A/N: It has been a pleasure (albeit a lonely one) to get Morse all sorted out. This is the final chapter.
Months later, Siobhan had completed a study on crime statistics involving women and had been invited to present the data at a few stations, Thames Valley included.
She had looked forward to it. Morse had too, because it would give them two days together midweek.
Perhaps she hadn't let herself acknowledge it, but being back at Thames Valley almost a year later made her realize the distance they had come was small. Smaller than she wished it to be.
Yes, Morse did tell her he loved her. And he did rearrange his schedule whenever he could to be with her. But here they were in a conference room together, hiding the fact that they had just woken up in the same bed. Calling each other by their titles. Not even admitting that they had had dinner together the previous night.
Quite a few of the fellows who had worked with her the previous year were still at Morse's station, and they came over to speak with her. It being the end of the work day then, a few of the more forward lads suggested taking her out for a drink.
She had seen Morse as she had packed up her brief case. Caught his eye from across the large room where she'd just finished her presentation. But he kept his distance, and as the sergeants approached her, rather than discouraging their attention, the bastard walked out.
If he had wanted her home with him straight after work, shouldn't he have done something to make that happen, she asked herself.
"All right, Denny," she told Sergeant Moseby with a vague smile. "One drink." She saw Lewis then. "What about you, Robert? Will you have a pint with us?"
"Oh, that's all right for you single folks. But I've promised my wife I'll be there for dinner more often this month!"
Siobhan sighed as she hefted her briefcase and patted Moseby on the back. She didn't think of herself as single. She hadn't, at least, until Morse walked out the door.
... ... ...
Two hours later she was keying into the inspector's house, wondering what sort of night was in store for her.
"You are more a favorite with the sergeants than I remember from a year ago," Morse called out, too accusingly, once she came through his front door.
"Christ, Morse. I'm nothing of the sort! They just wanted to go out for a pint. My being here is their excuse. You've been in a mood all day."
"All I'm saying is..."
"And they would not have asked me out if they had known I was the chief inspector's girl friend. Or am I not the chief inspector's girl firend?" She fixed him with a hard glare then. "One word from you tonight is all it would have taken. 'She's with me,' you could have said. And they all would have cleared off and not ruined your bloody evening!"
"That was three words in hard point of fact," he countered before he could stop himself.
"Oh, brilliant, Morse. You are obviously getting all the right things out of this conversation." She dropped her keys into the basket by the door for punctuation and then found she could not help but pull at her hair.
"You are saying we've been wrong to keep this quiet? Do you think you'd have been invited here by Superintendent Strange if he'd known about us?"
"I'd like to think so." She paused and then decided to ask the real question on her mind. Quietly now, as she walked toward him, she said, "So, is this as good as it gets? We will always be something you want hidden. Just weekend visits? The odd holiday?"
"I haven't said that," he complained strongly with a shake of his head.
"Then what? What are we going to be in 6 more months? Or a year?" She backed away then, afraid of what she had said. She was worried she was forcing this relationship. Being that predictable woman clamoring for commitment. And then more commitment.
He was pinching his brow now. "I am not blessed with any sort of second sight especially where relationships are concerned."
"How about what you WANT to have happen? Can you tell me that?" she asked him sadly.
"I'm even less blessed with the ability to form any list of desires. I have not found my expectations or hopes to ever be founded in any sort of reality when it comes to relationships. So, I suppose, I stopped having them."
"Stopped having which," she said, pointedly. "Relationships. Or hopes?"
"Both," he fired back.
"I don't want to have this conversation suddenly, because I have the horrible premonition these will be the last things we ever say to each other."
"Siobhan," he pleaded.
"I can't stay here tonight. I just need to think. And if look at you, I can't." There was an ache in her voice that tore at him.
"Please, Siobhan," he echoed, sounding lost.
She walked over to the phone and dialed while Morse paced helplessly.
"Robbie," he heard her say. "I've hit a snag with my accommodations. Is there any chance I could stay at your place?" She nodded then as she thanked the sergeant on the other end of the line.
Her bag had never been unpacked. It was all too easy to leave. She paused by the door and pocketed her keys with her head down. "I love you," she told the confused looking man, "I love you so much it hurts. But at least one of us needs to figure out exactly what we want out of life. And I can't do that here."
.. ... ... ... .. .. .. .. ..
Two hours later, a heart sick Morse had had enough of his own company. And although he thought it a bad idea all around, he was soon in his car and headed to Lewis'. He knew there would be some surprise and confusion at his visit. He had been to the house no more than 3 times previously, and it was entirely too late for a social call.
"Dear God," Valerie said, as she saw who was now on her doorstep.
"No," Morse quipped. "It's only me."
"Is it about Sergeant Maitland?" Mrs. Lewis asked in a concerned whisper. "She's in the kitchen with Robbie. But she isn't saying what the problem is."
"Again, I'm afraid that would be me," an unusually cowed seeming chief inspector offered.
Lewis stuck his head out the kitchen door then. "Sir?" The word sounded far more tentative than usual.
"I'm not going to make a scene, Lewis," Morse assured him. "I just need a quick word, and I'll go."
"A word with me, sir?" Lewis wondered, blank faced.
"I'm here to have a quick word with Siobhan, and then I'll leave," Morse explained uncomfortably.
The sergeant's eyebrows went high with the realization. "You're the bloke?"
"She told you the problem was a bloke?"
"It always is when a woman looks like that," Val interjected with an air of tired wisdom. "I'll ask if she wants to see you while I put the kettle on."
Lewis crossed the floor to his boss as his wife left the room. The younger man scratched his head, considering what to do. "I thought maybe you fancied her."
"It's progressed a little further than that," Morse admitted.
"How long have you been seeing each other then?"
Lewis let out a whistle involuntarily.
"What?" the inspector demanded.
"And she's okay with you keeping it a secret? Just sneaking around."
"I would not describe this as sneaking around. And, obviously, she is not 'okay' with this, or she would not be in your kitchen," the inspector said, sounding irritable.
It was plain from his inability to remain still that the younger man wanted to say something more.
"For heaven's sake! What, Lewis?"
"Fall? So, like 8 months?"
"Closer to ten," Morse admitted. "Not that I had been keeping a close count."
"But she was?" Robbie said, knowingly.
"Ten months, sir?"
"Just say it," Morse grumbled.
"Women like to know if there's any future. You know. ... marriage, family. They sort of look at time differently."
"And how long did it take YOU to figure that out?"
"Oh, I don't know that I figured it out. I had it explained to me, you might say."
At that moment, Valerie exited the kitchen and gave the older man a solemn nod.
Morse jammed his hands into his pockets. He took a deep breath then in obvious anticipation of that first step toward the next room.
"Good luck, sir." The sergeant's words were quiet and earnest. One man to the next. Morse looked at Lewis then and saw him more clearly suddenly. Lewis was a clever, clever sod, really, Morse realized. He'd have his inspector post soon enough. But in the mean time, he had figured out so much more. The man had a place where he belonged each evening. A full and forgiving place. A home.
Morse raised a hand to pat the taller man on the arm. He made his walk for the kitchen then.
"Thanks, Robbie," the inspector managed as he went.
Morse knew, these next moments would not be about what he might convey to Siobhan without words. Tonight, she needed to hear the words. All of them.
Siobhan knew Morse would be in. She had told Val it was fine to send him. Still, she found she couldn't quite face him. So she stood at the sink as if looking out the darkened window and kept her back to the door.
"Siobhan?" he called out gently from the threshold.
"Hello, Morse," she replied without even turning around. "I don't want to make this difficult on the Lewises."
"No, neither do I. But I'm here now. A tad impulsively, perhaps. So, just let me tell you that I'm sorry we fought, and that I love you."
She turned finally. And couldn't help but smile at him.
"I love you, too."
"I don't say it often enough," he offered.
"I think I'm more worried that loving me is not enough to make this work."
He walked up close so he could whisper.
"When I met you, I had no idea what I had found."
"What is it you found then?" she asked quietly.
"Everything. Possibly. If I don't muck it up too horribly."
She nodded and swallowed hard.
"What do we do?" he asked.
"You just want things to stay the same? Two places - an hour apart. Weekends together and the odd holiday?"
"I would rather you lived with me, honestly, but how could I ask you to do that? You'd need to transfer someplace closer or..."
She felt herself getting angry. "Because you couldn't move? That's just out of the question? The answer to you is that I could just give up what I have and we'd just live together!"
"I'd want you to marry me," he interjected too roughly.
The words knocked her back for a moment. If she had ever expected a proposal from the man, this setting was not fitting her fantasy a bit.
"It's not that simple," she protested finally.
"I know! That's partly why I've never brought it up."
"Do you even want kids?" she blurted out.
" 'Want' would be too strong a word. I don't have that need to reproduce. And I'm fairly certain I would be horrible at it... Raising them, I mean," he tried to correct, "not re..."
Siobhan laughed at the verbal pickle he had gotten himself into. She squeezed his arm and smiled at him.
"Did you really ask me to marry you a bit ago? It's just, before this all goes horribly pear shaped, I'd like to know," she said still smiling.
"I would like to marry you. I do wish it could be that simple."
"And kids. Just yes or no, Morse. Don't prevaricate."
"Yes." He froze then having heard himself answer more easily than should have been possible. "Not in large numbers," he amended. "And with the aforementioned caveat."
"That you would be horrible at it?"
He saw flashes then of Joyce's kids. Of the nieces and nephews Siobhan had. "More inadequate than horrible, I suppose. At least until they can manage a conversation."
"And where is this imaginary family living?"
"Here. Oxford." He said this without pause as if it was eminently obvious.
She rolled her eyes.
"I've got fewer then 10 years till they retire me. It makes sense. Here, until I am off the force. Then wherever you get posted. As long as it's civilized." In the back of his head there was a filmstrip running, it seemed. A future with a family. And somehow, it worked. "Or if not quite civilized, then out near my sister's kids. Or your brothers'. So, the cousins could get together," he finished softly, with a shrug. He was getting a strange vision of domesticity that made sense if only because he saw Siobhan at the center of it. In every frame.
Neither said anything then. It was as if they were letting the unlikely nature of the conversation settle a bit. Could it work? Any future together required a huge compromise for both of them.
She would have to start looking for a new posting in a neighboring department. That would most likely set back her hopes for promotion. But she found as she stood there, that that seemed a small price to pay if she could have him with her every night.
That he would tell her that he would ever leave his beloved Oxford was an incredible concession. That he would share his place with her and a child was near mind boggling. And not just to her, but to him, she knew.
He waited for his rational mind to object to everything he had just told her. But it didn't. He was stubborn, yes. And in this instance that meant he was completely unwilling to lose her. Even the prospect of parenting seemed possible when he looked at her.
"Have you thought about this? Really?" she asked carefully.
"Yes. Before tonight, I worried about it all. I've tried to figure out how we would ever make something long term last. And I've thought of nothing else since you left tonight."
She saw him tense his jaw then as if steeling himself.
She worried there was something more he needed to say. "But?" she prompted him.
He surprised her then by taking her hands in his and saying quite earnestly, "I want to ask you properly, is all. Siobhan? Will you marry me? Please."
"I will," she said happily.
He kissed her, and she ran her hands through his hair as he tried to pull away.
"But," he whispered then, reverting to his old worried self. "Can we please not tell anyone for a week?"
"Why?" she asked with a laugh.
"That way, if you change your mind, everyone won't already know."
She shook her head in disbelief, but saw that he seemed serious. She smiled at him again. "I'm not going to change my mind. But we can ease into this... engagement, if you need. Tomorrow night, if the lads ask me out for a drink..."
"I can tell them you are with me," he finished.
"Say it," she told him as she burrowed into his shirt.
He cleared his throat. "The Detective Sergeant is ..." he teased.
"Oh, do be specific," she complained.
"Morse!" she growled.
He chuckled. "Siobhan's with me," he whispered at her temple.
"And then you come out with us, and you buy the first round."
"I do?" he protested.
"Yes, it's sort of a friendly token of consolation. See, you get me, and they get the drinks."
"One round. Then home."
"Yes," she assured him with a squeeze. "You. Me. Home."