It was a slow healing process.
As the days passed, one by one, Morse began to improve, though it was obvious he was doing so at a far slower pace than he'd have liked. The bruises faded from angry blues and purples to muted greens and browns and eventually a sickly yellow colour which eventually blended into pale skin. Stitches were removed one by one, neat squares of gauze were peeled away, and bandages were unwrapped to allow healing wounds to breathe. The split lip vanished, as did the cut on his cheek and forehead, and two weeks after waking, it was almost as if Morse had never been held captive to begin with.
The only prolonged injury he had was the bullet wound, a deceptively small thing halfway between thigh and knee, on the same leg as last time. The doctor's assured them there would be no complications with it, that it would just take time to heal like every other wound. The bullet had missed everything vital.
Sometimes, Jakes dreamt that Gull hadn't missed at all.
At night, he relives the bloody and bruised creature he'd found crouched over his abuser, cracked and damaged and close, too bloody close, to being broken. He doesn't tell Morse about his nightmares, but sometimes the younger man gives him a look that makes him question if he knows anyway.
There was something almost laughable in the fact he was taking this whole captured-by-a-psychopath-thing worse than the man who'd been captured to begin with, but DeBryn told him everyone deals with trauma differently and that while Morse always had Abby to come to, up until very recently Jakes had no one.
Apparently, the sudden realisation that he wasn't alone anymore, only for those loved ones to be just as suddenly wretched away from him, had caused his imagination to go into overdrive.
His arm was pretty much full healed now, and he proved it on a regular basis whenever Abby demanded she be picked up. Morse was soon able to sit up, stand, and walk unassisted, but he was still a good bit away from being able to lift the 5-and-a-half-year-old, so Jakes just had to double his efforts for both of them.
Soon after, the stitches in his leg were removed, and before too long, it was left unbandaged completely. Jakes found it hard to believe that Morse had come out of the whole ordeal with just an inch-wide white scar to show, but then he could hardly complain about that either.
Three weeks after Morse woke up, he was allowed to go home.
Jakes had a physiotherapy appointment the morning that Morse was released, and as much as he wanted to skip it and drive straight to the hospital to pick him up, he also knew that the younger man would skin him alive if he did so.
As terrible a patient Morse was; self-sacrificing and reckless and running headfirst into danger literally all the time, he was an absolute stickler for the rules when it came to anyone else. DeBryn sighed and called it poetic justice, Thursday merely smirked and blamed good-ole-fashioned karma. Either way, Jakes was mildly irritated and listening to this blonde woman drone on and on about 'shoulder flexion' and 'scapular range of motion' just made him want to ditch the whole thing that bit more.
But eventually, eventually, he escaped, and drove just that tiny bit above the speed limit to the Thursday's. The Inspector had brought Morse back to his, after all, since Jakes wasn't able to pick him up, and they had secretly decided between themselves that the younger man would be spending the night there too.
After Morse had woken, he'd got back to spending nights at his own flat, and from there had progressed to the occasional half day at the office. Abby split her nights between him and Win, depending on if he was working the next day or not, so she already had a change of clothes there.
Which left Jakes, now driving with an overnight bag towards his boss's house where he would spend the night with his boyfriend and surrogate daughter in a tiny box-room and hopefully not die of suffocation or embarrassment.
Had this been even a single year previous, he would've been seriously questioning his life choices right about now.
But as it were, he was finally, somehow, against all odds, happy.
Pulling up outside the Thursday's, he had barely enough time to step out of the car and grab his bag from the back before there was a slamming of doors and an excite 5-year-old running at him.
He grinned and scooped her up the second she was close enough.
"Hey kiddo. How's it going?"
"It's brilliant! Daddy's home!" She gushed, wrapping both arms around his neck.
His shoulder gave a twinge with the weight of both child and bag, but he gladly ignored it in favour of Abby's rapid ramblings. At the door, he was met by a smiling Win, and as he put the girl back down, Joan jogged down the stairs, grinning when she caught sight of the buzzing 5-year-old.
"Dad only got back half an hour ago, so I'm afraid she's still on a high".
He hardly had time to greet them before Abby was taking his hand and dragging him into the sitting room. Thursday was sitting in his usual armchair, pipe lit and newspaper in front of him. He gave him a nod when he came in, but Jakes' attention was quickly taken up by the bundled-up man half asleep on the couch.
Morse smiled tiredly at him, and wrapped an arm around Abby as she jumped up next to him. Peter crouched down in front of the pair, a heavy weight lifting off his shoulders as it finally kicked in that he was here, they were all here, and they were safe.
"Hey yourself" He replied quietly, "Tired?"
He frowned, worried, and the younger man's smile widened in response.
"I'm fine, honest. The doctor said I'd be like this for two or three days. All the excitement of normal clothes and actual food, apparently".
Jakes glanced down at the warm bluey-green sweater the man was wearing, and couldn't help but notice how it brought out his eyes.
He was distracted from that trail of thought as Abby gave a huge yawn, and Morse laughed.
Then he was distracted by that and spent a good few seconds blinking dumbly at the pair as he suddenly realised that he hadn't heard Morse laugh, genuinely laugh, since they'd rescued him.
Based on the lack of paper shuffling from behind him, Thursday had copped onto that too.
"Looks like I'm not the only one tired" Morse said, oblivious to it all as he brushed back the hair from his daughter's face, "Ready to go to sleep, sweetheart?"
"No!" She pouted, "We haven't even had dinner yet!"
"Speaking of, I better check on it" Win said, startling both men who hadn't realised that they'd been watched. She disappeared around the door frame into the kitchen, and a second later, Joan appeared with a handful of forks and knives.
"Why don't eat in here tonight?" She asked, already setting the cutlery down on the coffee table, "It's warmer than the dining room, and more comfortable anyway".
Morse frowned, "Dinner? No, no, we, um, we can't-"
"Sure you can" Joan interrupted brightly, "Or hasn't lover-boy told you yet?"
Jakes was mildly annoyed to find himself flushing at the nickname, and it only got worse when his partner turned to scowl at him.
"Told me what?"
"We're, um… you know, just… I mean, it's…"
He floundered for the right words before spinning around to glare accusingly at Thursday.
"I thought you were going to tell him?"
"Decided not to" He replied simply, turning the page in the newspaper, "Left it all for you".
That traitorous bastard.
This was revenge for not telling him that they were together, he just knew it.
"Told me what?!" Morse snapped, definitely angry now.
"We're… staying here for the night?"
"… We're what?"
"Staying here" Jakes repeated, somewhat awkwardly, "For the night. At least".
"I thought you'd be happy!"
"I'd be happier if I wasn't imposing to people who'd already done so much-"
"None of that now, lad" Thursday interrupted firmly, "Nothing we've ever done has been out of obligation".
"But- You- I-" He turned to Joan, "What about you?"
"What about me?" She shrugged, "At first I thought you were cute, and yea, I mean, I wouldn't have been unhappy, exactly, if something had happened between us, but it didn't and I'm cool with that. We like you Morse, and we're doing this because we want to help… And besides, I've always wanted to be the cool aunt".
Abby grinned at her and held out a tiny hand for a high-five.
Joan happily acquiesced.
Win bustled back into the room with large plates in her hands, and Jakes quickly stood to help her with the rest of them while his partner remained frozen in place, almost star struck.
Ten minutes later and they were all squished around various couches and armchairs with food in front of them and forks in hand. It was only when Jakes gently wrapped Morse's hand around his own cutlery that the man seemed to snap out of it.
"… We're staying here?"
"We're staying here" He confirmed, "I didn't think you'd want to return to your apartment, not right away at least, after everything that happened there, and Thursday agreed. My own flat is half the size; Abby and I can barely fit, let alone anyone else, so this is the next best thing".
"It's your first night back, Morse" He said simply, "It's only right that you spend it with family".
He blinked, slowly at first, and then more rapidly as he looked around the room at the smiling faces that stared back. Jakes caught a tell-tale glint in his eyes and watched as the man swallowed thickly. Subtly glancing over at Joan, he made a wordless gesture at Abby, and thankfully she got the message.
"Hey, Abs? Why don't you tell mum what we saw in the park today?" She asked brightly, drawing attention away from them.
As she began to ramble about the ducks, Jakes carefully reached over and took Morse's hand. He turned to him, eyes wide and damp, and the Sergeant smiled and gently squeezed his fingers. He blinked, again, as if trying to dispel any evidence of his sudden emotion, and when that didn't work, he turned his head and buried it in Jake's neck.
"You're ours, Morse" He whispered, loud enough for only the man in question to hear, "Just as much as we're yours".
If Jakes had thought the bed upstairs was small before, it was nothing compared to how tight a fit it was now. He'd offered to sleep on the couch, so father and daughter would have both room and time to themselves, but Morse adamantly rejected the idea. It was the first time they were able to share a bed in weeks, after all, and he wasn't about to let that moment go to waste. So Jakes had agreed to stay, and then offered to keep Abby on his other side so her kicking wouldn't hurt Morse during the night, but that had been firmly shot down too, which had, eventually, after quite a lot of awkward manoeuvring and bitten off curses, let to now.
Morse had his back to the wall, safe and protected in the little alcove the single bed gave him. Abby was next, curled up in bright yellow pyjamas with Herbert the giraffe clutched in her tiny grasp. And finally, Jakes, with his back to the rest of the room so he could stare at his partner over the head of the sleeping child who was already beginning to steal the blankets.
It was a tight squeeze, that much was for sure, but it was also, strangely, perfect.
"… You were right, earlier" Morse suddenly said, gaze firmly latched onto the sleeping girl between them.
"I'm right about a lot of things" Jakes teased, "You'll have to be more specific".
"About- About the apartment. Going back to it, I don't… I don't think I can, to be honest".
"I don't blame you" He replied evenly, "I can pack for you, if you like. And I'm sure Thursday and Joan would help, a few lads from down the nick, too".
"Thanks" He said quietly, "I just… I can't stop picturing it. Monica lying there, unconscious. Abby's room a mess. And Abby herself…"
"She's here, Morse. We both are".
"No, I don't think you do" He cut off, reaching across to find the man's hand beneath the sheets.
"We're all here, and we're safe. Gull's dead, Morse. He can never hurt you or Abby or anyone else ever again".
"… It doesn't feel like it".
"It won't. Not for a while. But it will get better, you will get better, it just takes time to heal and recover and- and accept it all" Jakes finished, "Or, at least, that's what DeBryn keeps telling me".
Morse snorted, "Yea, that does sound like him… Max is rarely wrong, though".
"Then if you can't trust my words, trust his. It's over, Morse. Case closed".
He watched as the younger man let out a ragged breath before burying his face in Abby's hair. If it hadn't been for the subtle tremors that wracked his frame, Jakes would never have known he was crying.
He wanted to talk, wanted to reassure and promise and protect, but he knew that it wasn't what he needed right now. So instead, he silently shuffled closer, wrapping an arm around Abby and Morse both, and pulled them close, so close that it almost hurt. The 5-year-old mumbled something unintelligible in her sleep, but didn't wake, and Morse gladly curled around her until they were both pressed against his chest.
It took a long twenty minutes before the younger man felt composed, and when he slowly looked back up, Jakes wasn't surprised to see tear streaks on his face.
"How the hell did I get so lucky?" He whispered hoarsely, and Jakes smiled and wiped away a stray tear, "I ask myself the same thing every day".
"Only for you".
It startled them both to hear the pure honesty in that sentence.
"… What am I gonna do, Peter?"
"Heal. Give it time. Ask for help when you need it".
"You make it sound so easy".
"Well, if I've learned anything from staying with the Thursdays these last few weeks… I've learned that it can be".
Morse continued to stare at them, their new positions leaving them mere inches apart on the soft pillow, and Jakes swore that if never did anything else in this life, then he'd make Morse see the truth of that statement.
"Could Abby stay with you while I try to find a place?"
"A new apartment?"
"Of course… But I was thinking-"
Jakes rolled his eyes but was secretly glad that he'd lifted the mood somewhat.
"I was thinking… You and Abby need a new place, and my lease is up soon, so since we'll both be looking… Maybe we could look for the one place?"
"As in… the one apartment?"
"Or house" He shrugged, "I've never had anyone to spend money on before, so I've got a decent amount of savings. More than enough for a down payment and to secure a mortgage, at least".
"… We'd be living together?"
"If you wanted to".
"… Together together?"
"If you want to say no-"
"No!" Morse blurted, "I mean yes! I mean- no, it's- Shit, it's-"
He took a deep breath.
"… I'd love to move in with you".
Jakes hardly dared breathe.
"Really" He smiled, "And I know Abby would, we, um… we talked about it. Not directly, as such, but… yea. I think we should try it".
"Okay, so, I can start packing up your stuff with the others while you narrow down a few places".
"How do you know you'll even like what I choose?" He teased.
"Because I like everything about you".
Morse stilled, and Jakes immediately cursed himself for blurting out the confession-in-not-as-many-words. It wasn't that he was afraid to say the L-word, or, maybe, just, not totally afraid, but he'd never actually said it to anyone else before because he'd never been this serious about anyone else before but now that he had sort of said it he was panicking because oh gosh what if that was too forward what if it was too much what if he was too much and-
"I like everything about you, too" He whispered, shyly, "… I mean, maybe not the hair gel, or the-"
"Oy!" He laughed, playfully shoving him away in the narrow space provided.
"I'm just saying!" Morse grinned, "I think your fluffy hair is adorable-"
"Oh, like you're one to talk about fluffy hair!"
As they fell back into familiar bantering, both men felt more light hearted and calm than they'd been in weeks. What had happened, had happened, and all that was left was to move on. They had each other, at last, and both were adamant to never let someone almost take that from them again.
They were by no means a perfect family, but they were family, a strange conglomerate of grandparents and an honorary aunt and a father and sort-of father and wasn't that just terrifying?! but the point was-
They were happy.