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They’re at the scene of the third body to be pulled from the river in two weeks, and all the coppers are looking down-beaten. Even after DeBryn’s packed up his things, Morse follows him over to his car like a dispirited bloodhound searching desperately for a trail. There are dark shadows under his eyes and his clothes are all-over creases. DeBryn puts his kit down on the grass beside the car and gets the boot open while Morse puts useless questions to him, despondent what-ifs that have little chance of leading anywhere. DeBryn wouldn’t usually put up with them, but there’s a tenuous fragility to Morse that he doesn’t like, so he digs down into his usual well of wry wit and answers as best he can. Until:

“Hand me my case, please,” cuts in DeBryn, tucking away his apron and waders, which turned out to have been unnecessary. Morse turns to pick up the box and makes a surprised noise of pain, face tightening with it. His hand goes to his back and he straightens stiffly.

“Think I pulled something.”

DeBryn gives him an unimpressed look. “Where have you been sleeping?” He realises the moment after he asks it that the question had an almost proprietary edge to it, but Morse seems not to have noticed.

“My bed,” he answers, in the tone of one who is stating the obvious. And then, more reluctantly, like a child caught with nicked sweeties in his pocket. “And in the car, a bit. And at my desk, once.”

DeBryn sighs, running his eyes up and down Morse’s lean frame. He’s standing a little crookedly at the moment because of the pain, but otherwise he looks alright, apart from the fatigue. “Turn round.” He lays his hands on Morse’s shoulders, feels the tension there, and works them down his back over the scalpula and over the rubs. Morse takes in a shocked breath, but says nothing.

“You’re wound up like a spring,” DeBryn tells him, when he’s done. “If you keep on winding, you’re liable to go pop all at once.”

Morse turns around, raising his eyebrows. He’s a bit flushed, although with the summer sun or the surprise of the unexpected physical DeBryn can’t tell. It certainly suits him either way.

“Really?”

DeBryn shrugs. “No. But you will wear yourself down with aches and cricks until you wish you had.” He pauses for a moment, staring at Morse. Morse, whose health problems inevitably back-fire on him. And who really is very easy on the eyes. “I wouldn’t call my training expert,” begins DeBryn carefully, “but I am not unfamiliar with the muscles of the back. I could go a fair way to relieving some of that tension. Or you could of course consult a professional,” he adds.

Morse cants his head to the side. “You – want to rub my back?”

“It was just an offer, Morse,” snaps DeBryn, leaning past him to grab his case. Morse doesn’t move, forcing DeBryn to press against him. Despite his lankiness there’s solidity there, the pleasing tone of youth and fitness.

“No – I – it’s just quite busy right now. With the case,” stammers Morse. He really is blushing now, his pale skin turning a soft pink over the cheeks and a deep, shocking mauve at the tips of his ears. His eyes are practically falling out of his head, as if DeBryn had outright propositioned him – and really, he might as well have. There’s little to be done to salvage the situation.

“Never too busy for your health. Let me know. Or don’t.” DeBryn drops the case into the boot, shuts the door, and leaves, with a litany of profanity rolling through his head.

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Two days later, DeBryn reads of the arrest of the Isis Murderer in the morning edition of the Mail. Late that afternoon, he gets a call in his office. “DeBryn.”

“Doctor? It’s Morse.” He sounds a little hesitant, certainly not his usual perfunctory self.

DeBryn pauses in the act of jotting down a note, pen hovering above the page. “I read of the arrest in the paper. Congratulations.”

“Thank you; I’ve been given two days’ downtime as a reward.”

Probably more likely as compensation for overtime, DeBryn thinks, but remains silent.

“I was wondering – my back’s still been troubling me and you mentioned…” he trails off, uncertain.

DeBryn’s heart gives a little, entirely inappropriate leap. “I might be able to help,” he suggests, blandly.

“Could you? Tonight?”

“I could manage that. Seven?”

“Fine. Thank you.”

DeBryn hangs up, finds that he has started sweating on the receiver. He realises that he is entirely uncertain as to what he’s just gotten himself into.

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Morse meets him at the front door to his building at seven, not even waiting for his buzz; eager, DeBryn thinks, but doesn’t know how to interpret that. He’s brought only a bottle of oil in a paper bag – it’s all he needs.

Morse’s flat is the usual bachelor accommodation; small, poorly furnished, largely undecorated. The only thing of particular note is the large collection of LPs – opera and classical music, of course.

“Do you want a drink?” offers Morse, rather awkwardly. He’s wearing just a pair of old flannel bags and an open-collared dress shirt; DeBryn is trying very hard not to notice how good it looks on him.

“Just water, thank you. I suppose I’m on the job.” It’s a good reminder. Morse fetches it for him, pours himself a scotch but only sips it.

“What – where?” asks Morse, vaguely, looking awkward again already.

“On the bed,” says DeBryn, studying the single bed set against the wall. Its naked duvet has been partially shoved over against the wall, revealing the untidy sheets below. He chooses to take it as a measure of their friendship rather than an insult that Morse clearly didn’t feel the need to tidy before his visit. “In just your shorts, or a towel, whichever you prefer.”

He steps into the kitchen while Morse divests himself, drinking some of the water and flipping through Nicomachean Ethics which has been left on the counter – Morse’s light reading?

“Alright,” comes Morse’s low voice; for some reason the sound of it sends a shiver up his spine.

He turns to find Morse lying on his stomach propped up on his elbows studying DeBryn, his clothes vanished to be replaced by a hand towel draped over his hips. DeBryn’s eyes are drawn down the long line of his centre, from the delicate curve of his throat to the strong blade of his sternum to the taut stretch of his stomach, until his navel meets the mattress and DeBryn’s imagination is left to paint the picture of what lies beneath.

DeBryn swallows. “Good.” He turns, swallows again, and picks up a chair from the table and carries it over. The arrangement isn’t ideal but it’s perfectly adequate. He pours some oil on his hands before placing the bottle on the bedside table between a glass of water and a stack of books containing a volume of Francis Thompson’s poems, The Once and Future King, and a book on police procedure.

“This may be a bit sore – if it hurts too much, tell me,” he says as he starts at the juncture where neck meets shoulder, finding the trapezius very tight. Morse squirms a little at first but settles quickly as DeBryn moves down into his back, kneading in around and under the scapula.

Morse’s back is a nest of knots and ropey muscles in mostly unpredictable places – the result of bizarre sleeping practices and most likely poor posture for hours on end at his desk followed by brief bursts of exertion. DeBryn works through them as best he can, loosening up the tense, wound-up muscles and trying to help them back into their more relaxed states. As he moves lower Morse’s breathing slows, coming nearer to at-rest speed.

Morse could certainly stand to put on a few pounds – as DeBryn’s hands glide over Morse’s ribs and sides it becomes apparent how little extra weight there is there – but he does have quite an attractive back. But more than that, DeBryn finds his gaze turning to Morse’s narrow hips and strong thighs and, seductively hidden between, the curve of his arse. His heart is speeding even as Morse’s slows, a warm curl of desire pooling low in his stomach.

His hands glide lower, rubbing now over the lumbar vertebrae and just above Morse’s hips. Morse stiffens just slightly but doesn’t protest, and after an instant relaxes again; DeBryn keeps going. He moves lower still, hand slipping beneath the towel to work his fingers down towards the tail bone and below the iliac crest.

Morse’s breathing is quickening, growing faster as DeBryn works his thumbs in along the edge of the tailbone, fingers splaying across the top of the gluteus minimus. This is pushing it, skating too close to the line, but skimming his touch over the smooth warmth of Morse’s arse is too much to forfeit.

Morse is twitching, squirming as if DeBryn is digging in too deeply. Guilt rocketing up, DeBryn moves his hands over to Morse’s sides to work at his hips instead; Morse hisses. “No – that – don’t stop. Yet.”

The curl of arousal in the pit of DeBryn’s stomach becomes an ache. He takes up kneading at the base of Morse’s spine again, and realises that Morse isn’t twitching. He’s rolling his hips into the mattress.

The wave of desire that rolls over him washes away a fair amount of his sense; it’s the only reason he can come up with for what he says next, which is, “All that tension may have spread to your thighs.”

Morse makes an uncertain noise, but DeBryn is already working his way from the knee up – not too fast, not too eager despite the very real hunger the sight of Morse stretched out nearly naked and glistening in front of him is inciting. By the time he’s halfway up Morse’s thighs he can tell the constable doesn’t regret it anymore; he’s hardly trying to hide his arousal. When he reaches the top of Morse’s thighs and presses his legs apart, Morse raises himself on one arm and turns.

His face is wondrously flushed, eyes so dilated for once DeBryn can hardly see the blue there. He takes a long, appraising look at DeBryn, breath coming quick. “Is this what you came here for?” he asks, as his eyes rake over DeBryn’s form.

“I don’t know,” answers DeBryn, honestly. “I would have been pleased just to help you.”

“And this?”

“More than pleased.”

Morse catches his lip between his teeth, nods. “Don’t stop,” he asks as he turns back around, spreading his legs and pulling the towel off.

DeBryn pours a generous pool of oil into his palm and leans forward, running his index finger back and forth over Morse’s entrance until he groans, at which point he slides it in up to the knuckle. Morse cants forward into the mattress and DeBryn starts stroking his finger gently in and out. It’s not long before he feels there’s enough give to add a second; Morse makes a low noise and continues to pant against DeBryn as he increases the intensity of his stroking. DeBryn’s own cock is uncomfortably hard in his trousers, pressing desperately against the confining fabric, but there’s something tantalising about seeing how long he can hold out while he pleasures Morse.

With two fingers he has enough control to do the job properly, and he twists his hand to find Morse’s prostate. Morse thrusts forward, gasping, one hand clawing into his pillow. DeBryn does it again, and again, until Morse starts groaning aloud – and until he feels he might come in his trousers just from the sight.

He adds a third finger instead, making Morse curse into the mattress, and slides his free hand along Morse’s side. “Get up; come on,” he chivvies.

Morse obeys, rising part way onto his hands and knees, and DeBryn runs his hand along Morse’s stomach to take his cock in hand. It only takes a few firm strokes to bring him off, his hips grinding up desperately into DeBryn’s hand. When he’s finished he drops back down onto the bed in a panting heap. Leaving DeBryn staring down dry-mouthed and aching at his supple, sheening arse in black disappointment.

After a moment Morse turns over to lie stretched out on his side, tilting his head to look up with once-again clear blue eyes. He’s flushed, sticky and grinning; in two words, utterly debauched. DeBryn doesn’t know when he’s seen anything more beautiful.

“Don’t you want…” he asks, eyes slanting towards pointedly towards his hips.

DeBryn doesn’t have words left for what he wants, he only has an ocean of need in a very small vessel. He struggles to strip out of the necessary clothes and slick himself while Morse rolls onto his back, spreading his legs and raising his knees.

DeBryn’s mind is hazy with lust, and Morse doesn’t seem inclined to pleasantries in any case. He watches with an irritating, sated smile as DeBryn tumbles onto the bed between his legs and adjusts the angle of both their hips, settling Morse’s knees high as he leans in.

The smile vanishes from his face a moment later as DeBryn pushes in; he tilts his head back, gasping silently and clutching at the sheets. The expression of startled pleasure is nearly as good as the feel of him. DeBryn sinks in all the way, Morse’s slick tightness wringing a groan from him. He starts thrusting, but he was almost undone by bringing off Morse – he’s already very near the edge. With Morse’s breathless pants in his ears, it only takes a few jerks of his hips to set him off. He wraps his arms around Morse and holds on as he buries himself fully, pleasure spiking at the sensation, and tumbles over the edge with a gruff cry. Morse shudders along with him wordlessly, face buried in DeBryn’s shoulder.

When it’s all over they lie together in the tiny bed, listening to the ticking of the alarm clock.

“It occurs to me,” says Morse eventually, lazily, “there’s inherently a good deal of tension in my job. I don’t think I can mitigate that.”

DeBryn runs a hand down his flank to his hip, rubs a slow circle over the bone and feels Morse shiver. “That being the case, we may have to do this again.”

“Mm. We may just have to,” agrees Morse.