When a living thing died, when it passed on, when it slipped from the mortal coil, there was usually cremation or burial or whatever the culture dictated and it was believed that their energy dispersed into the vastness of the universe or back into the grand cycle of life or any other variety of things. No matter what you subscribed to, there was one undeniable fact: Anything that was born would eventually die and they would only live on in the hearts and minds of those left behind.
Except, of course, for the times when things died… and stuck around.
In some cases those who had died didn't actually disappear and almost everyone knew someone, or had at some point in their life, been bound to a lingering spirit. It was a simple fact that had never been fully explained (though there were plenty of theories and study on the subject). A spirit would bind to the person they were closest to in life (or the next best) with the understanding that there was some matter between them unsettled. When this business was concluded, they would simply disappear. The trouble was that both the living and the deceased had no idea what that unresolved issue actually was.
It was a double edged sword to have your loved one (or not so loved one) stay with you after they'd died. On one hand you had more time with them, perhaps the rest of your life if things never reached a satisfactory conclusion, but you also lived with the knowledge that they had died with something missing between you, something left lacking or unfinished.
Which was how Detective Sergeant Robert Lewis found himself bound to the ghost of his freshly deceased governor, the ever ornery DCI Morse.
There had been a gathering at The White Horse about a week after the detective's affairs had been put in order. More people than Robbie could have imagined had shown up to lift a glass to the old detective, people he'd never even heard of, and teary-eyed and a bit moved from their stories, he'd been about to raise a glass of his own. Himself's voice boomed from barside where Morse simply appeared beside a very blanched Superintendent Strange. His shade stood with its hands stuffed into the pockets of an indiscernible shimmer of suit, not looking any older than he'd been ten years prior, and he bellowed, "I said no funeral!"
Leave it to Morse to ruin his own party.
"He was going to haunt you regardless," Val teased. She had been as understanding as she could considering that it was something completely out of both of their control. She'd had her father's spirit for about a year when they first got married and they both reckoned it would be stranger to have Morse gone, than it would be to host his spirit.
"I'm as surprised as you are, Lewis," Morse had said to him near the start, puffing in that familiar self-important way, "I know I didn't have all my ducks quite in a row but unfinished business?" He squinted and pursed his lips as if even he didn't quite believe it, despite the obvious evidence, "I suppose even dying couldn't keep me away from a puzzle."
"What's it like then, sir? Dying, I mean," Lewis had asked on his way in to work that first day back. He was waiting to hear about his Inspector's results and while Morse hadn't mastered being a spirit quite yet, he'd figured out the disappearing and reappearing bits enough to give Robbie some measure of peace and normality when it came to the home front. He was also rather handy at helping the kids with their school work. Morse was just as evasive about the mechanics of being dead as he'd ever been about anything.
"None of this 'Sir' stuff Lewis, it's just Morse now. And I honestly couldn't say. One minute I was in the bed at the Radcliffe with Strange - dying you know - and the next you're all toasting me like some bloody war hero. Meanwhile I just know that I'm dead and I'm fine with it. Of course, then I remembered that I specifically asked for no fuss to be made," Morse sat in the passenger seat of the car as if he weren't dead at all, as if Lewis had picked him up from home for the usual Monday in, and had insisted before they pulled away that Berlioz be put on the radio.
"Well that's rather anticlimactic, isn't it?" Lewis muttered, "No pearly gates or reunion with all your loved ones?"
"Well I'm here, aren't I, Lewis?"
When Robbie and Morse arrived at work Chief Superintendent Strange seemed much more together than he'd been at the pub at Morse's reappearance. Robbie had the feeling the Chief had thought himself free of Morse when they'd gotten to the point of a memoriam, but certainly fate had other plans. This would mark the first time that Robbie saw Morse's shade looking suddenly young, some sort of uncontrollable reaction to his long time friend, and there was fond surprise in the Chief's smile for a fleeting second.
"Well boys, here we are again," Strange leaned forward with this fingers laced together on the desktop, "There are, of course, procedures for this sort of thing. Happens all the time, you know, with partners. Sometimes it's just as simple as the living party finding a new partner worthy enough to fill the role of the deceased."
Lewis glanced at Morse and he was back to looking older, though he had that bored distracted look he often got when Strange spoke to him. His lazy blue eyes were set on a spot high on the nearby wall instead of on the man himself.
"So I'll give it to you straight. Morse, you're dead, matey."
"Yes, Jim. Thanks," He'd apparently abandoned respectful titles for the man since his demise.
"And you know all that it entails. You are no longer employed by the Thames Valley Police but you are still bound to cooperation and confidentiality, living or dead, as stated in your original contract. You are also unable to contribute to casework due to the undefinable nature of your existence, so you'd best learn to keep your mouth shut when it comes to Lewis's investigations. I'd hate to see a good result thrown out in court because you just can't stop," Strange tapped his hands, at a loss, "being you."
"I know the bloody rules," Morse rolled his eyes.
"Now Robbie," As Strange continued, Lewis realized he'd once more lapsed into deference in the presence of both men, alive or otherwise. Claiming his independence from Morse's reputation would certainly be harder now that the man's soul was lingering, "If he gives you any problems, and I know it will be odd, knowing he's there and not utilizing him, a temptation… Let's just- Well, we don't want people thinking you can't solve cases of your own merit."
Morse groaned next to him in the chair.
"You shouldn't let him influence you unduly, you hear me?"
"Yessir," Lewis sat up straighter.
"Because you will be getting your own Sergeant later this week," Strange paused and thrust out a hand for a hearty shake, "Congratulations Detective Inspector Lewis."