He didn't know where he was.
Morse passed a few street signs but none of them were recognizable to him. Every time there was a noise behind him- the snap of a twig, the hooting of an owl- Morse would flinch, thinking Kirk had come to grab him again.
It was fucking freezing. However he managed to convince himself it wasn't as bad as he thought. He wasn't going to die from this, that it was merely discomfort and the worse thing that'll happen to him would be a head cold. Except every time the wind blew, it felt like he was being struck across the body with ice cubes. He'd cry out, his body shivering uncontrollably.
It wasn't this cold this afternoon.
Morse carried on, ignoring his chattering teeth, determined to get back to Master Thursday.
Judging from where the moon sat, it was only eleven at night. He'd been missing for over six hours now.
Morse slowed in his tracks, then stopped, gasping for air. Sweat ran freely down his cheeks. He could smell himself. He could smell the mud on his skin, but now the sweat added on an extra underlying stench that made him grimace. He doubled over, his breaths coming out in white puffs.
What really mattered if Thursday believed him or not.
A fellow police officer was a Slave Right's Activist. Kirk did more than preach of slave rights, he actively snatched them away and set them free. To accuse someone of stealing slaves was a great offense. To prove it true could result in Kirk finding himself in forced servitude for the rest of his life. If he had a wife (Morse didn't know if he did) if he had kids, they too could find themselves suddenly stripped of their freedom.
The whole precinct could find themselves under severe investigation. The press would eat them alive, Thursday could very well lose his job, and in the end, Morse would still be recycled.
To top it all off, was Kirk really somebody Morse wanted to expose?
The man freed slaves. Morse was damn lucky he got Fred Thursday as a master. Too many times Morse walked down the street and passed a slave who was missing their fingers, their tongue, or were sporting fresh, bleeding wounds. Those poor fellows were not as fortunate and some were nowhere near to becoming free.
When Morse came to visit the precinct, he sometimes overheard chatter about slaves disappearing into the night. "I'm not surprise," one officer said a few months back. "Everyone knows Sheppard likes to beat his slaves. It was just a wonder it took this long for the bugger to up and run."
Maybe Kirk helped that poor bugger, maybe he didn't. Either way, was that something Morse wanted to stop? To destroy Oxford's only real freedom fighter?
But if he didn't tell Thursday the truth, if other people knew Morse was missing, what other choice did Morse have? To lie meant his own death. To tell the truth meant the death of other slaves. Did he value his life above all others- was this something worth dying for?
Morse stood up straight, the stitch in his side burning lightly. Without coming to a decision, he started jogging again. Not even as he passed a road sign pointing the way back to Oxford, his mind was a blank.
It was at six in the morning when Thursday heard the front doorbell ring.
As a police officer, Thursday had long given up his ability to sleep through anything. He always kept an ear out for the phone or the front door. When he heard the the bell echo through the house, he was immediately awake, blinking furiously to keep himself that way.
Win often tried to be the same and began to rouse from her sleep. Thursday gently hushed her, told her to go back to sleep, and pulled the blankets more around her to help. Within a second she snoring away, snuggling under the warmth.
The sun was barely rising at this point, but Thursday could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. With a yawn he grabbed a robe that was draped over a chair and shrugged it on. By the time he realized he forgot his slippers, was already down the stairs. Grimacing about his cold feet, he reached out and opened the front door.
Thursday had to shake his head to ensure what he was seeing wasn't a dream. The boy was hunched in on himself, his arms wrapped around his torso, shivering like mad. His face was dirty and greasy, his hair unkempt and splattered with mud. His clothes were ripped. Bits of leaves, twigs and pollen stuck to them. It looked like he was rolling in the woods.
"Jesus Christ, lad!" Thursday cried out, grabbing Morse by the shoulder and tugging him inside. "Get in here!"
Before he closed the door he took a quick glance around to ensure none of the neighbours were watching him. The only person he saw was the milkman who was just coming onto their street. He closed the door.
His raised voice must have caught Win's attention because she came down the stairs in a huff, hastily putting on her own robe. She saw Morse and gasped.
'Run a bath,' Thursday mouthed to her. She nodded and ran back up the stairs.
Thursday steered Morse to the living room and made him sit down. He grabbed a small, knitted blanket Joan made two Christmases ago and draped it over Morse's shoulders. "What happened to you?" He demanded.
"Kidnapped," Morse said. His teeth were chattering. "I was... grabbed on the way... home."
Thursday reared back. Oh god, he was wrong. What did those bastards do to him? "Tell me who they were. I promise you I won't include your name."
Morse shook his head. "I can't."
"You can. You're safe here, I-"
"He is a Slave Right's Activist. I can't... master."
He said 'master' quietly, almost begging. The boy was tensing up, as if expecting blows to rain down upon him.
In his entire life, Thursday saved only fourteen slaves. Two in his teenage years when he helped a pair of siblings escape upon a truck. Four in his twenties when he forged papers for an entire family to leave the country. The rest were during the war. When he found scattered, lost slaves; instead of turning them in (like he was suppose to), he guided them to safe zones.
Once he was back home, once he learnt Win was pregnant, Thursday's priorities changed. Though he still tried to help scattered slaves, no longer was he active in trying to free them.
Morse didn't have to give a reason why he refused to name the Activist, Thursday already knew. The Activist was probably helping others as they speak. Maybe those recently disappeared slave owned by Rachel Newman (who had the nasty habit of breaking fingers for petty offenses) was freed by that particular person.
However, that didn't mean Thursday should let this slide.
Looking at the state of Morse, exactly what kind of Activist was this person? Too many Thursday came across slaves shoved into small boxes to export them as mail, only for the poor bastards to die from heat exhaustion or suffocation. Sometimes they were transported through unsafe environments, and many ended up dying from stepping on a rusty nail or gangrene.
Most of the time when these slaves died, these Activists don't bother to give them a proper funeral. As soon as they realize the slave had died, they abandon their mission, and leave the corpse to be found elsewhere.
"Morse, don't protect this person," Thursday urged. "They may have good intentions, but you know where that road leads to. Who knows how much blood is on their hands trying to transport slaves. Give me a name."
The boy was not going to budge. He would rather get a beating than release a name.
Seeing this, Thursday sighed, the fight draining out of him. "Then, for god's sakes, Morse... why didn't you go with them?"
"I can't..." Morse said, still shivering. "Not yet."
Upstairs, Thursday heard the water cease. Win must be finished with filling the tub. "Come on, then," Thursday urged, prompting Morse to get up. "Let's get you clean."
They were barely half-way up the stairs when there was a sudden knocking at the front door. Now who the fuck would that be? Thursday considered not answering it, he had other priorities at the moment, but it could be someone from the precinct. With one hand, he shooed Morse to continue without him.
Grumbling, Thursday pulled his robe closer around him and trudged back down. He opened the door.
"Kirk! What are you doing here?"
There was a cry above him. Thursday turned around to see Morse awkwardly run down the stairs yelling out, "Sir, get away from the door-!"
Thursday turned back. He found himself staring down the barrel of a gun.
Kirk cocked back the hammer.