Hurt Together, Hurt Alone.
Morse wiped his hands on a tea-towel and draped it over the back of a chair to dry. The accumulation of dirty dishes was always a sign that he was involved in a difficult case and therefore too busy to bother with household chores, and this most recent of cases had taken more than its usual toll of both his mental energies and his emotions. From the first death - the murder of Sir John Balcome - to the horrific scene at the picnic, the bodies had piled up at an alarming rate. And the motives had been as numerous, from greed to jealousy, to unrequited love, and the whole drama played out in the glare of unwanted publicity. Not that it was unexpected. The massacre of one of the country's foremost families was bound to attract the attention of the press, both for the case and for all those involved in it, victim, suspect and police alike.
That had been the hardest to accept. For someone as protective of his privacy as Morse had always been, to suddenly find his every move emblazoned across the tabloids in banner headlines had been almost too much to endure. The criticised his methods, poured ridicule on his opinions, invaded his home, and the closer they got the more his fear increased, forcing him to withdraw into himself, cutting him off even from the people who cared most about him. The delicate fabric of his past, his deepest secrets, were suddenly under threat and he had no way of dealing with it other than self-imposed isolation.
Collecting a bottle of Samuel Smiths from the cupboard under the sink, he made his way into the other room. It was a legacy of the unwanted publicity that made him cross immediately to the window and close the curtains, mindful of the telephoto lenses that might still be hiding in the darkness, waiting to capture his most personal moments. That done, he dropped a cassette into the player, closing his eyes as the first poignant notes of Lucia di Lammermoor drifted from the speakers, letting the music ease away the last dregs of tension.
The case had been difficult, but it was over now. Margaret Cliff had been arrested and charged that morning with the deaths of Sir John and his sons. He hoped that the courts would look on her sympathetically, would view the whole case and not just the recent events. True, she had been the instrument of their deaths, but whose was the greater crime? They had, after all, killed her brother all those years before, for no other reason than that he was the wrong class of person and had dared to win their mother's love. On the other hand, she had used young Jessica to win lady Emily's trust, had taken a vulnerable and emotionally damaged girl and convinced her - regardless of her fragile mental state - that Emily was the mother who had abandoned her as a child. In the child's deranged mind there had been only one way of dealing with the revelation, and Emily had died, brutally and tragically, in a woodland glade. For Margaret, an old wrong had been put right, but in doing so an entire family had been wiped out.
He uttered a loud profanity as the ringing doorbell became too intrusive to ignore, all but obliterating the delicate voice from the stereo. Book in hand, finger marking the page, the trudged into the hall, determined to get rid of the unwanted disturbance without preamble.
"Yes? What do you " But the words died on his lips as his gaze swept the bedraggled figure standing on the threshold, hands thrust into the pockets of a rain-darkened Barbour. For a moment Morse felt a sinking, churning feeling in the pit of his stomach, but that faded quickly when he reminded himself that the case was over, his success documented. As far as the press was concerned, he was fireproof, albeit temporarily. Still, the fear was too recent, the wound too raw for him to completely relax his guard. "What do you want?" he demanded acidly.
"To talk. To explain."
"Isn't it a little late for that?"
The slender figure shuddered - whether with cold or the harshness of his rejection, Morse was not sure - and burrowed deeper into the waxed folds. "Please, Em?"
Use of the long-unused endearment evoked memories so sweet that they tempered the resentment and anger burning inside him. Morse stepped aside, gesturing his visitor into the hall and closing the door as much against an uncaring world as the inclement weather.
"You can hang your coat there. I'd prefer you not to drip all over the carpet. I suppose you want a drink?" A wary nod greeted the ambiguous offer. "Scotch? Or have you developed a taste for those sickening concoctions they serve in Fleet Street?"
"Scotch is fine, thanks. And it's Wapping, not Fleet Street, these days."
Morse's hand hovered over the bottle of Bells, before moving on to his own favourite malt and pouring two liberal doubles. "You look as if you need it," he said by way of explanation for his generosity. "How long have you been out there anyway?"
"Couple of hours. I was - working up the courage to ring the bell."
"You didn't seem to have much difficulty a few days ago. Sit down, man, I don't bite!" He indicated a chair, resuming his own former position on the sofa. The journalist perched on the edge of the seat, the glass cradled between his pale hands.
"It was different then, I was just doing my job. This is - personal."
"It was all personal to me. Damn you! You invade my home, question my integrity and my ability as a policemen. You too privileged information about my private life and held it up to public scrutiny, and now you tell me you were 'just doing your job'?" Fire slid through his senses as he swallowed the last of his drink and reached for a refill. "Why, Will? At least tell me that."
"You wouldn't understand."
"Have the courtesy to allow me to be the judge of that."
"That's exactly what I mean." Challenge flared in the dark eyes. "The way you talk - 'Have the courtesy to allow me' - the way you act. You're so full of intellectual shit, with your books and your music... You think you're so much better than the rest of us."
Morse recoiled from the words, the anger and disgust that filled them tearing into him like so many knives. "Is that why you tried to humiliate me? Because you think I'm a snob?"
"Are you telling me you're not?" He raised the glass, swirling the amber liquid within it.
"Twelve year old malt... Anyone else would have given me the Bells."
"Anyone else would have slammed the door in your face after what you did. You don't know a thing about me."
"No? Well, when it comes to that, how much do you know about me?"
Sad blue eyes remembered a winter of long evenings spent curled in front of the fire, in this very room; evenings of mulled wine and lowered voices exchanging confidences, of spiced kisses and other intimacies. And in the sweetness of the memories he found a loss that had long been denied and the source of his present loneliness.
"I know I cared for you once, a long time ago."
"Crap! You never cared about me, you bastard, otherwise you wouldn't have ended it the way you did."
Morse bristled. "I ended it? As I recall, I came home and found you'd packed your bags and gone, without - may I add - so much as a forwarding address."
"You were the one who made it clear I was in the way. You wanted it to be over."
"But did it have to end in anger?"
The younger man spread his hands. "How else did you expect me to react? I was in love with you! I didn't want to know about responsibilities or career prospects. I wanted you to say you felt the same way." The dark eyes were suddenly a little too bright and the hand that held the glass trembled with emotions barely held in check. "I wanted you to tell me that the problems didn't matter, that whatever happened we'd face it together. But you just went on and on about being careful, and how hard it was for a queer copper to get promoted, and how you couldn't allow yourself to become a target for blackmail."
"Those things were important to me then," Morse confessed softly, recalling with shame the misplaced ideals of an arrogant, newly-promoted Chief Inspector with precious little time for a personal life - or a lover young enough to be his son.
"And I wasn't." The reported sketched a bitter, self-depreciating laugh. "That's been the story of my life. First my father, then you, then the college. I failed, did you know? I was never much good at the academic stuff but you helped me, gave me something to aim for. I wanted to make you proud of me. When you turned away I - lost the incentive."
Morse stuffed his hands into his trousers' pockets to hide their shaking. He wanted to deny the words, but he could not, knowing the exaggeration that stemmed from resentment held more than a little truth. "Will --," he began.
"It's Billy now. Billy Turner. Sounds more in keeping with the gutter press, which is about all I'm good for these days."
"As much as I disliked the things you said about me, and the methods you used, you couldn't disguise your talent. You're wasted on that tabloid trash, Will."
"My editor doesn't think so."
"From what I hear, your editor wouldn't know the difference between a writer and the hind end of a kangaroo," Morse sneered, then turned it into a smile. "I could help - if you'd let me. I know some people..."
"No thanks. You left me to stand on my own two feet and I'm doing just fine. I don't need handouts from anyone - especially you."
The tape clicked off, plunging them into an awkward silence broken only by the ticking of the clock and the drumming of the rain against the windows. Morse scraped a hand through his white hair in frustration. They were going nowhere. Plenty of accusations, recriminations on both sides, but no real progress. They were strangers again, each with a distant memory of their love, like a faded photograph, the good times all but wiped away by the years of pain and guilt. Better to end it now, he thought, that to put each other through the mill one more time. But, before he could speak, Turner pushed himself to his feet.
"I think coming here was a mistake. Maybe I should go..."
"Must you?" Morse heard himself ask, startled by his own reaction to the suggestion. "I thought you wanted to talk."
"What's the point? We couldn't say it nine years ago, why hurt each other all over again? You've got your life, I've got mine - let's leave it at that." he stepped past Morse, heading for the door. "Mind if I use the toilet before I go? It's a long way back to London."
"Be my guest," Morse replied flatly. "It's at the top--"
" -- I remember."
Left alone, Morse selected another tape at random, needing something to help him gather his scattered thoughts. Had it really been nine years? Time had softened the memory, but when he thought of Will it all seemed so much more recent. Nine years...
William Turner-Stafford had been a second year classics student at Lonsdale, Morse's old college, when the chief inspector had, quite literally, stumbled across him in the Bodleian on wet Saturday afternoon. His resulting twisted ankle provided a convenient conversation-opener a week later, when they met - again by chance - in the doorway of Blackwells. Morse was then in his early forties, William a mere nineteen, but the friendship that quickly established itself between them, and the love affair that followed, held no regard for any difference in age or social standing. Turner was also two years below the age at which a man could, at that time, legally take another man as lover but, for the first few months, Morse was too preoccupied with the magic of the whole thing, with having someone to care for in his life again, to worry about such trivialities. Not until the first tide of enthusiasm began to abate did he pause to take stock of the situation, allowing cold reality to encroach upon his fantasy. Summer was fast approaching and suddenly there were other demands on William's time, keeping him on the playing field until late into the evening, where previously he had hurried home to Morse's arms, engaging him in weekend parties from which Morse was excluded by merit of his age, sex and profession.
Morse, too, found his working day lengthened by the seasonal influx of tourists and the corresponding increase in the crime rate. A chief inspector for less than a year, it had been made very clear that further progress up the promotions ladder depended upon him working had and keeping his nose clean, and suddenly his nineteen year old male lover could be looked upon as a liability. The result was inevitable: it was the solution that hurt.
"Mahler's Fifth." The soft voice filtered through his thoughts. "That was playing the first time we made love."
Still struggling with the past Morse turned, expecting renewed anger. He found instead the dark eyes filled with remorse, the stance and attitude far removed from his earlier aggression. He looked more like the William that Morse remembered than at any time during the case, as if by suspending the confrontation for just a few minutes, they had somehow turned back the clock. Morse took a pace towards him, hands spread in a gesture of reconciliation. "Will, I --"
"Don't, Em. I'm the one who should be apologising, not you. I saw a chance to get my own back for something that happened a long time ago, and I grabbed it with both hands, regardless of the consequences."
"You had a right to be angry with me, after the way I treated you. I should never have allowed it to happen in the first place."
"Could you have stopped it?" Turner asked. "Because I know I couldn't - and it was me who made the first move," he added shyly.
A vivid image flashed through Morse's mind: standing by the stereo, debating which piece to play next, the merits of Mozart over Mahler. Brown eyes inches from his own, shoulder brushing shoulder, hand touching hand, the gentle voice deferring to his greater knowledge. A movement, and their fingers entwined, a token protest against open lips and the insanity of passion laid waste to common sense.
"It would never have happened if I hadn't wanted it to," Morse whispered. "Wanted you."
"But it was the wrong time and the wrong place. I hated you for what I thought you'd done, but it was as much my fault. I was too young, then, to understand how much you were putting at risk."
Morse, in an uncharacteristic display of tenderness, raised a hand to the dark head in a hesitant caress. "And I was too old to remember how easily young love can be hurt. I'm sorry Wi -- Billy."
"I like 'Will' better," he grinned. "Want to know something crazy? Going after you, instead of the murder story, seemed like a good way to pay you back at first, but halfway through the case I realised I was hurting myself, too. What was it Francis Bacon said about revenge?"
"'A man that studieth revenge keeps his own wounds green,'" Morse quoted.
Will nodded. "Exactly. I'm sorry, Em. I wish there was some way I could make it up to you."
Blue eyes slid away from chestnut, looked up at an angle from beneath silvered brows, a teasing smile tweaking the older man's lips. "You could try reading 'Hamlet' occasionally."
"'This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.'" He gave Turner's arm a gentle squeeze. "You don't need to write that rubbish, Will, you're better than that. You don't need to - attack people to make a name for yourself."
"That's easy for you to say, you're not out there."
"I don't need to be, to see the power of the press, the way they can build people up one day and break them down the next. There's too much pain in the world already - don't add to it. You have a talent, Will, why not use it to help people instead of hurting them?"
William shrugged and moved away. "What's the point of changing now? No-one's going to care."
"I would. You said earlier that when we were lovers you wanted to make me proud of you. Do you still feel that way, even after all that's happened?"
"As stupid as it sounds, yes, I do."
"Then do it for me, Will, if you can't do it for yourself."
"But what's the use?" he asked again, frustration creeping into his voice. "The moment I walk through that door you'll forget all about me."
Morse shook his head in denial as he took the narrow shoulders between his hands, forcing Turner to look at him. "Good God! Do you really think I could forget you now?" he laughed. "Every snotty-nosed constable in Thames Valley probably has at least one of your articles framed and hanging on his wall." But then his laughter softened once more and the grip became a caress. "I didn't forget you in nine years, Will, and I don't intend to start now. We have our own lives to lead but I'd like us to try to be friends again."
Turner's eyes gazed deeply into his own and Morse felt as if his one-time lover was attempting to strip away all the complex layers of his personality and see right through to his soul. It was an unnerving sensation but he tolerated it for the sake of all that had gone before. At last William eased away, nodding.
"I'll try. I'm not making any promises but I will think about it - if that's what you really want." Car headlights swept a bright arc across the curtains and the scrunch of gravel was heard from outside. "You have a visitor," he observed.
"That will be Lewis."
An eyebrow arched above a curious eye. "Your sergeant? Does he always come to see you at this time of night?"
Heat invaded the older man's face, betraying a hidden truth which, Morse knew, Turner read and interpreted in a matter of seconds. "Sometimes. When he has information on a case."
"And -sometimes when he doesn't? I wondered why he defended your reputation the way he did. Have you been together long?"
"If by 'together' you mean in the biblical sense - about a year."
"Very. He doesn't know a thing about music or fine wines and his taste in literature revolves around popular fiction, but he reminds me that I'm not as old as I sometimes feel - and I haven't been able to say that about anyone in - nine years."
Trying to hide his own embarrassment, Turner glanced at his watch. "Time I was going. It's a long way back t London." He scribbled something on the reverse of a business card and handed it to Morse. "I would like to stay in touch, if you've no objection."
"I'd like that."
"Then - I am forgiven for the story?"
"Now that I understand why you wrote what you did - yes." he held out his hands, holding William's firmly between them. But William had other ideas and, leaning closer, kissed Morse softly on the mouth.
"Stay happy, Em."
Morse glanced towards the sound of footsteps on the porch, his mind already turning to the prospect of an evening in his sergeant's company. "I intend to."
A moment later, Turner was gone, favouring Lewis with a knowing smile as they passed each other on the steps.
"What was he doing here?" Lewis demanded, his tone an eloquent expression of his obvious distaste. Morse, grinning, kissed him lightly on the lips before guiding him towards the couch.
"He came to tell me what a fool he'd been." Sitting beside his lover, Morse slid into the encircling arms with a satisfied sigh.
"Shouldn't think you needed telling."
"As it happens, we came to the conclusion that we were both at fault - he for allowing his desire for revenge to consume him, I for forgetting that young love can be as deep and enduring as any other and infinitely more painful when it's over."
Frowning, Lewis held him off at arms length. "What are you on about?" he asked.
Morse smiled. "Nothing, love. It's too long a story for a time like this. Ask me again when we have a week or two to spare." His hand behind Lewis' head drew the sweet mouth down to his own in what would be the first of many kisses that night. He would explain William Turner-Stafford to Lewis one day - but for tonight he had other plans.
William belonged to his past, Lewis to his present. Whatever came of it, the rest was of no importance right now. The future could take care of itself, so long as it would never again force him into the life of loneliness that he knew so well, or require him to place professional duty and the whims of others above his responsibility towards those he loved. Too many people had hurt him, or been hurt by him, in the past and it was time that it stopped - before he lost this, his last chance.
Looking deep into Lewis' eyes, he made a silent vow. Maybe one day, if the gods were willing, it would be much, much more. For Lewis' sake, as well as his own, he hoped so.