Girls and boys, stay in and hide,
you know quite well that those who died
come back this year – no one knows why
they just appear.
Grab the salt, and say your prayers,
and don’t let them catch you unawares.
No heart that beats, the skin so cold -
Just wait until the bell has tolled.
On the twenty-fifth, you know, they leave -
And no one can say whether to rejoice or to grieve
Old English nursery rhyme, thought to date back to the 13th century
It was the Tenth Year again. The very reason people celebrated Christmas with such abandon during the other nine of the decade.
The Tenth Year, when the dead returned. Not all of them, and of those who did, only a few had ever harmed the living – and then it had been mostly by accident; and yet – and yet.
The old fear. The old fear that made people lock their doors, put salt on their windowsills, pray a rosary before going to bed.
The Thursdays would do the same, just like they did every ten years.
And yet this year would be different.
People returned only once. That was the rule.
Fred’s Mum had come back, but she’d been one of those who didn’t realize. She’d spent the month of December happily puttering about, chatting with the neighbours, cooking, keeping the house clean, enjoying her retirement as she had done for years before her heart attack, never realising that her skin was ice-cold and her heart wasn’t beating, with Dad looking on with his eyes full of grief and love.
Dad hadn’t come back upon the Tenth Year after his death, and Fred wanted to imagine that he had found peace – that he had found Mum.
You could never be sure that someone who had passed would show.
But this year – this year Fred knew, felt – that he would come back.
Morse had died in February. They had been chasing a murderer who had unexpectedly drawn a weapon, and before he had realized what was happening, Morse had jumped in front of him.
He’d been hit in the chest. Bled out right there in Fred’s arms. And even then, even as he had tried to staunch the flow, knowing deep down that it was too late because he had seen too much like it in the war, the lad’s last words had been “It’s quite alright, sir.”
It hadn’t been.
Morse, with his brilliant mind, his enjoyment of crosswords, his embarrassed demeanour whenever someone showed him affection. Gone in mere minutes.
Fred had almost walked away right there and then, but Win had convinced him that Morse would have wanted him to continue working.
Yes. Morse was sure to come back.
And Fred himself could not say if he feared the moment or looked forward to it.
Looked forward to a chance of begging for forgiveness.
It should have been him. Morse should have been the one to survive that night.
“Are you wearing your cross?” Win asked Joan on the first of December.
Most Returners came back on the second or third, but it was better to be sure.
He only nodded. Her eyes softened. She kissed him and said quietly, “If he comes back, you bring him here. Don’t go through it alone. Joan and I have talked about it.”
He felt himself nod again, not trusting his voice.
This first of December was different.
And not in a good way.
Jakes had picked him up, looking worried and gaunt, undoubtedly thinking of Morse was well, but they hadn’t spoken about it.
Knowing it was the Tenth, no one in the station had mentioned Morse since his funeral. But the memories had been there, were still there – his desk that no one had been allowed to sit at and that WPC Trewlove still put flowers on, now and then; DeBryn’s quickly glance through the room every time he entered, as if he expected Morse to be there against all odds; the empty chair at the pub Thursday went to in order to eat his sandwich.
Ten months gone, and still he was on all of their minds,
The reports started coming in shortly after Thursday and Jakes had arrived.
Two things became clear quite quickly. One, an unpremeditated number of people had returned.
And two – in this Tenth Year, they were out for blood.
“To your right, sir!” Thursday reeled around, but Mrs. Nelson – what had once been Mrs. Nelson and, according to her shaken neighbours, a friendly, quiet woman devoted to her husband before she came back and almost ripped his arm off and landed him in the emergency room and was now a snarling, brutal thing, incapable of rational thought or speech, like a rabid dog, lashing out because that was all it could do – dived behind the dustbins.
Thursday had already shot three Returners today, making them – well, return to wherever they had come from; for Jakes, it had been two.
All of the personal at the station had at least dealt with one. Even Superintendent Bright had joined them.
The thing that had been Mrs. Nelson jumped at him, but Jakes was faster. She collapsed, a bullet in her brain.
Both of them were breathing heavily.
“This is my third Tenth” Jakes muttered. “And I have never heard of something like this.”
“Sixth one, fifth that I can remember” Thursday replied. “And neither can I.”
His half-hope that he might be able to apologize had transformed into fervent prayers that Morse was not going to come back.
Anything, anything but seeing him like this.
“Oh Fred, you look tired” Win fretted as he walked through the door.
“We’re all tired” he sighed, “There’s been talk of employing the army, but seems like the Government doesn’t want to cause a panic. If we get lucky, we’ll be moping this up for the rest of the Tenth. At least only twenty-four more days to go.”
The Returners always disappeared on Christmas Day.
Joan came home looking harried. “There was – Mr. Morsten’s brother outside the bank. The watchman dealt with him.”
It was going to be a long three weeks.
After two more days, Thursday started to hope that Morse wasn’t coming back.
Of course it couldn’t be so easy.
Jakes slipped out of the pub. He needed some peace and quiet even if there was a chance that a Returner would attack. He had his cross and his gun, he would be fine.
He lit a cigarette.
“Good evening, Peter” a voice rang out of the dark.
Jakes looked at his hand. It was shaking.
He knew this voice. He knew this voice. Even if he hadn’t heard it in almost ten months.
Morse stepped out of the shadows, still wearing the suit they’d buried him in. Mrs. Thursday had gone to his flat to pick out his best so his sister wouldn’t have to do it.
Jakes had seen him in it when he had gone to pay his tribute to him at the funeral home, away from prying eyes, before he was…
They studied one another quietly. Eventually he replied, “Hello, Morse.”
Something like a smile fluttered over his pale face. The face Jakes had seen scrunched up as he pondered a file more often than he could count. The face that had looked so unnaturally still, so wrong, so young, as he had gazed upon Morse lying in his coffin.
It still looked wrong now. There was something, something he couldn’t put his finger on…
“It’s not a coincidence.”
“Or fate. The Returners.” He clarified. “They are being made to do this.”
And now Jakes realised – Morse was trembling. But not because of the cold (which he couldn’t feel anyway) or fear; he was trembling with rage. That same animalistic, terrifying rage that all the Returners this year seemed to experience.
He swallowed then asked, “Someone forces – them to do it?”
Morse smiled wryly, and for a second, he was the constable Jakes had known again. “You can say you. I have no illusions about what I am. I remember dying very well.” He said it matter-of-factly.
Jakes looked at him and bluntly asked, “So what now? You want a pint?”
Morse laughed, hollow and brittle. “And risk a row in the pub? No, I’ll be working the case. If I learn something, you’ll hear from me. And don’t tell anyone I’m back.” And he disappeared as quickly as he had come.
His cigarette had burned down without him even taken a drag. He threw it rather violently on the ground and stepped on it.
As he had just asked Morse – what now?
As it turned out, at first – nothing. They dealt with the Returners – those they were called in on, anyway; many people preferred to do away with them themselves – and did their best to catch some sleep and something to eat between their shifts.
And then Jakes heard from Morse a few days later. Or rather, he found a note slipped under his door in the morning.
16:30. Ombre Street. Come alone.
It occurred to Jakes that, despite how close they had been, Morse hadn’t mentioned Thursday when they had met.
He didn’t know whether or not to tell the DI the truth. On the one hand, the Old Man would want to know – but on the other –
Everyone in the station knew that if, by some unlucky twist of fate, Thursday had to be the one to put Morse down, he wouldn’t survive it.
But if he wanted to slip away unnoticed, he needed help.
“Morse is back?”
Jakes nodded. Taking Strange into his confidence had been his first impulse even if it went against Morse’s wishes.
“And you don’t want the Old Man to know you’re meeting him.” Strange hesitated. “Not sure he doesn’t have a right to know.”
Jakes had thought the same, over and over, in the last few days, but his reasoning held. “And what if he turns against him, like the others?”
Strange swallowed, then nodded. “But – could you?”
“If I had to –“ he thought about it. “I think that’s why he sought me out. Probably believes I’d be glad to do it.”
In that case, how bloody wrong the fool was.
“Can I trust you to keep him occupied for about an hour?”
Strange looked at him, then nodded. “Take care, though.” After a pause he added, “And you tell Morse the same.”
Ombre Street was a dark and dreary lane in the north of town, just the kind of place where one would expect to meet a Returner, at least in the stories they told children.
He walked into the shadows.
“Are you alone?”
“Yes” he answered and, like before, Morse seemed to materialize out of thin air. He didn’t look any better than he had before.
“I wasn’t sure” he said simply.
“Strange is with the Old Man. You do know he’ll have to know eventually?”
Morse frowned. “Why?”
“What do you mean, Why? Of course he has to!”
Morse blinked, once, twice, than closed his eyes. “Of course. Sorry.” He opened them again. “It’s the spell. It’s much easier to slip into a rage when it makes you believe no one cares.”
“Spell?” Few of those who practised magic were left. Most people barely remembered it existed, these days.
Morse nodded. “Someone is controlling us with a spell. To cause fear and panic, I believe.”
“They’re succeeding.” Getting through a normal Tenth was something; continually worrying that one was going to be attacked by a Returner another.
“They must not” Morse said tensely. “After all, it’s much easier to take control when people are scared.”
“You mean –“
He nodded. “Someone wants to take over. And – I can’t know for sure, but – if they are a Necromancer it would explain –“
Jakes’ blood ran cold. If they had figured out how to control the dead at will – “You have resisted so far.”
Morse smiled weakly. “It takes a lot of effort. I could give in any minute.”
“Doesn’t sound like you.”
“I’m not myself anymore. I’m dead.”
Jakes winced. He remembered that day. Trewlove picking up the phone, her face falling, her trembling lips as she had announced the news.
How Jakes himself hadn’t believe it until he and Strange had got to the scene and seen him –
But this wasn’t helping. “I don’t know. You still seem an annoying know-it-all to me.”
This time, Morse’s smile was genuine. “You haven’t changed, Peter.”
“That’s not true.” Morse’s death had changed them all.
“If you say so” Morse answered simply, and Jakes was left wondering if he really considered himself that unimportant.
“Morse” he said, “You know that I never forgot you kept my secret, right? You could have told everyone.”
“Why would I have done that?”
“Point is, you didn’t. A smoke?”
“You know I don’t – oh, what does it matter now?” As Jakes lit it for him, he found that Morse’s hand was still trembling with barely-concealed rage.
“How are you? And don’t say dead.”
Another smile. “I suppose you could say I am hanging in.”
Jakes had an idea. “Have you tried your music?” It had usually calmed Morse down, he believed – or done him good in general.
“How? My flat isn’t mine anymore, and neither are my records.”
Of course. Morse was dead. Jakes’ problem was… well, it hadn’t seemed real when Morse had not even returned yet, so how was he supposed to understand now?
“Where have you been sleeping?” he exclaimed. Despite their cold skin and still heart, Returners needed rest and food just like normal human beings; and he found it difficult to imagine that Morse had still been close enough with his old friends from university to –
“At the cemetery. No one goes there during the Tenth.”
Bloody Hell. Impulsively, he took his keys out of his pocket. “You can stay at my place.”
“I hardly think your neighbours…”
“You’ve done a good job hiding yourself from prying eyes so far.”
“But what if –“
“Just take the bloody keys.”
“And you better be there when I come home today.”
“Or what, you kill me?”
“Where have you been?”
“Routine inquiry, sir.”
Normally, Thursday wouldn’t have accepted his feeble excuse, but they were all exhausted.
Thursday drove himself home that night. Once he had left the station, Strange approached Jakes. “Here.” He passed him a record. “It’s Bach. After – I asked Morse’s sister if I could have a LP, you know, to remember him by. Went home at lunch break to get it. Figured if anything can keep him – well, as much under control as Morse ever was, it’s his music.”
To remember him by. Jakes would never have believed it of Strange, but now that he stood in front of him, it made sense. “Thank you.”
He had half-expected that Morse would just throw the keys through his mail slot and walk away, but when he tried his door, he found it unlocked. Morse was sitting in his living room, still in that bloody suit.
“Evening. Strange told me to give you this.”
“Where did he –“
Jakes explained, and Morse actually looked confused – apparently the thought of anyone remembering him with fondness had never crossed his mind.
“Go ahead” he said, nodding towards his record player. He didn’t use it often, and ever since the funeral, he hadn’t wished to listen to anything at all. “I’ll go get us fish and chips.”
When he returned, Morse had put the record on and sat down on the sofa again, listening to Bach’s oratorio with closed eyes.
For a second, Jakes wondered why he looked different, then he realized: Morse wasn’t trembling anymore. “Looks like it’s working” he eventually said, nudging Morse with a plate full of fish and chips.
He opened his eyes to accept it. “For now.”
He’d hardly ever been what Jakes would have called a ray of sunshine, and dying hadn’t helped.
And yet – there was something – he looked as if he felt more at peace now; and if Bach helped, well, Jakes would buy twenty more records to make sure.
After they’d been eating in silence for a while, he blurted out, “What’s it like? Coming back?”
He hadn’t known he was going to ask until that moment.
Morse thought about it for a second. “Not that special, really. You just wake up on your grave. And if there was something before that, after death… you don’t remember.” Eventually he continued, “I didn’t think I’d come back as I lay dying.”
Most didn’t, Jakes thought. “And you’ve been sleeping at the cemetery?”
He nodded. “As little as possible… was worried I’d lose control while I did. I managed to get by with that and dumpster-diving.”
While working the case, as he’d have put it, all by himself. And controlling the rage the spell made him feel. “How did you manage all of that?”
Morse shrugged. “I had to.”
So simple. So easy, when he said it like that. “You never do anything by halves, do you.”
They were silent until Jakes suddenly added, “I kept forgetting. The first few weeks. Didn’t seem real, you see. Raised my head to tell you something a dozen times, and would only remember when I saw your desk. Trewlove put flowers on it.”
She’d arranged them in a vase until Thursday had thrown it against the wall in a fit of rage about two weeks after Morse’s death. She’d then taken to just laying them down on the desk.
“And the Old Man” he continued, not knowing whether he was trying to make Morse feel guilty for not wanting to talk about him or not. “We had to keep him from sneaking into the cells to – well you know.” He looked at Morse. “He would have killed him if he’d got to him.”
“I didn’t mean to cause anyone pain” he said calmly.
Jakes stared at him. “You took a bullet for him. You gave his life for his. Of course he hurt. We were all hurting. Hell, we still are.”
It seemed the thought that they might be had genuinely not occurred to Morse. “He’s a family man, and a brilliant police officer. He deserved to live.”
“And if you actually believe he saw it the same way… let’s just say dying must have rattled your brain even more than it already was.”
Morse stared, then he laughed. It was the first time Jakes had ever heard a Returner laugh, and he was shocked at how human it sounded. His next emotion was shame. Of course Morse sounded human.
“Maybe you’re right” Morse conceded.
“Of course you would have to die before I ever hear that.”
Morse had finished his portion and, remembering what he had told him, Jakes gave him the rest of his as well. “Should I put salt on the windowsills? You’d be locked in.”
“It’s for your safety. What could possibly harm me?”
He took it as the permission it was.
Jakes had never been close enough to anyone who had passed away to deal with a Returner, but it wasn’t that different from having a living house guest who really, really liked classical music.
Since it helped, Jakes didn’t mind one bit. Morse was growing more and more like himself, although he still had to mention Thursday in more than a passing manner or because he was reacting to something Jakes himself had said.
“Do you think” he eventually asked, “That maybe because the Necromancer is trying to control… That there is some link between you? There kind of has to be if he wants to bend you to his will, don’t you think?”
Morse pondered that thought for a second. “Yes, I suppose there could be.” He tilted his head to the side, and Jakes wondered if he knew how much it made him look as if he was thinking about a case, and how much it hurt. “We need a witch” Morse then decided.
Yes, those who used magic had become rare, but there were still a few of them in Oxford; and yet Jakes couldn’t help but think Morse might be running straight into the Necromancer’s arms.
“I’ll be careful” he argued.
“You’ve never been careful in your life” he pointed out.
“Then why should I be in death?” Morse asked with a half-smile on his lips.
“I wish you’d stop doing that.”
“Telling the truth?”
“Pretending you don’t matter” he said bluntly, and wonder of wonders, Morse fell silent.
Eventually, he said, “Trying to figure out where the Necromancer is… it could strengthen the bond between us. Make me give in.”
“You’ve made it so far.”
“It’s been a struggle, you know that, and –“
“Morse, you’re not going to tell me that you’ll go the way of least resistance now, are you?”
That got him another genuine laugh.
Despite everything, Jakes was relieved when he saw Morse was still there in the morning. They had a cup of tea before Morse started making his way to the oldest part of Oxford, where witches were known to live, and he went to work. And to another day of lying to the Old Man.
The rage was still there, simmering beneath the surface. But so was his music, now. He could still hear it, Bach’s melodies filling his mind, and it helped greatly.
As did the fact that Jakes had trusted him from the first. He hadn’t expected him to.
On the other hand, him mentioning the circumstances of his death…
Morse moved from shadow to shadow, as he had since he had woken up, and recalled with startling clarity the last thing he had ever seen in his life – Thursday’s pale face as he tried to save him.
He had died for him, and he would do so again, if he had to.
He didn’t know why he of all people had been able to resist the spell.
But he did know that he would continue to fight, to make sure no one had to suffer because of the Necromancer.
He couldn’t give in. He wouldn’t give in.
He had to solve the case.
A part of him hadn’t wanted to let Morse go, Jakes reflected when he picked Thursday up. The routine hadn’t changed since he died – there was always a wistful look in Mrs. Thursday’s eyes, as if she’d expected someone else for a moment; and the Old Man himself seemed surprised every day as well.
What was he doing to them by keeping it a secret?
“Say” Thursday said as soon as they were in the car, “You haven’t seen Morse, have you”?
Of course. His bloody instincts. And people said that those closest to the Returners could feel it when they came back. It was just a story of course, but that didn’t help Jakes.
He didn’t answer.
“Doesn’t seem like him not to come back, especially now.”
“That’s true” he said because it was. At least it wasn’t a lie.
He slowly made his way to the historic core of Oxford, careful not to be seen. He didn’t want a bullet in his brain before he could deal with this.
Speaking of –
He’d just made it to his destination when a voice from behind him said, “You move differently than the others.”
He turned to found an elderly woman pointing a gun at him,. He couldn’t help it – he laughed. “Aim for the chest. There’s already a hole in there.”
She let the weapon sink. “And you’re speaking. Come in.” She gestured towards a small house.
He hesitated. “Isn’t it warded?”
“I have my own ways to keep safe. Do come in, I insist.”
“My name’s Mildred” she said once he’d entered.
“People call me Morse. Called” he corrected himself.
“Never thought much of that Oh no you’re dead nonsense. As long as you’re walking and talking, you’re alive in my book. Now – what about your first name?”
“I told you, people call me –“
“Your first name, please. I don’t do business with people without a first name.”
Of course. The old magic of names. The power they held over people.
The trouble was that Morse didn’t know if he could trust her. But on the other hand – how much worse could things get?
She nodded. “You’re telling the truth. Good. And you’re fighting the spell, too.”
“Do you know who –“
“Who it is doesn’t matter.” She looked disgusted. “They have strayed too far - even if I knew, I could not use my powers against them. They’re a Necromancer and they are trying to change the world, make it like they want it to be. There have been many like them, and there will be many more. Their name doesn’t matter.” It was the worst insult a witch could bestow on another. “What matters is that they’re stopped.”
“First they need to be found. And that’s where you come into play. I had no idea what to do, but now that you’re here…” she trailed off. “It won’t be pleasant for you.”
“Dying wasn’t either” he said matter-of-factly.
“Yes, but this moment… it was when the wheels turned and it was made possible that you should fall under the spell in the first place. You’ll have to relive it.”
It didn’t seem that difficult. After all, he’d been through it once before. “I’ll do it.”
Once she had collected the ingredients she needed, she said, “Just to make sure – I do have your permission, Endeavour?”
“You have, Mildred.”
They were chasing the suspect – the murderer, Morse knew. Thursday was close behind him.
They finally managed to corner the man who had decided a divorce was too costly so he’d just poison his wife.
They hadn’t expected him to draw a gun.
Morse saw the determination in his eyes and knew what he had to.
DI Thursday had a family – he was loved by so many people. Who was Morse in comparison? No one. He had very little to lose and there were precious few who’d even notice he was gone.
He threw himself in front of his DI as the shot rang out.
He knew from the second he felt the pain in his chest that he was dying. Better him than Thursday; his only worry was that he’d think it was his fault. He managed to say “It’s quite alright, sir” before everything turned black.
He woke up shuddering. Right before he died, he’d felt very cold; and it was this feeling that he’d taken with him.
“There, there” Mildred said. “You’ll be fine now.”
He sat up and realized the constricting feeling around his chest came from a bandage she’d put on under his shirt. Despite being dead, he blushed.
“Don’t worry, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before” she said casually. “I just didn’t want you running around with that hole there.”
“It seems a bit pointless.”
“You’d be surprised” was all she answered before continuing, “I have a location.”
“They are here.” She passed him a piece of paper with an address in the North of Oxford written on it. “Take care. I saw what you saw – the prize I had to pay. You’re a good man, Endeavour.”
“I told you – you’d be surprised.”
She kissed his cheek.
He left shortly thereafter.
Somehow, Morse was disappointed just how normal the house looked. He’d have suspected something more magical, for lack of a better word.
But of course it looked normal, he chided himself. Why would the Necromancer want to draw attention to what they were doing?
The house was empty. He knew that as soon as he climbed through the window.
It wasn’t warded. It couldn’t be; the Necromancer had given themself over to dark magic, so there could be no protection.
Morse figured that they probably worked in the basement. It seemed the appropriate setting.
He was right.
He didn’t know much about the occult symbol and objects he found, but some of the papers were very interesting. They were written in Latin and Old Greek for one thing – he had never been gladder that he had read Greats – and more than that, they were recent.
Apparently the Necromancer had put down his plan, or at least parts of it.
He quickly perused them.
Later he would think that if his heart had still been beating, it would have stopped.
Strange came in with Trewlove in tow, all but collapsing at his desk. “There are even more people coming back. Never heard of that happening before.”
It was true; there shouldn’t have been any new Returners after December 7.
Thursday had dared hope that it would stop as always, that they’d simply have to deal with those who’d come back until then, but of course he had no such luck.
Jakes’ phone rang. He picked up and stiffened for a moment before forcing himself to relax. Again, just like this morning, Thursday found himself wondering if he was keeping secrets from him.
“Yes” he said. “Yes, I – we’re on our way.” He hung up without another word. “Sir, I don’t know – your house is about to be attacked.”
He didn’t think. He just acted.
Win was hoovering when someone knocked at the back window. Well knowing what was going on, and what Fred had been expecting for a while now, she winced, then resolutely fetched one of the kitchen knives.
Then again, it might just be a living person. After all, Mrs. Hardy from next door, who’d had to deal with her niece coming back, the poor thing, had said they didn’t speak or act rationally, so –
When she went to check, a voice called out, “Mrs. Thursday, careful, you don’t want to disturb the salt.”
So he had come back after all.
Win thought quickly. She had dealt with her fair share of Returners, and throughout the years, she’d come to her own conclusions.
For example – she was convinced, although none of those clever people on TV would agree with her, that it was the first impression that did the trick. Treat someone like a monster, and they become a monster. Be nice, on the other hand…
And Morse knew who she was.
She let go off the knife and grabbed the salt shaker. Then she opened the back door, drew him in, closed it behind them and warded her home again.
Morse needed a moment to take it in. Then he cried, “Mrs. Thursday!” You have to let me out!”
“I will do no such thing. Its dangerous out there!”
Her heart went out to him as she looked at him standing there, pale, his heart not beating. Wearing the suit she had picked out because his sister was too young to deal with something like this.
She’d never forget that day.
She’d known the second she opened the door. That look on Fred’s face – she’d prayed again and again that she would never see it again after Mickey Carter.
For a second, she had desperately hoped that Morse was still alive, but the Fred had breathed her name and she had learned the truth.
“Look at you!” she huffed, brushing a lock of his forehead. “You need a shower, and something to eat.”
Morse had apparently got hold of himself, because he grabbed her hand and squeezed it. “Mrs. Thursday. I meant what I said. I need you to listen to me, and then you have to let me go.”
Not a chance of that, but before she could say so, he continued, “The house is about to be attacked.”
”A necromancer. They are controlling they – us – making us hurt people. And the next part of their plan is to attack individual houses – the first being yours.”
“But why?” she knew it was the wrong thing to say when he looked away.
“Because of me” he said quietly. “Because I am resisting. They know. And they know you are important to me.”
“See, that’s why I have to leave” he continued, determined. “I called Jakes – he’ll let the bank know, which is secure anyway, so Joan will be fine, and he and DI Thursday are coming here. I can hold them off for a while, if you’d just – “
“Morse, you are not going out there to be slaughtered”. Of course he’d sacrifice himself again.
“I am already dead” he wailed. “And I was never worth anything to begin with! I can feel it – the spell clawing at me, trying to turn me into a monster, and if I fail – If I attack –“ he stopped talking, looked at her, tears in his eyes, tears that shouldn’t have been there to begin with, and it made her more determined than ever.
“The house is safe. Fred made extra sure of that once he realized. I am not going to break the warding to allow you to be killed.”
“No buts, young man. Sit down. I’ll put the kettle on. We can talk about to do while we wait for Fred.”
Jakes hadn’t allowed him to get behind the wheel which might have been for the best, all things considered.
Still, it didn’t explain one thing.
“Who called you? Who told you Win was in danger?”
His grip on the wheel tightened. “Please, sir, I can’t.”
“What do you mean, you can’t?”
“I – I just can’t, sir. Please.”
He couldn’t very well force him to open his bloody mouth, but he swore to himself that he would find out.
Little did either of them know that soon, no secrecy would be necessary.
He had never been able to say no to Mrs. Thursday, which was the reason that Morse had just taken a (very fast) shower and she was now changing his bandage despite his protests.
She’d even made it put on an old pair of DI Thursday’s trousers, and the matching shirt was waiting for him.
“Hush, Endeavour, I won’t hear anything about this. Bandages have to be changed. I wasn’t a nurse before I married Fred for nothing.”
She had seen Morse lying in his coffin; someone had had to make sure everything was as it should be, and she wouldn’t allow Fred to do it.
She hadn’t seen the wound that killed him, then or at any other time.
She was surprised at her own reaction. Maybe it had something to do with the nice witch Morse had told her about – since the wound looked rather like it was healing, which shouldn’t have been possible; still – it wouldn’t hurt to change the bandages.
While he had showered, she had slipped out to the shed and got the gun Fred had kept from the war and their shovel before making sure the house was secure once more.
“There. All fixed now” she said, sounding satisfied even to her own ears.
He gave her a wry smile. “At least as good as it will get.”
She couldn’t help it; she brushed his hair back again. So young. He had been so young, and gone in just a minute; and Fred almost hadn’t made it himself. She wasn’t thinking of any injury her husband could have received, of course; no, she was remembering all the nights he had woken up, shuddering, reliving the feeling of Morse’s blood on his hands.
It hadn’t been easy on Joan either. Win hadn’t expected it to be. The roads not taken… sometimes she thought they always hurt the most.
“Now how about that cuppa?”
“But Mrs. Thursday –“
“We aren’t under attack yet, are we? And we can both use it. I imagine Fred will need it too, when he and Jakes get here.” She paused. “There isn’t – you aren’t reluctant to –“
“No, no of course not! I could never blame him. It was my own decision.” Morse was looking anywhere but at her as he put on the shirt. “I just… I don’t… I’m not sure I can keep control. Strong emotions make everything more difficult.”
“You’ll be fine. You’ve succeeded so far. Is there anything that helps?”
“My music” he said, although in the next moment it looked like he wished he hadn’t. He always kept the things precious to him so close to his chest.
Still, it was something and she hurried towards the record player. “How about some Puccini?”
Now he looked confused.
“I got rather lonely in the days after…” she trailed off. “I got a few records to play when I thought of you. It made things easier.”
For a second, she could have sworn his eyes brimmed with tears again and she quickly put the record on instead of pulling him into a hug. He might not have welcomed her touch this time.
Later, Fred would think that deep down he had known, probably for days. That somewhere deep inside his mind, a suspicion had been planted by a word, a look of Jakes’, and maybe Strange’s too; and yet he’d never be able to pinpoint when he’d started to wonder.
He and Jakes arrived before the attack took place, at least. He hurried to open the door and Win met him. “Fred, there’s something –“
“Hello, sir” Morse said quietly.
The one reason he had not gone straight to DI Thursday’s house when he had woken up had been his fear that he wouldn’t be able to control himself. After all, dying had been a very emotional experience, as he had thought with a bitter smile, and maybe seeing him again would cause the hold he had on his sanity to slip.
But instead, he felt nothing but happy to set eyes on him, to confirm once more that he had saved him that day.
He swallowed as he stared at the man who had died for him. “Morse.”
“You’re not like the others.”
He shook his head, and Thursday wondered if he didn’t trust himself to speak. His own voice sounded foreign to his ears.
Finally, though, Morse looked over his shoulder and said, “Jakes.”
“Wouldn’t take my clothes when I offered, mate.”
And then, Morse smiled, and it was the smile Thursday remembered so well; a somewhat self-deprecating, shy smile. “Mrs. Thursday was rather more insistent than you.”
“And with good reason. You couldn’t keep running around in that!” she exclaimed, moving to remove Fred’s coat. “I’ve put the kettle on.”
“Oh, I know we’re about to be attacked. Don’t worry; we’ve lived through the war, haven’t we?”
Once again, he wondered how he got so lucky.
By Win’s contrivance, Fred was sure, he and Morse were left alone to sort through the kitchen drawers and find anything that could be used as a weapon. She had commandeered Jakes to check the wardings with her one more time.
After a tense silence of a few minutes, Morse said, “It’s my fault.”
“What is supposed to be your fault?” Fred had a hunch, but –
“That they are coming after you. They realized I was resisting the spell. That’s what their notes said.”
“Morse, this isn’t your fault” he said firmly. “If it’s anyone’s, it’s mine.”
“Sir, I never blamed you.”
Not that he’d had much of a chance to do any blaming. He’d been gone so fast… “I know that. But if it had been me –“
“You are needed” Morse said simply.
“And you aren’t?”
“I’m not close to many people.”
“Good God Morse, do you really think it didn’t cut us all to the core?” He’d never forget the day of the funeral, the tears in Trewlove’s eyes, Strange’s taunt face, Joan staring at the coffin as if she couldn’t believe it, and Win at his side, quietly supporting him as always.
“I didn’t –“ he stopped, then resumed talking, still not looking at him. “A decision had to be made, sir, and you said it yourself – I’m a poor policeman. You’re an excellent one. You’re worth more than me –“
Fred couldn’t hold still anymore. He marched over, grabbed him by the shoulder and finally made Morse look at him. “For God’s sake, you –“
He stopped when he realized Morse was trembling with the same rage he’d seen in the other Returners. Until now, he seemed to have kept a rather tight lid on it, but their talk must have upset him. “Morse” he breathed again.
And then he gathered the young man who had given his life for Fred’s into a tight hug.
First he stiffened, but eventually, he relaxed.
Peter had thankfully understood her intentions and had done just what she had wanted him to; he was currently checking upstairs, and Win slowly tiptoed towards the kitchen door. She was not in the least concerned that Morse would do something he’d regret; but she needed to know they were alright –
Her glance proved that Fred had taken the poor boy into his arms, and she blinked back a few tears.
“There you go” Fred said with more confidence than he felt, stepping back and seeing Morse had calmed down. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I think you have more reasons to be upset than me, sir.”
“I’m still alive.”
“Oy, you little –“ Morse gave him that half-smile of his again and Fred’s heart beat painfully in his chest when he realized he would be gone forever on the twenty-fifth. “So any idea who the Necromancer happens to be?”
Morse shook his head. “The witch I met seemed to think it doesn’t matter.”
“I’d still like to know. Call me old-fashioned, but it’s easier to deal with criminals when you know their names.”
Another smile. “I think we first have to deal with this.“
“Good luck on any Returners trying to get into our home. I’ll call the bank and check on Joan."
Everything was fine at the bank, of course. Money was always better protected than people.
“Fred?” Win stepped up to him as he hung up. Speaking quietly. “How is he?”
“I knew he would be.”
He nodded then remembered something from their hug. “Say, did you –“ he didn’t quite know how to formulate his question.
“No, it was that witch he went to. I just changed the bandage.”
He nodded tensely. “I – does it –“
“It looks like it’s… It looks not too bad” she quickly corrected herself. There were times when hope was nothing but a poison, and this was clearly one of those times; it was impossible of course, but if Fred should think –
Win herself was already struggling with the thought.
Morse was dead, and he was going to leave on the twenty-fifth, she reminded herself.
“I see” Fred said simply. “It’s just – he looks –“
She’d noticed it too. While she’d originally thought that Morse looked like just the other Returners, she now believed that he actually seemed just that very same boy who’d stood on her doorstep so often before; when she had looked after his wound, she’d even convinced herself for a moment that there was something like warmth to be felt under her fingertips before she’d told herself she was being silly.
“Trust him to fight the spell” she eventually continued in order to make Fred think of something else.
It worked. He chuckled. “Right? I’m not surprised at all. Where’s Jakes?”
Jakes had just made his way down the stairs when he heard classical music play in the living room. He walked in to find Morse standing in front of the record player. “Morse?”
“Just making sure I have myself under control.”
“Looks like it to me.”
In fact, Jakes didn’t think he’d seen him more in control of himself than he was right now. Just like he had suspected, far from sending him over the edge, talking to DI Thursday had made things easier for him.
“Like I said” Morse said brightly, just making sure.”
Jakes studied him, wondering what was different about him when he realized – the paleness of the Returners had made way to Morse’s cheeks being rosy like they had been when he’d been excited during important cases. He’d never heard of that happening before, but who knew what could happen with the spell still being active?
“The house is safe.”
Morse nodded. “Good.”
“Are you sure you don’t mind being locked in?”
“Some things have to –“
And that was when the Returners attacked.
Win had never read the statistics, but she knew that when counted, only a small number of those who had passed on in the decade before actually came back on the Tenth.
She had been aware that this year an unprecedented mass had risen of course, but still –
Twenty Returners in one street, and attacking her house, was a bit much, even for her.
“Win” Fred said, grabbing both his official and unofficial gun, “You stay –“
“I will do no such thing, Fred Thursday. I can wield a shovel just as well as you can, you know.”
“No buts, as I already had to tell a certain young policeman today. I will help defend our home, and you won’t tell me no.”
He had to comply.
Even years later, Fred would think that he had never quite seen someone as angry as Morse when he fended off the attack.
It took him a while to understand – to get that it wasn’t about Morse being able to withstand the spell with apparently none of the others making enough of an effort; no, it was about the unfairness of it all, the unfairness of the spell, the unfairness of the Returners being used, the unfairness of dying in the first place, and he could only agree, especially with the later sentiment.
It took them about five minutes to break down the door. Naturally, the first one who made it through vaporized, blighted by the line of salt; but it was broken, and the others could pour in freely –
To his surprise, they weren’t alone in the fight.
Morse had just kicked another Returner in the ribcage, causing him to fall against the salt line by the window and disappear, when Mrs. Hardy from next door showed up wielding a gun, looking determined.
She did away with two of them before they could blink, and before Thursday could explain that Morse wasn’t one of them, she simply said, “Hello, Constable. Long time no see.”
He gave her a wry smile. “It has, hasn’t it?”
“Knew from the first you weren’t like the others. Saw you from my window when you arrived, you see. Got my gun just to be sure, though – wouldn’t want any harm to come to Mrs. Thursday.”
“You and me both, Mrs. Hardy.”
“It’s Celia, please.”
After that, even more neighbours arrived, until they had dealt with all of the Returners except for Morse, who looked more alive than he had before, even though Fred knew he shouldn’t be thinking like this. The lad would be gone soon, and not to mention that it would only hurt in the long run to think of him as alive, it was simply unfair to him – Morse had died for him and he had no business to forget that.
Proving once again that the citizens of their town could be decidedly pragmatic when it came down to things, even if it was about people coming back from the dead, their neighbours dispersed and left them to clean up the mess.
Win put the kettle on and they convened in the kitchen after having let Joan know that everything was fine and learned that apparently, no one had tried attack the bank, knowing it would be too well protected.
“We need to find the Necromancer” Morse announced. “They know they only have until the twenty-fifth. And they will know that someone entered their home, maybe even that it was me.”
“In any case, they’ll know that you still haven’t fallen under the control of the spell” Jakes said.
Morse shrugged. “It was a small advantage to begin with - if it even was one.”
“It’s one for me” Fred said firmly with Win smiling her agreement.
Morse glanced at them, then – blushed? No. It couldn’t be. Returners were pale and cold, everyone knew that. “If they want to perform more of their dark arts, they will have to find a powerful place in Oxford –“
“One of the colleges, you mean?”
Morse shrugged. “It’s our best bet.”
Fred wondered if Jakes was thinking the same thing he was – how very much this was like any other case they had worked together, and how easily it was to forget that Morse was dead.
“Will going there increase their hold on you?” Jakes asked bluntly. “You seem to be doing pretty well now, but still –“
“I – “ Morse blinked, looking at them, reminding Fred once more of that very first case. That was how he had looked then, going through the file after everyone else had gone home.
“I haven’t really had to fight for control since the other Returners were dealt with” he continued. “I actually forgot –“
He looked away and now Fred could clearly read on Jakes’ and Win’s faces that they had indeed been on the brink of forgetting as well.
“We will have to go after sunset” Morse decided, “People are understandably upset when they see me, and with me slinking though the shadows, it would take too long to –“
“Endeavour” Win interrupted him gently, “I don’t think that will be a problem.”
She fetched her handbag and handed him the small mirror she kept inside.
Morse looked at himself and frowned. “Must be the adrenaline from fighting off the others.”
“Whatever it is, we should take advantage of it while we can” Fred decided.
Morse did the only thing he could think of and called Mildred. She informed him that Lonsdale college was full of magical power, the result of an experiment by witches gone wrong hundreds of years ago, and to be careful when approaching the Necromancer.
“They'll be in the basement. As far away from Heaven as they can get.”
“By the way” she then asked, “How is the wound doing?”
“I’m feeling fine” he said.
“Not really an eloquent answer, but good. You keep near your friends, you hear?”
He didn’t quite know what to make of that but told her he would.
Saying goodbye to Mrs. Thursday wasn’t easy. Both her and Morse were very aware that it could very well be the very last time they would ever spoke, and neither knew what to say.
Finally, she gathered him into a tight hug. “Once you’ve dealt with this, you’ll come back here, won’t you?”
“I –“ he swallowed when he saw her hopeful face. “I will do my best.”
She nodded. “That’s quite enough.”
They took the car as far as they dared. They weren’t completely sure if there truly was some kind of bond between the Necromancer and those he held in his power, if it had snapped some while back, or if they would be able to tell that Morse was coming.
“You do know that according to the old stories –“ Fred began.
“We’ll have to kill them” Morse said matter-of-factly. “Necromancers have gone to far. They cannot be stopped in any other way.”
Neither of them answered.
All of them knew they were ready to do what must be done.
When they arrived, Morse was shivering.
Thursday wondered if he should have offered him a coat to go with the suit, then berated himself – cold skin.
Morse shouldn’t have been freezing in the first place.
Jakes clearly thought the same, if his confused glances were anything to go by.
Morse didn’t speak of it.
Fred had never met a Necromancer before. Magic users, witches, of course – but not a Necromancer. None of those he had encountered had fallen that low, not even those who’d used magic to harm others.
“I should go in first” Morse said quietly. “He might be expecting me, and at least I’ll be a distraction.”
“But –“ Fred began and was surprised when Morse reached out to touch him, his warm – warm? – hand heavy on his forearm.
“Sir, there is no reason to care for my safety. I’m dead. Gone. It’s either now or on the twenty-fifth. It doesn’t matter.”
He wanted to say that it did, that it always had, but couldn’t find the words.
“Don’t get me wrong, Morse” Jakes suddenly said, his voice tight, “But I have always thought that for someone with that large of a brain, you can be remarkably stupid, and this is one of those times.”
It shocked Morse into being quiet.
Fred was thankful. He still hadn’t found anything to say.
Morse, as he had insisted, went first.
A part of him was hoping he wouldn’t be coming back. All he seemed to do was hurt those around him. DI Thursday was suffering the most, of course; but he had also seen the pain in Mrs. Thursday’s eyes, and even Jakes hadn’t been unaffected.
It would have been better if he had never returned, but at least he could do something good with the unlife that had been bestowed on him.
He took a deep breath and moved deeper into the shadows.
“Ah you must be Endeavour” a smooth voice called out.
“No need to be scared; come here.”
The Necromancer was standing in the middle of the room, and yet they were cast into shadows. It was then Morse knew that Necromancer always stood in the shadows because they had turned away from the light.
There was barely anything human left in their face.
And, to Morse’s surprise, he felt nothing. The rage that had been gone for a while now didn’t return. He didn’t feel like he was bound to obey the Necromancer. He didn’t even hate them.
There was simply nothing. He had exhausted his feelings while dealing with the living: the master of the dead could have no power over him now.
“I wondered if I should do away with you” the Necromancer said, “But you were too interesting. Say, what made you resist?”
“I don’t know” Morse said honestly. “I have no idea. I just did.”
“Oh? So it wasn’t your attachment to –“ They raised their hand and Thursday and Jakes, who’d been trying to sneak up on them, were flung away. “What a heart you must have. Soft and weak.”
“Human” Thursday croaked out, getting up, glaring at the Necromancer. “He’s human.”
“Was, Inspector. Your bagman happens to be dead.” The Necromancer looked at Morse.
And then something that Morse would never forget happened.
The Necromancer blanched – or rather, whatever was left of their face that could pale did – and moved a few steps back. “No – that’s not –“
Morse decided he might as well use the moment and attacked.
He had refused to take a weapon with him, fearing that if the rage returned, he might go on a rampage; but he had his hands and his determination not to let his friends suffer anymore.
Morse was grappling with the Necromancer. As such, it was impossible for Fred or Jakes to shoot them.
It became clear rather quickly that neither of them could gain the upper hand.
“Sir?” Jakes asked. “If I try and grab Morse –“
He looked at him and nodded. He could end this, and he would.
Only he wouldn’t.
Morse would later think that they should have taken into account that the Necromancer would have superhuman strength; after all, they would have stopped being quite human some time ago, wouldn’t they?
But they hadn’t thought of it at the time, and as the result, hand-to-hand combat became increasingly difficult, with the Necromancer eventually wringing the gun out of DI Thursday’s hands.
And Morse knew that history was doomed to repeat itself.
Or maybe not.
Because the second he jumped in front of DI Thursday, the older officer grabbed him and pushed him behind himself. “Sir!”
“Not on my watch, Endeavour. Never again.”
The sight of them dancing around each other caused the Necromancer, lost to all human emotions a long time ago, to do something they never thought they would again.
And because they closed their eyes as they did so, Jakes saw a chance.
Granted, he was thrown off; but because Morse followed immediately behind, he succeeded.
He pointed the gun at the Necromancer’s head. Their eyes opened wide. “Wait – I can –“
Morse shot them.
After, the three of them stood there, breathing heavily. Eventually, Morse said, “At least that’s over.”
Fred looked at him and thought to himself that it wasn’t.
It would only be over on the twenty-fifth.
The people would be talking about this Tenth for a long time. The Tenth the dead went on a rampage, only to disappear on the fifteenth of December without a reason.
Well, except for Morse. But, Fred soon learned, he looked alive enough now to ensure there were no suspicious glances thrown his way, apart from those who knew him to be dead, and they quickly realized he was no danger to them.
Like he had promised Win, the lad returned home with Thursday and camped on his couch.
None of them mentioned how soon he would be gone.
On midnight on the twenty-fifth. It had always used to happen, then.
Still, they celebrated Christmas as the family they should have been, Fred thought.
Morse was somewhat surprised when Win gave him a shawl. “I –“ He was on the brink, then; on the brink of mentioning it; but instead he swallowed and went to hug her.
Fred felt Joan squeeze his hand and knew that she, too, couldn’t speak at the moment.
When it was time to go to bed, Morse said good night as if nothing was about to happen.
It was Joan who broke into tears and threw her arms around him. “Oh, Morse!”
“It’s quite alright, Joan” he said simply, hugging her back. “Quite alright.”
“It’s not, Endeavour” Win answered quietly for her daughter, kissing his cheek. “But thank you for saying it.”
They left him and Fred alone after that.
They silently looked at one another, then he cleared his throat. “I – I wanted to –“
“You don’t have to, sir” he said calmly. “I would do it again.”
“You almost did.”
Morse smiled weakly. “Right.”
“But lad, I want you to know that none of us will ever forget you.”
“That’s quite more than I expected” he admitted.
Fred drew him into a hug too after that.
They left it at that.
Fred couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t expected to.
Win eventually drifted off, but he watched the alarm slowly ease towards midnight.
The second the twenty-sixth began, he felt like he had that day, looking at Morse’s corpse.
They had lost him again.
Still, he had to know. To make sure.
He didn’t know why he walked down the stairs as quietly as he did; after all, there was no –
Morse was still sleeping on the couch. Even in the dim light coming in through the window, Fred could see that he was breathing.
With three steeps, he stood in front of him, taking his pulse, his own heart beating more wildly than he could ever recall.
And there it was.
Morse’s heart was beating again, and his skin was warm and soft to the touch.
Morse was alive again.
He stirred and Thursday found himself shushing him instinctively. “Go back to sleep, lad.”
Miraculously, he did.
Fred walked up to the window for no reason at all.
And then he saw her.
He went outside, not caring that it had started to snow. “Mildred, I presume?”
“So it worked?” She looked at him with eyes belying her age.
“Yes” he confirmed.
She smiled. “I was hoping it would. It only does if they have something powerful to tie them to life, and I figured that was true in his case.” A pause. “I didn’t tell him the whole truth, you see. I didn’t just get to watch him die – I got a good part of his life before that, too.” Her smile was genuine, if a bit wistful. “He’s too young to understand that losing a child doesn’t always mean being bereaved of a blood relative, is he?”
Thursday nodded. “He can grow old now.”
“I do hope so. Take care of that boy, Inspector. He has a good heart.”
And then she was gone.
Thursday quietly walked back into the house, then sat in the kitchen and cried until he felt calm again.
He checked up on Morse once more before he went back to bed.
His first thought when he was woken up by a scream was that he should have told Win.
He came downstairs to find both her and Joan hugging a distinctly confused-looking Morse.
“I don’t –“ he began but Fred just patted his shoulder.
“It’s like the old stories, I think.”
“You knew.” It was a statement of fact.
“Went to check up on you at midnight.”
“There’s more you know.” Another statement.
“Yes, but that’s just for me, I believe” he said carefully. At least it felt that way.
Morse apparently wanted to say something else, but Win whisked him off to breakfast before he could.
There had been stories about the dead coming truly alive again and staying after the twenty-fifth, of course. Mostly fairy tales for children, but still.
All in all, their colleagues seemed to come to an agreement that if anyone could pull it off, it was Morse.
Morse’s sister, who he had refused to call because he hadn’t wanted to make her go through losing him again, arrived on the twenty-seventh, openly crying and clinging to her brother as if she never wanted to let go.
Fred knew the feeling.
Morse was of course invited to stay for the time being. Although he tried to refuse until Fred pointed out that he no longer had a flat and that it would be quite the hassle to get the authorities to admit he was alive and well.
It was a hassle. Morse was subjected to several examinations by doctors (all of which gave the advice that he should put on some weight, a suggestion Win was more than ready to agree with) and had to prove again and again through tests that he was indeed in possession of all his wits.
But finally, he and Fred went to the town hall to have him declared a living, breathing person once more.
“At least I’ll be able to return to work and rent a flat again” Morse mused on the way there.
Only if we ever decide to let you go, Fred decided, but didn’t voice the thought.
All Morse had to do was fill out some forms.
Everything went smoothly until his last question.
“Next of kin?” the bored man responsible for officially welcoming Morse back amongst the living asked.
Fred made a split-second decision. “He’s our oldest” he said. “My wife’s and mine.”
Morse turned his head and stared at him, but made no move to dispute his words.
“Adopted” he continued smoothly. “He’ll be living with us for a while, too. You know, until he gets his bearings.”
The man nodded and wrote it down.
“Sir?” Morse asked quietly as they excited the building.
“Might as well make it official, I decided. Now, what do you say we go grab lunch at ours?”
For a second, he thought Morse might burst into tears. Then, he blinked and said, “It’s a new year.”
“That it is, Morse. That it is.”
Fred squeezed his shoulder and they walked into the light and the future.