closed the door behind him Lewis took up a mug slowly, checking his shaking hand was steady enough to hold a container of boiling liquid. Strange picked up his own mug, eyes wide with concern. "You know you really shouldn't be here." Lewis nodded briefly. It was obvious he didn't want to talk, so Strange filled him in on the few occurrences that he'd missed in his absence. Phils had been officially charged. The arraignment was next week and there would be no bail for him. There had been more trouble at Hanbury House. Lady Hanbury had been released from jail early and the journalists had been plaguing her and her family. Strange had little sympathy, and for a few fleeting moments, when he managed to shift his thoughts to this new development, neither did Lewis.

Tea finished, Lewis finally excused himself. He would check if Morse was back and then go home, he promised.

His hopes weren't high; the pubs were just opening and surely Sergeant Kershaw would be more than happy to take the legendary Chief Inspector for a pint. Yet as he approached the office he shared with his boss, Lewis could hear that so-familiar voice. It sounded like Morse was on the phone; he picked up a few snippets. "...yes, I know that! What I'm trying to.... Well you could have told me that in the first instance..... What? No. No, don't bother....." Lewis smiled contentedly. He'd missed the miserable sod for some inexplicable reason. Pushing the door open, he entered the room silently and sat down on the edge of his desk, watching Morse. Only when his boss slammed the phone back down did he look up to see his sergeant sitting there grinning.

 "Lewis!" At once, the frown was gone and the anger melted. "You're not supposed to be in yet, are you?"

 Lewis shook his head, but he was still smiling. 

"How are you?" 

"Fragile," he finally admitted. "But I'd like to buy you lunch...." 

He trailed off as Sergeant Kershaw stepped into the office waving a set of car keys. "Whenever you're ready, Sir!" Then his eyes met Lewis', and for a moment the visual exchange was a taut thread of territorial challenge.

Morse stood, unaware perhaps of anything amiss. "It's all right, Kershaw, you're off the hook. Sergeant Lewis here has made me an offer I absolutely can't refuse." 

Lewis smiled, relieved somehow. "You'll have to drive, I'm afraid, Sir." 

But Morse was already out in the corridor. "Well, I wouldn't expect you to with that hand, and those injuries. What *are* you doing here, Lewis? And how did you get here?" 

"Taxi, Sir." 

Their voices reached back to Sergeant Kershaw, where he stood in the doorway of their office realizing at last that the path of his career was never going to venture towards working for the great man he idolized.


Morse drove them out to the same pub he'd taken Lewis to when they'd had Seth Greene in custody. At the bar, Lewis ordered a pint of Theakstons' Old Peculiar and a half a Clementine. Morse frowned. "Not drinking?" 

"Can't, Sir, still on the pills." 

"Of course, I'm sorry."

The beer garden was quiet, and with their food ordered, Lewis decided it would be best to get serious matters out of the way. "While we're waiting, Sir, why don't you ask me all those things you should have asked me in the hospital?" 

Morse sighed, a lopsided expression of affectionate patience gentling his face. "It's over, Lewis, let it be."

 "No." His voice was suddenly desperate, and to emphasise his plea, he reached out for Morse's hand, clasping it tightly. "Ask. Me." 

For a few moments, Morse simply stared at their fingers. He pulled back slowly, gently, meeting the haunting blue eyes of his sergeant. "Lewis...." Those eyes flashed, and Morse finally relented. "All right, all right." He wrapped his hands around the pint glass, the beer remaining untouched. "When we went into the master's lodge, and saw the bodies, why did you react as you did?" 

Lewis frowned; it hadn't been the question he had been expecting. 'Why did you lie to me about the phone, Lewis?' had been one. 'Who was the accomplice?' had been another. But he did know the answer. All too well. "I recognized him." 

Quietly. "Alex Ladbery." 

Lewis nodded. 

"Founder member of a rather elite escort service that ran from Lonsdale College." 

Another nod. 

"Anthony Phils found out, and killed them both to protect the reputation of the college. A twisted way of doing it, if you ask me. What I don't know is who held you while that bastard attacked you." 

Lewis smiled. That was more like it. "His name was ... Stuart, that's all I know. He grabbed me from behind as I went for my phone. The timing's a bit hazy... but I think after the third or fourth cut, I managed to turn, and I saw him and he saw me. He let go. I don't know after that. But it's my guess that he rang for the ambulance." 

"Why did you lie?" 

"You know why I lied." 

Morse conceded the point. There was only one plausible connection between Alex Ladbery and Sergeant Robert Lewis. And his name was Stuart. 

"Will this mean my job, Sir?" 

Morse gave him that look again. "This stays between you and me. I'm not going to lose you because some college scout got over-zealous in his job description." He looked up toward the pub as the landlord brought out two plates; smoked salmon and dill on white and pie and chips. He missed Lewis' expression of gratitude, but the man was still smiling when Morse picked up his pint and thanked their impromptu waiter. He actually grinned. "Oh, stop it!"

With some difficulty, Lewis cut into the steak pie. The ate in companionable silence, just enjoying the sunshine and the peaceful surroundings. "Is Kershaw with you ... until I get back?" 

Morse shrugged, and nodded. "Probably. He's a good man." He glanced up in time to see his sergeant's frown. And then he remembered the moment in the office, when Kershaw had walked in. He smiled to himself incredulously, but Lewis really had had enough today and he thought he wouldn't harass his sergeant further. He simply added, "He's good, but he's not you." It was worth the priceless smile. "How are you, really?" 

"It's still quite painful. And... I don't sleep too well." "Nightmares?" 

"Very, very vivid ones." 

"You need to keep your mind active, give it something else to dwell on." 

"Any suggestions?" 

"Paperwork?" But it was a tentative try. 

Lewis laughed. "That doesn't actually sound too bad." 

"Maybe I should send Dixon over with some."

They finished eating, and Morse turned down the offer of a second pint. "There is just one thing that doesn't fit." It was such characteristic timing that Lewis may have been worried later if Morse hadn't asked.

 "Go on." 

"Why would Stuart have helped Phils?" 

"I don't know. I... I've been thinking it over and over, and all I could come up with is that Stuart was with the master and Alex Ladbery when Phils burst in on them. Maybe... maybe Phils threatened him." 

"What does 'Stuart' do when he's not... out with friends?" 

"He's a lecturer, All Souls College, I think." 

"That would be grounds enough for blackmail I suppose." Morse looked up and smiled. "Maybe I will have that second pint, Lewis. But I'll get it."

When he sat down again, the questions were still etched into his face, burning in his eyes.

 "Ask me." Spoken with a little impatience and a great deal of good humour. 

"I don't know how to." Morse frowned. "It's... Stuart." 

Lewis nodded. "I met Alex Ladbery that morning we were at the master's lodge, looking into the suicide of that student. I met him again at a pub in the city a few nights later." Morse's eyes widened, but he said nothing. "He was friendly, chatty, we talked for hours. At the end of the night he handed me a card, said to give him a ring. I didn't, for about a week. And then I had a bad day at work, Val was out when I got home, and I rang the number. Alex set up a ... date between Stuart and I. We met at a hotel, out of town, had a meal, drinks... and then I chickened out." 

Morse smiled a little sadly. "Didn't like him?" 

"I liked him a lot, but... I dunno." Lewis was smiling, but there was a sadness in his eyes that touched Morse's heart. 

"It's a dangerous path you're walking, Robert," he said quietly. "Please be careful." A smile, and a nod ended the conversation. Under usual circumstances he would have had a team of constables searching for 'Stuart'. But Lewis neither wanted nor needed that. Stuart had - after all - saved his life. Eventually.

Lewis glanced at his watch. "I'd better get you back to work, before Sergeant Kershaw reports us missing." 

Morse chuckled. "I thought you two got on." 

"We do." Lewis sighed. "Guess I'm just jealous." 

"Jealous?" Morse laughed at that, although not unkindly. "Lewis...." Whatever he was going to say, he simply shook his head once.


Four

"Just wait until tomorrow. I guess that's what they all say, Just before they fall apart."

There seemed very little to do but wait. Lewis knew Morse was worried. On a purely professional level, having a sergeant who was obviously looking for some kind of answer in the sexual underworld of the great city of Oxford was risky in itself. It was a world that Lewis knew little about, that Morse was completely oblivious to. On a personal level, Morse had no one in his life who meant more to him than Lewis. Yet for one so used to solving puzzles, so used to finding the logical answer in a maze of questions, this one seemed impossible.

Doctor Grayling Russell always knew where to find the Chief Inspector at this time on a fading summer's evening. She took a couple of pints to the table nearest the river, smiling to herself at her friend's surprise upon seeing her, although it wasn't the first time she had gate-crashed his seclusion.

"Doctor, what a nice surprise." She placed the beer before him and sat down. "Thank you. To what do I owe the pleasure of your company." 

"To Sergeant Lewis, I'm afraid." Morse raised his eyebrows; he might have known. For some time after they met, he himself had been very attracted to Grayling. They'd been out once or twice, and both had quickly realized that although any kind of romantic chemistry was missing between them, they would be great friends. They shared similar tastes in real ale. Morse had introduced her to Wagner and taken her to a Simon Rattle concert at the Albert Hall for her last birthday. He'd spoken to her about Janet McQueen, about his happiness at finding someone he could and would love, and be loved by, on the right terms so that neither would be hurt. And eventually she'd confided in him that she had fallen very much in love with his sergeant. It had started as attraction, she confided, went from there to a crush. She guiltily admitted - one afternoon over a pint of Smiles Heritage - that she looked forward to a crime being committed simply so that she'd have a reason to see Lewis. But he was a married man. Unrequited love, in Morse's opinion, was the most painful, and Grayling had finally decided to try and put him out of her mind.

Three days after making that decision a businessman had been killed in his office, followed the next day by his partner, and the day after that by his secretary. Lewis had been his usual friendly self, and in the space of a week she must have seen him three times a day without fail. By the Friday night she was at her wits end. Morse had invited her round to dinner and patiently listened to her more and more drunkenly sing the praises of his blissfully ignorant sergeant. She'd made him swear he would never tell Lewis, and Morse knew he never would. Even now, if Lewis' marriage was breaking down - which Morse suspected it was - she, sadly, wasn't what he was looking for now. Maybe later, but not now.

"What's he done now?" Morse asked kindly. 

"He came to see me today." 

"I know - about the results of the blood tests." 

"He could have telephoned." 

"He was passing." 

"He took me to lunch." 

Morse laughed. "He does that - takes his friends to lunch. It's his way of saying thank you, rewarding a job well done. You could have told him you were too busy." 

The pathologist looked suddenly guilty. "I wanted to go." 

"You're just making it worse on yourself." 

"I know!" She drank her beer, feeling at that moment like a teenager all over again. And who wanted to be back there? "He's so nice." 

"Grayling.... He's a married man." She rolled her eyes. He'd told her the same thing about a hundred times. "Well what do you see in him?" 

She sighed dramatically. "Oh, I don't know. Eyes a woman could drown in, hair that just begs to be touched and stroked." She blushed. "And his body...." Morse looked away. "I'm sorry." 

"Don't be." Morse downed the remainder his pint in one and indicated her glass. She nodded.

Standing at the bar, he wondered at how Lewis had seemingly managed to work his way into every part of his life. Talking to Grayling like this made him feel ten years younger, and he didn't know why. He was smiling as he ordered two more pints, fleetingly considering leaving his car at the pub tonight.


In the driver's seat of the dark blue Vauxhall Callibra parked in Morse's driveway, Lewis sat with his forehead dropped against the steering wheel. His desperate sobs shook his body as he crumpled.


Morse turned the Jag onto the gavel in front of his home at just gone midnight. He and Grayling had gone from the pub to a quiet little restaurant on the outskirts of Oxford. He'd somehow managed to cheer her for one more night. He was surprised when the Jag's headlights picked out Lewis' car in the drive.

Quietly, Morse opened the door of the Callibra. Lewis was asleep, head turned toward t he inside of the dark, cold car. Morse sighed. Gently, he gripped Lewis' shoulder. "Come on, sleeping beauty." 

Lewis woke slowly, staring at his boss for a moment as his mind caught up. He remembered where he was and groaned. "I'm sorry." He straightened, and leaned forward, reaching for the keys to turn the ignition.

 Morse stopped him. "Stay here tonight." Lewis was too tired to argue. He accepted Morse's help out of the car and locked up while Morse let them into the house. "Make yourself comfortable."

Morse rubbed his eyes tiredly as he stuck the kettle on. Recently his quiet, peaceful personal life had been tilted somewhat. He found he almost liked the change. He was becoming a father figure to Grayling, a lover to the wondrous Janet. And to Lewis.... What indeed?

Stirring the sugar into his own coffee, he picked up Lewis' tea and wondered into the lounge, switching the kitchen light off with his elbow as he passed. In the doorway to the lounge, he stopped. Lewis had turned on a table lamp, kicked off his shoes, stretched out on the sofa and gone straight to sleep. Morse shook his head, smiling gently, and put the two mugs down, going to fetch a blanket from the airing cupboard. Covering his sergeant's sleeping form, he switched off the lamp and took his own drink to bed with him.


Morse got in early the following morning, leaving Lewis sleeping on the sofa. His sergeant needed the sleep if last night was anything to go by. He got a coffee from the canteen and settled behind his desk with one of the pathology reports from the previous week, typed up apparently while Grayling Russell was tearing her hair out.

Lewis walked into the office just after eight. He'd obviously been home, had showered, shaved and changed. Morse smiled at him as his sergeant approached his desk. But the smiled faded as Lewis silently handed him a plain white envelope. "What's this?" 

Lewis didn't look up, his fingers played against the edge of the desk. "I'm sorry, Sir. I can't go on like this."

 There was a tearful edge to his voice that tore at Morse. He stared at the envelope in his hand. "What is this?" 

"Request for immediate transfer. Val and I ... have separated." 

Morse gazed at him, "I'm sorry." Silence clawed at them. Morse turned the envelope over in his hands, but made no attempt to open it. He could hardly consider what life would be like without Lewis around. He was more than simply his sergeant, he was his confidant, his friend, his partner.

Thinking there was little else to say Lewis took a step toward the open door. Suddenly, Morse reached out and gripped his forearm firmly. Lewis looked back, startled, and he met tear-filled, instance blue eyes. Feeling all the vulnerability and emotion that he'd felt in others over the last few weeks, Morse spoke quietly. "You promised you wouldn't leave me." 

Lewis sighed. "I promised Val too." 

"I need you more than she does." Finally. The purity of the truth.

For a moment, the thread of tension wound between them was pulled taut enough to snap. And then Lewis smiled a happy smile, wiping his eyes with the backs of his fingers as he turned his other arm and slid his hand into Morse's. He held on - they both held on - for a long time, staring at one another, trying to communicate a life time's worth of emotion in a single minute.

At some point, the telephone rang and continued to ring, but Morse ignored it. He waved the envelope around. "Can I please tear this up?" 

Lewis nodded, reaching out with his free hand to grab the receiver before the incessant ringing drove them both mad. "Chief Inspector Morse's office.... Where? .... Again? .... We'll be there in twenty minutes, don't let anyone move anything." Putting the phone down, he chuckled at Morse's efforts to tear the envelope in half using only one hand. "Would you like your hand back?" 

"Not really, no."

Morse was regarding him with an intensity he'd known very rarely in his life and he could barely string the words into a plausible sentence. "That was Constable Wilks. Another body's turned up in the canal over at Thrupp." 

Morse's eyebrows rose. "Again? Popular place for dumping bodies it would seem." He finally pulled his hand back and tore the envelope into eight pieces and dropped them into the bin. "I remember that there was a rather excellent pub near by." 

Lewis nodded as he followed his boss out of the office. "With a rather creepy landlord if memory serves."


Morse drew the Jaguar up onto the towpath. Killing the engine, he looked confidently at his sergeant. "Why don't you take charge here?" 

Lewis stared at him. "Are you serious?" 

"Yes. I know you can handle it." 

The sergeant continued to frown suspiciously at his superior as they excited the car. The pub wasn't open yet, wouldn't be for just under four hours. 

Morse smiled at him. "Go on then, don't keep our busy constabulary waiting. They get paid by the hour you know." Lewis grinned cheerfully. Despite his life falling apart around him, at this moment he felt happy. Morse had always been able to do that, he reflected now. Always known how and when. He set off to cross the precarious lock gate to reach the small group on the other side.

Morse sat on the lock arm and watched his sergeant as he took confident and competent control of the situation. Part of him was seeing his old friend in a somewhat different light. This morning had scared him - the possibility of losing Lewis had always scared him. He noticed things, things he hadn't noticed before. How young, for example, his sergeant looked in that beige suit he sometimes wore instead of the usual dull grey. The one he was wearing now as he crouched by the side of the body.

A car pulling up next to the Jag made Morse turn his head; Doctor Russell got out of her silver Polo and pulled her bag from the back. She smiled at him as she approached. For a moment, she looked out across the canal as the scene awaiting her arrival. "Morning." 

She frowned. "Morning. Is he...?" 

Morse nodded once. "I'm letting him handle this one for the moment, he needs some more responsibility."

 "Thanks!" 

He deliberately misinterpreted her tone and smiled happily. "Anytime."


It turned into a difficult day for them both, but in very different ways. The body in the canal was that of a young boy. His parents had reported him missing some days ago. Lewis had an entire squad of uniforms retracing the boy's last-known steps. By lunch he had a few names on the list of suspects and evening that list would be down to three. By the time he left the station, Lewis was confident of an arrest by the end of the night. Confident enough to leave it in the capable hands of Sergeant Adrian Kershaw. Morse was impressed.

Personally, the ground between them had become a minefield. His impassioned plea that had kept Lewis with him this morning had broken whatever barriers remained. Feelings, fears, hopes were laid bared between them. Morse watched his sergeant at work, watched him throw himself into the case as deeply as he himself usually did. As he watched, he allowed his deeply buried self to come to the forefront of his mind. His feelings for Lewis were complex. Most powerful was the need for him, for his companionship and presence. Anything physical was an after thought, and one only planted by Lewis' own attempts to find his own answers to questions he'd been asking longer than Morse had been denying.

Not that the thought repulsed him, far from it. But starting anything with his own sergeant was a very bad idea. He just hurt him to watch someone he cared for chasing around looking for something that was so difficult to find.

Mid-afternoon, leaving Lewis happily directing the investigation, Morse took a few hours off to meet Janet.

 "I appreciate this." 

"You sounded desperate." 

They sat in one corner of a quiet French restaurant just out of the city centre. It had once been one of Morse's favourite Italians, and it had taken him three visits before he'd noticed the change. 

"Lewis?" 

Morse nodded. The bottle he'd chosen arrived, and Janet agreed that it was true to his usual tastes. 

"So, tell me all." 

He told her about the frightening events of that morning. She knew most of the events of the last few months and she was quick to put the clues together. 

"So he's looking for sex." 

"He's looking for someone he can trust. Maybe he could have trusted this Stuart but he didn't give it a chance." 

"Morse." Janet took his hand over the tabletop, and for a moment he found himself wondering about the softness of her skin, and how Lewis' skin felt to touch. 

"He doesn't want a stranger. You don't really want his first time to be the pig's ear that you told me yours was, do you?" 

Morse smiled at her forwardness. He shook his head but added, "I can't give him this." 

"If it's us you're worried about, don't. I can share you with him. Only him, mind you." 

He knew she was being truthful with him, and he was more than grateful. "I do love you." 

"And I love you. You know that." She stole a kiss over the small table. "So...." "I can't."

Their food arrived as promptly as ever.

"Why not?" 

"Because he's my sergeant!" 

Janet signed, waving her fork at him as if that would help her case. "Oh, Morse. He's your friend. And you love him dearly, I know you do." 

"And that makes it all right?" 

Across the table, she sighed patiently. "If it's something you both want, then it's all right. Consenting adults, remember?" She smiled gently. "And he is lovely." 

Morse rolled his eyes. "Oh, don't you start!" 

"I take it your doctor friend is still as infatuated as ever?" 

"Putting it mildly, yes. I had a whole night of it last night." 

"Aww.... Ironic though, don't you think? That you're the one he needs." 

Morse nodded, he'd seen the irony some time ago. "Maybe I'm not the one he wants." 

"What does your famous detective mind tell you?" 

A moment's pause and then, quietly, "We're very close. Always have been, in a strange way. It's a feeling really. He hasn't done anything overt.... It's just... a feeling." 

"Your feelings are usually quite reliable, aren't they?" He nodded. "Then, for once, act on them! This must be driving you both crazy! It drove him to ask for a transfer." 

"I know." Morse put his fork down and picked up his wineglass. "I'm frightened of losing him."

Janet nodded, understanding completely. "You're worried that if it goes wrong..." 

"...I'll have lost one of the best things in my life. I can't risk that." 

"Then you have to talk to him. Make sure that whatever happens, it's on terms you're both happy with." That, at least, was something he agreed with her about.


Morse returned to the Kidlington HQ with a determination set firmly in his mind. Lewis was busy, and not wanting to disturb his sergeant's work, Morse simply left a crafted note on the other man's desk and set off for home. The case was far from his mind. Lewis was in charge now. He would do just fine.

It was a little over an hour later when Lewis returned to their office looking for his boss, and found the note on his desk.

'When you're ready, I'm here for you. M'


As he had done this morning, with Morse at his side, Lewis stared blankly into the water of the lock. The police teams were gone. The sun was setting. Somewhere in Summertown, Lawrence's parents were grieving for their son. Somewhere in Jericho, one man was enjoying his last evening of freedom. An arrest would be made in less than an hour. At least it was one child killer off the streets tonight.

With some effort, Lewis turned his thoughts from the day's events to the possibilities the night held. Again he took Morse's note from his pocket and unfolded it to read the single line silently over. He could go home. The situation with Val wasn't so bad that he'd had to leave right away. He was sleeping in the box room, on a camper bed. But at least he was sleeping now. The nightmares had faded. Anthony Phils was in jail, and even if he weren't, Lewis had some time ago decided he that would be in no danger. It was easier to breathe if you believed no one was out to get you.

He remembered the nightmare with Hugo DeVries. As Morse had been sucked deeper and deeper into the make-believe world DeVries was creating, Lewis' own reality had skewed. He had hung on to his belief in Morse for the sake of his own sanity, and that clear thinking had finally paid off. All he had to do was close his eyes and he would see McNutt, stuffed into the airing cupboard like some dirty linen; the dead eyes staring with eternal horror outwards... at whom, had been the question. Not Morse. Lewis had repeated that over in over in his mind as he'd sat in the living room listening to the hushed voices of his superior officers as they tried for a theory of collaboration. His deep respect for his Chief had been shaken that day. Yet just sitting with Morse in the police cell, just being in the other man's soothing presence, had alaid his fears and cleared his mind enough for him to find the solution.

Was that what was being offered now? A clear mind, a soothing, familiar presence, a place to hide. No. A place... to be himself.

In the end, it seemed, it wasn't such a difficult decision. Lewis walked back to his car with no intention of going home.


The fact that, by the time he rang the doorbell at Morse's house, the scene was already set didn't bother him in the slightest. Morse ushered him in with a gentle smile. How did he always know? Lewis had discarded his jacket and tie in the car, and walked into the dimly lit lounge with his sleeves rolled back and his throat exposed by the open collar button.

A couple of low-wattage bulbs in the table lamps were accompanied by discrete candles. An open bottle of wine was standing on the coffee table with two long-stemmed glasses. Soft music played in the background. There was a delicate, subtle aroma wafting from the kitchen. It reminded him of the night he'd come for dinner, while he'd been staying at the hotel in Thrupp. But the atmosphere now was very different.

Lewis found his pulse racing as Morse stepped up to his side. He risked a single sweeping glance at his Chief. The suit was gone. A soft, black jersey replaced the usual white shirt; the top button of the short line of five was undone. Black trousers and to Lewis' surprise, bare feet. His eyes came back up, and were caught by the sapphire blue stare that regarded him. He caught his breath.

Very slowly, Morse took his hand, and stepping around the table, drew him to the sofa. Never mind that he was a foot taller than the other man, Lewis felt like a teenager being led uncertainly into doing something he knew was wrong. But it wasn't wrong. It was right, or at least it felt right.

Following his mentor, Lewis sat down on the edge of the cushions, his hand still held, his body turned slightly toward inwards. And then Morse's other hand came up, fingers brushed hair behind his ear. Still the bluest eyes locked with his own held him firmly. "I can show you," Morse spoke finally, his voice simply a murmur. "But you have to trust me. Not only with this, with you, but also with us. I love you, Robert, and I won't lose you over this." Lewis thought he should say something, anything, but his voice was gone, and besides, there were no words to hand. He could barely nod, but he did so, and finally, with a single nod of acknowledgement, Morse drew them together in a simple, easy kiss.

A million worries left Lewis in a moment. His perception exploded inwards and it took several, long seconds before he truly realized what was happening and gave in to it. His lips parted under Morse's patient mouth, and a gentle, coaxing tongue touched his own in invitation.

Slow and easy. Hands still grasped, they dropped together against the back of the sofa, lips caressing, tongues exploring, albeit a little hesitantly. Morse waited until Lewis seemed to have relaxed, and released his lover's hand, moving to touch the silky dark hair, pushing behind one ear and down, to cup the slim neck. Finally, a groan - the first stirrings of something more than excited terror - escaped Lewis' throat to be swallowed into the kiss. Morse's fingers dripped inside the stiff collar, aching now to touch more intimate skin. Coming around to the front, skilled fingers unfastened several buttons and at last his hand splayed across a smooth chest.

With that touch accepted, Morse slowly pulled out of the kiss. Once again he deliberately locked his gaze with Lewis' and held it. He waited just a few seconds, delighting in the soft, breathless panting of his lover, before moving his eyes downward to admire the exposed chest. Aware of Lewis' eyes on him, he unbuttoned the remainder with slow movements, finally drawing the white cotton back. He leaned in carefully, remaining aware for any sign that his actions weren't welcomed. He touched his lips to the hollow of Lewis' throat, tipping his head slightly, fingers combing into soft hair, mouth tracing the path of the jaw.

A tender nip to his lover's shoulder, and Morse pulled back, again capturing a mouth that was learning fast. This part was no different to making love to a woman, and Lewis had enough experience of that.

When he broke the kiss this time, Morse waited, gazing, smiling, into the eyes of the other. Finally, a sweet expletive found voice in that cherished Geordie dialect and Morse chuckled. "It's all right, we've got all night." Once again he carded his fingers into beautifully fine hair. Then he sat up and took the bottle of wine into his hand, pouring two glasses with practised ease.

Settling back, Morse put one of the glasses into his lover's hand, brushing his fingertips over the knuckles. He took a sip of the expensive Chardonnay before commenting very softly, "You look scared to death." Lewis stared at him. "We don't have to do this. We don't have to do anything." As he'd hoped it would, the idea that this could end right now cleared Lewis' mind of the haze he'd hidden behind thus far. 

"I want to do this." 

"But?" 

"Just that... this is not a side of you I've seen before, if you know what I mean." The gentle tone of the sometimes harsh voice stroked against Morse's nerves, the effect unexpected but far from unwelcome.

 "You can understand that I keep a lot about myself hidden. And this isn't how I usually spend my evenings." 

"This is... just for me then?" 

Morse smiled in disbelief. "Yes. It's just for you."

The reassurance gave Lewis some confidence and allowed him to gain some much-needed ground. He took a sip of wine and swallowed it before leaning forward slightly. Aware of the other's every move, Morse met him half way, lips parted in invitation. Moving a little closer, Lewis uttered a sound; part pleasure, part desperation. Morse smiled, not unkindly, into the kiss and also shifted, bringing one leg up onto the sofa with more suppleness than Lewis would have believed possible of the older man. When Morse's other leg came to rest over his own, his mind was blown clear of thought.

Again, the kiss was ended, and Morse pulled back to take another sip from his glass. Lewis watched intently. It seemed Morse was going to drive him insane before the night was out. And then teasingly light fingers were touched to his neck once more. They traced a path of faint sensation to the top of his jaw, over the shell of his ear, into his hair, splaying out to comb through his hair and coming together again at the back of his neck. "There are no strings here, Robert. I'm sure I'm too old for you anyway. But if you believe that the only options open to you are dating agencies and escort services you're wrong." The words were spoken with a deep sincerity. Lewis could barely think into the next moment. He hadn't considered anything passed this evening and he didn't want to. What he did want was that skilled mouth closed once more over his own. He rose shaking fingers to Morse's face, touching the smooth jaw, seeking to feel the softness of the white hair that was so familiar. Whatever signs of age adorned the face, Morse's eyes shone, deep blue against white, clear and dancing now with something Lewis had never known before.

Morse reached for his lover's arm, clasping it gently, stopping the fingers exploring his face. Knowing he had the other's full attention, Morse turned his head and pressed his lips to the smooth skin of the inside of Lewis' wrist, drawing a tiny path the followed the pulsing artery up into the palm. Very slowly, one by one, each finger was traced by the tip of that tongue, and as each nail was reached, the mouth slid down, taking the whole digit in to be suckled for a time before being released and the next finger assaulted.

Lewis watched with rapt fascination and an ache in his groin that was becoming unbearable. Trying to equate the man making love to him with the man he worked so closely with was impossible. They were two different people. One was cloaked in impenetrable defences and wore the mask of a cold-hearted cynic for whom the world held no more joy. The other was a creature of unleashed passion, quiet, softly spoken, with love enough to wrap around others and hold them there. A wave of soul-deep emotion crashed over him, drawing a moan as agonized as any he had uttered in pain.

Morse heard it, and understood. Releasing his lover's arm, Morse placed their glasses on the table. Settling back, he was delighted when Lewis' arm came around him and pulled him closer into another, deeper kiss. Morse's hand strayed to the bare chest and stomach he'd earlier revealed, fingers playing lightly over a sparse covering of dark hairs, gauging reaction to every movement. Lewis' own hand had bravely ducked under Morse' jersey and was tentatively exploring soft flesh. With every second that passed, that hand became more confident. Sure fingers stroked his side, passed once over his nipple before scooting shyly back to safety.

Morse briefly interrupted their kissing to mirror his lover's trial and watch Lewis' face as he did so. "Do you like that?" The question was whispered. Lewis nodded in response, and when Morse's fingers returned to his nipple to bestow further attention upon it, Lewis first dropped his gaze to watch, and then closed his eyes and moaned softly.

Satisfied with his answer, Morse resumed the kiss, his tongue dipping back into Lewis' mouth, stroking luxuriously against the rough tongue that once again licked over his own.

A tear of wax slid down the outside of a thick, white candle. Banished to irrelevancy, time slipped passed unnoticed. Quietly murmured endearments, soft moans of tantalizing pleasure, rough pleas for both continuation and the end of this sweet torture, all filled the room while the flames danced lower and lower.

At Morse's urging, they now lay side by side on the deep sofa, mouths still locked together, arms wrapped around each other, now confident hands seeking out new pleasures each to give the other.

Morse slipped his fingers into the waistband of Lewis' soft black jeans, revelling in the heated reaction; the push of a begging erection against his own, a long sound released from low in his lover's throat to be muted by his own mouth. He teased for a while, as he had done at each step, allowing Lewis to get used to every new idea, every new intimacy, each more personal then the last.

Lewis, for his part, had mirrored Morse's actions, learning quickly and employing some of his own tactics to coax rare moans of exquisite pleasure from his lover. The real world didn't exist here in this room, it couldn't. He felt unbearably turned on, like he'd been teetering on the edge of orgasm forever. Yet the burning desire blazing in his blood was more than orgasm; prolonged pleasure that was setting every nerve alight.

With a certain movement that might have spoken of some skill and practise had Lewis been thinking at all, Morse deftly moved his hand between them and unfastened five buttons to open his lover's jeans. A higher pitched gasp of excitement broke from Lewis' throat as Morse's palm flattened for a few long seconds against his stomach before moving to curve around his hip, skin against smooth skin, fingers parting over the swell of one buttock. Morse squeezed ever so slightly, and all at once the kiss was broken.

Lewis was gazing at him, a sudden frightened misery filling the lusting eyes even as Morse watched. He reached up, stroked reassuringly over Lewis' hair. "It's all right." 

"I'm sorry...." 

"No. Don't be." Morse kissed him gently. "Only what you're comfortable with. I promised you that and I meant it." 

"I want to be comfortable with it." He hesitated. 

"Go on." 

"Just.... Growing up in Newcastle you get certain 'rights' and 'wrongs' beaten into ya." 

"This isn't wrong." 

"I know. I know...." 

Morse kissed him briefly. "Does it feel good?" A sly smile turned Lewis' lips. "Then it's right." 

Lewis nodded. "I don't want to stop." 

"Neither do I."


Moonlight filtered in through the crack in the curtains. Waking slowly, aching gloriously, Morse turned his head to look at the sleeping man next to him. Lewis was sprawled out on his front, sheets covering him up to the small of his back. His left hand still clasped Morse's left heavily. Carefully, Morse reached out and touched his lover's forehead, moving sweat-damp hair back simply to touch it. He smiled, contented and happy despite himself.

They'd taken it too far - he'd taken it too far. When, at some point, Lewis had pulled away from him and stood, reached for both of his hands and suggested they 'take this upstairs', both had been too far gone to see sense.

Morse could smell the heavy aroma of a still-cooking slow casserole in the oven, and swore softly to himself. Dinner was ruined, that was for sure. Not that either of them had shown the slightest interest in eating.

He lay back again, listening to his sergeant's breathing overlaid on the usual sounds of the house at night. His sergeant.... Oh god. Of course he'd considered the consequences before leaving that note on Lewis' desk yesterday. He'd weighed any potential awkwardness between them against the risks Lewis was taking trying to satisfy his ever-growing curiosity concerning the other side to his sexual nature. He hated to see his friend getting hurt again and again. He'd been able to help. That was all it was, wasn't it? Helping out someone very dear and close to him.

But he'd never expected it to go as far as it had. He hadn't expected to get so caught up in it. And Lewis! He'd never expected the man to gather such confidence so quickly!

Again he turned to look at the lithe body of his lover of one evening. Very blue eyes opened to meet his own, and a lavish smile spread across the young face. Morse felt that deep well of emotion again, and smiled bountifully. "You look beautiful with your hair all tousled." Lewis made a small, heartfelt sound and crawled across the bed on his front to plant a slow, deepening kiss on Morse's lips. They lingered together for a time, before Lewis snuggled down and lay his head against the other's shoulder. Still their hands remained joined. 

"You said earlier you loved me. Did you mean that?" 

"Yes." Morse titled his head so it rested against the top of his lover's. "How could I not?" 

"I think, perhaps, I love you too. I wish I could give you some idea of how much this all means to me."

 Morse closed his eyes in utter contentment and not a little joy. "I think I know, Robert."

They slowly fell asleep, lying there together, neither contemplating the morning. If nothing else, the shared experiences of the night had finally broken the cord of tension strung out between them.


Wearing comfortable trousers and an open shirt, Morse padded down into the small kitchen and finally turned the oven off. He didn't even want to imagine what state the casserole was in, let alone the dish. Quietly, he filled the kettle and switched it on, turning to lean against the work-surface when he heard Lewis come downstairs.

Morse's blue towelling gown wrapped loosely around him, Lewis walked into the kitchen and didn't stop until he had his arms wrapped around Morse, was held tightly in the other's embrace. They remained like that until the kettle boiled and Morse was forced to take one arm from around Lewis' waist to flick the switch. He leaned back, trying to read the expression on the younger man's face, but was distracted by a soft, almost tentative kiss. They seemed to melt into one another as they had done the previous evening. Despite the height difference, they fitted together.

"What happens now?" It was a small whisper, almost frightened. And for once, Morse wasn't sure he had the answer. But he had brought them to this place, and he wouldn't abandon Lewis now. 

"Life," he replied quietly. He pulled out of the embrace just enough to be able to look up into his lover's eyes. "I hadn't expected last night to go that far, but I'll never regret that it did. I told you, no strings. This will never go further than the two of us. If you need me, I'm here." 

Tears stung Lewis' eyes as he realized the priceless gift he was being given; unconditional love, perhaps for the first time in his life. He lay his forehead against the other man's. "Will this... change things between us?"

 Morse chuckled lovingly. "Only those things that should have changed a long time ago." 

"You won't ... push me away, at work." 

"No. How could I when I cherish your company so very much?"

They cuddled again in the hallway as Lewis was leaving. The molten flow of desire that had overwhelmed them the previous night had left in its wake a warmth that Morse felt had flooded his soul. With the pressure of one last kiss lingering on his lips, Lewis stepped out into the fresh, early morning sunshine. He hesitated in the porch and turned back, smiling at Morse in the doorway. "Thank you." 

Never, he thought, had those words sounded so inadequate. "Anytime." And never had Morse sounded - or been - or sincere.

He watched as his lover carefully reversed the dark blue Callibra around his own maroon Jaguar and head out of the gravelled driveway. Lewis had barely turned out into the road when Morse's phone rang.

"Morse." 

"Strange. Listen, you and Lewis wouldn't mind popping out to Thrupp again, would you? Only... they've found a third severed leg....."

tbc elfin


Fiction Archive   Contents Page