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Taken

Chapter Text

As soon as Sieglinde’s pregnancy began to show, she became the darling of Cowley station. Morse came in for a fair share of general approval as well, to his bemusement. Sergeants he barely knew would clap him on the shoulder and mutter “Wotcher, Morse,” and even the newest constabulary recruits would tip their helmets respectfully whenever he passed by. Bright went about smiling beatifically like a triumphant general.

“You’d think they’d never seen a pregnant she-wolf before,” Morse complained to Strange, when he was told off for being late because a half dozen officers had waylaid his sister in the entryway to coo like imbeciles over her swollen belly.

“I doubt they have,” said Strange. “Where would they? Why, have you?”

“In the Army, yes,” Morse said curtly, trying not to remember how he’d ached with envy to see the raw recruits in infantry with their new pups. Signalmen weren’t considered candidates for bonding. “But they’ve all got brothers of their own already. Why do they care?”

Puppies, Morse, that’s why. Fluffy little furballs tumbling about and biting at each other. Even you must admit they have a certain natural appeal.”

Morse shrugged. “They won’t be around for long. They’ll be requisitioned at six weeks, when they’re weaned.”

“But that’s six weeks we’ll have pups underfoot,” Strange pointed out. “Good fun. And I expect the Chief Superintendent has designs on at least one or two of them. Wheels within wheels, you know. Not to mention the reflected glory that’ll be heaped on our little station for having nurtured them in our midst. Pups in a police station! How rare is that?”

Morse remained unmoved. It was all going to be massively unsettling for his sister, and he doubted he’d come in for much of a share of any of the so-called reflected glory. Also, there had to be a certain amount of grinning and nudging going on throughout the department over just how Sieglinde had got herself into that state, even if he’d managed to escape witnessing it directly. But even that wasn’t the most annoying thing.

“I just want to get back off light duties,” he told Strange gloomily.

“I'm sure you do, matey. I’m sure you do. Pity, that. How much longer?”

“She’ll be full term in another nine days, and the vet thinks she’ll go right on schedule. Then the six weeks of nursing. I’ll be lucky to get back on the roster by June.”

“That’ll come round before you know it,” Strange said, with a patronising back-slap. “Hang in there. Must be off now--duty calls. Don’t strain yourself over the mimeo. Come along, Archie.”

Strange’s brindle brother--the most doglike wolf Morse had ever encountered, he thought privately--gave Sieglinde a messy swipe across the face with his tongue before trotting off at his brother’s heels. Sieglinde rubbed her muzzle on Morse’s trouser leg after they’d left, and Morse gave her a proprietary fondle. Light duties wasn’t actually the worst part of having a sister full of pups, either. The larger she got, the more worried he was about how it would go for her, small as she was. Any offspring of Thursday’s brother Ares wasn’t likely to be exactly petite.

*

Eight more days to go, then seven, and Sieglinde was beginning to acquire a distinct waddle. “Give you a lift home?” Thursday offered, holding the door for them. “I’m my own driver this week, plenty of room in the car.”

“Oh...no, thanks. Sir,” Morse added. “Really, it’s fine--the walk’s good for her, I think.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. Her belly’s nearly dragging on the pavement. Besides, I’ve hardly seen you these last few weeks. Where have you been keeping yourself?”

“Central filing, mainly,” Morse said tightly. He understood why Thursday had needed to back up Bright’s decision to demote him for the duration, but it still stung.

“Come on.” Thursday opened his car door. Morse hesitated. There were plenty of familiar faces milling about at this hour. “Well, standing about like this is only going to draw more attention,” Thursday said, watching him. “In you get, now,” and Sieglinde made the decision for him by brushing past him and clambering up into the back seat with Ares, who gave a pleased whuff and touched noses with her at once.

Morse shut his eyes until they’d pulled away from the station and merged into general traffic. He didn’t want to see himself being seen.

“You’re overthinking this, you know,” Thursday said, after a bit.

“I don’t know what else I’ve got to do but overthink things,” Morse told him. “My work hasn’t been exactly stimulating of late.”

“Not much longer now. She looks like she could go at any day. Don’t fret, Morse. You’ll both be back up and running before you know it.”

“You sound like Strange.”

“Then Strange is right. Here we are. Better let me drive you in the morning, too--I’m not asking. I’ll pick you up at eight sharp.”

*

It was still half-dark at seven in the morning, with a sheen of late frost over the cobbles. Sieglinde balked. Thursday said eight. Can’t we wait for him?

I don’t want to ride with them, Morse told her. It’s not far. Do us good to walk. Nice brisk morning.

Sieglinde yawned, shook herself heavily, and started off beside him at a very slow trot. Neither of them noticed the van until it had pulled right up alongside them.

*

“Morse. Morse!”

Someone was calling for him from a great distance. Someone else was nudging him, wetly, anxious to the point of panic, and on their behalf he wanted to open his eyes, but everything was too heavy and too cold. He struggled to lift his head, but it was held down fast.

“Don’t move. Ambulance is on its way. Can you speak? What happened, did you see them? Where is she?”

Thursday. Worried. He must have fallen, hit his head. Sieglinde would be frantic. With a monumental effort, Morse managed to get his eyelids open for a moment before the weight slammed them down again. Grey fur nosing at him anxiously. Dark grey. Not white. He reached out with his mind, and got nothing but a blank static hum.

“Stay down,” Thursday said urgently. “Morse--” But whatever he said after that was lost in the red scream of the ambulance siren and the white waves of panic crashing down on him, drowning him.

*

“All I remember seeing is the van,” Morse repeated to Thursday for at least the fourth time. “Dirty, white, I didn’t get the plates. I heard the door slam when someone got out--I didn’t see them, I didn’t think anything of it.” He’d cast off his hospital gown and was struggling into his vest and shirt.

“You might remember something more after a bit,” Thursday suggested. “Especially if you were to stay here and get some rest, as everyone’s advising you to do.”

Morse started to shake his head, then stopped and held himself very still for a moment before going back to work on his shirt buttons. “I can’t rest. Who could rest? Could you?”

“You won’t do her any good, careening around Oxford with a concussion. I ought to have someone sedate you.”

Morse gave him a bleak look. “I wouldn’t hear her, then, if she came awake. They’re keeping her somewhere, drugged, I know it. Who’s the most likely, do you suppose? One of Rose’s boys? Or your old London friends come up to make trouble again?”

“Could be anyone,” Thursday allowed. “But the entire force is mobilised on this already. It won't stand. Whoever’s got hold of her, they've other enemies, you can count on that. Someone will talk, and soon.”

“It had better be soon. They’ll have…” Morse swallowed, and had to sit down for a moment; he covered by looking for his shoes. “They’ll have no use for her, once they’ve got the pups. What do they intend? Sell them? Or bond with them? Organized criminals with bonded police wolves. It'll be an all-out war.”

“I really should have you sedated.” Thursday bent and picked up his shoes, which were on the opposite side of the bed from where Morse had been looking, then walked round and sat down next to him. “The way your mind runs ahead of itself? You’ll short out your brain like an overloaded fuse.”

“All the more reason I need to be out there doing something.”

Thursday shook his head. “You won't be allowed within a thousand yards of this case. Even if you were fit, which you're clearly not. I know the spirit’s willing, but you’ll pitch over again before you get to the corner.” He gave Morse a long, penetrating once-over of a look. “If I run you home, home’s where you’ll have to stay. Keep reaching out, try to contact her--that's all you can do for now. I'll ask Ares to stay with you. He’ll alert me if you get anything to go on.”

“Alert you if I try to leave the premises, you mean,” Morse said crossly.

“That too.” Thursday handed him his tie. “Let me see you knot that on your own before I allow you to walk out of here against doctor’s orders.”

Morse worked at it obediently, willing his fingers to cooperate. “I can't stop thinking about Matthews,” he said in a low voice. D.S. Matthews was an older sergeant whose brother had been killed in action the year before. He’d resumed reduced duties after a couple of months, two stone thinner and drifting through the halls looking like an amputee, like a cautionary tale come to life. Morse had hoped he might put in a request for Matthews to get a crack at one of the pups, if he were allowed any such requests, which he likely wouldn't be.

Definitely wouldn't be now, unless…

“Don't start down that road,” Thursday warned him.

“I told you, I can't help it.”

“Don't dwell on it more than you can help, then.” Thursday reached over and straightened the shaky knot Morse had managed. “There you are. And don't crack open the bottle when you get home, either. It won't do, with the painkillers they gave you, and you wouldn't want to be three sheets to the wind when I bring your sister back to you.”

He sounded so certain that it made Morse’s eyes sting. Morse wanted to lean into the warmth of him and stay there for a while, but that was another road best not travelled, he supposed.

Chapter Text

It was a wrench to part with his own brother at a time like this, Thursday reflected after he’d seen Morse safely into his own flat. A wrench, and probably ill-advised in the extreme, not that he had any intention of letting anyone at the station know what he was up to until it was all over. He would have preferred to have Ares by his side as backup, but he needed to know that Morse wasn’t about to fly out on his own and require rescuing on top of everything else.

Besides, he’d seen Morse’s grip on Ares as they drove him home, fingers clutched deep into the thick fur of his scruff--at the moment, Morse clearly needed his brother more than Thursday did.

How is he? Thursday asked Ares, as he sped toward the outskirts of town.

Very unhappy, Ares responded. As am I. We should be with you.

Soon, Thursday promised him. Better if I make the first round of enquiries on my own. Get them with their guard down. And Morse needs rest. Sit on him, if you need to.

Don’t do anything too stupid, Ares said, and then thought something wolfish at him that didn’t exactly translate--a human might have said please, but it was more threat than plea.

Now, now. I wouldn’t do that to you, Thursday assured him, and clamped down on a pang of conscience before his wolf could sense it. A simple fact-finding mission, that’s all.

He’d reached his first informant’s place of business--if you could call it that--and got out of the car, flexing his right hand and rolling his shoulder once or twice. As an afterthought, he took off his hat, leaving it behind on the front seat.

It would feel good to do this part on his own, for a change; there was that.

*

Thursday’s warnings notwithstanding, Morse had a good belt of scotch before he’d been home five minutes--just the one, because Ares got his jaws around his wrist and tugged hard when he went back for a second pull. Even one drink was enough to make his knees go watery, in combination with the painkillers he’d been given and the dull, sick throbbing of his skull, and he decided that a bit of a lie-down wouldn’t go amiss after all.

Once he was off his feet, though, the ringing emptiness inside his brain became more and more apparent, louder with every passing moment--he hadn’t realised the extent to which he’d got used to not being alone with his own racing mind anymore. The absence of his sister’s warm and straightforward thoughts was nothing less than a jagged open wound, and trying not to think about how much he missed her simple grounding presence was...it was...there weren’t words.

He’d go mad without her. Not an exaggeration.

Ares, who’d lain down next to him, nudged at him with an anxious whine, and Morse turned to look into the liquid depths of his eyes. Without Sieglinde or Thursday there to interpret, they were more or less unreadable to each other except in the broadest strokes of raw emotion. “Worried about me or him?” Morse asked the wolf. “Or her. All three, I expect. What’s he up to now, then?” He ran a hand down Ares’ head and buried it in the fur of his scruff again, but it hurt him suddenly how different the thick grey pelt was from his own sister’s. All wrong.

Finally Morse struggled up off the bed again and began to pace unsteadily. The pain and dizziness was at least a distraction of sorts. Ares got up after a bit and flanked him, which gave him something solid to lean against at the turns.

When his telephone rang, the shock and the sound of it cut like a blade through his aching skull and nearly knocked him down--he had to steady himself with a hand on Ares’ back before he could lunge across the room to answer it. “Morse,” he said, his voice breaking, then cleared his throat. “Who’s this? Any news?”

“Oh, er--Jakes here.” He sounded taken aback. “Just wanted to speak to the guv’nor--could you put him on?”

“He’s not here. Why? What is it?” Morse gripped the back of a chair. He was going to be sick, he thought. “Jakes. You have to tell me.”

“What? No, there’s nothing yet, I swear--it’s a madhouse here, that’s all. But the guv, he’s not with you? He’s meant to be there. He said he’d be there. You’re not on your own, surely.”

“I’ve got Ares,” Morse managed, and shut his eyes to keep out the dizzy whirling of the room and its contents. It couldn’t have been the worst news, of course. He was still aware of the monotone background hum that was Sieglinde’s unconscious mind, too deeply drugged to dream. But he’d allowed himself to hope, when the phone rang, that there might be some lead.

Jakes was speaking again, sounding agitated, but Morse couldn’t listen to him anymore. He put the phone down and slumped to the floor, letting the world go white for a time.

*

Ares’ nudging woke him some time later and he vaguely registered that his doorbell was ringing, but it took a few hot-breathed tongue swipes and finally a guttural growl to get him to do something about it. It was an epic chore, but eventually Morse made it to the front door and opened it to a jittery-looking Sergeant Jakes and his brother Blackie.

“All right, Morse?” he said. “I mean. Course you’re not. But I’m still looking for Inspector Thursday. Is he really not here?”

“Come in and search the place, if you like,” Morse said curtly, and turned to make his way back up to his flat.

Jakes and his black wolf followed after him. “Er...sorry, you know, about Siggy.” Morse winced at the nickname but refrained from comment. “We’ll find her for you. No stone, and all that. The guv, though,” he said again. They’d reached the entrance of Morse’s flat by this point, and Jakes looked around disbelievingly. “He’s really gone off and left his brother here? Oh, hello,” he said to Ares. Blackie slunk over and touched noses with the inspector’s wolf, and Morse was gutted anew by a flash of hot envy.

“Did he say where he was going?” Jakes went on, not noticing. “Only he’s barred from the investigation, so we were all sure--”

“Barred,” Morse said, startled. “No. He went off to, to make enquiries, he said. Why would he be barred?”

“Well,” said Jakes, “You know.” He was giving Morse a look of such pity now that Morse had to turn away. “He’s a bit, er, involved, isn’t he?” He fumbled to light a cigarette, and Morse was able to busy himself with hunting up a saucer for him. He took his time about it.

“Leaving that aside for the moment, where’s the investigation at?” Morse demanded.

Jakes drew on his cigarette, obviously hesitating.

“Sergeant Jakes,” Morse said, and gave a significant brief glance over at Blackie, who had twined himself ingratiatingly around Ares’ feet.

“Right. Yeah, all right then. So. They’ve found the van.” Morse sucked in a breath, but Jakes quickly shook his head. “No, it's been wiped clean. Stolen from a repair shop late last night, no prints on it. They must’ve known our trackers would be on it in a flash and moved her to another vehicle quick as possible. Found it on Hockmore Street near the new shopping centre--we’re interviewing everyone, but there’s no tracing the second vehicle so far. Barricades all round the city and random traffic stops, but--”

“They’d be fools to have her out on the road still, and they’re clearly not fools. They’ll have gone to ground somewhere. What else?”

“Door to door, like,” Jakes said. “And sniffers. But listen. Every copper, every wolf in the city is on it, Morse. With the pups coming so soon, she’s got a scent on her like a--well. You know. And there’s talk they’ll mobilise the entire Thames Valley if they don’t turn her up soon.”

“A lot of doors in the Thames Valley,” Morse said bitterly. “A lot of doors behind those doors, too, and ways to mask any kind of scent if you know what you’re about. And with the hour’s head start I gave them before Thursday found me? They could be anywhere. Door to door my arse.”

Jakes lit a second cigarette before stubbing out his first. “What about the boss’s enquiries, then? Black?” he prompted his brother, who’d been having a silent exchange with Ares. Morse watched keenly as information filtered from wolf to wolf, brother to brother. “Bloody hell,” Jakes said, going pale.

“What? What is it?”

Jakes drew deeply on his cigarette before answering, then cast a doubtful look over Morse. “How are you on your pins?”

“I can walk,” Morse said quickly. “For a ways. You’ve brought a car, yeah? Why?”

“Someone needs to get to the guv before he lands himself in a cell or in hospital, sounds like. We’d better go.”

Chapter Text

The element of surprise wore off quickly--that was the main trouble. That, and Thursday had made the mistake of paying his first few visits to the toughest customers, with the result that he was now nursing a swollen jaw and had a handkerchief wrapped around two split knuckles on his right hand. High on adrenalin, he hardly noticed it, but the sight of him was now a clear warning to any other potential informants the moment they set eyes on him--those who hadn’t scattered to the winds as the news spread throughout Oxford City that Fred Thursday was out for blood.

He hesitated before turning toward Jacky Whittaker’s. Jacky was a nasty piece of work who wouldn’t scare easily, and he’d doubtless be expecting him by now. Moreover, Jacky had backup. But Thursday was running out of time and possibilities, and his brother was getting more and more agitated back at Morse’s. Just this one more, and then I’ll come back for you. Bring you a bit of dinner, perhaps, keep up our strength. Would Morse eat, do you reckon? Even just some soup?

Ares didn’t want to discuss soup. Jakes phoned. He’s on his way here, mostly likely.

“Good for Jakes,” Thursday said absently, checking his jaw in the rear-view mirror and wincing. “The more company Morse has right now, the better. How’s he bearing up?”

He’s a wreck, Ares responded. You should come back now.

Twenty minutes, tops, Thursday assured him, and drove a bit faster.

Behind the flyspecked counter of Whittaker’s Goods, Jacky was waiting for him. He came around the counter and leaned on it as Thursday approached, and a dusty grey shadow detached itself from a corner of the room and sat at attention by his side: Jacky’s one-eyed brother Ripper.

The Ministry of Wolf Defence had a job and a half on its hands keeping tabs on discharged veterans’ brothers and sisters. Even though a felony offence was considered grounds for enforced separation, the Legion and the RSPCA had joined forces recently to prevent it in a number of high-profile cases. Plus there were any number of shady sorts--Jacky, for one--who’d managed to escape conviction. In Thursday’s opinion, the sort of wolf who’d bond with a man who’d turn criminal wasn’t up to much snuff in any case and not worth worrying over. Admittedly, he’d never had to fend off even a seedy-looking specimen like Ripper without his own brother backing him up.

“Nice of you to pay us a visit, Inspector,” Jacky greeted him. “We were beginning to feel left out. Where’s your other half, though? You’re not much cop without him.”

“You know why I’m here, I expect, Jacky. What have you got for me?”

Jacky looked around at the contents of his dingy shop. “Not much. Second-hand stereo? Give you a proper good deal, I will.”

“I’ve give you a better deal than that. Give me something to go on, and I won’t confiscate half the items in here as suspected stolen property.”

“Nothing to give.” Jacky spread his hands and shrugged. “So it’s true what they’re saying? Your boy’s bitch ran off with a full load of copper’s spawn?”

“Watch your mouth,” Thursday warned him.

“Or what?” Jacky grinned.

“You've a brother of your own.” Thursday nodded at Ripper, trying not to grimace at the implied comparison. “Put yourself in my shoes for a minute, why don't you?”

Jacky spat onto the floor. “And imagine having to give the business to that milk-faced weed follows you around town these days? No, thanks. No pups in the world are worth that.”

Thursday had him bent nearly backwards over the counter with a hand around his throat before he could blink, and felt teeth sink into his ankle a moment later. He gave a vicious kick and then stamped down on Ripper’s muzzle, pinning the wolf’s chin to the floor. The next few things happened almost simultaneously: a strangled yelp, a howl of rage, and another flicker of pain--Jacky had pulled a blade on him.

*

“He’s at the shop of that Whittaker low-life,” Jakes said, accelerating well past the speed limit and careening around a curve, making the tyres squeal. “The one with a brother--mangy old rug, but he’s still got teeth.”

“The inspector’s not an idiot.” Morse shut his eyes and tried not to stamp on a nonexistent brake too obviously. “I’m sure he’s acting with caution.”

Jakes gave a short laugh. “Pull the other one. You’ve never seen the guv go berserker?”

“He wasn’t berserk when he went out. He was very--oh, watch that, there’s a--no, all right then--calm. He was quite calm.”

“Calm before the storm, then. The store he sets by you and that white b-- your sister, I mean to say? He went out to knock heads, depend on it.” Jakes screeched to an abrupt halt at a stoplight and glanced over at Morse, his brow furrowing briefly. “You don’t half look green. Sure you’re fit to travel?”

“I’m fine,” Morse said automatically, taking deep breaths. “Better if you’d let me drive.”

“No chance. Bet you’re seeing double. What’d they whack you with, d’you know?”

“Tyre iron, most likely.”

Jakes whistled. “Lucky they didn’t clean your clock for good, then. We’ll be there in two shakes. Stay in the car when we get there, all right? Let me and Black handle it. And Ares, of course.”

“No chance,” Morse flung back at him. “Drive, then, if you’re going to. Light’s green.”

*

Neither of them had a chance to discuss a plan of action when they pulled up at Whittaker’s. The moment the car came to a stop and Morse cracked the passenger side door ajar, Ares shot out in a twelve-stone burst of tightly coiled muscle and arrowed through the open shop door. There were snarls and shouts from within.

Jakes’ brother nearly rushed right in after Ares before either of them could react, but Jakes hissed “Blackie! With me!” and ran to catch him up. The black wolf faltered and glanced back but didn’t stop until Jakes snapped, ”Blackhawk!”, at which his brother instantly ducked low and slunk back to his side. “No rushing into a fight,” Jakes admonished him, still making speed to the shop. “Ares has him. Morse, go round and check the back entrance, if you must, make sure no one else is lying in wait.”

It was a sensible order, Morse had to admit. The back room of the shop was filthy but unoccupied, piled high with old stew bones and stained bills of lading that he marked down in the back of his brain as something to examine more closely in the event that they needed anything on Whittaker in future--

“Put it down,” Jakes was saying in the front. “Right now, and we can all walk away from this. You want a wounded copper pinned on you, Jacky? Felony charge. You know what that means.”

“He rushed me!” Whittaker shrilled in righteous outrage. “And attacked my Ripper--a half-blind veteran--no provocation--”

Morse edged into the grimy little room and took it all in at a glance: The one-eyed wolf with flattened-back ears and blood on his muzzle, backed into a corner by Ares living up to his name with his hackles up and every tooth showing; Jakes with his hands out, palms down, edging slowly toward the man with a knife at Thursday’s throat; Thursday standing incredibly still.

“Ripper?” Whittaker called out, not taking his eyes away from Jakes. “What’ve they done to you? If your animals do for my brother I’ll see you swing, Thursday!”

“Capital punishment’s been abolished, Mr. Whittaker,” Morse said, and the man’s head jerked round toward him. Jakes had the knife off him in a flash.

*

“Blackhawk,’’ Morse mused, piled with wolves in the back seat of Thursday’s car; they’d radioed for a patroller to pick up the one Jakes had been driving.

“From the comics, yeah.” Jakes flicked ash out the window. “Don’t you start. Shortened it ages ago.”

Morse hadn’t been aware there was a comics hero called Blackhawk. “Well done back there,” he offered. “Very level-headed of you. Unlike some.”

Ares raised half an upper lip at him and let out a soft warning snarl, but Thursday shushed him. “Not my best moment, I’ll admit. I’ll thank you properly as soon as I recover myself a bit, Sergeant.”

“No need, sir,” Jakes said shortly. “Where to next?”

“The morgue, I think,” said Morse, looking sharply at Thursday’s pallor, the fast-growing red bloom on the handkerchief he had pressed under his chin.

Jakes glanced over at Thursday as well and gave a nod.

Chapter Text

“If I had a pound for every suture I’ve had to put into one of your cohort, Detective Inspector,” DeBryn said plaintively, “And if I invested it wisely, mind you--I might just be able to put in for an early retirement. My usual clients would be quite jealous, I expect, if they weren’t blissfully beyond such earthly concerns.”

“I haven’t called on you to patch up one of my men in weeks,” Thursday protested from between clamped jaws, trying to keep his chin still as it was being stitched. “Months!”

“Would that it were so. The 14th of January, Sergeant Jakes’ brother with a lacerated hind leg; 7th of February, young Morse with a badly bruised sternum--not requiring sutures, however, merely assurances that nothing appeared to be broken.”

“First I’ve heard of it,” Thursday growled, glaring over at the two of them.

“And just last week, Sergeant Matthews with a sliced index finger. Not one of yours, I grant you, but close enough. I’d like to credit my winning personality, but I rather suspect it’s an avoidance of paperwork that brings your wounded flock to my doorstep on such a regular basis. There you are, that will hold, I believe. Let me have a look at those knuckles, and the bites on your ankle--not deep, I see, but they ought to be cleaned and bandaged, and then I’ll let you be on your way until the next patching up is required.”

“It won’t happen again,” Thursday assured him. “I’d no idea you were being imposed upon so often--I apologise, Doctor, and I’ll have a word with the guilty parties. Several words, in fact. Jakes, Morse-- Where’s Morse got to?”

“He’s just here, being sick in the wastepaper bin,” Jakes reported. Morse would have kicked Jakes if he’d been able, gratitude for his part in Thursday’s rescue or no.

“Ah. Sight of blood, or aftereffects of concussion?” DeBryn inquired. “Either way, Morse, you’re next--there’s a chair just here; please sit down before you become any better acquainted with the floor. No apologies, Inspector Thursday--I couldn’t mind less. I enjoy seeing your brethren under any circumstances. And sistren,” he added, looking up and around, obviously expecting to see Sieglinde until he remembered. “Oh, Christ, Morse. I’m so sorry.”

Morse nodded miserably and shut his eyes, not trusting himself to speak. The silence for the next minute or so was excruciating. Jakes gave him an awkward sort of pat on the shoulder, and Morse managed not to shrug him off. Ares came over and rested his chin on Morse’s foot, which was better comfort, although it was difficult not to throw his arms around the wolf’s neck and bury his face in his pelt like a small boy with an oversized stuffed toy.

It was Thursday, finally, who spoke. “We’re not quite back at square one, you know. If none of the usual suspects had anything to say to me today--that’s telling information in itself. You remember what I told you this morning, Morse. Whoever’s got her has enemies. They’re just not any of the enemies we might have expected.”

Morse pinched the bridge of his nose hard and squeezed his eyes tighter shut for a few moments, which hurt his head, but got him at least marginally back in control again. “I need to think,” he said. “I haven’t been thinking.”

“That’s hardly surprising.” DeBryn came around and took his wrist for a minute, looking at his watch, then pulled a penlight out of his pocket and tilted Morse’s chin up gently to shine it into one of his eyes, then the other. “Have you had any--”

A white flash brighter than the light in his eyes split his skull at that moment, and Morse pushed back the chair and stood up with a gasp.

“She’s waking up,” he said. “Oh, god.”

Thursday was beside him in an instant. “Are you sure?”

Morse put up a hand impatiently. “Yes, yes, let me just-- She can’t see anything, it’s dark, she’s-- No. Oh...they must have put her back under again.” He dropped back into the chair, head in his hands. “She was with me again for a moment, I swear, but--there’s nothing now.”

He lost the next few minutes to swirling sickness and despair. Above his head, he was vaguely aware of DeBryn and Thursday holding a hushed and terse conversation, all susurrations and aitches. Hallucinations, he thought he heard, and hospital. Jakes patted him on the shoulder again and said he was going to fetch another bin, just in case, which was enough to rouse him.

“It wasn’t an hallucination,” he told Thursday, looking up.

“I never said it was,” Thursday said. “Ares caught a bit of it, too. Nothing useful, I’m afraid.”

“There was a scent,” Morse said. “Something sharp, medicinal, I think…” and trailed off, staring, until the susurrations started up again. Let them, he decided. There was something, almost, perhaps--that white flash in the dark--and above all there was his sister, alive, in his head--if he could go back to that moment and just stay for a minute, an hour, forever, he would.

***

“Traumatic brain injuries can present after a delay, you know,” DeBryn told Thursday. “Not to mention the very real effects of psychological trauma, which are--”

“I know what they are,” Thursday said, with a quick glance at Jakes, who was drinking it all in. “He was right, though. She was on the verge of coming around, until they gave her another dose of whatever they’re using to keep her under. Sergeant Jakes, would you give us a moment? Or, actually--” He checked his watch. “It’s past five o’clock; why don’t you call it a day? You’ve earned your pay and then some. Just...if you go down the pub, keep schtum, all right? Loose lips, you know.”

“Yes, sir,” said Jakes, but hesitated, looking at Morse’s slumped, despondent figure and then at DeBryn.

“Go on, now,” Thursday said, not unkindly, but it wasn’t a suggestion. “I’ll be in touch.”

“The plight of the non-prodigal son,” murmured DeBryn, as the door shut behind Jakes and his brother.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing of importance, I don’t suppose. Alas for Sergeant Jakes. As for this one--blunt trauma to the head, followed by nausea, dizziness, sluggish pulse, delayed pupillary reaction--I’m not a doctor of the living, but I believe these are generally not what they’d call good signs. Add in mental confusion--”

“I’m not confused,” Morse said. “I can hear, as well.”

“A point in your favour, then,” DeBryn conceded. “Still--”

“What would they do for him if I ran him back to hospital?” Thursday asked, giving Morse a quelling look to forestall his objections.

DeBryn shrugged. “Enforced rest, mainly, and monitoring. Probably an IV--he’s dehydrated and famished on top of everything else.”

“Noted,” said Thursday. “All right, Morse. On your feet. Our apologies, again, Doctor, for the trouble--and I’ll have a word with Sergeant Matthews, too, when I can.”

“The dead are so much less obstinate than the living,” DeBryn sighed. “Keep those stitches dry, at the very least!”

“Shaving will be interesting for the next few days,” Thursday muttered to Morse, as they followed Ares out.

“If you take me to hospital, sir, I’m not staying there,” Morse warned him.

“I know it. You’re coming back to my place. No, none of that,” Thursday said to Morse’s expression. “It’s one or the other. I know I’d take Mrs. Thursday’s chicken soup over an IV any day, but I’ll leave the final decision to you.”

Chapter Text

"I can't,” Morse said, sitting in the car once it had come to a stop. He honestly didn’t think he could bring himself to move, frozen by the thought of having to endure the Thursday family’s sympathy on top of everything else. Even the hospital would be preferable.

“You won’t have a speak to a soul,” Thursday promised him. “Straight up to the spare room with you. You wouldn’t want to be back at your own flat, all on your own, would you?”

It was a rhetorical question, but Morse thought about it for a moment. He wanted very badly to be back at his own flat, in fact--free to fall to pieces in the shabby familiarity of it, free to bury his face in his sister’s empty bed and inhale her scent and listen to maudlin arias all night and drink himself into a stupor. But when Thursday came around to open the passenger side door and Ares tugged gently at his coat sleeve, he got out and followed them obediently up the front walk. Nothing was going to be as he wanted it to be (perhaps ever again he thought, and then shoved it back down), so he might as well follow the path of least resistance.

And despite his misgivings, it wasn’t horrible. Thursday’s family must have seen the news that day even if he hadn’t spoken to them about it yet, but they didn’t swarm around when Thursday brought him in--Morse had just a glimpse of Win’s pallid face in the hall as Thursday hung their coats, Joan’s hand at her throat, Dad, what-- but Thursday shushed them with a few quiet words and led Morse up the stairs, showing him to a perfectly inoffensive white-paneled room just big enough for a bed and a chair and a floor lamp with a cracked shade that had clearly seen better days. “Toilet’s just across the hall,” Thursday said. “Go on, get your feet up. I’ll bring you up a tray in a bit.” He didn’t wait for Morse to follow his instructions, but shut the door behind him. Morse stood there listening to the sounds of him descending the stairs again, the soft cries of his wife and daughter fussing worriedly at him in the downstairs hall, until Thursday took them off into the front room, presumably, and silence descended. Then, at last, he allowed himself to toe off his shoes and lie down on top of the comforter (navy blue, sensible and unruffled, smelling only slightly of must and even more faintly of Ares). Oblivion claimed him within a few minutes.

***

In the end, Win insisted on taking up the tray after settling Thursday in his favourite chair with a glass of porter and a mug of soup, a cold pack on his jaw and another one on his right hand. Thursday gave in to her with a mixture of guilt and relief--everything was beginning to ache and smart in earnest now, and he hadn’t been looking forward to disturbing Morse’s rest, having to witness the lost look he’d have when he came round to find himself in a waking nightmare again. It was cowardly of him, to be sure. Not many of his actions that day had been beyond reproach, he reflected uneasily.

“They say a man goes mad when he loses a brother--or a sister.” Thursday looked up with a start to see Sam hovering in the doorway. “Or a close member of his pack, even. Is that true, Dad?”

“In a sense, I suppose,” Thursday allowed. “There’s as many sorts of madness as there are men, though. You never know how it might take someone.” Ares, curled around his feet, raised his head and made a sorrowful noise in his throat, because Thursday was thinking a few names he hadn’t brought to the forefront of his mind in ages. Sorrel. Jock. Buddy. Rust, just last year, terrible thing. “The tighter the pack bond, the harder it strikes them all, I suppose--but the easier it is for them to bear up in the end. At least as far as I’ve seen.” He remembered who he was speaking to, suddenly, and glanced up to see Sam looking somber. “No one’s lost anyone today, though. Misplaced, more like. We’ll find her.”

Sam nodded. “Course. Yeah.” He started to go, then turned back. “That’s true, is it--you’re not only saying?”

“We’ll find her,” Thursday repeated, and Sam looked a trifle less downhearted as he left.

But he was only saying it, of course. How could he know? They’d nothing to go on, and with himself and Morse both too addled and injured to take part in the investigation--he’d been a fool, he knew, to strike out on his own without Ares; he could have been badly hurt and not just knocked about. It had been...well, madness.

Win was the next to rouse him from his unhappy reverie, coming back down with her lightened tray. “How’d he take it?” Thursday wanted to know.

“Like a lamb.” Win showed him the empty soup mug and milk glass. “Not a bite of bread, but we pick our battles. And went right back off to sleep the minute he’d done.”

It was hard to envision--Thursday had never seen Morse do anything like a lamb the entire time he’d known him--but Win could work miracles, he knew, and likely Morse had been too discomfited by her presence to do anything but drink his soup on command. He ought to bring her down the station sometimes, he thought; she’d have them all toeing the line and their brothers eating out of her hand.

“Thanks, love,” he said. “I’d have had to fight him for every sip, I expect. I’ll go up and sit with him for a bit, though, before I turn in.”

“Meaning you’ll fall asleep in the spare room chair and wake up next morning stiff as a board,” Win said, but she came over and kissed him on the forehead as she said it, and leaned her cheek on his hair. “Look after him, you,” she added, bending down to give Ares a good scratch between the ears, just where he liked it.

Ares gave Thursday and his bandages a reproachful look.

“No, I know he doesn’t let you,” Win told the wolf. “But you’ll do your best--that’s all you can do. You have my permission to bite him, if it helps. Morse, too.”

***

The dreams were bad. The waking was worse.

Morse slept fitfully after the first few hours, rousing again and again, each time to the sickening realisation that his sister still wasn’t there, it was still true, he was still alone. Alone inside his head, that is, because Thursday was drowsing in the threadbare old armchair next to his bed each time he woke. Morse wanted to get up and pace, but the room was too small, and he didn’t want to risk disturbing Thursday, who looked like he needed his rest. He looked as faded as the armchair, with DeBryn’s white sticking plasters glowing bright against the pallor of his skin, and he was snoring very gently. So Morse resolutely closed his eyes again, determined to catch up on his own sleep and gather energies for the next day; his head was feeling better, he thought, but there was little he could do in the middle of the night in any case.

Haunting, though, the memory of that too-brief flash when his sister had suddenly reappeared in his mind. She hadn’t been hurt or frightened, there was that--even if she hadn’t been awake enough or for long enough to register anything but dark and where and that sharp medicinal odor. Chloroform? No, less sweet. Maddening. Morse could smell it now, he thought, and worried briefly that he was experiencing olfactory hallucinations--he remembered DeBryn’s dire remarks about traumatic brain injuries, then realised he was actually smelling the Dettol on Thursday’s wounds, pungent in the close little room.

Morse sat up swiftly, his heart racing. After another few moments of furious thought, he got up from the bed, collected his shoes, and quietly opened the spare room door. He very nearly tripped over Ares, who was sleeping sentry across the doorsill, but managed somehow to edge his way around the wolf’s bulk without waking him and carefully make his way downstairs to the telephone extension in the darkened living room.

“I need a local number,” he told the operator. “Max DeBryn. Yes, put it though.” He glanced around at the clock on the mantel, its hands glinting in the light from the street lamp outside: just gone three. “Ring it again, then,” he said impatiently. “It's an emergency.”

By the time someone finally picked up the phone, Morse had less than no time for niceties. “DeBryn. It's Morse. I need you to meet me down at the morgue, quick as you can get there--I've had a thought. You keep sedatives on hand there, yes?”

DeBryn’s voice was slow, cautious. “Morse? Where are you phoning from?”

“Thursday’s. I remember you saying you had to keep a supply of narcotics because some of the wolves become agitated during autopsies--you'd nearly lost a hand once.”

“That's true,” DeBryn said, still slowly. “I seem to recall threatening to use them on you, once or twice. Luckily your sister had more composure than you. Has more. Morse, is Thursday there? Put him on, won't you?”

“He’s asleep. Have you had cause to use them any time in the last week? Would you know if any of your supply had gone missing?”

“Not in the last week, no.” DeBryn’s voice was still maddeningly hesitant. “But, Morse, I really think--”

“I'm leaving now. I'll meet you there in fifteen minutes,” Morse said, and put the phone receiver softly back down on its cradle, paused for a moment, then took it back off again and set it down on the table. He went into the hall and located the car keys in Thursday’s overcoat pocket, grabbed his own coat, and let himself silently out at the front door.

Chapter Text

DeBryn was waiting in the car park when Morse arrived, looking dishevelled and unhappy. “This strikes me as a very poor idea,” he said in lieu of a greeting. “Did you disconnect the Thursdays’ phone after you rang me?”

“I didn’t want you to wake them. Do you have keys? It won’t be a problem to get in at this hour?”

“How’s your head?” DeBryn asked, not moving.

“Fine. Better. Please, could we go and check your supplies? You see what I’m thinking.”

“I do. But--”

“It was Dettol she smelled, when she woke. And the white flash she saw: those bandages you use. You said he was in to see you with a cut finger last week. Did he know you had sedatives in your workroom?”

DeBryn still looked grim. “I used them on Rust once. His brother. Before. Well, obviously before. He leapt at me when I made the first incision--Matthews had the devil of a time holding him. Morse, if you’re correct about the sedatives having gone missing, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know yet.” Morse rubbed crossly at his forehead. “Take it to Inspector Thursday, I suppose. Dr. DeBryn, please. I need to know if I’m right.”

“And I need to know you’re not going to spring off into the night like a bat out of hell if you are.”

Morse made an exasperated sound. He could feel himself growing shaky with frustration. “You can drive me back to Thursday’s yourself, if you like. All right?”

“Good,” said DeBryn. “You really shouldn’t have come over on your own in the first place. I’m sure you’re not fit to drive yet.” He gave Morse one more long look, frowning, then nodded at last and fished a ring of keys from his pocket. “Come along, then.”

*

There were three vials of sedative missing. “How long would that keep her completely under?” Morse asked anxiously.

DeBryn thought about it. “She’s on the small side, for a wolf, isn’t she? It’s a relatively high concentration, though...two days, perhaps? Possibly three… Morse!”

“I’m all right,” Morse said automatically, but his own voice sounded tinny in his ears, which were ringing.

“I’ve seen you go that colour before.” DeBryn led him by the elbow to a chair and pushed him firmly down. “Breathe. I’ll get you some water.”

“She’s not due for nearly another week,” Morse said. “He’s not planning on waiting that long. I’ve got to get to her. Now.

“I’ll phone Thursday. Oh...damn. We’ll drive there, then; it won’t take long.”

Morse shook his head. “You can, if you like. I’ll head over to CID and get an address from them--it’ll save some time.”

“But I can’t let you go off on your own,” DeBryn protested. “Morse--”

Morse stood up, flashing contempt at him. “Try and stop me, then. This is your fault, if you think about it. And you don’t even have a brother or sister of your own--you’ve no idea what it’s like.”

DeBryn just looked at him. “All right,” he said. “If it’s like that, you’d best be off, I suppose.”

Morse was brushing past him before he even finished speaking, shutting down the part of his mind that wanted to apologise straight away. Later, he told himself. Sieglinde first. Nothing else mattered.

He didn't go to CID. He drove until he found a phone box, and rang Jakes, after some deliberation.

“What’s the news?” Jakes asked at once, sounding instantly awake as soon as Morse identified himself.

“No news yet. I need a favour.”

“Anything, yeah. How's the noggin?”

Morse ignored the query. “Can you find out where Sergeant Matthews lives and get back to me right away? I'm at a phone box, the number here is...where is it....Oxford 5-1698. It's urgent.”

“Matthews? He's out on Weirs Lane. Number 33. I remember it. A few of us went round there to pay respects, after Rust…”

“33 Weirs Lane,” Morse said, cutting him off. “You're certain?”

“Pretty certain. What for? Why the hullabaloo at this hour? You're not going round there now. He phoned out yesterday, you know--lucky thing, we all thought. Bad memories and all.” Jakes paused. “Morse,” he went on in a warier voice. “What do you want with Matthews? You’re not thinking--”

“Just more of my usual claptrap, no doubt,” Morse said bitingly, and wondered at himself for it--Jakes was harmless, surely. “Don’t worry yourself over it. Thanks for the information.”

“No, Morse--” Jakes began, but Morse cut off the call, ending the conversation.

*

It was odd, walking up to the house where he suspected his sister was being kept in captivity. Morse felt like a man in a dream. It was true that Matthews had her, he was certain now; the closer he came to the house, the louder the empty buzz in his brain grew, like a staticky television set turned up to full volume. It was still dark, with only a faint grey-yellow line in the east marking where the sky would begin to lighten soon, and perfectly silent. Morse’s footsteps crunched on the crushed gravel of the garden path, and his breath made puffs of condensation in the air--it must be cold out, then, but he couldn’t feel it.

He didn’t have a plan. Nothing came to him. He seemed to have been turned into nothing more than a simple homing device, and with no further future in mind than get inside the door he stepped up to the front bell and rang it.

Rang it again, and pounded.

There were footsteps within, slow, approaching, and then a shadow moving behind frosted glass.

The door opened, and Matthews stood there. He was in shirtsleeves and trousers, rumpled and unshaven and hollow-looking, and he answered the door to Morse with an air of complete unsurprise.

“I couldn't do it,” he said, and that broke the bubble of unreality Morse had been trapped in. He pushed past Matthews and began methodically ransacking the place, calling his sister’s name--knowing she couldn’t hear him, but unable to help himself. He opened a door that appeared to lead to a cellar; the smell of wolf was strong, and he dashed down the narrow steps.

She was there, he knew it, but the cellar was dark and he had to grope along damp walls cursing for over a minute before he found a light.

There was a table, and she was tied to it, her jaws and legs bound with buckled straps. Morse fumbled with them, his hands shaking, and knocked something over with a clatter. She was limp and unresponsive and dirty, but she was warm, and it was hard not to bury his hands and face in her pelt and just inhale her for as long as it took to convince himself that she was really there. But the straps and ropes--he had to get them off her. The sight of them against her pale fur nearly made him gag.

Footsteps on the steps behind him, but Morse didn’t turn or stop what he was doing; he couldn’t. “I couldn’t do it,” Matthews said again, and there was a click that finally made Morse freeze and slowly turn. “Such a bloody coward. Maybe now you’re here I’ll be able to.”

It was a tray of instruments Morse had knocked off the table, he saw in a sudden shocked moment of clarity. Nothing refined--a single scalpel, a few kitchen knives of varying widths, a rusty-looking saw (he gagged again), a pair of tongs. Other things his brain refused to identify. He looked up again; Matthews was holding a gun, but indecisively. It swung from Morse to his sister and then back again, and Matthews began to gesticulate with it as he talked.

“I thought it would be so simple. Knock her out, take the pups out of her, and go. I could have. So easy. You’re nothing. Away from Thursday, you’re less than nothing, and Thursday’s not what he used to be. And her--she’s just a bitch. A stuck-up bitch at that. But once I had her…” Matthews’ face contorted.

“She reminded you of Rust,” Morse supplied. His mind was working again, but sluggishly. So hard to think.

“Everything reminds me of Rust.” Matthews gave a bitter laugh and swiped at his eyes. “You don’t know. Even now. You think you know, but you don’t. Imagine this, but forever. Forever. You can’t, can you? I wish I could show you. I ought to show you.” The gun pointed more steadily at Sieglinde now. “Looking down your nose at the rest of us--you and her both. You had everything, and I could take it away from you just like that.”

If he could keep him talking, Morse thought. Keep him undecided about who to aim for first. “How did your brother--what happened? I’d just come on, when-- Everyone was talking about it, but it was all whispers and rumours. What’s the real story?” Everyone, Morse knew by now, wanted to tell their real story. No one more than the desperate and the damned.

But Matthews smirked. “Keep me jabbering until the cavalry arrives, right? Sorry. There’s no story. He got between me and the bad guy, that’s all. Proper bloody hero. They gave him a posthumous medal, can you believe it? As if I should be proud.”

“There’s no cavalry,” Morse told him. “I came alone.”

“More of an idiot than I thought, then,” Matthews said, then cocked his head. “No. Not an idiot. A liar. Car just pulled up.” The gun wavered again. Morse edged round the table until he was standing between the weapon and his sister. It wasn’t much, but it would buy her a little time, if someone was really about to arrive--it might be enough.

“Proper bloody hero,” Matthews repeated, and his face twitched and contorted again. “Fuck. That’s what they’ll say. You’re the hero. I’m the nothing. There’s no win for me now.” He turned the gun and pointed it at his own temple just as the front door upstairs crashed in and all hell broke loose upstairs, wolves baying and someone--Thursday, surely--shouting orders.

“I wanted to give you one of the pups,” Morse told Matthews, because it suddenly seemed like information he should have. “I would have tried, anyway, if they’d let me.”

“They wouldn’t have let you. I'm ‘mentally unfit’ for another bond. Or hadn't you noticed? Thought you knew everything.” Matthews took the gun down slowly from his temple and aimed it at Morse again. “You know what? Change of heart. You should go first. I'll bring up the rear.”

Just then the cellar door crashed open. “Down here!” someone shouted. Matthews glanced over his shoulder--wavered as he shot--and missed, Morse thought--

A snarling black missile hurtled down the cellar steps and made impact with Matthews, knocking him halfway across the room as the gun went off again. And then again. Morse had time to register Jakes’ blanched look of horror before he looked down, saw the spreading red, and crumpled up. A second missile, grey, darted between Morse and the dirt floor, supporting him as he went down. “Dr. DeBryn!” Jakes called back up the stairs, and that was the last thing Morse heard as he faded out.

*

“Only winged,” DeBryn said quickly, glancing up and seeing the look on Thursday’s face as he came down the steps.

“Matthews?” Thursday asked him.

DeBryn shook his head and continued working over Morse.

Chapter Text

Thursday was hard pressed, later on, to sort out the exact sequence of events of that indescribable morning, although he managed a fair enough account of it for his official report. The report didn’t make mention of any of the important things, though: the weight of Sieglinde in his arms when he lifted her off the table; the slight but unmistakable squirming of the pups in her belly as he laid her down on the ground so she’d be within arm’s reach of Morse when he came round; his own brother’s attempts to be everywhere at once in the small dank cellar, nosing anxiously from Sieglinde to Morse to Jakes and Blackie to Thursday himself and back again until Thursday finally had to bring him back upstairs to await the arrival of the emergency response team. The blood-soaked sheet covering Matthews’ face as they carried him out. Jakes’ eyes, sunken and shocked. Morse’s first words to Thursday after DeBryn brought him around again: “You were right about whoever did it having enemies, sir. Or one enemy, at any rate.”

“What’s that?” It took Thursday too long to figure out what he was talking about. “Matthews, you mean.”

Morse nodded. “Me. I was the enemy.” He looked utterly ghastly, but there was no way he’d let loose of his grip on his sister for anyone to load him into an ambulance, Thursday knew. Ares would probably savage them if they tried, anyhow, and Thursday wasn’t sure he’d have the heart to try and stop him.

“He was his own enemy, I’d say. Let his grief eat at away at everything decent in him, until--”

“And you’d judge him for that?” Morse demanded. Amazing how he could manage to look down on a man even when he was laid out flat, Thursday thought, not for the first time. “You don’t know--” Morse stopped, closed his eyes, shuddered. “That could have been me, if he’d done what he meant to do. I’d have gone the same way.”

“I doubt that,” Thursday said, watching Ares making figure eights around the room in his attempts to encircle everyone in it at the same time. “Matthews came up under D.I. Chard, poor sod. He’d no pack bond to speak of even to begin with, and after Rust went--”

“We tried,” a jagged voice said from the corner of the cellar. “Some of us. Didn’t try hard enough, I suppose.” Jakes was sitting with his knees drawn up to his chest, apparently unable to tear his eyes away from the bloodstained dirt floor where Matthews had gone down.

Morse pulled himself upright, painfully, and called to Blackie, who crept over to him after a glance at Jakes. Thursday didn’t hear what he said to the black wolf who’d just saved his life, but Jakes looked a bit less horrible after that, he thought.

But none of this conversation made it into his official notes. Neither did Thursday’s report feature any description of the agonising wait at the veterinary hospital, or how infuriatingly difficult it was to keep Morse in a chair instead of pacing about and getting in the medics’ way, pestering them with incessant questions and jarring his arm out of its makeshift sling. He would have liked to have some sort of record, though--a photograph, maybe--of the expression that came over Morse’s face when his sister’s consciousness flooded back into his mind at last. He ought to have looked away, let the man have his privacy--and he did. Eventually. No need for a photograph, really, Thursday reflected. It wasn’t something he was likely to soon forget.

*

The pups were born three days later. Thursday took the call just as he was preparing to go to bed, and he put his shoes and tie back on while listening to Morse’s panicked description of what sounded like a perfectly unremarkable early labour.

“Ares and I will be round as soon as we can get there,” Thursday promised him. “You’ve read up on it, I’ve no doubt--give her some water, keep her warm but not too warm, let her move around as much as she needs to. She’ll know what she’s about. If the first one comes before I get there--”

Morse made a choking sound. “Sir, I really think we should get her to hospital, though--she’s making this sound, and after what she’s gone through--”

“I think she’ll be more comfortable at home,” Thursday said firmly. “Especially after what she’s gone through. Give the vets a call, by all means, but they’ll say the same. We’re on our way now.” He hung up the phone.

Win pressed a Thermos into his hands. “Tea with whisky,” she told him. “Heavy on the whisky,” and he kissed her soundly before going out to the front hall for his hat and coat.

*

Sieglinde greeted them almost apologetically at the door as Thursday let himself in. She was panting a bit, but looked bright-eyed enough.

She says could you please give Morse something to calm him down, Ares told Thursday. He’s making her jumpy. And his shoulder hurts, because he hasn’t taken the pills for it today, so he’s all out of sorts and won't listen to a thing she says.

Morse gave a jittery laugh. “Tattle-tale,” he scolded his sister. “Even at a time like this? Fine--I’ll take the damned pills.” He went off to fetch them.

“He’ll be alright,” Thursday told Sieglinde. “We’ll get him through it. Never you fear.”

*

It was a textbook whelping, and Sieglinde could have done it all easily on her own, but she graciously allowed Ares to lick and nuzzle each of the pups as they emerged and then carry them over to Thursday for inspection. There were six of them in all.

“They’re so small,” Morse marvelled, rubbing the last of them down very carefully with a clean rough towel while Thursday looked on. “Are they always so small? I didn’t think they’d be so small. You’re sure I’m not hurting him?” He’d mostly quit hyperventilating after the third pup had managed to be born without incident (and after a cup of Win’s tea), but was still nervously garrulous.

“They’re fine strong pups,” Thursday assured him. “Just the right size.”

“You’ve had them before,” Morse said. “I mean, Ares has-- You know what I mean.”

“Yes,” said Thursday.

“Were they all like this?”

“Ours are better,” Thursday told him, and meant it, at the moment. “Best I’ve ever seen.”

“Oh, I can hear him,” Morse said suddenly, in a hushed, startled voice, turning the pup around to look into his wee blind snub-nosed face. “Not like a proper bond, but there’s something-- Can you hear it?”

“A bit,” Thursday said. It was more of a feeling than a hearing--a tiny, needy tugging at the edges of his consciousness. This happened sometimes, he knew, but rarely; he’d only experienced it once before, with a litter Ares had sired in Italy. It would fade as the pups grew, and disappear entirely when they bonded with their own brothers.

Thursday rested a hand against the flat of Morse’s shoulderblade, and the threadlike connection he felt to the little creature was instantly amplified, widened to straw-width; he felt Morse tense and then slowly relax into the contact.

“Oh,” he said again, and then, dazed, “I can hear all of them.” He reached forward and very carefully gathered the entire litter into the towel on his lap, then leaned back against Thursday, and they stayed that way, basking in Sieglinde’s tired satisfaction and Ares’ pride and the sleepy milk-warm-want rufflings and nudgings of half a dozen small new beings, until their mother was ready to give them their first feed.

*****

[epilogue]

As soon as the pups were two weeks old and their eyes had opened, they were brought to Cowley Station to live with Sieglinde in the kennel there until they were weaned. It was more than a bit of a wrench to give them up, Morse found, but he was looking forward to getting a bit more sleep at home. And they’d be good for the general pack morale--things had been grim around CID, Thursday had reported. Luckily, Strange’s predictions proved to be on target. If Morse had thought his colleagues were acting foolish over a pregnant she-wolf, it was nothing to the way they behaved around six fuzzy scraps of clumsy inquisitive puppyhood.

Not that he could blame them.

He tucked two of them into his coat pockets one day and took them to visit DeBryn, whom he hadn’t seen since Matthews’ house. “No first aid required this time,” Morse said, when the pathologist looked mildly alarmed to see him. “Purely a social call.” He brought the pups out of his pockets and placed them on the floor in front of DeBryn, whose owlish expression changed instantly to one of delight.

“I’m honoured,” said DeBryn. “How have you been keeping?”

“Busy,” Morse told him. “Or I’d have come to see you before. I’ve been wanting to apologise, you know--since that night--and to thank you, of course--”

“Accepted, and you’re welcome.” DeBryn nodded once and then turned his attention back to the pups, who were rolling around in a play-fight, biting each other’s muzzles. “Engaging creatures. So much less austere than their parents--no gravitas whatsoever. What are you calling them?”

“The dark grey one is Hermes,” Morse said. “In your honor, actually.”

DeBryn gave a slight bow. “Guide to the underworld, keeper of the caduceus. Very appropriate and most flattering.”

“He won’t get to keep it, though,” Morse admitted. “It’s only his pup name, until he chooses his brother. Or sister, I suppose. I wish I could give him to you for a bondmate.”

“What a terrible idea,” DeBryn said. “I’d do nothing but struggle to discourage him from eating bits of my work, no doubt. No, but the name is a lovely thought, temporary or no. What about the lighter one?”

“That's Siegfried,” said Morse. “The others are Mimi, Musetta, Marcello, and--”

“Rodolfo, surely?”

“No, Hawk.”

“Unexpected,” DeBryn acknowledged. “But then I’ve come to expect no less of you, Morse. I suppose you can’t stay for a cup of tea?”

“Have to get these two back to CID before they’re missed, actually. But I’ll be seeing you again soon, I hope.”

“Under much more horrible circumstances,” DeBryn agreed. “Do try to stay in one piece until then.”