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Once, when Strange had been rather the worst for drink at the end of some police Christmas do, he’d said in all sincerity to Robbie that Morse didn’t deserve him; he’d said he was grateful for all Robbie did for Morse, for all he put up with. He’d used those actual words: I know you put up with a lot, Lewis. Robbie hadn’t disagreed with him.

As they’d talked, they’d watched Morse, pint in hand, weave his way through the hall full of coppers and assorted civilians, towards the most glamorous-looking woman in the room. Robbie hadn’t recognised her but she’d looked rich and bored and well out of Morse’s league. They’d watched, both wincing, as Morse had introduced himself to her and started a conversation. They’d been too far away to hear what he was saying, but they could see the look on her face. Anyway, Robbie had heard it all before—the patronising tone, the compliments and anecdotes tinged with sourness and need.

Strange had talked to Robbie with alcohol-fuelled sentimentality about how long he’d known Morse and how much they’d been through together. It’d been obvious just how much he’d cared about Morse, but that hadn’t stopped him patting Robbie’s arm and sighing and saying He doesn’t deserve you, Lewis.

At the time, Robbie hadn’t replied; he’d just shrugged and given Strange a I don’t know about that, sir look—anything else would have felt disloyal. Though God knows there’d been enough times working with Morse when Robbie’s response, at least in the privacy of his own head, would have been don’t I bloody know it.

All these years on, sitting alone on his living room floor late in the evening, playing records he’s had for donkey’s years, Robbie can still hear Strange’s sigh; he can still hear his tone of exasperated affection as they’d watched Morse. And he can still see the pain, the resignation on Morse’s face, as the woman had made her excuses and walked away, leaving Morse to finish his pint standing alone in the middle of the festive crowd. Even after so many years, Robbie gets an ache in his chest as he watches the Morse of his memory grimace and turn, with head bowed, towards the bar.

Robbie leans back against the sofa and closes his eyes as a hundred rousing voices launch into the Ode to Joy. It always takes him back: Morse had loved Beethoven’s Ninth. Once, when Morse’s choir had been rehearsing it, he’d gone on about the piece so much that in the end Robbie had gone to the concert. Not that Robbie had really appreciated the music at the time; he would have much rather been at home with Val and the kids watching The Generation Game. But he’d gone, all the same. Morse had looked astonished when he’d spotted him sitting at the the back of the chapel.

But Robbie has finally come to appreciate Beethoven—the Ode to Joy especially. Now that life has left him bruised and hurting; now that he too is alone—though not alone in quite the way Morse had been, poor sod. Even so, these days he can understand why Morse had looked for solace in such beauty; why, with no other outlet for his passion, he’d revelled in the passion of this music.

The Beethoven ends and Robbie listens to the silence for a while. It occurs to him that Strange hadn’t quite got it right at that distant Christmas party. It had never really been a question of whether Morse had deserved him or not, had it? Morse had needed him, or someone, at least; someone to soothe him through his frustrations and disappointments; someone to be a witness to his life. Simple as that.

And it isn’t that Robbie had chosen to be that person. He just was that person. Somehow, the universe had put him in the right place at the right time and he’d done what he could to make things easier for Morse (who, of course, had always had a gift for making things as difficult for himself as possible).

If Robbie’s honest with himself, he’s not sure how much difference he’d made in the end. It’s not like he could ever really protect Morse from what life was determined to dish out to him; and he certainly couldn’t protect Morse from himself.

But he’d tried. He’d stuck with Morse, stayed with him long after people thought he should have moved on to pastures new, to promotion, to an easier boss. But staying had been the right thing to do, Robbie’s sure of that now. And although Morse had rarely shown it, deep down Robbie knows Morse had been grateful; grateful for Robbie being there.

Sometimes being there is all you can do.