Chapter 1: stranger in my phone book
With how horrible the rainy weather was outside, the ringing of the phone wasn’t an unwanted delay. The station was still abuzz with a little bit of this and that - everyone was trying to get small errands done to escape the inevitable.
Shirley picked up the telephone and put her notebook down.
‘Detective Sergeant Trewlove.’
‘I’m happy to hear I received the correct number.’ She didn’t recognise the voice at first, expecting a regular work call. ‘Detective Sergeant Morse, Thames Valley. It seems you’ve gone up a rank.’
‘Morse?’ That was a surprise.
‘Yes,’ he said, and his voice had a hint of a smile to it.
‘It seems you haven’t. Why are you calling my work?’
‘Well, the number was easier to get than had I gone for London phone books.’
‘I thought you were a detective,’ Shirley said, and heard his soft huff of laughter. It felt like yesterday and another lifetime since she last listened to his voice.
She glanced over her shoulder and sat back down at her desk. ‘Why are you calling me at all, sergeant?’ She’d hardly heard from anyone in Oxford, much less anyone in the forces there. And Morse was the last person she would have expected to reach out after so many years.
‘I wanted to ask whether you were busy, this week.’
‘This week?’ Shirley asked. ‘How so?’
‘I’m coming down to London,’ Morse said calmly, and his words and voice were friendly and measured. ‘For a few days. And I thought of you.’
That kind of a call, was it, then. Shirley narrowed her eyes. Something must have happened.
‘You, away from Oxford?’ Shirley asked. ‘I didn’t think you left the town often.’
‘Every now and then, yes. Though, naturally, if you’re working over the weekend or are leaving for somewhere yourself, I wouldn’t want to bother you.’
‘No, no, I’m free from… say, Thursday afternoon to Saturday evening, so if your trip falls between those days, I think I could meet with you.’
‘Perfect. I, err... could drive there on Friday, if it suits you,’ he said. And spare a nice day after the date, but not overstay his welcome for three. Very careful. He was making Shirley smile, but the last thing she wanted was to give away her amusement.
‘This a work call, DS Morse, isn’t it?’ she asked firmly, but politely, digging out her calendar from her bag. ‘Did you need my help for a case? Another chess tournament?’ The professional tone was the only thing keeping her mirth in check.
The line was silent for a moment.
‘Well, it is inarguably happening during working hours,’ Morse admitted grudgingly, and Shirley had to cover her mouth with a hand. ‘But I’m already on leave, starting today, so I’m really just using taxpayer money, so, my money, for a… a personal call, yes. I’ve got no case at the moment, no.’
It was a little jarring to listen to his voice. She heard someone talking in the background, but probably not to Morse. He must have been sitting alone by his desk much like she did.
Shirley let herself picture it for a moment, even though she knew the picture was wrong from the start.
Cowley Police Station, though already closed, lit with the cool sun of a March afternoon for another moment. Just like it had been years ago, with the strange green paint across the walls and the ancient dark archive drawers everywhere.
Morse, sitting at his desk in the CI department, right by Chief Inspector Thursday’s door. Shirley hadn’t been there all too often, mostly spending her time at the WPC side, but maybe he would have been sitting there like she’d once seen him, a bit sideways, ready to move as soon as he ended the call, hunched over the phone.
His smile just as uncomfortable and too genuine as it had always been. Or maybe he would have been rolling his eyes at something the people further were talking about, he was that sort of a man, after all.
Of course that couldn’t be where he really was, but it was still a nice thought.
‘Why are you headed here, then?’ Shirley asked. Surely she wasn’t the only reason for his sudden will to travel. ‘I wouldn’t think London in early spring is the most appealing holiday destination.’
Morse hesitated for just a moment. ‘Opera, actually.’
‘Yes, I was going to make a call and ask if,’ he said, sounding like he was either thinking very carefully about his next words or distracted by something on his desk. ‘If there were any last minute seats left at the… Coliseum Theatre. The Rhinegold.’
‘And you decided to call me for that?’ Shirley asked. ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t know.’
‘No, of course not!’ Morse said, and she couldn’t help but grin again with the way he sighed.
‘No?’ She felt a bit childish, smiling to the telephone, and at work no less. She was also having a lot of fun at his expense - if Morse was after what she thought he was, Shirley was determined not to make it all too easy for him.
‘No, I’m calling the opera for that. It will be a separate call of its own.’ The voices in the background grew a little louder, walking past him. Morse’s tone changed a bit, into something crisp and flat. ‘Sergeant. Which, of course, isn’t yours… to worry about.’
‘Well, I’m flattered that you’d ask, DS Morse,’ Shirley said, and managed not to laugh at the appearances he was keeping up for whoever had walked by. ‘But, I’m afraid I probably can’t take three hours of German opera after working for a fortnight straight.’
‘Of course not,’ Morse said in a rush. ‘It’s on Thursday. And if you’d prefer meeting on Friday, I might just… go there by myself.’ He cleared his throat and sounded a bit shifty, maybe somewhat embarrassed. She was picturing his face again, a downcast smile and a faint red rising to his ears and temples.
‘Friday sounds good, I won’t mind. Maybe for a drink or two,’ Shirley said, and let her smile sound through her words. ‘Where will you be staying?’
‘I’ll find a place. It will be a short visit, anyway,’ he said, still avoiding the reason behind his holiday, but his voice was warmer again. ‘But it would be lovely to see you again, Shirley dear.’
And then Morse let out a soft, warm huff of laughter. Shirley watched her careful doubts about a little rendez-vous drain away like spring puddles. To hell with it, it was Morse. She could handle him, she’d handled him before.
‘All right. I’d love to meet you then,’ she said. And maybe she meant it, too. ‘Could I call you again when I get home tonight? I’m still at work.’
‘Right,’ Morse said, and he sounded pleasantly surprised. ‘Yes, that’s all right. I’ll give you my number.’
‘I’ll write it down. I’d love to hear how you’ve been doing. Morse dear,’ she said, and heard a clatter from his end of the line.
‘What … ?’ His voice trailed off for a moment, and she could hear him rummaging around. ‘There? Oh, bloody…’ What had he dropped? Something bigger than a pen.
‘Sorry! Sorry, I didn’t mean to- it wasn’t for you,’ he said.
Shirley huffed out a soft laugh, happy that he couldn’t see her silly little grin. ‘Yeah, it’s all right.’
Shirley stood in her window, watching Morse. It was something in his walk, the grey overcoat and the inward turn of his shoulders, that singled him out from other pedestrians quickly. He looked at all the buildings, almost walking past hers, traced back a few steps, and stopped.
He was checking his watch, looking around himself in an uncertain manner, and she checked hers. Five minutes to when they’d agreed to meet.
Normally the view of the street wasn’t her favourite thing about her flat, but when he looked up from the grey pavement, spotted her in the window, and returned her wave, Shirley found that she didn’t mind at all.
She didn’t know whether or not her attempt at miming “I’ll be there in a minute, I’ll just pack my handbag” was successful, but Morse gave her another wave and an exaggerated nod. The hand he’d raised went to the back of his neck, pulling at his ear, and he dropped his eyes back to the pavement. Shirley left the window with that.
It was all right.
She weighed her options with the shoes for just a moment, but it wasn’t too wet anymore. She could wear the prettier low heels instead of her boots. It was a date, after all, and not even a mock version this time.
The evening air was cool and a bit chilly, and met Shirley as soon as she opened the ground floor door. It wasn’t bad, it was all right. She was just worried that Morse had been forced to stand and wait for an unfair time in the cool evening.
‘You all right there, mister?’ Shirley asked, and smiled.
It wasn’t that long since they’d last seen each other. (Well, over five years, but…) Somehow the Morse she remembered was still very different to the one that turned around to face her.
‘Shirley,’ he said. Not Trewlove.
‘Morse,’ she said back. Not Endeavour.
He wore new colours she’d never seen on him before. Kingfisher blue and darker petrol under the grey coat, fit new trousers and a nice scarf. His familiar russet hair stood up a bit despite the damp weather, but what had changed struck Shirley with a boundless fascination.
Before she had a chance to stare too long at the first few silver strands between copper curls, Morse returned her smile.
‘I’m all right, thank you,’ he said. ‘You’re looking lovely.’
‘I could say the same,’ Shirley told him and grinned. ‘You shouldn’t have prettied yourself up like that just for my sake.’ His eyes went round in surprise, but then it turned into a chuckle and a shrug.
‘You can lead the way,’ he said. ‘I did look the place up on the map, but I would think you know the streets better.’
‘Of course.’ Morse offered his arm for her, and Shirley held onto it.
‘How was the opera?’ she asked.
Morse did a funny thing with his face, something halfway between a smile and a sneer. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, and sounded a bit surprised himself. ‘It was a very slow, and very strange version. But it was… well, something, anyway. It was all right.’
‘How do you manage to follow along in German?’ Shirley had no idea how many languages he actually knew.
Morse shook his head. ‘This was actually produced in English. But I think I would’ve preferred German.’
‘The original libretto sounds less forced.’
‘Or,’ Shirley said and smiled, ‘you’re just being snobbish.’
Morse gave her a surprised look. Then he smiled a little. ‘Well, could be that, too. But I’m there for music and… well, emotion, I suppose. Not for all those strange set pieces and costumes.’
‘Of course.’ Shirley nodded. ‘So what you’re saying is that it was a modern version, and that’s what’s bothering you.’
‘Could be that, too,’ he said and laughed again.
It was a little off-putting, how softly he held her arm and hand, constantly (at the crossing, all right; in the sparse crowds filling the pavements, sure; but just maybe she would have been able to get to her seat without her hand being held), and how he kept offering her his coat (‘Morse, really, I’m not cold and I live not that far from here’).
How, when they got to the small dance bar, he insisted on not only paying, but also getting her drink for her, as if she were already somehow unable to walk to and fro between the bar and their spot.
But it was also very Morse, walking on eggshells like that. She had just forgotten how proper he was, with what he’d let her know of his intentions behind the date.
If treating her like a doll made him feel better about the whole ordeal, sure. She couldn’t really complain.
Could have been much worse, too, the other way around; had he wanted to forgo the catching-up entirely, and just come over for something quick and boring.
So, they sat down. Shirley smoothed her skirt over her knees and listened to his short gripe about the opera production.
It was good that there was a bit of a murmur going around. It wasn’t crowded, but it helped fill the careful silences that threatened their conversation, when neither was quite sure how to talk to each other after such a long time.
They talked about work, her and his both. About her hectic week and the different kind of pulse London had, compared to Oxford. About Jim Strange, and his wife and daughter.
‘He got married?’ Shirley asked, and it made her smile. ‘Is she nice? Mrs Strange?’
‘He did, yes,’ Morse said, his voice flat, and finished his pint with a somewhat… impressive speed, were it a contest. He cleared his throat. ‘I would think she is,’ he added with a tight, polite smile.
‘And the little one?’ Shirley asked.
‘Strange won’t stop talking about her. It’s been two years! Which is…’ Morse drew in a slow breath, and looked past her into space for a sigh. Shirley raised her eyebrows sceptically. He gave her a quick look, and folded his hands on the table. ‘Very sweet, I suppose. I’m glad that they’re happy.’
It was a relief. She was already about to ask why he was being such a misery about it. A little girl. It was just lovely. She was happy for them.
‘Would you tell him that I said hi, and all the best,’ Shirley said. Maybe she should have tried to contact Jim Strange later herself, ask him how they were doing, and send her regards herself.
Morse inclined his head. ‘Of course I will.’
Then they talked about her new hair, the fringe which she’d curled just a little, and which he called very sweet and pleasing. She knew it was, and smiled at the compliment.
And his hair, of course. Morse seemed more than a little self-conscious about the strands of grey that had shot across his darker temples and the fuzzy forelock, sideburns too. Poor thing, it was happening so quickly.
It wasn’t really that bad, and Shirley told him as much, but Morse almost looked more offended after the reassurance, and went to get another beer. Shirley rolled her eyes, but smiled.
He looked more worried and prouder, somehow, than she remembered. Not like he’d wandered out of an ancient, ageless college anymore.
It was all probably a prelude to what was ahead. All the extra years of worry he kept piling onto his shoulders starting to nip at his heels before their time was due. Especially when, by the sound of it all, he was still working himself to such exhaustion that it was all quite literally sapping the life from him.
(And drinking, too; there was the kind of broken roll to his voice, sometimes, that whisky gave to a man. Shirley couldn’t help but wonder how much of a habit it was for him, the odd glass or two or three.)
He was careful and stubborn and a little anxious. His smiles were small and sweet, when they were genuine. That was familiar, Shirley knew that Morse.
He looked at her like any man looked at a woman on a night out about town, but was very polite and bashful about it. Very Morse.
It was intriguing, somehow, but also a bit sad. The strange new roughness.
‘Well, you’ve certainly changed,’ Shirley said. Morse gave her a sharp dodgy look, just for a moment, before his bright blue eyes strayed to the crowd again.
‘Not too much, I hope.’ He huffed out a dry laugh.
‘I don’t think change is always a bad thing.’ Shirley shrugged. He didn’t look like he agreed at all. Probably still half thinking about his opera.
‘Well, if it was all bad, I wouldn’t be sitting with you anymore.’
Morse paused, blue eyes on her again. After a brief consideration, he nodded softly in surprise, and turned his eyes back down into his pint.
‘Right. Well, that’s good, isn’t it,’ he said, looked up, and even gave her a coy little smile. ‘Your company’s as lovely as ever.’
It made Shirley beam too, for better or for worse. ‘Thank you.’
She did want to try him out. She just wanted to find out more about him first, call it curiosity, and it just wouldn't do to give him any promises too early.
For all that Morse had changed, he didn’t fit in with all the light and music of a dance bar in London. Not one bit. A classroom would have probably still been the only backdrop he looked like he belonged to. But it was all right, and at least it wasn’t a proper disco. It was a nice cosy place.
‘Morse?’ Shirley asked.
‘Yes?’ Morse looked up from his whisky, looking curious.
‘Dance with me,’ she said. They’d been talking for ages, and she came to the conclusion that he’d never ask her if she didn’t do it first.
‘Now?’ He looked surprised. Shirley shrugged.
‘I’d love it,’ she said, and that did it. Morse ducked his head to hide a laugh, gave her a look from under his lashes, and then a helpless little shrug.
‘Well, I couldn’t deny you that,’ he said and got up, offering his hand to her. ‘May I?’
Shirley smiled. ‘Of course!’
She certainly didn’t mind Morse’s warm hands holding hers, and settling on her waist, when she dragged him to the dance floor. She very much liked the calm way he held her for the slower songs, and it was a great bit of fun to see how he let himself move just a bit less stiffly for one of the quicker few he agreed upon.
‘You’re not half bad at this,’ Shirley told him with a grin. It was almost impressive.
Morse chuckled a little. ‘You sound surprised.’ He twirled her around once with a firm, calm hand.
‘I don’t think I just expected anything other than waltz from you,’ she said.
‘Maybe I’ve practiced a couple of times.’
‘Really?’ Shirley smiled, and leaned closer to his ear. ‘With whom?’
‘Not anyone special, really,’ he said and gave her a look that wasn’t very pleased. All right, then. Still a sad and lonely man.
‘All the same to me,’ she agreed.
‘Really, dancing is the last thing I’m good at,’ Morse said. ‘But if it makes you smile like that, my dear, then it must be worth it,’ Morse whispered into her ear, just close enough for his breath to tickle her skin. He smelled of whisky, and still a bit like the damp wool of his overcoat, and she shook her head.
It wasn't as subtle as he seemed to think.
Or, maybe he didn’t. The way his eyes squinted when he leaned back, with a few half-hearted steps to the rhythm of the song, was too joking for him to believe that he was as proper as he pretended.
That was definitely a fun change of pace. He had humour, now, more of it, and even if it was the self-deprecating sort, it wasn’t too bittersweet.
Shirley followed along, enjoying the chance to let loose after a long week. Morse clearly wasn’t having quite as much fun as her, but it wasn’t her problem. They could listen to something calmer on the radio later.
like, Morse please just let loose every once in a while, you're crumbling like the polar ice caps
‘You like it here, in London, then?’
‘Well, I did like Oxford, too,’ Shirley said. ‘But I think it’s a bit… Morse, surely you’ve noticed by now that there’s nothing tying that town to reality.’
He gave her a funny look. ‘What do you mean by that?’
‘When you walk down the streets there it feels a bit unreal, doesn’t it? I mean, when all the crime is about… wealthy students and old professors and what have you,’ she said and smiled. ‘Fake kidnappings and safari beasts. Public schools. It’s a bit of a funny place, I think.’ London, in all its hurry and shifty moods, was a much more grounded place to be.
‘Funny?’ Morse smiled at her and she shrugged. ‘You must feel like you’re Alice, then. Back from the Wonderland?’
‘A bit, perhaps,’ Shirley agreed. She hadn’t thought about it that way, but maybe she was. It did feel like she was an adult in her own right, at last, not running in a fairy land anymore. They’d just arrested a man plotting the murder of his local grocer, but it wasn’t out of a long family feud or a college seat. It was just envy and hate and perceived slights.
‘If you’re Alice, what does that make me?’ Morse asked and leaned closer over the table, curious.
‘That’s a tricky one.’ Shirley smiled and crossed her hands to lean on them, trying to think. It would depend on where he was trying to lead her, wouldn’t it? She didn’t dare ask it aloud. He would have got offended, no doubt, and said something like “I’m not trying to lead you anywhere, Shirley dear”. Just like someone from Wonderland.
‘Just don’t say the Cheshire Cat, please.’
‘Why not? You’re always thinking about a thousand directions.’ And he was a tabby, now, with stripes of red and brown and grey.
He laughed. ‘I doubt anyone would want to hear my thoughts, in that case.’
‘Maybe you’re the White Rabbit, then,’ Shirley said, and Morse lifted his brows with a surprised smile. ‘You’re the only one running out here, in my real world, aren’t you?’
Morse seemed to consider it for a moment.
‘It’s not a bad thing,’ Shirley promised. ‘You’re just making me think about that mad place again.’
‘All right.’ He nodded, holding back one of those funny crooked smiles again. ‘Though I hope I haven’t made you feel like we’re in a hurry anywhere.’
‘No, Morse. Don’t worry,’ she said.
He was very polite, even after getting halfway through his second whisky of the night, but Shirley saw the change in his smiles and the inward turn of his posture. The curious fever hiding behind his blue eyes became something defeated.
It happened some time after they’d danced a bit, and sat back down. Maybe after another man had tried to ask her for a twirl, a young business type with a flashy striped shirt and a slim dark jacket, a pale blond.
‘I’m so sorry, I already have company,’ Shirley said and smiled. The man looked at Morse and then back at her, like he was looking for a joke.
‘Babe, just for a dance. I’m sure your old man won’t mind, would you, mate?’ he smirked. Shirley couldn’t help but stare at him, gobsmacked. Morse said nothing either, but his look darkened.
‘Yeah, come on, you can do better,’ the blond said, full of himself.
‘I could, but I’ve yet to see a better companion tonight,’ she said.
The man scoffed. ‘Let me buy you a drink. Whatever you’d like. Budge up a bit and I’ll join you two.’
At what point would it not be an overreaction to shove her Met detective identification in his face?
‘She disagreed already, did she not,’ Morse said. It was the kind of calm tone he used before he would snap, and suddenly the night was everything Shirley hadn’t wanted it to be.
Not just a reunion with an old friend over a couple of drinks, and a little something for the weekend. It had to be bitter and awkward, and topped off with some egotistical bastard, all in one smug package.
‘Oh, sorry man, do I need your blessing for the catch?’
‘Sod off,’ Morse said, lips twisted in half a sneer. More venom there than before.
‘Oi, I’m just being friendly to your girlfriend here, cos you aren’t.’
‘And what do you know about me? We’re having a conversation, here, and your input is hardly and improvement.’
Shirley rolled her eyes, and immediately wished that she hadn’t, because their intruder took his chance to completely misread her.
‘Yeah, honey, I’m so sorry about your friend here. What’s your name?’ he drawled on, staring at her, and laid a hand on her arm. When was it no longer overreacting to echo Morse’s blunt goodbyes to the man?
‘I don’t think we need to know each other by name,’ Shirley said.
‘Well, it’s Richie, my pleasure, Richie Pike. I don’t think you want to spend your night with this misery over here.’
‘No, thank you, I’m all right.’ Dick.
‘Come on. One dance, honey. He won’t mind, will you, man?’
And Morse, the bloody misery himself, gave her a shattered look unlike she’d ever seen. She stared back in disbelief. It was a questioning glance, an offer of “No. I won’t mind” .
Was he being serious? All the way from Oxford for a weekend holiday and a light-hearted date, and one greasy townie was enough to have him dropping everything and fleeing.
‘So, doll, wouldn’t you-’
‘He’s my husband,’ Shirley spat out. It wasn’t an overreaction anymore. ‘Get lost.’
‘Oh,’ the man snorted. He cleared his throat. ‘Sorry for bothering you, then. Enjoy yourselves.’ Drunk enough not to ask about rings.
Morse bit his lip (though she couldn’t say what emotion or retort he held back) when the hand on her arm twitched and disappeared.
‘Am I?’ he asked. Shirley narrowed her eyes at him. Was that really what he wanted to talk about, now? Their mock-marriage.
‘Clearly not on your own accord, Mr Morse’ she said. His smile dropped, and he turned his eyes to his glass. ‘What was that about?
He just shrugged. ‘Well… who am I to tell you what to do?’
Shirley rolled her eyes. ‘I don’t need your permission for dancing, all right,’ she said. ‘But I’d still appreciate it if you at least kept me company, when we’re here, Morse.’ She’d thought he was enjoying himself to at least some degree. It didn’t feel good. That he’d be so ready to call their date off.
‘What do you do when you’re alone?’ he asked.
‘I leave,’ Shirley said. Morse looked sceptical. As if he had been any help. ‘Or, I tell them I’m a police detective. You’d be surprised by how uncomfortable men get with that.’
Even he, by the looks of it. The awkward tilt to his apologetic smile.
‘If any woman should be proud of her title in the forces, I think it is you,’ he said. Half an apology, maybe.
‘And I am,’ Shirley said. She finally felt like she was getting the chance to jump hurdles her own size, doing detective work. Not just standing around, looking pretty and running errands.
‘You would have been a great help for us at Thames Valley. You’re the most brilliant policewoman we’ve had,’ Morse said. It was a bit backhanded of a compliment, but he didn’t look like he quite understood what he’d said. And she was growing tired of the whole topic.
‘And I’m one of the best detectives at my station here,’ she said, finished her drink and smiled at him. He smiled back and nodded.
It was a good point to drop the issue, otherwise she too would get grey hairs after the night. She hadn’t thought his weariness to be contagious, but apparently it was.
Morse tried to offer her another round, but Shirley had to decline - she’d had quite enough for the night, of drinks and excitement, and had to get up to the ladies’ room before even thinking about anything more nerve-wracking.
(Also a good chance to see if her hair was still in a smart shape at all. She ended up fixing her ponytail for quite a while. At least one of them could have their hair in order.)
When she got back, Morse was sitting at the edge of his seat. He looked like he was ready to run, and held his now-empty whisky glass in a tight white-knuckled grip. His eyes were glued to its bottom.
‘What can you see in your cup, fortune-teller?’ Shirley asked, peering at him. His eyes shot up, and for a minute he was at a loss of words, looking up and down between her and the last amber drops.
‘I don’t know. I don’t think I believe in these things,’ he said, shoved the glass back on the table, and let out a wider laugh than she’d heard from him all evening. It was actually bordering on hysterical, and the reason dawned on her when she sat back down across from him, and he dodged her eyes again.
‘I think a mathematical probability might be more your cup of tea,’ she said. Would have been hers.
His smile turned backwards. ‘I don’t know. Cumulative evidence often serves me better when I try to make sense of people.’
Oh. He’d thought she had made her easiest excuses and left.
By God, Morse really was nervous. He was just as brittle and buzzing as ever. Shirley had just been completely fooled by the new, harder walls he’d built around himself. She’d dragged it out for too long, and he was backing down.
What on earth was she supposed to say to that? She wasn’t the type of woman to keep throwaway lifelines in her handbag for sad men to hold onto.
‘Are you sure you wouldn’t have another drink? I could put one in for you,’ Morse asked. Shirley shook her head, and he frowned a little.
‘No, thank you.’
‘Well, do you mind if I...?’ He picked his empty whisky up again. It would be his third.
‘Actually, I was thinking,’ Shirley said, going for a bit warmer tone, but Morse turned his eyes to the floor before she got to flirting.
‘Did you have fun?’ he asked their shoes.
Seriously? They’d hardly sat down for a few hours and he was already thinking she’d got what she wanted. Shirley wanted to thwack him over the head and call his name and tell him to sit up straight and stop being such a sad prick about it.
‘I did,’ she said gently, instead. He looked very doubtful at first, but when she beckoned him closer, leaned over the table. She took one of his hands between her own. It was warm, but the pace of the racing pulse under his wrist was almost scary. ‘And I would like to keep it that way.’
‘Right,’ he managed. ‘I don’t know how well I’ve done in that regard.’
Shirley held onto his hand so he couldn’t escape, and leaned in.
‘I was thinking that if we no longer want to sit here,’ she whispered in his ear, in the copper and steel curls by his temples, ‘You might give me one more dance. And after that, you could walk me back to my flat, and stay the night, Morse.’
His look was taken aback, the impossibly blue eyes round in surprise and his wide lips parted just a bit. Why did he make everything so difficult?
‘I would love to,’ he said softly. And there it was, a smile again.
‘You silly man.’
She leaned in and pressed a quick kiss on his red cheek. Then she kissed the side of his nose, and made him laugh under his breath, a more amused sound than earlier.
‘Get up, then,’ she said. ‘Let’s dance, and then we can go somewhere we can be alone.’ You sorry idiot. Morse was lucky to be a kind enough man otherwise, or she would have said the rest out loud, too.
‘Are you sure that you want to see me dance again?’ he asked, just to be sure, shuffling in his seat a bit uncomfortably.
‘Yes,’ Shirley said and nodded firmly, pulling him up from the chair. ‘I thought it was fun, and that’s something you can clearly do for me if you just try a little.’
He obeyed without any further complaint. He even smiled a little when she asked if he liked Elvis. He was lying when he shook his head in reply, Shirley was sure of it, because he kept smiling for the rest of the song, a red shade over his cheekbones and his steps a bit less stiff again.
(And when they left, he held her hand and offered her his coat, again, despite her telling that her jacket was quite enough for such a short walk anyway, again.)
I mean they are having fun and they're adorable nerds, they're just not very compatible personality-wise I guess
(also Morse is just very bad at this whole "being social" thing, aren't we all every now and then)
also I guess "Morse secretly likes Elvis" is just my headcanon at this point since it's made its way into two separate fics now
The sky was growing heavy and dark when they finally saw her street corner. Shirley thanked her luck that it wasn’t raining just yet. They might just have time to get inside before it started bucketing down on them. Morse let her drag him along by the hand, smiled, and kept his eyes firmly on her.
‘You all right?’ Shirley asked. He nodded, and took a steady hold of her hand, bringing it around his arm again.
‘You look beautiful.’
‘Sweet enough to eat?’ she joked. Morse gave her an airy little shrug, but the way he smirked and chewed on his words spoke of something less poised.
‘Well, I suppose.’ He pulled her closer by the arm and gave her a casual little kiss on her temple. ‘If you’re up for it.’
Shirley smiled to herself, and let him whisper a few more sweet nothings in her ear, before she felt a cold raindrop hit her forehead.
‘Come on!’ she hissed softly. ‘You’ll have time for flirting around once we’re indoors.’
It was nice to know that he really wanted her for the night, though. Had thought to ask her out and just talk and have fun together for the evening. Had even managed to pull himself up from the pit of despair he’d half stumbled into.
‘So that’s the car?’ Shirley asked when they stopped by it. First raindrops made dull sounds against the hood. Morse nodded, checking the locks a few times after getting his things out. ‘Looks nice.’
‘I know,’ he said, and gave her a surprisingly smug look.
‘Not that nice.’ Shirley rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help smiling when he held her arm again. ‘But I think it suits you.’ He wasn't as flashy and sleek as the red convertible, he didn’t suit the car, but somehow it was just strange enough an addition to the odd mess he was that it fit him like a glove.
‘Doesn’t the cat on the hood remind you of the tiger?’ Shirley asked.
Morse almost looked like he was about to ask “what tiger?” before his eyes widened in recognition. He considered it for a moment. ‘Perhaps a little, now that you mentioned it.’
‘I mean, that’s the first thing I thought,’ she said.
Morse gave an agreeing humm. ‘But the jaguar lives in South-America. The tiger is an Asian cat,’ he said. Apparently it was enough to satisfy his nerves over the matter, and that was the end of that.
‘I’m on the third floor,’ Shirley said when they huddled under the doorway, pulling out her keys. ‘Oh, and the lift stopped working this week, sorry, they’re going to start fixing it on Monday. We’ll have to use the stairs.’
‘It’s all right,’ Morse said, even if he did huff out an annoyed breath. Shirley gave him a look over her shoulder.
‘You should be happy that you’re not wearing heels.’
‘I am,’ he said, and followed her in. ‘Though I do think they look lovely on you.’
‘That’s the point,’ she said, and before they started their climb, she leaned in to whisper: ‘And the flat’s great, I promise. We’ve got thick walls.’
‘For crying out loud,’ Morse muttered, but didn’t look particularly upset.
Shirley shut the door and threw her keys on the little drawer in the hall.
‘Can I get you anything? A cuppa? It was a bit chilly,’ Shirley asked. Her feet cried for the Heavens as she stepped out of her heels.
‘Thank you, tea sounds good,’ Morse said, and he was so close that shivers were running down the back of her neck. His hands were on her arms, and for a moment she expected a kiss or another whisper. What followed instead was him helping her out of her jacket.
Shirley gave him a suspicious look over her shoulder. Okay? Morse smiled politely, but his eyes did trail down her neck and shoulder.
‘If it’s not too much trouble,’ he added, hanging his coat away and leaving his small suitcase by the door.
‘Not at all,’ Shirley said. ‘Make yourself at home.’
Apparently, what made him comfortable was trailing after her like a somewhat awkward, curious shadow. Should have probably been expected.
‘How does my mister want his tea? Milk, sugar?’ Shirley asked, setting out two cups. Morse ducked his head, forcing down another nervous laugh, but not the touch of redness creeping up his cheeks.
‘No, thank you, black is fine.’
‘All right. Just say if it’s too bitter.’ She hadn’t stocked up on anything better than just the cheapest black breakfast blend. Hopefully he wasn’t that particular about his brew.
‘Absolutely fine with me,’ Morse said. ‘Milder than whisky.' All right, yeah, that was true. It was also such a stupid retort that it made her giggle like a girl when she handed his cup over.
‘Sure,’ she said. He certainly was something.
‘Thank you.’ Morse smiled at her. She reached up to pet the side of his face, the smooth shave of his cheek and the corner of his mouth, and his eyes fluttered shut. She gave him a soft pat on the cheek.
‘Come on,’ she said, took a firm hold of his elbow, and led him to the sitting room.
Shirley lifted her feet up on the coffee table, and Morse sank into the couch next to her with a heavy sigh. He lifted his arm on the back of the couch, hand toying gently with her hair and smoothing over her shoulder. Under the soft, unwavering light of her home he looked a little more weary.
He’d be forty soon. It was strange, somehow, that there even was a number to pin on him. He’d always seemed so young and so old at the same time. Still did, even with the few new frown lines.
Then again, she’d grown, too, but Shirley was only glad that turning thirty had rid her of some of the roundness in her cheeks. She didn’t want to look like a little girl forever, not if she wanted any chance at being a respectable detective.
And that was it, wasn’t it. She loved her work and the chance to prove herself. It gave her something important, something to reach for. Morse, on the other hand, almost looked like he spent his days (and nights) working only because he didn’t know what else to do.
Shirley smoothed a hand over Morse’s chest and placed it on his shoulder to lean on him. He glanced down at her, looking curious.
‘Don’t fall asleep, yet,’ she said. ‘You’re looking sleepy.’
‘I’m not.’ He smiled. ‘Besides, what kind of a husband would I be if I did that.’
‘Not a very good one.’
‘Not a very good one,’ he agreed with a brighter laugh, the kind that made him squint a little and lift his brows.
Shirley lifted her cheek from his shoulder and gave him a kiss on the jaw, just under his ear.
‘I love your smile, Morse,’ she said aloud. It made his look softer, had him dodging her eyes again.
‘Yours is much more pleasing to the eye.’ He sat up to set his tea on the coffee table, and rolled his sleeves up. Shirley pulled her feet up to the couch.
When he settled back, angling himself so they could look at each other, she lifted a hand to run through his hair. He let her, even leaned in to the touch a bit. She was tempted to praise him for being so docile with her, letting his guard down, even if just a little.
Shirley sank her fingers into the brazen brown curls, and Morse closed his eyes. She took a firm hold and tugged a little; he drew in a soft breath, lips parted just a fraction, and looked at her from under his lashes. It was an irresistible look, and she leaned in for a kiss.
Morse’s lips were hot and hungry against hers. Shirley could still taste whisky through the tea. His nose pressed against her cheek when he tilted his jaw and deepened the kiss. She wanted to climb on his lap and just ride him there. But they couldn’t do that.
‘Why did you stop?’ Morse asked.
‘I’m thinking.’ Shirley ran her hand absent-mindedly through his hair.
‘About the curtains,’ she whispered. ‘The weather’s terrible, and if the light’s on, the room turns into an aquarium.’
‘Does it?’ Morse smiled against her ear.
‘Sometimes I think the man across the street tries to peep in on me,’ Shirley whispered. ‘When I’m undressing.’
‘Oh no,’ Morse said, though instead of a sympathetic whisper, it just sounded like a moan. ‘Why don’t you get up and close them, then.’
Shirley smiled, and undid the first button on his shirt, running her fingers carefully over the hollow of his collarbones. The way he bent his neck had a warm shiver run down her arms, when he pressed his lips against her cheek.
‘Are you cold?’ Morse asked. ‘Because I think I might know a cure for that.’
‘Well, in that case,’ Shirley whispered, doing her best to hold her grin back. ‘Though I do hope you’ll manage a bit better than you did at Coldwater. Mr Morse.’
The way his eyes widened in embarrassed surprise was just what she’d been looking for. He remembered it still.
‘Do you think you’ll do better now?’ Shirley smirked. She pressed another encouraging kiss or two under his ear.
‘Well, Mrs Morse. It was my intention, yes,’ Morse said, just a bit tightly. ‘I have to make it up for you, sweetheart, don’t I.’
‘You had better,’ Shirley said, holding back a laugh as she got up to close the curtains. ‘Stay,’ she added, trying for a firm look, the kind she sometimes had to use with constables or suspects.
‘What would you like me to do?’ he asked, one hand on her hip, when she stood in front of him again.
‘Kiss me,’ Shirley said, and straddled his lap. She hitched the hem of her skirt up so he could rub a hand over her thighs. ‘Let’s start with that while I come up with something.’
Morse looked curious, but did as she told him to, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear and pressing his lips against hers.
Shirley reached up to let her ponytail down completely, and even though some of the curls were still stiff from hairspray, Morse seemed to like the look.
‘Carry on, tiger,’ she said. He smiled into the kiss, and the exploring, hungrier one that came after and made her lips burn. Shirley held onto his shoulders, raking her fingers through his hair.
She hadn’t had a man come over in what felt like ages, and how good it felt to be held and kissed again. By someone as tame as Morse, no less. He obeyed so well, and pressed his lips against hers as soon as she asked for a kiss.
‘You’re being good to me, aren’t you,’ she whispered, when Morse slid his palms up her sides, one slithering its way under her shirt. He pressed kiss after kiss down her jaw and neck, all hot wet breath and soft lips.
‘You deserve it. I want you to know that,’ Morse said. ‘I want you.’ Her heart jumped at the way he hummed against her throat, and held her close.
Sadly, the way she was sat astride his spread thighs in her short skirt was possibly the worst position to be in. All she wanted was to feel some friction between her legs, and it was very awkward when she couldn’t get any. (Bloody pantyhose. If only she’d skipped them for the evening.)
Morse didn’t seem to find any issue in just copping a firm hold of her hips and thighs, as he mouthed hot, wet kisses against her cheek and throat. Then again, he was also wearing trousers, so there was bound to be some teasing there that she didn’t get.
So, maybe she had a little bit of the same overworking bone in her as Morse did. It wasn’t bad that she didn't want anyone to live with. It was just bad that she didn't get kissed like this too often; didn’t go out for a drink and a dance as often as she would’ve really liked.
who said flirting and foreplay had to be anything but awkward
Chapter 5: i'm over you, get under me
this is the one with the smut
(though really you're just in for more chatting and confusion and uncomfortable laughs)
‘I’m so glad that you called,’ Shirley whispered into Morse’s hair between kisses. He laughed against her jaw.
‘What would you like me to do?’ Morse asked again, more than a little breathless. He pushed a hand under the hem of her skirt, fingers firm and smooth on her inner thigh.
Shirley nodded. ‘That’s a good start. Go on.’
Morse replied with another kiss and a hand in her hair, though he quickly changed his mind and opened her collar. Shirley took a gentle hold of his jaw, guiding his lips down to her collarbones. His chest was rising and falling quickly against hers.
If only she hadn’t worn the knitted vest on top, he could have gone ahead and ripped the shirt open right there, touched her skin, and kissed her breasts. Shirley took in a sharp breath, squeezing the fabric of his shirt in her fists.
‘Should we get the skirt off?’ Morse asked.
‘Please,’ Shirley said. It wasn’t a bad idea at all. ‘If you’d be so kind.’
She pushed herself up from his lap, and he offered his arms and shoulders for support. It was a bit of a mess with two sets of hands, but they managed to get the zipper undone and the skirt off. Shirley kicked it away from her ankles.
And, quite honestly, what use was the rest of it, either. She did off with the vest and shirt too, as she stood between Morse’s knees. His eyes were blown dark as he watched her, just a thin ring of that lovely pale blue under his lashes.
‘Quite a show,’ Morse said, blinking slowly. Shirley smiled down at him and brushed her thumb against his cheekbone.
‘Just for you, pet,’ she whispered. The silly name had him just flustered enough that she could pull him closer by the back of his neck, and feel his laugh against her stomach.
‘I must be a very lucky man, then.’
Shirley did feel rather lucky herself, at least when Morse mumbled the words against her ribs.
His hands travelled steadily over the curve of Shirley’s backside and hips. He slid his fingers under the waistband of her pantyhose, slowly peeling down the tight nylon. With every new inch of skin he freed, his lips followed, trailing brief, breathy kisses down her stomach, to the edge of her underwear. He stopped to press an open-mouthed kiss over the sensitive skin there. Warm and breathy.
Shirley smiled, but had to purse her lips not to let out anything louder than an excited sigh. The nylon fabric left her skin prickling.
It was good, but it could have also been so much better. She wanted Morse’s mouth and fingers on her, immediately. Inside her, and not just skimming over her skin like the pages of a rare book, or she’d burst.
‘You’re taking your time,’ Shirley said, and took Morse’s face in her hands. He cupped the back of her thighs when the sheer fabric made way.
‘Shirley,’ he murmured against her upper thigh, ‘I thought that was the aim here, my love.’
‘Oh, you!’ She grabbed a firm hold of his wild hair again, but she couldn’t keep from laughing. ‘I’ll be holding you to that one.’
‘By all means.’ Morse looked up at her and grinned.
‘All right,’ Shirley said, and bent down to give him a proper kiss again. She grabbed him by the front of his shirt and stood up. ‘I want you to get into my bed, Morse. Now.’
He let her yank him up (only helping a little) and lead him to the bedroom.
Morse laid down on his back with little more than a gesture, and started to undo his shirt. Shirley climbed on top of him, gave him an encouraging nod, and went for his belt. Very gracious of him, to be so ready for it all, obedient like that. Finally.
His lips were red from kisses, and with how intense his look suddenly was, excited and heated, he looked a bit like he used to, again.
Shirley threw a condom at him, and he had no reason to look as confused as he did.
‘You’re not…?’ On the pill. Shirley couldn’t help but laugh at him.
‘I am. Not that that’s any of your business, Mister Morse,’ she said, and tried for a stern look. ‘Chop chop. You were so worried about it from what I remember, so better put it on.’
He looked like he wanted to argue, closed his eyes, rolled them to the ceiling, but didn’t fight against her look for long.
Shirley smiled and lowered her voice into a whisper, leaning up to his ear: ‘Might have you lasting a little bit longer, too.’
‘Yes, all right.’ He was laughing again, even if his looks were heavier and darker.
‘I can give you a hand with that.’
She smiled when their eyes met. His shoulders and wiry arms were dotted with goosebumps and freckles. After ridding him of his trousers and pants, she ran her hands over the patch of hair covering his chest, how it trailed down his stomach.
He wasn't one for holding her gaze too long, but he did give her an appreciative half-lidded look every now and then. He looked at her body, rising and falling with her own excited breaths, her violin hips and her too wide silly thighs. And even so, Morse gave her a look like she was the loveliest thing in the whole world.
Knowing him, she probably was, at least for a while.
And one very thing good about men, for certain, was that their hands were bigger than her own. When she guided Morse by the wrist between her thighs, he easily cupped her whole, fingers and the firm heel of his palm a heavy heat between her legs.
Shirley was so enthusiastic about his hands - very good hands, no less, on her back and petting her - that she didn’t mind it at all when Morse gave her a more insistent kiss and pulled her down by his side. She didn’t mind it one bit. She pulled Morse closer over her as best she could, and he was tense and warm, but seemed to know what he wanted. She wanted it too, and it was a great improvement compared to how he’d been skirting her back in Oxford, despite all of her careful efforts at getting to hook him in.
Morse kissed Shirley’s jaw, and she smoothed her hands over his back and sides.
‘Oh- oh, okay,’ she yelped. He was in already.
Shirley had to take a few deep breaths against the sudden burn and stretch.
‘Shh.’ Morse pressed his nose against the crook of her neck, muttering something against her skin. She closed her eyes and held onto the blankets and bedsheets, nodding along.
‘You’re all right,’ he said.
‘Yeah,’ she gasped. ‘Yeah, better than that. Oh, my dear.’
Shirley actually preferred flirting around to silence. She’d come to expect something quiet already; Morse was a rather reserved type, and she knew it. But somehow now, after such a long time since they last met (and still such a short while of her new life), he was a surprisingly noisy, chatty lover.
Not loud, no, but he kept mouthing quiet words against her skin, soft groans and whispers. It was different from before. Maybe the drinks had got to him more than he’d let on. Maybe he allowed himself to say things without thinking them through five times over, for once. It was fun, it was very good.
His hips were a firm, hot weight between her thighs and Shirley did her best to meet his thrusts. It had her shaking, the way his skin moved against hers; how each time she dragged her hands up his back, he let out a new kind of sigh. It was so good she was running a fever just from grabbing at his arms and thighs.
Morse ran a hand along the side of her thigh, lifting it closer to him. Shirley took in a deep breath and ran her nails through his hair, trying to relax into his hold and the rhythm of his hips.
It was a bit difficult, though. She was a bit trapped under him, in the hasty thrusts, and he wasn’t focusing.
‘Morse. Take it easy, darling.’ She lifted his face from her chest to look him in the eye.
‘Mhm.’ Morse nodded as much as he could. ‘Yeah. Sorry,’ he said and bent down to give her a slow kiss, but nothing else in his pace calmed down. Shirley yanked on his hair again, and Morse let out a soft groan.
‘You said we’re not in a hurry!’
He nodded against her hold. ‘I did, sorry.’
‘And look at you, the way you’re going at it,’ she said. ‘You absolute rabbit! I was right about that one.’
The laugh that escaped from him made Morse flush even redder than her words had. Served him right.
At least she knew she was driving him wild, and somehow it felt like an achievement. To see his chest heaving, to feel a soft Shirley, my love, my darling against her breasts.
He was soft and hard, warm, and so very close to her. Whenever he managed to move and touch her well enough to send a good jolt through her body, Shirley let herself return the favour with a whisper or two of her own, by clenching herself around him.
It made her laugh. And he even helped her come, all the way until she cried out in surprise, her hands in his hair and clawing at his back, his between them.
She couldn’t remember or quite understand what she was saying to him, then, but it was very good, and she wanted him to know that, to make sure that he’d do the same again if she ever needed him. It was all much better than with the last man she’d invited over. He was being very good to her; a very good dear sweetheart.
And maybe she said it all aloud a few times, maybe a few times too many. At least Morse was laughing with her.
they're idiots but yeah morse you should definitely consider yourself lucky and be grateful for her time
Rainfall was still hitting against the windows, but it was gentler now than when they’d first got in. Morse walked back in just as Shirley had managed to pull on her nightdress and throw the sweatiest blanket on the floor. He sank onto the edge of the bed again, the hair at his neck now a little more damp from water than sweat. He even gave her a wonderfully appreciative look, despite how much of a mess her hair was, and a stupid, giddy feeling had Shirley smiling again.
She sat up next to him, trying not to put too much pressure on herself, still feeling what a thorough work they’d done. Morse chuckled a little as she smoothed a hand over his naked back.
Hopefully he wouldn’t be putting a vest on. The fading freckles looked nice.
‘What did you do?’ Shirley asked and smiled.
‘What did I do?’ he echoed, and gave her a curious look.
‘To get a holiday from work for, um… this kind of leisure.’
‘Ah, that. I, err…’ Morse rolled his eyes and scoffed a little. ‘I might have threatened the wrong suspect with a... with charges. And questioned the wrong people about things I apparently shouldn’t have known of.’
‘Might have and shouldn’t?’ Shirley asked. ‘Or did and certainly oughtn’t.’ His look said it all; dodging her eyes, but looking terribly proud of himself at the same time. Oh, he hadn’t changed at all.
‘Well, what counts as wrong is apparently debatable, but I know he did it. It’s just Strange and everyone, and the higher-ups, they disagree with me,’ he said.
‘And you’re not overthinking it?’ she asked. Morse seemed a little offended at her knowing smile.
‘No,’ he said, but his tone was playful and his eyes warm. ‘I know I'm right.’
‘Right, of course you do.’ Shirley nodded. ‘But they laid you off the case?’
‘Strange told me to... yes.’ He closed his eyes, maybe just a bit embarrassed, but smiled and nodded anyway. ‘I think he’s not very pleased with me right now. Nor is anyone else.’
‘Poor you,’ Shirley said and grinned. So that was why he was so sour about Jim Strange. Must have let out a proper lecture if it had Morse keeping his mouth shut about it.
‘Poor me.’ Morse nodded. He laughed again, eyes squinting and shoulders shaking with it. It was much better than the look of despair from earlier.
‘And what’s this?’ Shirley asked. She traced her fingers carefully along the funny-shaped scar on the side of his back, just above the pelvis. He met her eyes over the last fading summer freckles of his shoulder, looking like he was thinking it over a few times.
‘From a gardening hoe, I think,’ he said calmly. ‘Someone was hiding evidence under a row of sunflowers.’
‘What happened?’ she asked.
He seemed to consider his answer for quite a while, breathing slowly. The mark was just where she could most comfortably rest her hand on his side. How could one man be such a magnet for disasters?
‘Max patched it up,’ Morse said, instead of telling more.
‘Did he?’ Shirley smoothed her fingers over the fading scar. He didn’t say how old it was, but luckily she didn't have to see any fresh cuts or bruises on him. Well, apart from the small one she’d left on his shoulder.
Morse nodded. ‘It was a shallow one, luckily, just a bit wide. He stitched me whole again.’ He took a gentle hold of her wrist and pulled her arms around himself. ‘Worked for quite a while on that same spot you were tickling.’
‘Did he do this, too?’ Shirley whispered into his ear, and kissed a line along his shoulder to the back of his neck. His skin rose on gooseflesh in her wake.
‘No,’ he said, sounding a little offended.
‘Don’t be like that, it was just a little laugh.’
‘Are you mocking him or me?’ Even though his voice had an edge to it, he was leaning into her embrace. ‘He was very professional about it.’
‘I’m sure he was.’ She was sure Doctor Debryn had been anything but. Max had more eyes for Morse than anyone else in Oxford, most likely, if anything was still the same since she’d left. ‘Kissed you better, did he?’
‘He did not,’ Morse hissed, and it was suddenly very difficult to hold back her laughter.
‘I’d wager he wanted to.’
‘Shirley! ’ He let out a shocked laugh of his own, and Shirley had to muffle her laugh against his back.
Morse shook his head a bit and sighed, but rubbed slow circles over the backs of her hands. His touch was warm, he was warm all over, and it was easy to smile.
‘Come on, you’re shivering,’ she said softly, tugging at his arm. ‘Under the blankets with you, mister. You can keep me warm, too.’
‘Of course, darling.’
Shirley made herself comfortable against Morse. He pressed a kiss on her shoulder and his nose into her hair, his warm fuzzy chest rising and falling against her back. It wasn’t a bad place to be at all, his arm wrapped around her waist like that.
He drew in a soft breath, almost like he wanted to say something. Instead of more words, Shirley got another kiss.
‘A penny for your thoughts?’ she asked. He was silent for a while.
‘I think you’ve made me fall for you,’ Morse whispered against her ear, gently touching her ribs and stomach like petting a nervous cat. Shirley closed her eyes and let out a soft sigh.
Perhaps it had been inevitable, with the way he’d been looking at her the whole night. At least she didn’t have to worry about him seeing the blank look she pulled, with the way his face was buried against the back of her neck.
‘I’ve done nothing of the sort,’ she said. ‘You fall for women all on your own.’
‘I know,’ he said. ‘But you certainly make it easy, with the way you are. So lovely and brilliant.’ It was so soft that Shirley hardly heard the end. You as in Shirley herself or you as in all women in his life, it was hard to say. Maybe it was better not to know at all.
‘I don’t intend to,’ Shirley said.
Maybe she had, years ago. Then it had been a silly crush on his coppery curls and the equal interest he showed to her ideas, which had both waned a bit, and the way his blue eyes squinted when he smiled, which was still the same. It had all been before he’d lost his chances with Joan Thursday and all who came after. Before poor George had come along and gone away from her life.
But it was all so long ago, now. They weren’t young and silly like that, and she certainly wasn’t stupid enough to believe that living with someone like Morse would be a bed of roses. Shirley had her own life, and she was so much happier with it than she would have ever been as a mother of two, with a man buying her things.
Maybe one day, if she met someone who just wanted to... spend his time with her? Do his share of work around the house without stealing all of her time, and not settle down to coddle her?
Maybe it was too much to ask, but at least not force her to settle down and be coddled.
Morse wasn’t that man, and they both knew it.
‘I can’t blame the man at the bar,’ Morse mumbled into her hair. ‘If I were a better dancer and had a worse taste in music, I would have asked you for another dance too.’
Shirley turned on her back in his arms. It would have been fun if he had, but it had been fun to be the centre of his attention for the night nonetheless.
‘You should have, but luckily I asked you.’ She took a hold of his hand and squeezed it gently. ‘It’s still not love if I had said yes.’ At least not the sort of love he was after.
‘I know,’ Morse said. His cool blue eyes wandered down her neck and to her breasts, then back up again, but his expression stayed difficult to read.
‘I know,’ he whispered again, leaning over her and kissing her slowly.
It wasn’t as fun anymore, now that she knew he made himself so miserable over her. And over what must have happened to him and Joan Thursday, in the end. With him and everyone, probably. Was it always something like this? Either perfect aloof detachment or clinging on like a burdock burr. And only when it was far too late (years too late) did he even realise he could have said something earlier on.
‘It’s not about you, Morse,’ she said. It was, but not because he was wrong. He was just wrong for her.
‘I think it is,’ he said. ‘I fall in love much too easily.’ And he smiled, too, the bitter and sappy old man that he was, and had likely been ever since he was born.
‘And too fast, and too terribly hard,’ she quoted, and offered him an apologetic smile of her own. He didn’t look like he recognised the lyrics, but nodded anyway. Maybe he didn’t like jazz either.
Definitely didn’t, now that she thought about it and tried to imagine him listening to any. He was too rigid and irritable and romantic, in the classical sense, for something so mellow, flirty and meandering. Then again, Elvis… He was a very odd man.
‘It’s all right,’ Morse said. ‘I think I’ve got used to it by now.’ He looked thoughtful (and tired, sad and well-wrung-out, and maybe a little bit drunk).
‘Doesn’t mean I didn’t like tonight,’ Shirley said, and kissed his temple. He chuckled. She dragged his hand up to her chest; it had been steadily creeping upwards anyway, and she didn’t mind the soft warm hold on her breast at all.
‘I’m glad to hear that,’ he said.
Shirley kissed him again, on the lips, and sank her hands into his hair once more, the wild rusty curls that would likely lose all rest of their colour in another five years’ time, with the rate he was going. Morse returned the kiss, and hugged her close.
It wasn’t that she didn’t like him, or didn’t feel bad for him, because she surely did. How could she not, when Morse was looking at her with his winter sky eyes and the softest smile ever. Shirley couldn’t help but return it.
And yet. He was really a foolish man if he thought she was his salvation, or whatever it was that women were advertised as.
‘Try to get some sleep, Mr Morse,’ Shirley whispered gently, brushing her thumb against his cheek. ‘I think you could do with it.’
‘I will try, my dear,’ he said, and it was with a bit lighter attitude again.
‘Good.’ She settled back against the pillow, content in his arms once more, and let his slow breathing fill the tired silence between them.
an independent woman very happy with her life and her disaster man somewhat unhappy with his
but it's okay, they'll manage.
Shirley watched him go from her window, the collar of his coat turned up against the wind. He stopped to dig through his pockets, probably for the car keys. Yeah, that was it, she saw them glint in his hand.
Morse took a few steps forward again, before his head snapped around. He turned back in a hurry. He lifted his eyes from the pavement, spreading his hands. He was looking for something in the wind. Shirley frowned. What happened?
It was only a short beat before his shoulders dropped, and even though he was down on the street, his frustrated sigh was clear.
Shirley covered her mouth. Oh no.
She had to close her eyes against the sudden burn of mutual embarrassment.
It was the bloody phone number. He’d shoved it into his pocket when she’d written it down for him.
Shirley could have opened the window and shouted at him, told him to wait and stay where he was. She could have given it to him again. But bloody Endeavour Morse spotted her in the window, again, before she could act.
He gave her a big wave, and Shirley returned it. Morse shoved the hand in his pocket, and traced his steps back to where he had been going. She was left watching at his back, and then she lost her view on him.
Oh, Jesus. She laughed in spite of herself.
Well, he’d find the number again if he really wanted to, he knew where she lived. Or who knew, maybe she'd be the one to call him again, some day.
It had been a nice night nonetheless.
He's a tragedy all right, but kind of a positive sort of one anyway.
Thank you for reading!
If you're interested in my playlists, the songs I used to pick lyrics for the chapter titles are as follows
Arctic Monkeys - Knee Socks
The Wombats - Your Body Is a Weapon
Lily Allen - Not Fair
Hozier - Dinner & Diatribes
Blossoms - Getaway
Bastille - Warmth
+ The Wombats - The English Summer