"Morning has broken like the first norning," Cat Stevens voice slices through the morning gloom, shocking Peter awake, "Blackbird has spoken like the first bird, " his flailing arm manges to grab his phone and stop the terrible noise before his head explodes. Now all he has to do is figure out how he managed to programme his alarm to play that. He gingerly opens his eyes, and then quickly shuts them again. He thinks this is his flat, he recognises the curtains, and the weird stain on the ceiling, but he's pretty sure it didn't look like this yesterday. He sneaks another look, no he hadn't been imagining it; it does look like someone's invited the glitter fairies in to decorate. There's gold cushions on his sofa, a thick rug on the floor next to his bed, bright red mugs sitting on his counter, and what he's pretty sure is a mini glitter ball hanging from the light fitting. While he has been known to indulge in a little comfort shopping in the wee small hours, particularly when he's had a few, his tastes run to weird electronics, not this.
There's a glass of water and what looks like paracetamol on his bedside table, and he's in too much pain to care where the pills or the table came from. He lets go of the blanet he's woken up holding and swallows the water and pills, praying they don't take long to kick in. Looking down, he realises it wasn't a blanket he'd been clutching, it's a coat. A coat he recognnises, and that's a whole new problemm. How the hell did he get his hands on Ripley bloody Holden's coat? The man's never without it, like it's surgically attached to his body. He tries to think how this could have happened, even if he'd managed to actually arrest Ripley, the coat'd be at the station safely tucked up in evidence, not here in his bed. He remembers he'd wanted to take his temper out on his usual punching bag, thinking to use Ripley to slake his anger. Ripley hadn't been on the floor when he'd arrived, and he remembers how irritated he'd been. One of the regulars had offered him a drink from his flask, and he'd been so frustrated he hadn't thought twice. It'd tasted a little strange, but he hadn't cared, he'd kept drinking, and the rest of the night is just a blur.
He thinks there'd been music, and dancing, but that can't be right. The image of himself belting out a song swims to the front of his mind, but he tells himself it was just a dream. He can't have done that, nor any of the other things he's seeing. After all if he'd actually propositioned Ripley, he'd likely be in a hospital bed, not tucked up at home. No, he's damn sure it was all a drug induced hallucination due to Ripley's dodgy friend dosing him. He briefly considers hauling Ripley in for that, but knows it won't go anywhere, and his reputation can't take too many more hits. Admitting he'd been off his head on an unknown substance won't do him any favours, so for now he'll have to let it slide.
But none of this helps him with the new decorations, there's no reason for him to think of that the night could have led to this. The fancy coffee machine he'd bought in a fit of misery right after Natalie left lets out a series of gurgles, and he realises he can smell coffee. And that's another oddity, as he'd never managed to get the damned machine to work, but this morning it's bubbling happily away. He pours the coffee into aone of his new mystery mugs and heads into the bathroom in the hopes that a hot shower will clear his head, and help him figure out what's going on.
It doesn't, his memory's still shot full of holes, but at least he's no longer feeling like death warmed over, and he's got a second mug of incredibly good coffee to drink. He stuffs Ripley's coat into a binbag, hoping that out of sight will mean out of mind. But before he can get to properly investigating the changes to his flat, his phone starts ringing. Or rather it starts singing, "His name was Ernie, and he drove the fastest milk cart in the west.… " and when he grabs for the phone the number belongs to Blythe, but the icon has been replaced by a picture of the milky bar kid of all things. He splutters out an answer to Blythe's cheerful greeting, and agrees to meet him out front in ten minutes, his personal investigations will have to wait as they've got a call.
He spends the journey to the station glaring at his phone, trying to figure out how it's been reprogrammed, and who can have done it. He batters away the memory of Ripley mocking young Blythe for his driving skills, how he'd said they'd have had more luck catching the twockers in a milkfloat than a squad car as slow as Blythe drives. The day doesn't get better, he's gets a call from the pathologist and gets some very strange looks as the room echoes with the sounds of the Thompson Twins, "Doctor! Doctor! Can't you see I'm burning, burning. Oh Doctor! Doctor!. Is this love I'm feeling? He's never going to be able to go down the morgue again once that gets round; at least nobody clocked the Tom Baker photo that popped up.
When they head out to lunch people keep smiling at him, and old Mrs Asher from the chippie pats his arm and tells him he's a good lad. Normally she all but spits in his food, as she's not forgiven him for trying to arrest Ripley in her shop one night, but today it's like he's a long lost grandson. She even heaps a big pile of scraps on his chips, with a joke about how he'll need the extra energy.
There's more smiling faces and friendly greetings as they walk the prom, and he swears he hears, "Nice moves," from more than one passerby. It's all adding up to the fact that maybe his night wasn't just the drug induced hallucination he'd been pinning his hopes on.
Back in the office he hopes things will get better, but they don't, because as the afternoon wears on the texts start. Every one with a few bars of Call Me, and a picture of Ripley Holden, grinning at the camera like he's just found the meanng of life. He can't turn the phone off, and blocking Ripley's number doesn't help, as it turns out he's programmed in more than one. "Call me, call me any, anytime" over and over with short texts and pictures that are driving him mad. One just says dinner with a picture of a candlelit table, another says drinks with the accompanying picture a bottle of his favourite whiskey. The texts keep coming, and everytime he just keeps stabbing at his phone, dismissing the messages, but he can't make the memories disappear so easily. Each time he sees Ripley's smug grin flash up on his phone he remembers a little more, how they'd danced, the way it'd felt to be held in Ripley's arms. And even worse the way they'd kissed, how he'd practically begged Ripley to fuck him, and how instead Ripley had taken him home and seemingly tucked him up in bed alone. It's driving him mad, he doesn't understand why Ripley's doing this, why he'd go to such lengths to make him suffer.
He realises he isn't hiding his panic too well when Blythe fetches him an herbal tea instead of the coffee he's asked for, muttering something about how it's supposed to be calming. But the final straw is the call, he'd left his phone on his desk while he went to file the paperwork, thinking he'd only be gone for a minute. But instead of Blondie the phone starts up with, "I feel pretty. Oh, so pretty, I feel pretty, and witty and gay. And I pity, any boy who isn’t me today." He lunges across the room, but he's not quick enough, and from the shocked look on Blythe's face he's not the only one who recognised Ripley's voice and he's no idea how to explain this.
"Doing all right there son."
And just when he thinks it can't get any worse, he realises his boss is standing right behind him. "Guv, I can explain..." At least he hopes he can, surely there must be some plausible explanation that'll cover this.
"No need, I heard you had quite a night last night. It's Sunday, why don't you take off for the day, there's nowt that needs doing today."
D.C.I. Albright heard about last night, that's even worse, he knows his boss is a little too friendly with Ripley, but this is a disaster. "There's no need, I'm fine to work Guv."
"I'm sure you are, but there's no work so urgent it can't wait for tomorrow, so off you go." Albright doesn't give him a lot of choice, steering him towards the exit, and giving him a gentle shove down the street.
"I feel pretty, oh hell no, he's not listening to that again, "Just fuck off Ripley, I'm not sure what bloody game you're playing this time, but I'm done, you've had your fun, now leave me alone." Disconnecting a mobile call isn't nearly as satisfying as slamming down a real phone, but he feels slightly better as he watches the screen go dark. Ripley rings again and again, but each time he just declines the call and resolutely ignores the voicemail icon in the corner of the screen. He can't go home, doesn't want to deal with the mess at his flat, so he walks the seafront, heading out of town away from the crowds. After a while the calls stop, and Peter pretends he isn't disappointed that Ripley's already given up.
When his phone does finally ring again it's not Ripley, "The lady in red is dancing with me, cheek to cheek, There's nobody here, it's just you and me, It's where I want to be," he doesn't even have to look at the picture to know it's Natalie. She doesn't give up, and seeing her picture, dancing on white sands in a flimsy red dress, makes his heart ache. She's never really been his, but letting go of that dream hasn't come easy. When he finally gives in and answers Natalie doesn't bother giving him time to think.
"Ripley says you've got some daft ideas in your head."
"Ripley says..." he can't believe this, "You're talking to Ripley about me, why on earth would you listen to him."
"Who else is he goiing to talk to? Nobody knows the both of you as well as I do."
"Natalie, that doesn't make any sense."
"Peter, it makes perfect sense, at least it does if you're paying attention."
"So tell me exactly how does Ripley tormenting me make sense? Does he usually get off on torturing his victims, why the hell doesn't he just punch me and get it over with?"
"Peter, he's not going to punch you, and while getting off might be his motive, I promise it's not going to be a torment. Well, unless you want it to be."
"Natalie, did you lose your mind? Get incurable sunstroke or something, Ripley isn't being serious, this is just payback."
"Do you remember I asked you to come with me?"
Of course he remembers, saying no had been one of the hardest things he's ever done. "Natalie, my job, you know I couldn't come."
"You couldn't leave for me, but you could stay for Ripley," she doesn't give him the chance to deny it, "He was the same you know, he couldn't leave either."
He can't decide what's more shocking, that Natalie had still loved Ripley enough to ask him to go with her, or that Ripley had stayed behind. "It's not the same."
"Peter love, it's exactly the same. Just like me leaving wasn't about Ripley really, nor you, it was about me."
He's heard her say that before, but this might be the first time he believes it. "So you're saying that all these texts and calls are..."
"Ripley's idea of romance. Yes that's exactly what they are, one thing our boy's not is subtle. If he wants something he goes for it, full steam ahead."
He lets the idea settle into his head as he chats with Natalie, Ripley wants him not as a game or a scheme, this is something he could really have if he decides he wants it. The longer they talk the easier it seems, the distance between them seeming less and less important by the minute. Natalie's got all kinds of ideas and advice, and he listens avidly to every word. She's so sure that things will work out, that he starts to believe she may be right. It's an exhilarating thought, that all his hidden dreams and fantasies might actually come to be. As the conversation winds down, he has to ask, "Are you ever coming back?"
"Not to stay," there's a moment where she falls silent, and he thinks maybe he shouldn't have said anything, "Would you want me to?" This time there's a hesitance to her words, like for the first time she's not sure of the answer.
"For a visit, to see you happy."
"But not for good."
It's not a question, not really, "No, not for good."
"You'll be too busy anyway, and I'm glad I'll not have to be worrying about the pair of you anymore. All that pining was right depressing to watch."
He'd argue the point, but knows it won't get him anywhere once she's set her mind to something Natalie's surprisingly tenacious. There's something in her voice that makes him think it's not just him and Ripley moving on, and he's okay with that. Though if it turns out the bloke's a wrong'un he's sure Ripley will take care of it, that's if he doesn't get there first. One thing he's always shared with Ripley is a need to protect everyone he loves, even if he isn't in love anymore.
They leave it there, neither wanting to push things further, and Peter starts the long walk back into town. If he knows Natalie at all, she probably called Ripley again as soon as their call ended; so he's sure it won't be long before he hears from him, and this time he's not dreading the call. He's almost reached the arcade when his phone finally comes to life, "Call me, call me any, anytime," this time it's a picture of his handcuffs, no message. He throws back his head and laughs, which earns him some odd looks from the people on the street. He doesn't care, if Ripley wants to play he's more than willing; but this time, he's going to be the one setting the rules. He sends back a thumbs up, he'll wait to say his piece til Ripley's in front of him, and if he's on his knees, so much the better. Ripley's got no idea what's heading his way, Peter's done with playing it safe, he's never backing down again.