That One Moment
Disclaimer: I do not own Luther.
Note: So I know that Ian went on to do some pretty unspeakable things but I still think that, if that maid hadn't inexplicably decided to stop hiding then, they could have stopped it right then. Luther was certainly willing to.
John Luther spared a moment to push the thoughts of the chaos unfurling around him from his mind to wonder when, exactly, things had gotten so out of control? Or maybe he was just fooling himself. Maybe things had never quite gotten back into control after he'd let Henry Madsen fall. He'd tried so hard but Zoe had seen right through that, hadn't she? That was why she left. Or at least it was according to Alice and he didn't know how great of an idea trusting her insights was.
Alice was another good starting point. With her accidentally in his life, his routine police work – already rather unpredictable – was punctuated by random little indications of her presence. Beating up Mark, putting a knife to Zoe's throat, breaking into the old house…Trying to disentangle his life from hers was a prospect that had already led to one death and even if he didn't exactly mourn the man he had once tried to kill, he wasn't looking forward to seeing just how far she was willing to go. She had killed her parents, after all, for no reason she had ever given him. And what's more, he wasn't even sure that he wanted her out of his life anymore.
But he had thought that those little bits of chaos were just clawing at the outside of the order that made up his life. A world where Rose Teller complained about his methods but trusted him to do his job, Justin Ripley simultaneously idolized and judged him, and Ian Reed, his best mate, who was always there in a pinch.
Zoe had once been a constant but he couldn't even begin to figure out what was going on with her lately. She had left him but promised to wait while he got his life sorted out. Then she met someone and wanted nothing to do with him. Then she reluctantly accepted him at the outskirts of her life. They had started an affair and now she wasn't taking his calls.
At least Mark and his chronic distrust was starting to become familiar.
As far as he knew, Justin and Teller were the same as ever but he really should check lest he next find out that they've gone on murder sprees or joined a commune or something else completely out of character.
He had thought that Ian was fine.
He had noticed that Ian was showing a little stress; what kind of best mate would he be if he hadn't? He had been feeling stressed himself and just made a note to deal with it later after taking the man who had started it all into custody. He had his suspicions that Ian was becoming something of a vigilante, determined to do whatever it took to see that justice was done.
And the thing was that he understood that. He really did. Lucien Burgess in particular had driven home that need to stop that monster regardless of whether or not he was able to outwit Burgess. He had, in the end, but the questionable legality of it all (to put it mildly) had practically made Justin ill. And good old Ian had been the one to help him, pretending to be a dirty copper. And now this.
Luther always knew that he operated on the edge but it was how he was comfortable and afforded him his best results. It had cost him his wife and nearly cost him his job (still could if Schenk had anything to say about it) but he did good work and got good results. Recently, it seemed like the whole damn world was determined to accuse him of being dirty but none of that mattered. He wasn't in it for himself. He was in it for justice at all costs. And he could even say, honestly, that he wasn't even obsessive about it since he had stopped trying to bring Alice Morgan in.
But this…what was this? How had he never noticed? Ian Reed, a man with a far stricter moral code than he had, had just killed a man in cold blood. He wasn't a very nice man, certainly, but it was still rather unexpected. And he had known about the kidnapping. He hadn't approved of it, he swore he hadn't, and he hadn't meant for anybody to get hurt but he was still taking bribes and trying to profit from his position without the police department.
Somehow, when he hadn't been paying attention, Ian had become a legitimately dirty copper. It was foolish to just take his promises that he hadn't intended to hurt anybody at face value but Luther rather thought that he could take that on faith. A lot of the less obviously violent crimes – bribery being among them – were often seem as victimless crimes. Just look the other way, who will get hurt?
And then something like this happened and that poor woman.
Ian was still looking at him. He was trembling less than he had been now that he had Luther's gun in addition to his own but he still looked like a cornered rabbit who might bolt at any moment. It wasn't easy to see his closest friend that way and Luther didn't even want to know what Ian might do if he panicked and fled.
He might not even make it out of the hotel room alive.
"Yes, I still want to help you," Luther said firmly. "This hasn't gone too far. We can still fix this."
"I've been running around trying to fix this since we heard about the kidnapping," Ian said miserably. "And I've been mucking it all up, too. It's my fault she's dead, you know."
Luther's eyes narrowed in confusion. "What are you talking about? You said you didn't have anything to do with that and you were with us when she was killed anyway."
Ian shook his head. "No, I…I knew somebody who knew somebody who I thought might be involved with the kidnapping. You know how these things go. I set up a meeting and I convinced him to try and free the girl. He was clearly caught and they were both killed. But if I had just left well enough alone then we would have gotten there on time."
"You don't know that," Luther said immediately. "We were able to get in so easily because the bodies had been abandoned. Clearly when your friend went in there was still some security there to kill the both of them. Maybe if you did nothing then that security would have still been there. Maybe we would have caught the bastard who killed her but she'd be just as dead."
"Maybe." Ian looked unconvinced.
"Ian, mate, you can't blame yourself for trying to help. And sending someone in to rescue her? That's about as helpful as you can possibly get. If you did nothing and she died you'd feel even worse," Luther said persuasively.
"I killed this bastard," Ian said, poking at the dead man with his foot. "What am I supposed to do about that? You can't just go around killing people to solve your problems."
A small part of Luther relaxed at hearing that. He had wanted to believe but he hadn't been sure before. That Ian still believed that was definitely what he had needed to hear and meant that there was still some hope for him.
"No of course not but who's to say that that's what happened?" Luther asked rhetorically. "I mean, two coppers and a dead criminal and most people aren't going to jump to 'One of them must be involved and the other is helping cover for him.' And that's even before I tell them that he drew a gun on us."
Ian was quiet for a long moment. "You keep saying that you want to help me."
"That's because I do, Ian," Luther said fervently, hoping that if he said it enough times then that might actually sink in.
"Why would you lie for me?" Ian asked despondently. "You know that I shot him in cold blood."
"And you know about when I broke into a suspect's boat and beat the crap out of him before planting evidence," Luther retorted. "And yet, somehow, Burgess is still rotting in prison and Schenk hasn't gotten around to asking me about that yet."
Ian closed his eyes. "That's not the same thing, John, not the same thing at all."
"No, it's not," Luther agreed. "But you're my best mate and he was a monster and I'm not all holy and pure myself. What else am I supposed to do?"
Ian shrugged. "Turn me in, probably."
"Over this piece of shit?" Luther asked rhetorically. "Not bloody likely, Ian."
"You don't know what I've done," Ian said hollowly.
"I know enough," Luther insisted. And he did. If Ian was so distraught about the death of an innocent woman that he had not actually killed now then he couldn't be involved in any other innocents' deaths. And since he had noticed that something was going on with Ian, even if he had been wrong about what, then that meant that things hadn't really gone wrong before so he hadn't had to scramble around trying to cover anything up before this.
Ian said nothing, just started down at the corpse at his feet.
"This can't go on, though," Luther said gently. "It can't happen again. Ian, you know this."
"I do," Ian agreed. "Everything's gone to hell. I hadn't thought that it could ever get this far but now that I know…I can't keep doing this."
"Then our way forward is clear," Luther said, trying to sound more confident than he felt. "We call this in and tell him about the self-defense. Does anybody else who's out there know about you?"
"No," Ian said curtly. "But I still don't see how you can-"
"Relax, Ian," Luther cut him off. "It's going to be okay."
"I've been trying to make it okay all day but if just feels like I'm running as fast as I can and I'm still falling behind," Ian said wistfully.
"Well, you're personally involved," Luther reasoned. "You're panicking. But you've got to the source at last and dealt with it. The hostage situation is resolved and the ringleader is dead. It isn't resolved in our favor, no, but it is done with. And we might even be able to find the other people involved. It'd be easier if we could ask him but...What's done is done."
"None of this feels real," Ian said numbly. "It's like…I keep expecting to wake up and go in to work and none of this will have ever happened."
"Good luck with that, mate, but if it doesn't happen then at least we've cleaned this up," Luther replied. "The only loose end might be the fact that you look like shit right now but I don't think you've ever had to kill somebody in the line of duty before so that explains that."
"No, I haven't," Ian agreed, still not quite focusing.
"Just remember that these people will want to believe you. Even Schenk is here to look into my record, not yours," Luther reminded him. "They're not going to really question our version of events. They're not going to be suspicious but guilty people are often more paranoid than innocent people and end up saying too much. Don't answer any questions they don't ask."
"You're good at this," Ian said, looking almost surprised.
Luther allowed a ghost of a smile to appear on his face. "I'm being investigated to see if I'm dirty."
"No, not you," Ian said loyally. There might have been a trace of something else, too, but it was hard to tell. "You'll push the envelope farther than anyone else but, even now, you'd still not take the plunge."
"Thanks for the vote of confidence," Luther said dryly.
Ian turned towards the door. "I'm going to go call from downstairs. I can't be in here any longer. Can you wait with the body?"
Luther nodded. "Yeah, of course."
"John…" Ian said, hesitating.
"Yeah, Ian?" Luther asked.
"I just…thank you," Ian said, finally stopping looking like he was going to cry in favor of gracing Luther with a truly grateful expression. "I don't even know what I would have done without you."
"We'll get through this," Luther reiterated, hoping that Ian would be buoyed by the conviction in his voice.
"Yeah," Ian said softly. "We just might."
The moment he slipped out of the room, Luther breathed a sigh of relief. He had been sincere in his desire to help Ian (even if he wasn't exactly thrilled to have to cover up a murder) but it had almost seemed like a hostage situation, like he had had to talk Ian down.
When all of this was over, the two of them would have to have a very long talk. Luther didn't actually think that Ian would be so stupid as to continue to be involved with this kind of a thing but he couldn't afford to risk it. And it's not like he had anticipated Ian's involvement with this, either.
Apparently he was going to be the good copper for a change. He wasn't sure how he felt about that.
A door (Bathroom? Closet?) flew open then and a terrified-looking maid stumbled out.
"Ah. Heard that, did you?" Luther asked unnecessarily.
The maid couldn't quite meet his eyes. She looked like she'd rather be anywhere but there.
"Well, the way I see it there's either nothing to report to the police if you didn't believe what you heard and there's a very desperate man killing people to cover up what he did if you do believe it," Luther said conversationally. "I don't go around killing witnesses myself and I don't think he would either but, well, is that really the kind of thing you'd want to risk? Not to mention that there would be all sorts of awkward questions about what you were doing in here and why you didn't do anything."
"I-I don't want any trouble," the maid stammered out.
Luther eyed her closely, trying to gauge her sincerity. She seemed to be on the level. He almost felt bad for nearly threatening her but it really would be best for everyone if she would just forget what she saw and she'd be fine.
"How about you move on and go to another floor?" he suggested. "If anyone asks, you weren't even here."
Strangely, she too looked grateful before she all but fled the room.
He wondered vaguely if the hard part was over yet. Schenk would probably suspect him of going off and getting vigilante justice but, ironically, Ian's presence and collaboration should save him from that charge.
Just a little while longer and then he could make sure that Ian wasn't going to do anything stupid and then go and figure out what the hell was going on with Zoe.
And hopefully then he could go back to being the morally ambiguous one around here. Anything else was just too stressful.
If that was what it was like for Teller and Justin then he definitely owed them an apology even if he wasn't planning on changing his ways.
But first, he'd need to make sure that they hadn't completely lost it, too.
One meltdown a day was more than enough for him, thank you, and he didn't even know what Alice had been up to in the past few hours.