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The microwave finishes and Ripley takes Luther's cup of tea out, takes it into the living room and places it on the coffee table.

"Thank you," Luther murmurs.

Ripley stands beside Luther awkwardly, then sits down next to him on the dippy couch. He can't get comfortable, the leather in his jacket squeaks at every inch of a move.

Luther sits in deep thought, a statue. Ripley tries to mimic him, but he's restless. He's never been sure what to do when Luther's like this. When he won't open up. What's he doing here? Is he meant to sit idly by whilst Luther goes over the case in his mind over and over again, thinks through every aspect of every known fact, tries to piece together every single possibility. Is Ripley here for moral support, or is he meant to help Luther figure it all out? It's never worked, Luther doesn't share information. He has a train of thought in his mind and he follows it through to the very last station, no matter if passengers want to board.

Ripley makes for the zapper, is caught off guard when Luther envelopes his hand around Ripley's, leans back in the couch and takes Ripley's hand to his stomach. Ripley has no choice but to lean back on the couch too so as to avoid a twisted wrist. He tilts his head to the side, watches as Luther scrunches his eyes closed, frowns.

What are you thinking, John Luther?

In all honesty, Ripley sometimes gets sick of cases, of the constant death, the despair from the deceased's loved ones  weighing on him as he and his team do the best they can in solving the mysteries. He doesn't know how Luther does it, constantly thinking about it, it consumes him. Ripley has to have two lives, he has to divide his time between work and something else, anything else, so he doesn't go crazy. So when Luther's like this Ripley can't stop himself from trying to help, because he knows where Luther goes if he fruitlessly digs too deep.

But it's often less about the need to make action, and more about how, exactly. Countless times Ripley has tried talking to Luther only to be talking to a brick wall for half an hour. He's often tried bringing his case files with him, sitting with Luther and going through it but again, there's just a point where after a long day at work he can't go on with it anymore. Ripley's not the machine Luther is, he needs sleep and food and a nice hot shower, and after all that he's revitalised, ready to work.

Luther begins caressing Ripley's hand with his thumb and Ripley just feels so totally helpless. Ripley loves this man, he honestly does and if helping him out means being a teddy bear to John then he's fine with it. 

Ripley scans Luther's face for signs. Luther's shut eyes relax, and slowly open, and he looks slightly alarmed, like he's realized something really important, and Ripley can't help but grin. He's done it.

Ripley thinks Luther says his name, a ghost's whisper lost in the air. Luther reaches up, wipes tears off Ripley's face with his thumb.

"Thank you," Luther says.

Luther gets up in a rush, grabs his coat off the ground, it billows as he briskly heads out of his apartment. The front door slams and Ripley lets it all out, collapses in shaky breathing and tears on Luther's couch.

 

*

 

It's a late night again, one of the later ones. Ripley's at his desk, going over the cctv footage again, Luther's in his office. Erin dutifully stayed on until 10pm, the minimum requirement.

There's a crash in Luther's office, Ripley rushes in.

Ripley immediately begins picking up the papers Luther spilled on the ground when he sees a framed photo of Zoe, smashed.

Luther breathes heavily, guarding himself, "careful, there's glass."

Ripley carefully takes the photo out of the frame and sets it on Luther's desk along with the papers. Luther's rubbing his head, frustrated. Ripley slips his hand into Luther's free hand, gives it a squeeze.

"Let's leave it for now," Ripley says softly.

Luther's hand is limp in Ripley's, "I can't."

Ripley steps closer, "we've done enough tonight John, let's head home."

Luther moves away, slips his hand free from Ripley, "no, no I'm not ready to give up yet."

"You wouldn't be giving up you'd be - "

Luther looks sharply at Ripley and says, "Not tonight,"

"Not tonight," Ripley repeats, sadly.

Ripley knows when he's not needed.

 

*

 

"Calm down Justin, calm down, I can't understand what you're saying," Julie says, slight panic in her voice.

Ripley spurts out another incoherent sentence, followed by a hitched sigh.

Julie pauses, "I'll get you some tea,"

Ripley looks up, startled, "I'm fine, you should sit,"

"It's really no problem Justin, won't be long," Julie says as she heaves herself off the couch.

Julie makes her way slowly to the kitchen, sets off about making tea for her brother. Her movements are edgy, alarmed by seeing her brother this way. Ripley feels a pang of guilt, she's got enough on her plate what with another baby coming, she doesn't need her brother having a mid life crisis in her living room.

Julie comes back with tea, hands the Peter Rabbit painted mug to Justin.

"Now have a sip and tell me what's got you so worked up," Julie says, settling back on the couch.

"Always so bossy," Ripley says with a cheeky grin.

Julie winks, but quickly returns to seriousness.

After a moment, Ripley begins, "It's complicated,"

"Go on,"

"Well, I sort of ended up dating my boss. He's wonderful, he's intelligent -"

"Handsome?"

"Very. He's my greatest friend, and he needs me. He can be caring, he can be kind, he can love me sometimes but mostly, it's like his mind works in another plane of existence. He's distant even though I'm right next to him. I thought I could do it, I thought I could be there when he needed me to, and not when he didn't."

"But you need him too?"

Ripley nods, "I feel like such a nob needing another person like that but I do,"

"It's normal, sweetheart,"

"It's the cases. They get in his head, they become him. It's so hard to shake him loose, it's taxing on me and I can't keep it going anymore. What should I do Jules?"

"If he's making you unhappy the simple answer is to break it off with him."

Ripley begins to cry again, "I can't, I love him and I hate him but I can't stop seeing him."

Julie thinks for a bit, rubbing her pregnant belly, "I'm not saying this is going to work, but it's something to try. How about you try seeing other people at the same time?"

"What, do you mean I start having a polygamous relationship?"

"Since you can't get what you want from your boss, try elsewhere. Talk about it with your boss before you go on with it, maybe that conversation in itself will change his mind about how he treats you."

"I don't think that's a good idea. You got anything else?"

"It's that or break up with him Justin,"

"Mum?" Lucy, Julie's eldest daughter, calls out from the stair case.

Lucy spies her mother and her uncle sitting in the living room and bounds down the stairs, bursts into the room, "Uncle Justin! Uncle Justin!"

"Go back to your room sweetie, Uncle Justin and I are having grown-up conversations."

Lucy jumps into Ripley's lap and attacks him with hugs. Ripley laughs, "It's okay Julie. Hey Luce, how was school?"

"I didn't have school today, it's a Saturday," Lucy laughs, begins looking at Ripley's badge on his uniform.

"Is it? I guess I forgot what day it was," Ripley says.

Julie gets up from the couch, scoops her daughter up in her arms.

"No I want to play with Uncle Justin,"

"Uncle Justin's very tired, we have to let him rest," Julie makes to leave the room.

"I think I might head back Jules,"

"Oh do stay," Julie says, turning to her brother.

"Stay! Stay!" Lucy shouts.

"I've got a lot of work to do. Thanks for having me sissy."

Ripley kisses Lucy on her head, gives the two a hug.

"Call me?" Julie asks before Ripley leaves.

"I will."

 

*

 

Ripley sits at the restaurant table and he doesn't think he's ever been this nervous since the first ever day of police work. It's 7.30pm, she's late, Ripley's having second thoughts. He suddenly feels watched, which was of course true, only via camera. Still, he couldn't help but wonder what would happen if Luther happened to walk passed, would he barge in and break a few things just to get to Ripley?

Thinking about what Luther might do gave him the shivers. He knows Luther would never hurt him, he'd be willing to hurt himself though. He probably should have told Luther what he was doing, he'd feel better, wouldn't he? That conversation over and done with, what would life be like? Easier, harder, sadder, happier? All Ripley knows is that he's a coward, couldn't even bring it up with Luther. Hey boss, I'm really sad so I'm going to try dating some people outside of our relationship, I know you'll be cool with it, see you later. Like that would go down well.

Ripley's date arrives, Gloria. She's beautiful, elegant. She's a geologist, she's smart, she's the kind of girl Ripley would date, but the date goes badly. He's unresponsive, bland, mind elsewhere. No follow up date, no apologies.

Is it gratifying? Not really, no.

Is Ripley lonely enough to go through it again? Yeah, probably.

 

*

 

Erin sets the beers down at their booth and slides into the chair opposite Justin, takes a swig of hers.

"Got plans for tonight?" Erin asks, casually leaning back against the booth.

Ripley wraps his hand around the bottle, cold.

"Not really, no. You?"

"Just this," Erin sits up right, suddenly serious, "Look, the reason I asked you here was to talk about work, and I know I know, non-work hours are meant for non-work chat, but I can't stand it. I'm thinking everyday about quitting because it's this bad."

"Do you mean that we don't always go by the books?"

"Not just that, it's like everything I suggest is shot down by Luther. Every single thing. He thinks I'm utterly useless."

"That's not true. You figured out the bus, you found the barrels Cameron left behind. Don't ever think you're useless, you're on this team for a reason, you're integral."

"I don't know about that… it certainly doesn't feel like it. A little constructive feedback would be nice once in a while, don't you think? To let us know how we're going, motivate us to improve. That's how it was like at my old place. And here's Luther going about thinking he's Sherlock Holmes with all the brilliant ideas that solve the cases. Well he's not, we're a team and he takes us for granted. He uses us and he gets all the credit, and he doesn't do a thing about it because he loves it."

"It's not like that…"

"No think about it Justin, you do more research into cases than he does -"

"That's because it's my job -"

"Not entirely. It's his job as well and you do basically all of it, he just looks over it. You're doing the actual digging and that makes you a better cop than he is because you're willing to go that far."

"Luther does too, in different ways."

"But that's just the point isn't it? If you were boss you'd be getting to the same conclusions, but the right way because you don't think like Luther, you think like a morally sound policeman. That's what I thought I was getting myself into when I signed up for this."

"Luther has his reasons for doing work the way he does. I've told you before. And we catch the bad guys don't we? We always do where more rule heavy departments don't."

Erin sits back, squints.

"I wish you would stop protecting him and really look around you."

Ripley says nothing, sits stiffly, hand frozen in place around the beer bottle.

"You must really idolize him Justin. Otherwise… I can't understand why you're so loyal to him."

"He's proved to me time and time again why I should ever be loyal to him," Justin says, trying to remain chill.

"That's not an answer. Doesn't your girlfriend ever question why you adore him so much Justin?"

Ripley's eyes go wide, "I don't have a girlfriend."

"Oh, oh that makes sense."

"No it's not like that Erin, I'm dating, I am it's, well -"

"Not going well because of work? Same here,"

"Yeah, I suppose that's it, I don't have time really."

"I'll give you this advice Justin, and I know this is a bit of a wanky to say but anyway. I lost the love of my life so I could focus on work and it's cost me, it really has. If I could go back, I would try and balance my two lives out, but I've made my decision already, and I have to stick with it. For me my life is all about work, and you must now understand why I find my current work situation so frustrating. But if you have someone in your life, make it work. Really try to make them a part of your life."

Erin smiles softly, and Ripley knows she means well.

"I'm going to head off now, but don't forget what I said Justin. Don't take his shit, you're better than he is. We both are."

Ripley nods unconvincingly, Erin shrugs and scoots out of the booth. If she thought balancing two lives was hard enough, imagine trying out three, Ripley thinks to himself.

 

*

 

Ripley's on his way home when he gets a text from Luther, reads, "Come over, now."

Yes sir, right away boss.

Ripley uses the spare key Luther gave him to get into his flat. It's dark now, it did take him an hour to get here. He really does do too much for the man.

"Boss, where are you?" Ripley calls out as he closes the front door behind him.

"In here," Luther calls from his bedroom.

Ripley walks in, Luther's sitting on the edge of the bed, hands on his knees. Luther's wearing tracksuit pants and a loose top, and Ripley doesn't think he's ever seen Luther this casual before. Ripley feels like he's going to a fucking formal the way he's dressed compared to Luther.

"I'm glad you came," Luther says, and Ripley nearly believes it.

Ripley leans against the doorframe, studies Luther, "you look tired,"

"So do you. Come here," Luther beckons Ripley, who can't help but to oblige.

Ripley stands in front of Luther, Luther wraps his arms around his legs, pulls him close. Ripley looks up at the ceiling, cracks, peeling plaster, peeling like Luther peels his skin off, gets him to do as Luther wills.

Luther's breathing's hot against Ripley's dress pants, warm head, warm arms wrapped around him. And the betrayal, his erection forming. Luther begins untying Ripley's shoe laces and Ripley knows just where this is going. After Ripley steps out of his shoes, Luther pulls Ripley down on the bed with him, swiftly flips over him, straddles Ripley's hips.

Slowly, Luther works on unbuttoning Ripley's dress shirt, splays it open, reveals his chest. Luther kisses the skin, square in the middle of his chest, moves his sticky lips to Ripley's right nipple, thumbs the left. Ripley moans and rolls his hips, straining for touch, and Luther makes that deep growl in his throat and Ripley loves that noise. Loves it and he's forever going to associate that noise with this night.

"Is it my birthday?" Ripley rasps.

"No…" Luther says, a question in his voice.

Luther swiftly unpicks Ripley's pants button and slips his hands beneath Ripley's waistband, caresses Ripley's prick. Luther gives it a quick squeeze, then lets go. Focuses on hitching Ripley's pants down, allows for better access.

"Can't I do something nice for you once in a while?" Luther says with a smile, winks at Ripley.

Then he takes Ripley's prick in his mouth and Ripley goes blind. He thinks he shouted something, probably highly incoherently. Luther sucks him, sucks him dry and caresses his balls and his tongue is everywhere at once. Rosy cheeked, red nosed, spread out on the bed, Ripley thinks he must be dreaming. What changed? What did he do right? How can he do it again?

He's on the verge, so close, and Luther knows it, so he stops. It's cruel, Luther's evil but he proves himself to the angels when he slips off his trackies, climbs back over Ripley and perches.

"Are you ready?" Ripley asks, wondering when Luther prepared himself, if he didn't even notice he was widening his hole that whole time.

"Are you ready Justin?" Luther asks, tugging a condom over Ripley.

"Yes."

And at that, Luther presses Ripley's throbbing prick inside him, howls tastefully, leans down to kiss Ripley's puffy lips. It's jolty, sweaty, it's heated, it's like Ripley's prick is bursting a thousand times over moving in and out, the old in and out. Ripley could have come a hundred times over and he would become rock solid again within seconds, the libido of a sixteen year old. Luther rides him like it's the end of the world, he's one of the four horsemen, Jesus on his horse arriving safely in heaven, the bare light bulb on the ceiling creating a halo behind Luther's head.

Ripley takes Luther's prick in his hand, pumps it, in time, hopefully, he doesn't really know. He's not going to last much longer, he wants it to last forever. He wishes they could fuck beyond the end of time.

Ripley comes and shudders, ridged movements, a wave of relief, a tranq to his forehead. Luther comes not long after, spills over Ripley, collapses beside him.

The pleasure's gone and the guilt comes back. He should tell Luther about the dating, but not after this. Not after this. Not when he's entangled in Luther's half naked, heaving, panting body.

 

*

 

These times when Luther's invested in caring about Ripley, actually talking to him, listening, loving him, fucking him, it's like a mood swing for Luther. Ripley suspects maybe Luther has bipolar, but he doesn't know enough about it to really make an educated guess. Luther's content is contagious to him, he's more willing to take risks when he feels Luther's eyes on him at work. Brief kisses, hand holding, groping and silly stuff when no one's watching. And then one day, always random, never predictable, that satellite emerging from Luther's body, emitting Ripley-waves can no longer be received by Ripley. It's a dead signal and no amount of jiggling the cable, recalibrating the channels, can get it back. Not without Luther wanting to. Not when he had more important broadcasts to watch.

In between, Ripley dates. He doesn't usually go in with the intention of fucking, but sometimes he's so sad, so starved for connection with an actual human that it just happens. He's found a steady date which helps a lot, minimises his anxiety, grounds him. Her name's Susie, she's in a similar situation, only her husband is in and out of hospital. He made a deal with her, the rules of their relationship is that they don't talk about any of the sad stuff. It's meant to help each other, it's meant to help them stop opening old wounds and open up in a different way, learn about each other, learn from each other. Get to know a human being who's someone they need in their life. They used to meet once a week but lives are always hectic, and it didn't really work when neither of them could make consecutive weeks, so they upped it to two. Makes something Ripley can look forward to when Luther's off with the fairies and Ripley wants to think about anything but work.

It's not like it's bliss or anything when he's with Susie. She's not his soul mate. She just helps. Not always sexually, not always emotionally, sometimes in just the most simplest ways. She's her friend. They do things like talk about their day, fuck each other senseless and they play round after round of boggle together.

It's always hard for him to leave the hotel, he's in another world there. When he leaves, he has work to do, he's got Luther to interact with, he's got his family, Julie's children to look after on the weekends. Criminals to detain. He can sort of sympathise with Luther now, realizing how hard it is to leave that scene in his head, but Luther still works on an opposite timeline to Ripley, and Ripley's not sure if he'll ever be able to accommodate that.

 

*

 

"It's organised crime at its worst," Ripley says, reviewing the cctv footage for the tenth time.

Luther stands behind Ripley, watching the screen, "So this suspect enters through the back door and takes out the kitchen crew, uses the normal noises you hear from a busy kitchen to mask his killings. Then he leaves. I don't get it. Doesn't look like he's aiming for anyone, he doesn't even savour the reactions from the staff or people in the restaurant. So why does he leave so quickly? What's he doing?"

"Maybe it's a revenge killing?" Erin suggests.

"No, not when it's organised like this. Think about it, these all happened at the same time, at five different middle price ranged restaurants in the area," Luther says, begins to pace.

"A gang war?" Ripley says.

"Yeah, could be. Look into it, I'm heading to the closest one, which is..?"

"Black Pepper, ten blocks from here," Erin says.

Luther heads to his office to grab his coat.

Erin takes a seat beside Ripley and nudges his shoulder, "Guess you'll have to cancel your date since you won't be able to go to Courgette anymore. There won't be any chefs left."

Ripley smiles awkwardly, "Maybe I can see if they won't charge me since I'm working on their case."

"What are you smiling about lads?" Luther says as he sweeps out of his office.

"Oh Justin was going to take his date out to one of these restaurants," Erin says before Ripley can stop her.

Luther stops, blinks, "what was that?"

"Nothing really, only Justin making bad date location choices."

"I'm sure what he planned will be fine, I'm looking forward to it," Luther says, eyeing Ripley.

Ripley's heart is out of his chest and exploding out of his mouth.

Erin looks a little confused, "can't wait to hear about it either."

"Ripley, you're coming with me."

Ripley stands up in a rush, almost knocking the chair out from beneath him.

Erin turns to her computer, "don't worry Justin, I've got the research covered. I'll send any important things over to you, Boss."

 

*

 

Luther takes the stairs and envelopes Ripley's hand firmly in his grip. It's a nice gesture, a kind one that Ripley's not used to, but he won't let himself feel happy about it. All he currently feels is a guilt-blanket made of bricks draped over him, bogging him down.

At the third flight of stairs down, Luther stops by the large window, corners Ripley against the wall.

"You’ve been different lately," Luther says under a whisper, which echoes nevertheless.

Ripley can't look at him, his eyes are drawn to the busy streets down below, scanning for anyone, anything of interest to focus on.

"I've been wondering why, and now I know you've been planning a date for us," Luther steps closer, slings his arm around Ripley's waist.

Where Luther touches Ripley's body, tingles. Luther's touch is a stranger to him even after so long. Briefly Ripley wonders if this is how Zoe ever felt, after days and days of his absence, both in her presence and away at work, how she felt when he wrapped his arms around her. Like meeting the same stranger over and over again, simultaneously new and old, undefinable nostalgia.

"You haven't been around much, I've missed you," Luther kisses Ripley's neck, slick lips on Ripley's two day stubble.

"I'm thirsty for your affection, it's like I never get it."

Luther tries to kiss Ripley, but he's pushed back.

Angry, Ripley says, "I feel so fucking guilty and this is exactly why I shouldn't. You think that you never get to see me? How about all those times I've come when you called even if it means crossing the city to get to your cheap flat, and I get there and it's like you're dead. And don't tell me that's never happened, because it always happens. How dare you accuse me of not showing affection when you don't? I'm sick of it. I don't know if it was like this when you were with Zoe but if it was, I don't understand how she lasted 18 years of constantly using translators on you."

Ripley grips the window sill, red faced, teary eyed. Luther's a statue, a stone chiselled caricature of the Scream.

"What are you saying?"

Ripley turns to face out the window, sighs. It's still hard to look at him, he shouldn't feel guilty still but he does and he blames it all on Luther.

"John I love you but I can't survive with you, not if you won't put in the effort."

Luther's silent, somehow containing his rage.

"I don't want to see you for a while. I'll still come to work, but it'll be a purely professional relationship."

Luther pauses, speaks gruffly, "if that's what you want."

Ripley makes for the door, "I'm taking the elevator back to the office,"

As he leaves, part of him hopes that if Luther does become physically angry, he'll smash his hands against the concrete walls.

 

*

 

Ripley's asleep in the hospital bed, and Luther can't stop thinking that he looks so bad, Cameron hurt him so bad, and yet the moment Luther saw Ripley, he made him work still. The man had literally just escaped from a kidnapping for fuck's sake, and Luther makes him get on with work. What kind of man is he?

Luther takes Ripley's hand and presses it against his lips. Ripley's skin's cold, damaged, the way Cameron hurt him makes Luther want to cry. He had really hoped he was doing the right thing, he knew Ripley could manage, but he didn't know for sure the outcome. If Ripley would be able to escape, if they'd find him in time, if they'd find him at all. If Cameron had hurt him too badly, and Ripley escapes but he doesn't make it. That death would be on Luther. Cameron knew that. Letting Luther's emotions meddle in the case would have been exactly what Cameron would have wanted. And that's why he detached himself from the Luther that was with Ripley, and became the Luther who was only a policeman.

If he hadn't… well, Ripley was here, alive, getting better.

Ripley stirs, eyes peek open, "what are you doing here boss?" he murmurs.

"Making sure you're alright," Luther says, caresses Ripley's cut eyebrows.

Ripley winces.

"I do care about you, you know," Luther says gruffly.

"Doesn't seem like it most of the time," Ripley croaks.

"I know, I'm sorry," Luther drops his head, grips Ripley's hand with both his, "I didn't know if I was going to see you again."

"Did you miss me or something?"

"Yeah, I did."

Ripley swallows. It could be the drugs, it could be him dreaming again, it could be Luther never told him about a twin brother he had, who was convincingly sincere.

"Almost losing you Justin, made me realize how big of a shit I've been. I did it with Zoe and I did it with you too. Neither of you deserve that kind of treatment, and I should have learned from the first time."

"I can't believe it, are you opening up to me? I really must be dead."

"Don't say that, don't say that. I love you Justin, and I want to be better for you, I want to not be the person Zoe stopped loving like she used to, I want to not be the person you stopped loving like you used to."

"I never stopped loving you,"

"Yeah but it's different isn't it? I can tell these things. I am a copper you know… I've made it hard for you and easy on me and that's not fair."

Ripley waits.

"I've been wanting to ask for ages, I've wanted to have this conversation with you for so long."

"And it took you having me almost die to get you to actually do it."

"I'm know I'm a shit. Don't have to rub it in," Luther laughs.

Ripley smiles, shifts in his bed.

"Will you take me back?"

"Consider it done, boss."

"Will you move in with me?"

"I'll have to think about that one, boss."

"Will you stop calling me boss?"

"No deal."