Series: Endeavour/Bleach (Endeavour-centric)
Summary: It was Morse. Detective Constable Morse, here at the crime scene at nine o’clock at night wearing a goddamn sword. Morse, who even in the bright splash of sunlight, had no shadow.
“To eat me,” echoed Jakes, incredulously.
The Jag was still tearing through North Oxford’s back streets at dangerous speeds; he eased back his foot on the throttle, heart beginning to slow. After a moment he pulled over on the edge of a small park, the immediate need to get well shot of the house diminishing.
“Yes. Just like it killed and consumed Mrs Bouchard. Hollows are what the dead become when they’ve lingered for too long in too much pain. Their masks develop to protect them from their former emotions, and they become killing monsters with a taste for souls – and those who can see them. People like you,” finished Morse. He looked at his blood-streaked hand and winced. His shirt and jacket were both ruined, ripped through and blood-stained. At the moment, Jakes felt no sympathy. He was still jittery with adrenaline, chest aching and throat aching from his recent sprint. His fear soaked him like petrol, and rage lit him aflame.
“You know nothing about me,” he snapped, tone full of vitriol.
“I know you can see spirits – if you saw the Hollow, you must be able to. Only people with significant spiritual awareness can. And that makes you dangerously appealing to things that prey on the spiritually strong.”
“What does that make you?” and then, after a momentary pause, “I saw you the other night. At the arson site. Got up like a Victorian gent with a bloody ridiculous sword.” Morse stared, his wide blue eyes projecting an innocence that further enraged Jakes. “Or are you going to pretend that wasn’t you?”
“It was me,” replied Morse, slowly. And then, after a pause, “I suppose you could say it’s my night job.”
“Criminals by day, ghosts by night? Is that it? But for DC Morse the residents of Oxford would be haunted by crime and spectres?” sneered Jakes sarcastically.
Morse’s jaw snapped shut for a moment, his eyes sparking. Then: “I don’t do it for accolades, or for your approval,” he said fiercely. “I do it because if I don’t, people suffer – both the living and the dead.”
“Souls become Hollows. Hollows devour souls, and the people who can see them. Although you’re the first living person I’ve actually met who can see them, apart from DI Thursday.”
This further information hit Jakes like a wave striking a boat amidships, threatening to swamp him. It put a dampener on his anger, reducing it to ashes. “Thursday’s involved in this?” he asked, a little faintly.
“It was him who brought me into it. We should talk to him – now. Before the Hollow hurts anyone else.”
“Can’t you just cut it down?” asked Jakes.
“Not without Thursday,” repeated Morse. “He lives in Kennington.”
Jakes slipped the car into gear, turning its nose south. “Tell me more.”
Morse spoke fluently, looking out the window sometimes, sometimes turning to face Jakes. He held his shoulder as he spoke, occasionally hunching inwards when they hit an uneven patch of road.
“Since I can remember I’ve been like you – able to see the dead. When I was young I didn’t realise that it was unusual; I learned the hard way what happened to a boy who talked to people no one else could see. I never met anyone who understood me – until DI Thursday.” Morse stopped for a moment, rubbing the curve of his neck with his thumb thoughtfully.
“He caught me out speaking to a dead man – and didn’t immediately send me to the Radcliffe Infirmary to get my head checked. It was Thursday who told me what I’m about to tell you.” He paused, head leaning back on the Jag’s red leather backrest and eyes focused on the roof. “We’re in one of two worlds, each connected to the other in ways no one can see. When we die here, we pass over to the other world – and when the people there die, they’re reborn here. It’s like a seesaw, we go up and down while the whole time maintaining balance.”
“And you believe that?” asked Jakes.
Morse paused. “I trust the evidence of my senses; the result is that I believe there are spirits, and Hollows,” he said slowly. “Another world where we’re reborn? That’s more difficult. Thursday says he’s met people who are from there; I never have. But I’ve learned to believe in things I never thought I could when I was younger. I suppose I’m agnostic.” He took a deep breath, then continued. “Thursday told me he was like me – able to see the dead from childhood. When he was serving in North Africa he met someone from the other world: a reaper. She was dressed in black and carried a sword. She told Thursday that the war had thrown off the balance between worlds, and that the reapers couldn’t keep up with the tide of souls that needed to pass over. The reapers were finding men like him to act as substitutes. Giving them a portion of their power and tasking them with the job of sending souls to the other world.”
“That sounds like a load of bullshit,” said Jakes.
“You saw the sword; you saw the girl pass over,” replied Morse. “Proof enough?”
“Thursday was too old to continue with his work, so he passed it on to me,” continued Morse, glancing out the window as they ran over the bridge, the river dark in its bed below them.
It explained, if nothing else, the unusual tie between the DI and the DC. Thursday had taken Morse on not only as his subordinate at the station, but in this bizarre second duty of theirs.
“And now you run about town fighting ghosts,” he said drily.
“Hardly that. This is only the second Hollow I’ve seen. But I know the signs. Those bruises on Mrs Bouchard were caused by it.”
Jakes remembers Morse’s quick glance at Thursday upon seeing the corpse’s bruised limbs, and the impassivity of the DI as he stared back. The two of them had known, even then.
“So what, some unhappy soul transformed into a monster and decided to gobble up a helpless widow?”
“Almost certainly her husband is the Hollow,” replied Morse. “The timeline fits. It can take months or years for a lost soul to become a Hollow.”
“He hurried right along, then.”
At this point the conversation was halted by the need for Morse to give directions to Thursday’s house. They glided through the quiet streets of Kennington, turning off the Avenue and into the back residential lanes. Thursday’s house was one of a low set, all nestled together on the west side of the street with their backs towards the noise of the A34. “It’s called Little London,” said Morse of the neighbourhood; apt, Jakes thought, considering the DI’s origins.
They pulled up at the kerb in front of Thursday’s home, Morse pointing it out with his elbow. Jakes killed the engine and the lights, and for a moment they sat in silence. The sky was darkening above, the long summer day finally fading to dusk.
“Out you get, then,” prompted Jakes when Morse showed no sign of moving, and opened his own door. Morse fumbled with the handle and unfolded his lanky form, shutting his door just as Jakes rounded the front of the Jaguar. He came out looking rumpled as a load of laundry; he pressed his hand against his hip in an effort to wipe off the blood. “You’re a sight,” said Jakes, and preceded the DC up the stone walkway to Thursday’s house.
Light was shining through the curtains in the front window; through the glass, Jakes could hear a radio or telly playing. He knocked on the doorbell and heard Morse scuffle up to stop behind him.
The door was opened by a woman of 55 or so in a floral print blouse and apron. Her curling, dark hair was held back to reveal a lined face which might once have been attractive in the unobtrusive way of librarians and stationery shop girls. She gave him an inquisitive look which warmed to a smile when she spotted Morse standing behind him.
“DS Jakes, ma’am,” said Jakes. “We’re here to speak with Inspector Thursday.”
“At this time of the evening?” She didn’t seem upset by it; if anything her tone held playful resignation.
“Afraid so,” replied Jakes.
“I’ll fetch him.” She turned into the corridor, calling for her husband. “Come in, come in; I’ll put the kettle on,” she added over her shoulder as she passed down the hall and into the kitchen at the end.
Jakes and Morse clustered awkwardly into the front hall. It was a small, tidy home with pleasantly wallpapered walls and several partially shut doors; there was a smell of rich pipe smoke and beef stew. The sound of broadcasting came from behind several, but a moment later the door at the far end of the hall opened to reveal DI Thursday wearing his suit trousers and a grey pull-over. He gave Jakes a quick look which shifted to Morse; his eyes darkened when he caught sight of the DC’s shoulder.
“You’d better come on through.”
They did as they were told. The room at the end of the hall to the left of a narrow galley-style kitchen was a den. It was still warm from the setting sun that until recently had flooded in through the west-facing windows. A telly sat in front of them, its rabbit-ears pointed crookedly at the ceiling; a sofa and a thickly-upholstered arm chair, a coffee table and a set of shelves rounded out the furniture.
“Pull the door to, Sergeant,” instructed Thursday. “Morse, you sit there and show me that shoulder.” He pointed to a place on the edge of the sofa
“It’s not deep,” protested Morse, but at a look from Thursday he sat and began shrugging out of his suit jacket and shirt. Jakes pulled the door shut on silent hinges and perched on the armchair.
“Now perhaps you’d like to tell me what this is about,” said Thursday, standing in the centre of the room watchfully.
“Sergeant Jakes knows,” said Morse, as he folded his jacket to keep the bloody shoulder from staining the sofa’s upholstery. “About Hollows. About me.”
Thursday looked at him; the hardness of his gaze made Jakes straighten. “He does, does he? And what do you have to say, Sergeant?”
“I’ve been seeing ghosts since I was a boy. Never knew there were others like me. Never knew about Hollows,” said Jakes, stiffly. Being found out by Morse was bad enough; having his secret shared with Thursday felt a complete invasion of his privacy.
“You were lucky, then,” replied Thursday. “As Morse will have explained to you?”
“He said those beasts – Hollows – prey on people like me… people like us. That it killed Mrs Bouchard, and would have done the same for us if we hadn’t scarpered. As it was, it got its claws into Morse.”
“So I see. And you - thought you’d do a bit of after-hours investigating without consulting me, did you?” he said to Morse.
“It mightn’t have still been there,” returned Morse.
“But it was. And it could easily have killed you.”
“Why would it have been elsewhere?” asked Jakes. “If it was her husband, as Morse says. Surely it would stay where it was at home.”
“Hollows are tied to places or people. The fact that it killed Mrs Bouchard indicates the latter. The house likely has no significance to it now.”
“It killed her even though she was devoted to him?”
“Hollows don’t feel human emotion. Their situation was relatively common; you often hear of it. A married couple dies a few months apart; everyone says they couldn’t live without each other. In reality, it’s a darker story.”
By now Morse was sitting in just his vest, long claw-marks cutting bloody rents in his pale, freckled skin. Thursday sighed. “You have made a mess of things.” He stepped over and put his hands over Morse’s shoulder. Slowly, like a lantern’s wick being turned up, a delicate green glow appeared beneath his palms. As Jakes watched, the cuts begin to knit closed.
“Blimey,” said Jakes, staring.
“Comes in handy from time to time,” said Thursday, without looking away. “But I can’t fix anything bigger than minor scrapes, so mind you don’t go getting yourselves into more trouble.”
At this point Mrs Thursday bustled in with tea and biscuits. She seemed completely unconcerned to see her husband closing the wounds in Morse’s shoulder by what appeared to be magic. She put her tray down on the coffee table and began to pour out cups.
“We won’t be here long, pet,” said Thursday, giving her a soft look.
“You can stop off long enough for tea, surely, Fred,” she replied staunchly. And then, looking at the bloody pile of Morse’s clothes, “Oh dear, love. And that was your good suit, wasn’t it?”
“Teach him to throw himself into danger recklessly,” put in Thursday heartlessly, finishing up with Morse’s shoulder and straightening.
“I’ll fetch a cloth and something for you to wear,” said Mrs Thursday, looking at the drying blood remaining on Morse’s exposed skin. She hurried out on that errand.
“Well?” inquired Thursday, imperiously, gesturing at the tea set. “Drink up. Then we’ll be going.”
“Going where, sir?” asked Jakes. Thursday gave him an unimpressed glance.
“To see about this Hollow, Sergeant.”