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Second Heat

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At some point that autumn, Morse noticed that he had settled down into something of a comfortable routine. Sieglinde’s pups had grown into long-legged youths over the summer, stumbling only occasionally over their too-big feet, and had then left Cowley to find their bondmates; Musetta, Mimi, and Hawk had been requisitioned by the army, while Marcello and Hermes had found brothers amongst the constabulary across the Thames Valley. Siegfried alone remained at Cowley, bonded to a PC Campbell who’d promptly renamed him Lucky. Morse tried not to hold it against this Campbell, who must have some decent qualities if he’d managed to bond with what Morse secretly considered the pick of the litter. Anyway, Campbell and Lucky were on beat patrol, so they didn’t cross paths often.

That had been six weeks ago, and CID had become reconciled to the absence of puppy antics, somewhat cheered by the corresponding absence of chewed reports and telephone cords, constant yapping, and occasional nasty puddles. Morse had quietly resumed general duties for a very short time before leaping back into the fray with a fascinating case involving the murder of a retired Exeter don whose body was found in a falconry with hundreds of feathers sewn to his skin. He hadn’t been officially reinstated as Thursday’s bagman, but he might almost as well have been, especially now that he and Jakes had reached a state of mutual tolerance if not exactly camaraderie.

So Morse found himself enjoying a sort of peace, as the air grew crisp and the streets became loud with students on bicycles again. He took walks with his sister by the river, tried to read poetry to her and laughed at what she had to say about it, listened to records in the evenings and drowsed in his chair with one hand resting on her head for a reassurance that he was growing not to need. It was good, he realised, in a slightly bewildered way. It was enough. He’d gone on a few dates, brought one girl home with him on a couple of occasions, but it was only scratching an itch out of habit, really, and he'd been mildly relieved when she’d stopped returning his phone calls. It was all very odd, this absence of yearning, the release from what felt like a lifetime of frustrations--but he was cautiously...at least temporarily...content.

And then the weather changed again, turning cold, blustery, and unpleasantly damp overnight. The riverside walks ceased, but that was all right; Morse’s work was still demanding and engaging, his sister was in peak health again, and the warmth of her shaggy winter pelt and the constant comfort of her uncomplicated wolfish thoughts were all he seemed to need during the long evenings indoors.

Almost all he needed. There was an edge of anticipation in the back of Morse’s mind, suddenly, that seemed linked somehow to the colder weather--he sometimes woke with the idea that he’d had disturbing dreams he wasn't quite able to remember, and didn't want to try. He kept it from the forefront of his consciousness until one morning when he was brushing his teeth, looking at the calendar without really seeing it, and froze with the toothbrush still in his mouth. End of November. Sieglinde’s last heat had been on the 28th last year, and it was already the tenth of the month.

The edge of anticipation turned into a little curl, something flaring from warm to hot in his belly for a moment. Morse resumed his tooth-brushing, spat into the sink, and glanced up at the mirror, unsurprised to find himself blushing a bit. Well. That was all right, too, if it was going to happen. He reached for his shaving things, and began to coat his flushed face with cool lather.

He was pleased, actually, that the season had managed to sneak up on him--he’d mostly forgotten the painful desire he’d experienced in the first weeks after his sister’s heat. It had faded, sure enough, eclipsed by his worries over her pregnancy and irritation over being placed on light duties, and then the nightmare of losing her, even if only briefly. And the pups had taken up most of his time and energy for a while, too. Eventually he’d forgotten to feel awkward around Thursday, especially since it was clearly the last thing on Thursday’s mind. He’d even managed to have dinner with Thursday’s family a couple of times without dwelling on it too much.

He wasn’t sure he liked the hot little flare he’d felt when he realised it might soon happen again. He liked the quiet state of self-contained satisfaction he’d achieved just lately, and this would surely threaten it. But the thoughts were there now, like it or not. Morse gave an involuntary shiver, cut himself on the razor, and cursed out loud.

*

It turned out that he wasn’t the only one who’d noticed the approaching anniversary. Bright called him into his office the next afternoon, directing him to shut the door after his sister once they’d entered. Another tedious infraction of some sort, Morse assumed at first, but it was odd--Bright generally liked to call him on the carpet with the door wide open and several other people in the room, the better to inflict public shaming. Even more oddly, Bright hesitated for a long time before speaking, staring down at his folded hands on top of his desk. At last he looked up.

“How is your sister getting along, Detective Constable?”

“She’s fine, sir. Right as rain.” Morse knew better than to add Why do you ask? but the question hung in the room anyway. Sieglinde looked up at him, then over at Bright’s brother, but Clive remained in his typical Sphinx-like posture beside the bookcase, paws crossed just so and gaze fixed over their heads in apparent boredom.

“Missing her pups, is she?”

“A bit, sir. Not much. Enjoying the quiet. We do see S-- Lucky, that is, now and then.”

“Well, that’s just fine,” said Bright, with the air of not having listened to a word Morse had just said. “It’ll be her time again, soon, I gather? The vet’s report said you still haven’t put her on suppressants?’’

“Oh,” said Morse. “No, sir. I mean, I haven’t. She’s...it could be coming up again, I suppose, if...well, yes. Probably. Sir.”

“Yes. Well. I’ve been wondering,” Bright said, “if you’d consider submitting her for a multiple breeding this time around. Diversify the local stock, and so forth. Rather flattering to be asked, I should think. It would be a very good thing for the pack, too. Very good.”

It was a while before Morse remembered how his jaw worked, and a while longer before he registered that Bright was waiting for some sort of response. “Sir,” he said, and then had no idea how to go on.

“Don’t answer yet,” Bright told him. “Think it over. You’d be doing your pack a real service--better for the bond, you know, the more brothers have a--well.” He cleared his throat. “It’s all very unusual outside of the army, obviously, we’d have to work out the protocols, and fashion some sort of breeding arena, with a--but never mind that now, never mind.” He cut himself off, perhaps noticing that Morse had gone a bit greenish. “As I said, do give it some thought. Well! That will be all for now, then, Morse. Dismissed.” He busied himself with the appearance of moving papers around on his pristine desk, not looking up to see them out of the room. When Morse failed to move, Clive got to his feet, the equivalent of a polite but firm cough, and Sieglinde gave his sleeve a tug.

Morse paid no attention to them. “You can’t require that of us,” he said, finding his voice at last.

Bright looked up in surprise and irritation at finding him still there. “I beg your pardon!”

“Sir,” Morse said, steadying himself. “Multiple breeding is a voluntary service, even in the army. You can’t legally ask us to submit to that. I read up on it very thoroughly when I signed on, and--”

“I’m well aware of what is and isn’t legal,” Bright snapped. “No one’s requiring anything. I’ve merely suggested that if you were to do your duty by volunteering for such a service, it would be of great benefit to the entire department. And to you personally, I might add.”

Morse liked the direction this was heading less and less. “Could you spell that out a bit more clearly, sir? I'm not sure what exactly you're implying. Also, I'd prefer for DI Thursday to be present for this conversation, as my direct superior--surely that would be the appropriate protocol.”

Bright was beginning to go red. “I believe I said some time ago that you were dismissed, Constable. There’s no need for this conversation to go any further. And there’s certainly no need to bring Thursday in. He was the one who brought it up to me in the first place, if you must know.”

Morse was stricken silent again. Sieglinde circled around him and made a slight anxious sound in her throat, and Clive came around and loomed over her with his hackles partly raised, but Bright called him back, having apparently decided to take a different tack.

“I imagine it's a lot to take in,” he said. “Which is why I advised you to have a think before replying. No one’s going to force themselves on you; we wouldn't go in for that sort of barbarism. Quite frowned upon these days. You're very fortunate, you know--I remember an M.B. I attended in Madras once. Twenty wolfbrothers on one bitch. Not all of them got a go, but--well.” Bright recalled himself and cleared his throat, looking cross and official again. “As I say. None of that these days. Five or six brothers at most, carefully selected and put to the she-wolf one at a time, with periodic breaks and medical checks. Don't discount it until you've slept on it, at any rate. I'll speak to you again in a few days.”

Morse nodded mutely, mechanically, unable to even muster up the expected Yes, sir, but Bright merely tsked instead of writing him up for it, and told him to close the door on his way out.

Thursday had brought it up to him? He didn’t believe it. Even if Thursday didn’t want-- Which, of course, perhaps he didn’t, fair enough, though it did sting-- Surely, though, surely he wouldn’t have suggested putting him and his sister through such an ordeal. Either there was a wire crossed somewhere, or else Bright was lying outright.

Although. Thursday was of a different generation; some of his attitudes, Morse knew too well, were a bit...dated. And he and his brother had come up in the army, during wartime--perhaps to him a multiple breeding was par for the course, nothing to get worked up over (though he’d never been on Morse’s side of the equation--naturally a man with a brother wouldn’t think twice about it, Morse thought, nettled). Or perhaps Thursday thought he needed toughening up.

Perhaps he didn’t mind who bred Sieglinde, as long as it didn’t have to be Ares this time…

No. Morse still didn’t believe it. He resolved to find Thursday as soon as possible and ask him.

***

Morse wasn’t the first to find Thursday, however. Bright encountered him coming out of the canteen and hailed him cheerfully. Clive and Ares pretended not to notice each other, which was the way they’d long ago agreed to resolve their differences.

“Ah, Thursday! I’ve just been having a word with Morse. I believe he’s coming around to the idea we discussed the other day. Or he will, soon; he agreed to think it over. The, ah--” Bright lowered his voice. “M.B., you know.”

“Oh,” Thursday said, then, “Did he, sir?” rather sceptically.

“I believe so, yes. That is, he seemed a bit taken aback at the first, but I impressed upon him what an honour it would be, what a service he’d be doing for the pack, and I really think one or two of my points struck home. Perhaps you might give him a word of encouragement, remind him that it’s all in the line of duty, hmm?”

Thursday thought he’d probably better go and find Morse.

*

When the subject of Sieglinde’s upcoming heat had been carefully brought up to Thursday by the Chief Superintendent two days previously, Bright had made it clear that he’d prefer it if Ares didn’t do the honours this time.

“I see, sir,” Thursday had said. “Well. It is a bit irregular, I suppose, as Morse reports to me, but there is precedent--not that I have any right to expect he’d want Ares to--last time it was more a question of any port in a storm, so to speak. They do get on well, though, and the pups were top quality, wouldn’t you say?”

“Perhaps too much so,” Bright said. “We could have had all six for our own, if they weren’t half Army stock. Quite a pity.”

Thursday silently reminded Ares not to growl. A dreadful thought suddenly occurred to him. “Sir--you’re not thinking of--”

It took Bright a moment. “Oh, no. Oh, good heavens, no. No, no. I was thinking of one of the younger sergeants’ brothers---or perhaps not one of our own at all; I’ve had inquiries, you know, from Oxfordshire and Reading. It could be highly expedient, in terms of--well, you understand.”

Poor Morse, Thursday thought. Not that he’d stand for it. “What are you talking about here, sir? Some sort of multiple breeding scenario?”

“What an extraordinary idea,” Bright said thoughtfully, and this time Thursday had had to make his excuses in a hurry, because there’d be no shushing Ares in another minute.

*

“I hear you spoke with the Chief Superintendent earlier,” Thursday told Morse, when he caught up with him at the wolves’ exercise yard later that day. He expected an outburst in response, but instead Morse looked wary.

“He told me it was your suggestion,” Morse said flatly. “Is that true?”

“No! Good Christ, no. I mean,” said Thursday, recovering himself. “Not that it’s--they say it’s not anything like what it used to be, back in the day--reforms, you know, safety checks and so forth. In case you were considering it.” He hesitated. “Are you considering it?”

Morse didn’t answer for a while. “Do you think I should be?” he asked finally, looking out at the wolves in the yard.

Thursday followed his gaze. Sieglinde was racing joyfully amongst the pack, apparently playing something like tag; it wasn’t clear if she was It or if everyone else was, but she seemed to be holding her own regardless, making good use of her superior agility and clever feints even where she was drastically outpaced by the larger brothers.

If he said what he thought, which was absolutely not, under no circumstances, are you mad?, how would Morse take it? As a challenge to his judgment? A possessive bid?

“I expect your sister would do very well with it,” Thursday said carefully. “And you’d certainly be well placed for favour with the Chief Superintendent for a while. But--”

“Look at her go, eh, matey?” PC Strange came up behind them, clapped Morse on the shoulder, and tipped his hat to Thursday. “A fiver on Blackie if you open up the field to suitors this year. Er...only joking, of course. Sorry, sir,” he said, catching Thursday’s raised eyebrow.

“I should have put her on suppressants,” Morse said in a low voice, when Strange had sidled off again. “I don’t know what I was thinking. It was one thing last year when everyone assumed she was on them or else infertile, but now that she’s a known breeder…”

“There are other options, you know. Open trial, closed trial...bit chancy in terms of in-fighting, but there’d only be one winner, one mate. Or...well. The point is, it’s entirely up to you. You don’t have to decide anything right away. Soon, though.”

“Soon. I know. Before the entire Thames Valley develops an opinion on who I should let bugger me next. Probably already too late for that, in fact.” Morse whistled to his sister before Thursday could react and led her back indoors.

The vulgarity wasn’t like him, and Thursday wondered uneasily if Sieglinde’s time weren’t coming up sooner than he’d thought. Morse wasn’t wrong, though, he realised, watching the grins and nudges and hand-gestures of the other men in the yard. Ares raised his hackles with a warning growl, and the grins faded at once, but it was only a temporary solution--they’d only start up again with greater fervour as soon as Thursday left, he was aware.

One way or another, he’d have to put a stop to that.

***

At home that evening, Morse brooded and drank, and would have paced the room if he hadn’t been afraid it would agitate Sieglinde. She was growing somewhat anxious as it was.

This is all about mating? she kept asking incredulously. That’s the reason you’re upset?

“It’s more complicated for humans,” he told her. “You know we do it differently.”

Everything is more complicated for humans. I don’t see how you stand it.

“That’s why I have you to keep me sane,” Morse said, fondling her ears, but she refused to be pleased. “Mating is especially complicated,” he acknowledged. “Who do you want to mate you this time, if you could choose?”

Ares, she said at once.

“But is that because you want him, or because…”

I don’t know. Does it matter? Ares is good. But I don’t mind if it’s someone else this time. It could be fun.

“What about...more than one partner, then? The way Clive’s brother suggested?”

The thought excited her a bit, he could tell, but she didn’t say anything. She set her teeth into his wrist, not particularly lightly, and gave him a shake. Talk about something else now. Something that doesn’t upset you.

*

Two days later, a beat constable brushed up against Morse in the corridor outside the locker rooms and muttered “Out of my way, you filthy bender.”

Morse whipped around and had him by the shoulder in an instant. “What did you just say to me?”

The constable made a face and shoved him off. “Don’t you touch me. Filthy queer. I heard about you. They’re taking bets in there on who’s going to give it to you when the time comes--bet you’re wishing it were me, but you’re out of luck there. I’m no queer.”

Morse just stared at him, revolted and perplexed, while Sieglinde laid her ears back at the constable’s brother and snarled. “I’ve never even seen you before,” he said. “Who are you?” He checked for a nameplate on his uniform, and the man shoved him again, up against the wall with bruising force, and pinned him there with both hands on his shoulders.

“I said don’t touch me! Liar. I’ve seen you looking. Christ, you really want it, don’t you--you’d be begging for it if you knew what I could do for you. I’d make you moan, you little--”

His brother’s sharp yelp of pain made him turn his head, and Morse got his hands up to shove him away--but there was a boiling frenzy of wolves in the corridor all of a sudden, and the constable went down with a scream.

*

The constable was dismissed from the force with seventeen stitches in his left arm as a parting memento. He was allowed to stay with his brother on the condition that they enlisted in the army, where he’d be put on probation until he completed a course of sensitivity training.

“He came up with me from Swindon,” said Campbell, whose brother had been one of the defenders. “Knew he was a prick. And he’d made some funny comments--I should have known.”

“Too right you should have,” Jakes said savagely. Blackie had been the one to cause the worst of the damage. “Don’t know how you did things down in Swindon, but we don’t allow that sort here.”

Morse wasn’t sure how to take this, but he was called in to Bright’s office before he could ask Jakes what sort he meant exactly, or to thank him or Campbell, for that matter, although thanking anyone was the last thing he felt like doing.

He felt even less like it after the meeting with Bright, at which Thursday and the veterinary officer had also been present. The vet had examined Sieglinde and decided that she was in the early stages of her heat, which had perhaps exacerbated the reactions of the unfortunate constable and his brother. Morse should take her home and keep her there, it had been decided, to avoid any further such incidents.

“I want to put her on suppressants,” Morse said. “Now.”

“It’s much too late for that,” the vet said regretfully. “We could spay her, but it’d be difficult at this point--too much risk of increased blood loss. Now, if you want to talk--”

“He doesn’t,” said Thursday, getting a look at Morse’s complexion. “I’ll run them home.”

“We still have matters to discuss first,” Bright objected.

“Not today, I think.” Thursday was already up out of his chair. “Begging your pardon, sir. With me, Morse.”

***

“Sieglinde didn’t exacerbate anything,” Morse told Thursday on the car ride home. “This entire department has an overactive imagination. It’s prejudiced and it’s sick. That constable is nothing but a symptom of it. And she’s not in any stage of heat yet, in any case.”

“Sure about that, are you?”

“Oh, and you as well, now? Discounting anything I say, just because I’m bonded to a female--”

“It's a stressful situation for everyone,” Thursday said, with a quick glance at the back seat and its two sets of pricked ears. “Something new to deal with. We’ll work it out. You will. Best if you remove yourself from the fray for a bit until then.”

“I'm going to be sidelined forever,” Morse said. “I didn't ever think-- Perhaps it would be for the best. What the vet said. Not now, of course, but.” He glanced at the back seat as well, and said no more.

“Not now,” Thursday agreed. “I’ll come round tomorrow, late morning, and we’ll discuss your options before you talk to Bright. Breathing space is what you need in the meantime. Have you, er...got a girl you could spend the evening with? Take a bit of the edge off, perhaps?”

Morse shook his head mutely, and Thursday sighed at him.

“You’re all knotted up. It’s no wonder. Just...do what you can to get your mind off it for a few hours, then. It’ll all come out in the wash.”

Morse looked truly unimpressed by this suggestion. Hard to blame him, Thursday thought. They weren’t talking dirty washing here. That situation with the constable could have turned deadly. They needed to settle the question at hand, and soon.

***

Morse remembered at least one of the disturbing dreams this time when he woke. He wished he didn’t. It had started off well, in the dark intimacy of Thursday’s office after hours. Closed door. Warm circle of light from the desk lamp, a soft line of pipe smoke trailing up to the ceiling. And then Thursday’s hands on him, stripping him, bending him over the desk and checking to see if he was in heat yet, fingering him roughly even as he spoke soothing words into Morse’s ear--that was good, shamefully good, though he was a bit embarrassed for Thursday to see how hard it made him. But the scene changed then, and it wasn’t Thursday’s desk he was bent over, it was his own, out on the floor with everyone watching. Thursday was still fingering him, demonstrating to the others how to do it, holding him painfully open while the others had a go: Jakes, Strange, Campbell, Matthews, the hate-filled constable from the day before. It hurt now, horribly, but he couldn’t let on or he’d have failed, and they’d take his sister from him, this time for good.

He woke feeling filthy. The sheets and his pyjamas were sticky, not only with sweat, but he still felt a needy sort of cramping in his lower belly. He got up and showered, touched himself tentatively with soapy hands, instantly grew erect again and had to bring himself off--he tried to go slowly, but in his mind he heard Thursday’s voice, take a bit of the edge off, perhaps and he was gasping and coming in an instant, bracing himself against the tile wall with one hand because his knees had gone to rubber.

When he’d dried off and dressed and changed his bedsheets, it was no better. His collar felt too tight--his skin felt too tight, and he couldn’t swallow his breakfast. Sieglinde was napping in her bed, which she never did at this hour, her legs twitching as she outran every brother in Cowley in her dreams and sent them cowering and crying into corners for daring to try her.

It was past nine, so he phoned Thursday at his desk. “Sir,” he said, and then his tongue got in the way of his next words; he cleared his throat and tried again. “It’s starting now, I think.”

***

Thursday was having a trying morning. It began with Jakes, who'd been moodier than usual when he'd arrived to pick Thursday up. Thursday didn't notice at first, preoccupied with his own thoughts, but eventually the silence in the car grew loud.

“You're a quiet one today,” Thursday observed. “You're not sickening for anything, I hope. Or was it a late night for you?”

Jakes shook his head and tossed his cigarette end out the window, but didn't reply.

“Sergeant,” Thursday said in mild reproof. “I'll have a ‘yes sir’ or ‘no sir,’ at least, if you haven't lost your voice.”

“You can't let Morse do it, sir.”

“Come again?”

“The multiple...you know. It's all over the station. They’re saying-- well, I won’t repeat what they're saying, but it made me sick at my stomach. God knows he can be a right-- That is to say, we’ve had our differences, sir, but I don’t care to see him savaged. It’s suicide, or as good as, and it ought to be stopped.”

“All right, Jakes. All right. Who’s saying these things, for a start?”

Jakes clamped his jaw and stared stonily out the windscreen.

“Well,” said Thursday, “I suppose I can make a few educated guesses. Ares will have something to say to their brothers, and I’ll follow up with a few words of my own.”

“Begging your pardon, sir, but that’s not good enough. Men lose their senses during multiples, they say--worse than their brothers. And they’re saying...God! They’re saying he...wants it, else he’d have-- It’s vile. I told you. That wouldn’t be good for pack morale. I don’t care what they say. It’s not right.”

Thursday kept silent for the next few turnings. Jakes began glancing over at him nervously.

“Sir--”

“All right. I said all right. I’ll look into it, Sergeant. Thank you for bringing it to my attention.”

Jakes studied him for a few moments at the next stoplight, then nodded and lit another cigarette, though he continued to look pale and dissatisfied for the remainder of the drive.

*

It wasn’t necessarily true, Thursday knew, that a messy multiple breeding wouldn’t be good for pack bonding. The pack liked to unite against a common enemy: either the man with the arrogant sister who’d needed taking down a few pegs, or the one who’d done the savaging. He’d seen it happen with his own eyes. The greater the carnage, the more cathartic. There’d been that wolfbrother in his own platoon who’d attacked his mate and lost an ear in exchange for half a front paw. Thursday and Ares had taken their turn right before him.

And then there was the Weaver case, famously--young Ellis Weaver, who’d died and left his sister brotherless, after--that had been the case that sparked the current spate of reforms. Thursday felt fairly confident that a thing like that couldn’t happen again, not in England and certainly not on his watch.

It still wasn’t something he wanted to think about Morse going through. He’d somehow managed to keep from looking it in the face, convinced it wouldn’t come to that, but Jakes’ reaction gave him pause.

There was a note on his desk when he got in, a summons to Bright’s office. Three guesses what he wants to see me about, Thursday thought, hanging up his coat and hat. Really, it was getting ridiculous, all this pother and fuss over one wolf’s heat. Granted, it wasn’t something they’d often had to deal with at CID, but it was beginning to seem prurient in the extreme. What next, he wondered--an edict from the Chief Constable?

“I’ve drawn up a short list of potentials for the M.B.,” Bright announced to him, passing a sheet of paper across his desk. “Sergeant rank or above, with no recorded history of breeding-related violence and whose brothers are in peak condition, with socially and physically desirable characteristics for best genetic potential, should any offspring result from the coupling. If you could run your eyes over it and let me know if you see any red flags--you’re better acquainted with the rank and file, obviously--I’ll have the duty rosters modified to ensure that they’ll be on hand during the event.”

“Sir, Morse hasn’t agreed to this yet.” Thursday pushed the sheet back at him without looking down at it. He didn’t even want to see the list of names; the thought made him shudder with distaste.

“He needs to,” Bright said. “It’s not only in everyone’s best interests at this point, I’m convinced it’s the safest plan. This breeding needs to happen in a controlled setting--we don’t want to upset the entire constabulary with an open trial, or even a closed one. Could lead to all sorts of unpleasantness. No. Tell your lad to stop playing the shy maiden and--”

“Sir,” Thursday objected.

“Well? He’s a low-ranking constable--all right, detective constable--with a bonded sister of proven breeding capability. If he didn’t want the attentions of half the station, why didn’t he have her seen to with the proper treatment months ago? I don’t know what game he’s playing with you or with the rest of the department by pretending to have reservations at this stage. No, he’s caused quite enough trouble and it has to end here.”

“Give me the list, then,” Thursday said. “I’ll look it over and get back to you.”

He left the room, Ares at his heels, and managed to keep from balling up the sheet of paper in his hand until he was out of the superintendent’s sight. He was, perhaps, a bit on edge himself, he realised belatedly, and looked down at his brother, who was patiently not telling him something.

*

Five minutes later, he was back in his office, answering the phone to Morse’s shaky voice: It’s starting now, I think.

“I’ve just been speaking to Superintendent Bright,” Thursday told him. “The multiple breeding’s off the table--too risky.” It wasn’t a complete lie, he defended himself. They’d risk Ares tearing the bollocks off of six officers, for one. “Will you bring her down to the station for a mating trial, or…?”

He could hear Morse breathing steadily at the other end of the line, in and out, controlled. Either from long habit or through the connection of their wolves, Thursday could close his eyes and practically see him, standing there in his messy bedsit in his stocking feet and running a nervous hand up and down the back of his head. “‘Or…’?” Morse prompted eventually, sounding cross.

“Stubborn sod,” Thursday sighed. “Or will I come round. They do communicate with each other, you know.”

***

They let the wolves out to run as soon as Thursday arrived. Sieglinde put her ears back and snarled at Ares, dancing away, but it was mostly just for show; she knew what she was about this time, and was looking forward to it immensely, so there wouldn’t be the frenzied chase of her first heat. Any running away she did would be more in the nature of making a game of it. She wouldn’t give in right away, though, Morse knew. She’d make him work for it a little.

He wasn’t sure he’d have the strength of will to do the same. “Leave them to it?” Morse suggested to Thursday. “Cup of tea?”

“Got anything stronger?” Thursday asked, still watching his brother.

“Come up,” Morse suggested, his heart beginning to race a bit. “I’ll see.”

*

“You could have said something,” Thursday accused him, after the first time, tracing a rough thumb down the line of fine hairs just above Morse’s navel. “How was I to know you’d want the likes of me in your bed again? An old--”

“Experienced,” Morse corrected him, trying to keep from smiling. Not completely succeeding. “Seasoned.”

“Oh, and that’s supposed to be flattering?”

“Well, it’s better than ‘old,’ isn't it? I didn’t...I thought you wouldn’t want it. And you don’t; not really. You’re only saving me from having to--”

“Morse,” Thursday said. “For the love of--Christmas. Does this look much like me not wanting it?”

There was physical response, and there was wanting, Morse thought. But he wouldn’t argue, not now.

“I won’t go easy on you this time,” Thursday warned him. “That was a warm-up, just now.”

“Good,” Morse said, and caught at his hand to draw it down lower, pressing himself into Thursday’s cupped palm and letting him feel how he hardened against the contact at once.

***

It was very different from the year before. Free from fear, Morse was demanding, energetic, confident in taking what he wanted. He rode Thursday with abandon, head thrown back and all the long muscles down his body tensing and then relaxing, taking his pleasure at his own pace.

“Where’d you come from, then?” Thursday asked him, astonished, during one of the lulls, and Morse tousled up his hair, blushing, but grinned back at him nonetheless, his eyes bright and a touch wicked. This was a creature Thursday had never suspected, freckled and glowing against the sunlight on the bedsheets. It made sense, suddenly, the way he was able to get female witnesses to talk to him first, the way young girls’ eyes tracked him around a room. Thursday had seen it and wondered at it before--had thought perhaps that it was his wide-eyed wispiness they'd responded to, the apparent lack of a threat. But perhaps that wasn't it at all.

Thursday was no young girl, though. And Ares had a few things to express to Sieglinde on the subject of her daring to entertain thoughts of other suitors; perhaps that came into it too, when Thursday flipped Morse over, manhandling him easily over onto his stomach, lifting his hips and driving hard into him--was this the third time, or the fourth?--it was all blurring together; this was going to be one of those times, then. Morse cried out, high and desperate, and the sound made Thursday need to take him harder. When the mist finally cleared, there were deep bite marks on the pale freckled shoulders, and purpling spots in the shape of Thursday’s thumbs at the dip of his spine. Thursday felt a sharp flare of vicious pride, washed over by shame a moment later.

“I’m sorry,” he said, touching the marks, genuinely contrite.

“It's fine.” Morse was still breathing hard, shuddering under Thursday’s hands, forehead pressed into the mattress. He flinched at a touch to the back of his neck, and Thursday felt worse still. Morse turned his head to frown at him. “Really--it's nothing. Think of the drubbing I’d have got from anyone else--or from half a dozen of anyone else. I’d be a pulp by now.”

He was teasing, probably, trying to make light of it, but Thursday could picture it all too clearly. “Don’t,” he said. “I was wrong to let you think that was even an option. It’s not.”

Morse turned over to look at him properly. “It’s not?” he repeated. “What, ever?”

“Not as long as I’m around to put a stop to it.”

“Really.” Morse looked...affronted? Amused? “But you didn’t put a stop to it this time, it was...oh. Of course you did. Of course.” He stared up at the ceiling. “Does Bright know?”

Thursday shook his head. It wasn’t anything he intended to apologise for.

“Well, I won’t pretend I was looking forward to it,” Morse conceded. “But you won’t have to worry about it in future. Sieglinde’s agreed to...to not have any more heats. No more pups.”

“What, an operation?” Thursday couldn’t bring himself to say the s-word. Morse nodded. “Oh, Morse. That’s…”

“Practical,” Morse said. “Neither of us wants to be on light duties for half her breeding years. Or to have to listen to most of the station take bets once a year on who’ll get to--or have to--mate us.”

Thursday was silent for a bit. “What if she had a permanent mate?”

He liked the look of disconcerted surprise on Morse’s face, he decided. It wasn’t something he got to see very often, let alone bring it about through his own actions. But the look shifted back to a canny one almost at once.

“I don’t think this is is the time to be discussing that,” Morse pointed out. “You’re a bit under the influence, you know.”

“All right,” Thursday said. “Later on, then.”

***

It lasted all day and long into the night. Sieglinde and Ares had formed a more intense bond since their last coupling, and they were too wrapped up in each other to take any notice of their human counterparts--it would have been alarming, Morse thought, if he hadn’t been otherwise pretty well occupied himself. As the hours wore on, the early pleasure and relief were ground down by exhaustion and repetition: so much want, want, want coursing through him, and Thursday was only able to slake it for such a short time. Twenty minutes of clarity in between bouts was about all they seemed to have, although there was at least one stretch when he fell asleep for an hour or so. And woke with his hips jerking frantically, pleading for Thursday to mount him again. His prick ached to be touched, but the sensitive skin there was chafed and sore now, and he yelped in pain when Thursday wrapped a tentative hand around him, even coated in slick.

“All right, then,” Thursday said patiently. “Let’s try this, then. Lie back.” Morse obeyed, unable to do anything else but follow his lead at this stage. “Open your legs,” Thursday instructed, fitting himself in between them and sliding down low--it should have been obvious, but Morse still gasped and jerked at the soft touch of Thursday’s mouth on his privates. It still stung, but not as much, and once he got past the shock of it--the hot, embarrassed thrill that raced through him at the realisation that Thursday would do even this for him--he never wanted it to end. He tried to hold off, to focus on the vestiges of lingering pain, but Thursday was ridiculously gentle, pressing kisses all over him there softly rather than sucking hard, and it brought him to the edge faster than anything more forceful would have done. Then a tongue-tip flickered at the head of his prick, delved delicately into the slit, and Morse cried out a warning, almost too late.

“Stop--I’m going to--oh, sir, you can’t, that’s too--”

Thursday paid him no mind, but held down his hips and continued tonguing at him as he spilled.

Not merely naked, but flayed, Morse thought despairingly, shaking apart in his hands. And he’d thought the last time had been bad--how could they ever bear to so much as look at each other after this? Even if they went through with the spaying, he’d have to ask for a transfer, he’d have to move to another county in case they encountered each other in the street and combusted with shame--

“Hush, Morse.” Thursday had risen up again and was looking down on him with exasperated fondness. Had he been speaking out loud? “No one’s going anywhere. Quiet now, try to catch some rest. It’s nearly finished now, I think.”

*
*
*

“Lovely bruising,” the medical examiner said, dabbing arnica onto the bites on Morse’s neck and shoulders at the conclusion of his post-breeding check-up. “Didn't quite break the skin--you're lucky there. And you look to be in fine shape otherwise; your partner must handle you like glass. Some of the things I’ve seen, even after a routine single-partner breeding, they’d turn your stomach.”

“I'm sure they would,” Morse said waspishly. “Am I all right to get dressed now?”

“Yes, you're good,” the medic said, looking a trifle put out at not finding an audience for his war stories. Morse was in no mood to indulge him. “Come back if there's any swelling around the bites or if they're still painful a few days from now, but the arnica should help. My compliments to your partner. Hang on to that one. DI Thursday, wasn’t it?”

“Is that common knowledge?” Morse, fastening his trousers, didn’t bother to keep the sharpness out of his voice.

“No one’s come in here these past two days talking about anything else,” the medic agreed cheerfully. “The rumour mill will die down soon, though--always does. I must say, I wasn’t looking forward to patching you up if the other thing had come to pass. Last time I dealt with an M.B. was when I was stationed in the Suez. The poor lad looked like a--”

“I’m expected in a meeting,” Morse said. “If you’ll just sign off on my chit?” He left hastily, a minute later, still tucking in his shirt.

***

Morse came into the meeting late, looking rushed and cross. One of the bruises was just visible above his unevenly folded shirt collar, which made Thursday wince--doubtless Bright was looking at it too, but he made no mention of it, just accepted the sheet of paper Morse handed to him and gave a curt nod.

“As you know, I can’t bring disciplinary action against either of you for the events of the other day,” Bright told them. “I can express my extreme disappointment, however, and request an explanation.”

Thursday was tired to death of this conversation, and it hadn’t even begun. He was also highly wary of whatever Morse might be about to say. He hadn’t seen him since the morning two days previous when he’d left him sprawled and sleeping in his terrible wreck of a bed, and had hoped they’d have a chance to confer before being called onto the carpet, but Bright had ambushed them before Thursday had even been aware that Morse was coming in that day.

“DC Morse’s sister selected Ares as her mate, sir,” Thursday said, before Morse could speak. “Lady’s choice, you know--the wolves had settled it amongst themselves before we really knew it was happening.”

“Preposterous. Letting a young female make a choice like that on her own recognisance? Very poor judgment indeed. Very poor. In my day--”

“Times do change,” Morse said. “Sir,” he added, catching Thursday’s glare. He looked terribly pale and thinner than usual, the bruise on his neck standing out very dark against his white skin. It was a wonder the medical examiner had passed him off, Thursday thought with a pang.

“Well, it’s most unsportsmanlike.” Bright seemed to search for something else to express the full force of his disapproval, but could only repeat himself. “Most unsporting. I’d hoped you’d both show more regard for your pack.”

The pack had settled right down, in fact, Thursday knew, as soon as the unsettling uncertainty was off the table. Ares as top dog was a status quo that no one had any real argument with; he wore it well.

“I’ll have to revisit the question of transferring one or the other of you, you know,” Bright went on. “Morse will be on light duties again, of course, and I don’t know that the department can support--”

Thursday glanced over at Morse again, saw mutiny building up to the bursting point, and spoke quickly. “Begging your pardon, sir, but is that really necessary? As Morse said, times do change. I’ve an acquaintance in London whose sister continued to serve normal duties right up until the week before her pups came, and I can’t afford to lose a detective again just before the holiday season--you know how it gets this time of year. Besides, we wouldn’t want to seem backward on the question of female rights, would we?”

Now it was Bright who appeared ready to burst. Morse beat him to it.

“Sieglinde’s not carrying,” he said shortly. “I spoke privately to the veterinary officer after the last meeting we had in here, prior to her heat, and he offered us a course of birth control medication--it’s only just out of the experimental stages, but it’s considered safe, and there’s no reason to think it hasn’t worked. And it won’t become an issue in the future; she’s to be--”

“Permanently partnered to Ares,” Thursday put in, not looking at Morse, but he could feel the sudden hush surrounding a dropped shell that might or might not explode. Even Clive broke character by allowing his ears to twitch.

“I see,” Bright said icily after a long stymied silence. “Well. That’s a great deal of information. I confess I’m surprised at the both of you. And I’m not quite acquainted with--I’ll have to look into the protocols, but I understand there are concessions afforded to permanent partnerships beyond the ordinary--yes. Morse, you’ll remain on general duties for the time being, and I’ll ask to meet with you again once I’ve spoken to the correct-- Yes. Well.” He looked at the clock. “You’ve taken up quite enough of my time for one day with all this. Dismissed.”

*

“Birth control?” Thursday said, when they were out of earshot. “You kept that dark.”

“I haven’t agreed to a permanent partnership,” Morse countered. “I thought that was just… And you haven’t ever… There’s no need, you know.”

“Should I go down on one knee? I didn’t think you’d be one for formalities. It clearly works--the two us them, the two of us; it’s only sensible.”

“Sensible,” Morse echoed thinly.

“Desirable,” Thursday amended, and reached out to fix the fold of Morse’s collar, letting his fingers brush the skin of his neck. Morse shrugged away uncomfortably.

“You didn’t stick around long, the other day. I woke up and you were gone.”

“Your bed is a punishment,” Thursday protested. “It’s not wide enough for two cats. Next time I’m springing for a hotel.”

“You might have phoned, if you were thinking of anything like this.” Morse still looked cross as two sticks, but he’d softened a bit at next time, Thursday thought.

“I wanted to discuss it with Win first. She’d her bridge club and various other things, and I didn’t get to bring it up to her till last night, so I was planning on speaking to you later today. Didn’t expect you’d be back in yet. You oughtn’t have, you know; you look rotten.”

“So your wife approves, then.” Morse looked more discomfited than ever.

“On condition I bring you round for dinner and let her feed you up now and again, yes.” He wouldn’t tell Morse the rest of the conversation; Win had been pleased, she liked Morse and thought he needed as much looking after as he could get, but she was worried for Thursday, too, he could see. I didn’t think you’d ever partner again, after Carter and Sorrel, she’d said, touching his face. Does he know? You’ll have to tell him.

“Well, you can’t go on being awkward around my family forever,” he scolded Morse, who’d gone very red around the ears. “Look here--is it lunch hour yet? I could use a pint, and we’ve things to discuss. Are you with me?”

Morse was looking down, conferring with his sister, it seemed. He hesitated for long enough that Thursday’s heart skipped a beat, but when he looked up, he had on the crooked half-grin that had made a goner out of Thursday the first day they’d met, no doubt.

“When am I not?” Morse said, and when Thursday put a hand on the back of his neck again as they walked to the pub--lightly, mindful of the bruising--he didn’t shrug it off this time.