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Morse’s shirt is stained with blood, and Jakes offers one of his own.

 

(That’s strange, isn’t it? For them?)

 

Jakes insists that he give the shirt back, in better condition that it had been given in. But it’s an old shirt, the backup of a backup of a backup left behind years ago in case of emergency. It’s due to be thrown out with the rest of the rubbish any time now, yet Jakes offers it up as if it’s the most important possession he owns.

 

Not just offers it up - he pulls Morse into the coat closet and practically shoved the shirt at him, insistent. Blood doesn’t belong on the clothes of a Detective Constable. That’s what it is. He needs a new shirt, one that’s not bloodstained.

 

(It’s not about the shirt, his brain whispers, uninvited.

 

Shut up, Jakes hisses back.)

 

—— 

 

It’s not about the shirt, because it’s about Morse himself.

 

Here’s the thing - Jakes doesn’t actually hate Morse. Maybe he did, at first. Or maybe he didn’t. That’s not what matters most, anyway.

 

Morse is a good detective. He’s also a good person, and good people don’t deserve to be stabbed. So Jakes offers his shirt, the spare one, as if that will stop the bleeding, stop the pain.

 

The shirt isn’t important. If it gets bloodied, if it gets torn or destroyed, that doesn’t matter.

 

Morse is important. What happens to him matters.

 

(That’s a new thought.)

 

—— 

 

It’s not about the shirt, because it’s about Morse himself, and the toll the case is taking on him.

 

( - Morse stumbles on the walk up to the church, right before they rescue Debbie Snow -

 

- Morse chews his lip, pale, as he looks for a lead, any lead, that will help them catch the killer -

 

- Morse’s hands shake as he realizes Cronyn is the one they’ve been looking for -)

 

Their killer has placed all of the emphasis on Morse, leaving him no breathing room or any opportunity for help. It is his case. The killer is hyper-focused on Morse. None of them can help him.

 

(You did. Would you like to know why?

 

No. Shut up.)

 

—— 

 

It’s not about the shirt, it’s about Morse, because Jakes cares what happens to him. He does, fiercely.

 

(And how do you know that? How do you show that?)

 

It’s why he’s so hard on Morse, pulls at the threads in his theories to make sure the (few) errors can be found and fixed. It’s why Jakes pushes his buttons, tries to get him riled up.

 

(It’s not the usual way, but it’s the best way that Jakes knows how to.)

 

—— 

 

It’s not about the shirt, about the bloodstains it might receive. It’s about the person doing the bleeding.

 

He does get the shirt back, after the case is concluded. Morse hands it back, bloodstains prevalent on the fabric.

 

(Morse still looks like a ghost.)

 

He’s still angry that the case had gotten this far, that Thursday had almost been thrown off of a roof. It must show in his face because Morse looks particularly sheepish when he gives it back.

 

There’s a new bloodstain on the collar.

 

“What’s this?” he snaps, fury staining his words. Cronyn did this. He’s lucky he didn’t fall off of that rooftop.

 

Morse winces. “Sorry about the blood. I know you wanted it back pristine, but I couldn’t get it out.”

 

Morse thinks Jakes is angry at him about the shirt.

 

“It’s not about the shirt,” Jakes breathes.

 

Morse looks up, curious. “Hmm?”

 

“It’s - oh, never mind.” Morse doesn’t need to know.

 

Morse gives him a bewildered look before he walks away. Jakes watches him go.

 

(It’s not about the shirt.)

 

—— 

 

(It’s a puzzle, and Morse loves puzzles. If he wants to, he’ll figure it out.)

 

—— 

 

He’s the only one left in the station, all of the others having trickled out as the night went on. The case is closed - they have no reason to stay.

 

Jakes doesn’t either. He’s still at the station though, staring at the evidence map that still remains up, not yet taken down and processed. 

 

The door opens, letting a staggering Morse back into the station he’d vacated less than six hours earlier. Jakes gets up from his chair with a start.

 

“It’s not about the shirt.” Morse mumbles, closing the door behind him. He takes several clumsy steps forward, stopping to correct his balance on the back of a chair. “Figured you’d be here.”

 

“What?”

 

“You wouldn’t want to leave, not after a case like that. But that’s not the point, is it?”

 

Jakes walks the short distance between him and Morse, just in time to catch him as he takes a particularly big step and goes down hard.

 

“How much have you had to drink?” 

 

“Not enough that I can’t afford it. It doesn’t matter. It’s not about the shirt.” Morse sways on his feet, fingers tangling in the front of Jakes’ coat.

 

“What’s it about, then?” 

 

(You know what it’s about.)

 

It’s dark in the station, but not dark enough that Jakes can’t see the expression on Morse’s face before Morse reaches a hand up, slides it around the back of Jakes’ neck.

 

(You know what it’s about.)

 

Morse kisses him like everything on Earth has just made sense for the first time in his life, presses hope and fear and devotion in between them as if it’s easy as breathing. It is all Jakes can do to kiss him back just as passionately.

 

Morse pulls back to tug at the front of Jakes’ coat again, reel them closer together.

 

“It’s not about the shirt.” Morse murmurs, then smiles at him, delighted. “It’s not about the shirt, it’s about me, isn’t it? It’s about me getting hurt, about you caring about me.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

Morse breathes a happy sigh. “That’s nice. You could have just told me, instead of being your usual belligerent self.”

 

“I wasn’t angry, at you. I don’t think I ever could be. I just,” Jakes stops, hesitant. “I didn’t know what to do with you.“

 

“And that’s just you, isn’t it?” Morse laughs, careens dangerously to one side. “You know, you push my buttons, frustrate me. I know you do it to get my brain working, make sure we solve the case as fast as possible. Doesn’t mean it’s not bloody frustrating.”

 

“So?”

 

“So this is just me and you, as usual. Funny we haven’t done this before.”

 

He’s right, of course. Morse is always right, always producing the correct theory.

 

“What about in the future?” 

 

(That’s what really matters - how they’re going to be moving forward. That’s all that matters.)

 

“It’s going to be me and you, except maybe sometimes you’ll offer me more than a shirt.”

 

“But it’s not about the shirt.”

 

Morse smiles. “Has it ever been?”

 

—— 

 

(It’s not about the shirt, because it’s about Morse, the toll the case, any case, is taking on him, and how Jakes will always be there.)