Chapter 1: Gonna Set This Dance Alight
Kicking back in his chair, Ripley takes one last look at the books before shutting down for the night. For a while after it all went tits up at Shyanne's wedding, he'd thought he'd lost it all. But despite D.I. Carlisle's best efforts none of the charges managed to stick, it'd cost him, but in the end he'd strolled away a free man. Free, but alone, Natalie had stuck to her guns. She's off somplace warm, finding herself according to her last call. He'd wanted to scoff that she's the one who'd gone and lost herself when she'd left. But she'd sounded happy, and he'll not be the one taking that from her, though it aches to have her gone so long.
Carlisle's not given up, he's always around, determined to take Ripley down. After Natalie left without him, he'd looked lost, like he didn't get how he'd managed to screw things up. What he didn't get was that Natalie does love him, just like she loves Ripley, she just didn't need either one of them. Her love is what stayed Ripley's hand at first, kept him from getting rid of Carlisle a little more permanently. But as time passed, he'd folded Carlisle in to the group he thinks of as his. He's no intention of letting Carlisle take him in, but he'll be buggered if he'll let anyone mess with his detective. Not that Carlisle's aware that he's under Ripley's somewhat dubious protection, Terry's running a pool on when he'll finally notice. If it takes another couple of months Ripley stands to make a tidy sum. He's not obsessed, at least that's what he tells himself. He's not unaware of the good detective's looks, and he knows himself well enough to understand that he's attracted, Natalie's always had exquisite taste. But he doesn't go where he isn't wanted, and he's pretty damn sure that Carlisle's never once indulged in the kind of fantasies that haunt Ripley's dreams.
Ripley feels just a little bit smug as he steps out of his office, it's a busy Saturday night, and all is great with his world. Looking round, he's pleased to say that everything's exactly as it should be. Music streaming from the speakers, almost drowned out by the clinking of coins, and the ever present bells and chimes that fill the air. The lights are flashing, and there's a queue of eager punters waiting to exchange their cash for tokens. The regulars are all in place, Sweet Suzie hunched on her favourite stool, vape clamped firmly in her teeth as she glares at the precarious piles of coins in the tuppenny slot. Makka's in his usual spot by the claw, he's already got a small heap of the cheap plastic tat piled up, but Ripley know's he'll not stop til he's finally managed to grab the big bear, so he's set in for the night. MediKen is dutifully feeding his illgotten gains into the highest stake roulette machine, Ripley won't let him sell onsite, but he's no qualms about relieving him of his profits after the fact.
Everything's great, but he can't help but feel that something's a little off, the rhythm of the place isn't quite as it should be. He takes another look, happy customers, busy staff, no obvious problems. There's a knot of people gathering near the back, but he assumes it's just someone on a streak, that always attracts attention, and in the long run helps keep the place buzzing, the odd payout's a small price to pay for keeping the place busy.
He heads down, wanting to be on hand when the winner makes good, if he's fast enough he might get a couple of good pics for the local rag, beaming winners are the best advertising. But as he gets closer it's not the chimes of a machine about to pay out that's drawing a crowd, it's the slightly surreal sight of one D.I. Peter Carlisle dancing and singing like he's on stage at the pier, "Oh it's been getting so hard, living with the things you do to me, my dreams are getting so strange, I'd like to tell you everything I see," actually Ripley may have been overly generous calling it singing, but that's Ballroom Blitz being slaughtered by the not so dulcet tones of his pet detective. It's made even more disturbing by the fact that the sound system's currently playing the best of David Grey, as Ripley had read somewhere that it depressed people into gambling more in an attempt to feel better.
The detective being there isn't in itself that unusual, he likes to come round and blame Ripley for whichever unsolved crime has his knickers in his knot that week. He's been accused of everything from money laundering to running an illegal puppy mill over the past couple of months. He half expects Carlisle to try and have him up for causing global warming, as desperate as he's been getting lately. But seeing as Ripley's not guilty of most of the crimes he's accused of, it's never been a problem. And Ripley's always enjoyed the game, just so long as he's the one in charge of the board. However Carlisle's visits usually involve shouting and lectures, not whatever insanity this is. While Ripley's been trying to gather his thoughts, Carlisle's moved onto the chorus, and now the crowd's joining in, stomping and clapping along, "Ballroom Blitz, ballroom blitz," it's like X-factor's worst auditons on acid, and Ripley wishes he could just ignore the whole mess, but he can't let this rabble get ideas, as long as they're singing they're not playing, and he can't be having that.
MediKen sidles up, and Ripley gets the feeling his night's about to get worse. "He had a right face on when he turned up," Ken nods towards Carlisle. "Bringing the whole place down he was, thought I'd cheer him up a bit." He tips his ever-present flask in Ripley's direction, and that's when it all clicks into place. Ken had been quite the succeess story back in the day, leading light in pharmacuticals before he'd pissed his bonuses away in some of London's better casinos. These days he puts his talents to little white pills for the local tweakers, but when he's self-medicating he tends to get a bit...experimental. Ken's liver's so pickled it takes an impressive mix to affect him at all, but Ken' s idea of a quick pick-me-up could do anything to a bloke like Carlisle who doesn't regularly indulge in anything stronger than whiskey.
Riley resists the urge to lay into Ken, he can deal with him later, right know he's got a detective inspector who's been drugged with an unknown substance on his hands. As funny as Carlisle being off his head might be under other circumstance, he can't afford for him to be caught this way on Ripley's premises, not when it could mean his license. He's going to have to get him out of there sharpish, though he's no idea how.
"Ripley," it seems Carlisle's finally noticed him, but instead of his usual scowl, he's beaming at Ripley like he's just seen something amazing, and that's almost more disturbing than the singing, "Ripley, come sing with us."
Right, Ripley can deal with this, he just needs to be firm, "Song's over, why don't we find somewhere quiet to go and sit down?" He tries to guide Carlisle away from his adoring fans, but instead of coming along, he slithers out of Ripley's grip and fucking pouts at him. It's quite possibly the most horrifying thing Ripley's ever seen, detective inspectors aren't supposed to pout, and he doesn't have the first clue what to do.
"Please Ripley, I want ta sing with you."
"Don't be such a mardy bastard, sing with the man." Ripley doesn't know who exactly decided to help out, but he'll be going through the security footage later with a view to making sure he knows who deserves his appreciation.
"Oh, I see a man in the back as a matter of fact, his eyes was as red as the sun, and the girl in the corner that no one ignores, 'cause she thinks she's the passionate one, " he's not so much singing as he is gritting out the words, but it seems to make Carlisle happy. He sways forward, and Ripley's suddenly got a small Scottish barnacle attached to his chest.
"You sang for me," Carlisle's peering up at him now, and tightening his grip like he's afraid Ripley's going to run off. Which frankly would be a distinct possibility if he wasn't worried about the consequences of leaving Carlisle unattended. "You're tall, like so very tall, the absolute tallest.." his voice trails off and he full on giggles, like it's the funniest thing in the world. "If we dance I'm gonna have to be the girl."
"We're not going to dance, the song's done and it's time for all good detectives to go home."
"I'm not a good detective, never get my man."
"I'm sure you're a good detective, you get lots of bad guys all locked up." There's something bizarre about reassuring Carlisle of all people that he's good at his job. But given how off his head he is, Ripley figures he's better off placating him. It's like dealing with a toddler, only Ripley doesn't remember his kids being this demanding.
"Didn't lock you up, after Natalie left it all went wrong. Thought I knew what I wanted, but she said I didn't. Did she tell you what I wanted?"
Natalie had said a lot of things before she left, about transference and sublimation and some other bullshit that Ripley's spent the last few months trying to repress, but like hell is he going to discuss his ex-wife's crazy ideas with Carlisle, especially not while they've still got an audience.
"I think she'd say you want to go home to rest." Oops, that was obviously the wrong tack, as the pout is back in force, and this time Carlisle looks like he's on the verge of tears.
"Don't have to do what Natalie wants, she's not here anymore."
And while he might agree with the sentiment, he's got to get things back on track. "It's not what she wants, it's what you need, don't you want to go home?"
"I miss her, but not miss her miss her...not like I'd miss you."
"You'd miss trying to lock me up you mean, can't wait to give those handcuffs of yours a workout."
"Haaandcuffs...make such a pretty picture, you want to play?" Carlisle starts fumbling in his pockets, finally letting Ripley free.
He can't believe what he's hearing, but the image is seared into his brain, how he'd look in the cuffs, and the thought that Carlisle thinks he's pretty of all things is doing funny things to his mind. "We can't play here, it's not the right place for it."
"I'll wait to play, but we've got to dance first."
"This isn't a good song for dancing," David Grey's currently warbling, I've been afraid to show you how I really feel and Ripley's never hated him more.
"It's alright, we've got you," the joker from the crowd is back and Ripley vows he'll track him down, but before Ripley can come up with another argument the singing starts up again. "When you're alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown, when you've got worries, all the noise and the hurry, seems to help, I know, downtown," They're off key and out of synch, but that's less important than the fact that Carlisle's pressing close again. And Ripley realises this may be the only way they're getting out of here.
He takes Carlisle's hand in his, lets his other hand grasp his waist and slowly starts to move. Carlisle's hands curl around his shoulders, and he tucks his face against Ripley's neck, as they sway together. He tries to hold the rhythm while manoeuvring them towards the back door, but the feel of Carlisle's lips pressing against his skin as he mouths the lyrics along with the crowd is distracting in ways he doesn't want to examine. It feels good, like Peter fits in his arms, and he stumbles a little as he realises that Carlisle's become Peter and he doesn't know how.
"Just listen to the rhythm of a gentle bossa nova, you'll be dancing with 'em too before the night is over, happy again," he's singing along now, caught up in the music and the dance, and the way Peter feels in his arms. It's easy to just let go, to have this moment, even if he thinks that it won't last once Peter sobers up. His steps get more confident, and he holds Peter more firmly and twirls them round the crowd, Peter matching him step for step. They're reaching the final chorus, but Ripley's not looking to get away anymore, so when someone yells out, "Dip him you daft bugger," he's only too happy to oblige.
Letting Peter's body arch down, before hauling him close again, and as the last words of the song echo through the room, he loses what's left of his mind and leans in for a kiss. He doeesn't have time to regret his impulsive decision as Peter seems to come alive in his arms, deepening the kiss and practicully humping Riley's leg. The crowd's cheering them on, wolfwhistles and raucous suggestions coming at them from all sides. One thing's for sure, there'll be no pretending this didn't happen, the story will be through the whole town within hours. Not that Ripley wants to pretend, this may have been an unexpected surprise, but he's not one for denying himself, and now he knows that Peter's not as uninterested as he'd believed, then he'll damn well fight for him. He's not expecting it to be easy, but easy's never interested him much, and he's not in the habit of losing.
But just as suddenly as the kiss started, it end; as Peter finally runs out of steam, and practically collapses in Ripley's arms. Ripley wants to drag him upstairs and lay him out, but he knows that Peter's in no fit state, and while he may be no saint, that's a line he won't cross.
No, now that Peter's finally stopped fighting him, he'll take him home, and get him safe. Hopefully once the drugs wear off he'll appreciate that Ripley took care of him, and that'll leave him inclined to not want to see Ripley up on charges over this. He scoops Peter up, and carries him out to his waiting car. It doesn't take long to reach the flat Carlisle's been stopping in for the last couple of months.
Manoeuvring him up the narrow stairs isn't too tricky, but when he goes digging for the keys, Peter wakes just enough to get bolshie. He starts grabbing at Ripley, and while Ripley's fantasised about Peter feeling him up, this isn't the time or the place. Fumbling the door open he steers Peter towards the bed, but when he tries to pull away, Peter holds on tight. Resigning himself to staying for a while, he lets himself be pulled down beside Peter on the bed. He'd never figured Peter for a grabby one, but seconds later he's wrapped around Ripley, like he's a giant teddy bear and it doesn't take long for him to relax into sleep.
Ripley carefully slides out of the bed once he's sure Peter's out for the night. He has to sacrifice his coat to the cause, Peter's still gripping too tight for him to prise him loose, as he wriggles free Peter grabs the coat close, burying his face in the soft wool. Ripley's free, but he can't leave yet, just in case there's problems when Ken's concoction wears off, so he's stuck here for the night.
Now that he's sure Peter won't notice, he takes his time looking around. The flat's sad as fuck, half Peter's stuff is still in boxes, and what little he does have is dull and tired. Well that's something Ripley can fix, and Peter's phone's right there, plenty to keep him amused while he waits.
Chapter 2: Get A Little Action In
"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.