to take the pain away 1/5 ();
Whitechapel: series: 37stitches to keep the pain in
Joseph Chandler/Emerson Kent;
Set post S2. Life goes on, but moving on proves to be harder than Kent imagined it would be.
} chapter one; to keep the pain in
Kent hasn’t been sleeping. Chandler takes notice
Kent pressed his fingers against his eyelids, trying to rub away the itch of tiredness making them blur the pages of the case file he was trying to get through. The pressure brought little relief and he dropped his hand with a sigh, blinking away the spots that danced before his eyes as he struggled to focus.
It was gone past nine in the evening already, and aside from his DI, Kent was the only member of their team still working out of the Incident Room. It had been a few weeks now since the Kray investigation and though things were slowly returning to normal -- insofar as the term could apply to them, and the types of cases they were becoming known for (and for failing to solve to any sort of satisfying degree) -- the loss of both Kray brothers had left a bitter taste in all their mouths.
As a result of their failings they’d been relegated to the usual Friday night muggings and domestic call outs. Where once they would have felt the slight for what it was, now they only appreciated the calm before the next, inevitable, storm. If nothing else, the downtime gave them all a chance to recover, to lick their wounds and try to piece what they’d once had as a team back together again. Between McCormack’s suicide and the Kray’s personal vendettas, things had predictably become more than a little tense between them all.
Just thinking about the Kray’s and their attacks on the team brought to mind the attack he, himself, had suffered at their hands. He shifted in his seat, feeling the familiar twinge beneath the numbness that sitting for too long evoked. He pressed his fingers against his eyes again, frowning into the pressure as he tried to control the burn beneath his eyelids. Tiredness, frustration, pain. He didn’t know if he wanted to sleep or to cry. He still hurt. Weeks after returning to work, after ensuring the Kray’s reign of terror could not- would not- be continued, after the purge of corrupt officers in all departments, after everything, he. still. hurt.
He’d thought things would have been better by now. That everything would have gone back to how they’d been, before. That he would go back to how he’d been before. But they hadn’t. And he hadn’t. Nothing had changed. If anything it felt as if everything had just gotten worse.
Kent felt the moisture build up beneath his eyelids and rubbed furiously at them, digging his fingers in until the burn became something more than just simple tiredness or frustration. He shifted in his seat once more and the twinge became a slice of pain up his right side, shooting up from his buttock and stabbing through to his lower back.
He wasn’t sure if he made a sound, a gasp or a whimper at the pain, but barely a second later he heard movement from Chandler’s office. He flinched at the sound, jolting his hands from his face, his body tensing instinctively for flight-
-before Chandler stepped into the doorway.
He dropped his gaze, shuffling needlessly at the manila folder he’d been reading from. His heart was beating frantically against his chest. For a moment there, just a moment, he’d thought… he’d actually thought…
Kent bit at his lip. His fingers twitched against the pages as Chandler moved towards his desk, coming round to Kent’s side and leaning himself against the edge beside him.
He looked up, mouth pulling downwards as he waited for the expected lecture on staying too late and needing to look after himself more (he’d endured no less than three of these such lectures this week already and as much as he knew his team cared about him, each time he was forced to listen to them express their concerns over his health and well-being, it just made him feel small and incompetent. As though they didn’t think he could take care of himself).
Wordlessly, Chandler reached out to touch at the folder he’d been reading, his eyes skimming over the pages of yet another of the cold case files they’d been pursuing between their regular cases.
“You’ve been getting through quite a few of these,” Chandler said, conversationally.
Kent shrugged, carefully turning in his seat. “There’s not much else to do around here at the moment, sir.”
Chandler nodded, as if in agreement, “They’re not a priority though.”
“Nothing is,” Kent replied with another shrug.
“I mean, you don’t have to stay late to work on them,” Chandler pressed, the beginnings of a frown creasing his brow.
Kent dropped his gaze. He folded his hands in his lap, trying to stop the shake in them by squeezing his fingers together. “I know what you meant, sir.”
“Emerson-,” Chandler’s voice was soft, almost disappointed, and despite himself Kent looked up again.
Chandler’s frown deepened exponentially, his eyes raking over Kent’s face a moment before he reached out, his hand coming up to cup at his jaw. Kent startled at the touch and reached up to grab instinctively at Chandler’s wrist.
“Sir-?” he questioned, frowning himself. Chandler’s wrist was soft beneath his fingertips, the shift of bones delicate as Chandler tipped his face up a little further.
He felt his heart stutter. Seeing the intensity with which Chandler was looking at him. His fingers tightened minutely, unconsciously. Chandler hadn’t touched him with any sort of intimacy since the day of McCormack’s funeral where he’d held first his hand and then Kent himself.
“When was the last time you slept?” Chandler asked, his thumb moving against his cheek, brushing at the skin just below his eye. Kent felt his heartbeat pick up again.
“I sleep,” he returned, defensive. Feeling suddenly self-conscious with Chandler’s attention focussed so wholly on him.
“That’s not what I asked you,” Chandler pressed.
“Last night.” He bit out, pulling Chandler’s hand from his face. His skin tingled where Chandler’s touch had been and he looked away, feeling instantly terrible for his reaction. He knew Chandler was only expressing his concern. Any other time and he’d have been revelling in the idea of Chandler expressing any kind of emotion in his direction.
“Look, it’s nothing, alright?” he tried, belatedly realising he was still holding Chandler’s wrist. He released his grip almost reluctantly.
“You know they can’t hurt you anymore-,” Chandler started. Kent winced, visions of the knife slicing through him playing in his minds eye. He shook his head, trying to dispel the image as well as Chandler’s line of inquiry. “-we got everyone in the department too, Emerson.”
Kent frowned, mouth thinning. “I know,” he breathed out.
And he did. He knew that there wasn’t anyone around with an agenda against him anymore. He knew that. He just… it was hard, knowing something and trusting in that same knowledge to protect him. He didn’t know how to stop feeling so defensive and on edge, how to stop seeing his own attack played over and over again on some sickening high-definition loop every time he closed his eyes. He knew work though, and the distraction from his own thoughts it brought him. He just didn’t know how to get that across to the others in a way that wouldn’t have them all calling for an immediate suspension or another psych eval.
“I’m heading off for the night,” Chandler said then, not pushing. Kent felt himself slumping just a little in both relief and defeat. “I’ll give you a lift if you’re ready to go?”
“Oh, you don’t have to-,” He started.
“I insist.” Chandler interrupted, moving away from his desk and towards his office once more. “I’ll just be a moment.”
Kent watched him go, heart still thundering against his chest. He wondered if Chandler had only stayed this long because of him. He’d noticed it more and more as the weeks went on, that the others would stick around as long as they could before calling it a night. Despite having less work to do, everyone seemed to be putting in more and more hours and Kent had never stopped to think about it before now. He hadn’t been left alone at the office since… well, since then.
He wondered if Chandler had said something to the team about his being here the night the Incident Room was raided.
His chest felt tight as he pushed away from his own desk and cautiously got to his feet. His right leg shook beneath him, a rush of needles and pins running up the length of it. He gripped at his chair for a moment, waiting for the prickling sensation to fade away. He was getting better at ignoring it, at pretending that his striping wasn’t still affecting him.
Or, at least he thought he was.
When he looked up again, Chandler was standing in the doorway of his office, coat on and hand on the light switch, watching him carefully. He grimaced a smile, looking away and reaching for his own coat, thankful when his DI passed no comment.
- - -
The drive from the precinct was made in silence, with Kent staring forlornly out of the side window as Chandler drove them through the streets of London. Every so often he’d flick his gaze back towards Chandler, watching as the passing streetlights threw his face into a kaleidoscope of light and shade, waiting for him to finally break the silence between them.
It wasn’t that Kent wanted him to say anything, more that he was expecting something to be said; a comment, a lecture, an automatic suspension for not being quite up to scratch. He’d seen the way Chandler had watched him on their way out of the Incident Room, it had been glaringly obvious even without the covert glances that he was in pain. He’d done his best to disguise the limp with which he was walking, but it had been slow going all the same, and Chandler hadn’t said a word the whole time: not when he’d had to reach out and steady Kent on the stairs, not even when he’d seen Kent dry swallow two painkillers the second they were in his car.
And not now, twenty minutes into a half-hour drive to his shared flat when the silence between them seemed to drag on for an eternity. Kent felt as though he was poised on the edge of a nervous panic, wondering if he should count it as a blessing or pre-empt any possibility of a conversation by initiating one that had absolutely nothing to do with anything.
The car slowed to an idle stop; a traffic light turning from amber to red.
Chandler kept his eyes fixed straight ahead, his hands tight upon the steering wheel. Kent could see the way his knuckles were straining white and he bit his lip, fisting his own hands in his lap.
“I’m not sleeping.” He blurted before he’d even consciously decided to say anything at all. The words stuck like bile in his throat. He swallowed heavily against the taste of self-betrayal as he waited for Chandler to say something, anything.
“I know.” Chandler wasn’t even looking at him as he spoke, his voice soft and sure, as if he’d known exactly what Kent was going to say even before he did.
He bit harder at his lip, clenched his fingers a little more tightly together. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I shouldn’t’ve… sorry.”
He turned his head to stare out the window, wishing he’d just kept his mouth shut after all. If Chandler had wanted to talk he’d have said something. And, clearly, he hadn’t. More than that, Kent had just admitted something to him that he’d had absolutely no intention of sharing with anyone.
It started to rain. A light drizzle almost misting down upon the road. Kent wished it were heavier, that each drop would bounce up against the car and drown out the silence in a way his words couldn’t.
The almost tentative touch of Chandler’s hand against the clasp of his own made him jump. He looked down quickly, watching as Chandler’s hand settled over his, fingers curling around his fists with a squeeze that was both comforting and reassuring.
“I’m not asking because I didn’t think you wanted me to,” Chandler said, voice soft, sincere. Kent sucked in a breath, eyes flicking to meet Chandler’s and seeing that same concerned look from earlier plastered visibly across his face.
And just like that Kent knew that he wanted him too. He twisted his hands around, clinging to Chandler’s with just a hint of desperation. Chandler let him, squeezing back just as tightly and Kent felt the ever-present tightness in his chest constrict further.
“I just… I don’t want you, any of you, to think that I can’t handle this. That I can’t do my job.”
“We don’t think that.” Came the immediate response. Kent couldn’t help but snort his disbelief.
“You’re always watching me. All of you. And it feels like-”
A horn sounded loudly behind them, making Kent jump and Chandler hiss something under his breath as he hurriedly pulled his hand from Kent’s and released the handbrake. It was only when the car started moving again that Kent even realised the light had changed. He took a deep breath, trying to calm his heartbeat even as the driver behind them accelerated, overtaking them with another angry blaring of his horn.
For a moment he allowed himself to be distracted by thoughts of traffic violations and speeding tickets, wondering absently if Chandler would pursue the driver when Chandler’s hand returned to his, fingers slipping easily between his own.
“You were saying?” Though his eyes were fixed firmly on the road now and not on Kent, he felt as if Chandler were still watching him. He dropped his eyes to their hands, reflexively flexing his fingers. Chandler tightened his grip before loosening his hold, in much the same way as he’d done the last time they were this intimately close to one another. Kent closed his fingers around Chandler’s again not wanting to let go.
“You mentioned you weren’t sleeping?” Chandler tried when Kent remained silent.
He bit at his lip. He really only had himself to blame now for Chandler’s interest.
“I’m having some trouble,” he admitted. Chandler squeezed his hand, encouraging him to continue.
Kent frowned, not sure how to start. He’d thought admitting the fact was supposed to make the rest easier, not harder. But how was he supposed to tell Chandler that he couldn’t sleep because every time he closed his eyes he saw his attacks played out over and over again, waking breathless and terrified and more often than not with a shout on his lips.
How could he tell him that his flatmates were so fed up with being woken through the night by him that he’d just stopped trying to sleep for all their sakes, that he didn’t want to sleep anyway because he was terrified of what he’d see, that he was working himself to the bone in the vein hope that sheer exhaustion was the key to sleeping without dreaming.
“You have to give me something here, Emerson,” Chandler said, “I can’t help if you don’t talk to me.”
“I know… it’s just,” he sucked in a frustrated breath. Like a plaster, he thought. He was just going to have to say it like he was tearing off a plaster and hope that when the fabric pulled away he hadn’t ripped himself open again in the process.
“I’ve been having nightmares. Almost every night. I can’t sleep because every time I try I wake up feeling like I’m being striped all over again. Like they’re right there in the room with me. And I’ve tried everything but it’s been weeks now and everyone- my flatmates- they’re just fed up with the whole thing. And I am too. But I don’t know… I don’t know how to make it all stop except to work, to…” he shook his head. “I don’t know what to do.”
The last was said barely above a whisper but he knew Chandler heard him if the open look of concern he shot him was anything to go by.
“Have you spoken to anyone else about this?” Chandler asked a moment later, squeezing once at Kent’s hand before pulling away to apply the break as he pulled up outside Kent’s flat.
Kent shrugged. “Just the shrink they assigned me after the… attack.” He choked a little on the last word, trying to swallow past the bile talking about the whole thing brought up.
“It’s just my mind’s way of trying to process everything.” He finished, pressing his lips together. Chandler was watching him carefully, his hand still on the handbrake. He wasn’t sure if he wanted Chandler to try and hold his hand again or not, wasn’t brave enough to reach out and see if Chandler wanted to. Instead he folded his arms across his chest, hunching in on himself a little.
“And have you processed everything?”
He looked over, frowning. “What do you mean?”
“You came back pretty soon after the attack, right after we arrested Johnny Kray, before you were fully cleared to return to work even. Things… things didn’t get any easier from there and, I’m just worried now that you haven’t had enough time to yourself to properly accept what happened to you.”
“I’ve spent enough time trying to accept what happened to me!” Kent said, voice rising. “Don’t you dare-! Don’t you try to bench me for this! I barely made it through that first suspension, alright? Is that what you want to hear? All I had was myself and my thoughts and there was no one- nothing else. I need to keep working, Joe, it’s the only thing that’s keeping me going, the only thing that makes me feel- that makes me-,” he broke off, pressing a hand to his mouth to stop the flow of words.
He felt stretched thin, fragile and too close to saying everything that was on his mind. He wanted to scream, to cry, to curl up and never move again. It hurt. It hurt so goddamned much and he didn’t… he couldn’t…
“It makes you feel what?” Chandler asked, pressing exactly where it hurt. Kent shook his head, eyes squeezing closed.
“Emerson, it makes you feel what?” Chandler reached over, pulling his hand from his mouth and Kent turned his frown on him, very aware of how close to tearing apart at the seams he was.
“Safe!” He bit out. “I just- I feel safe, okay?”
“Okay,” Chandler easily agreed. Kent slanted him a look, unconvinced and just a little disbelieving.
Chandler smiled, mouth soft and sincere and Kent found himself slumping back against the seat, drained. Chandler still had a hold of his hand and Kent slowly became aware of the slow circles he was making with his thumb against the palm.
“You know humouring me isn’t going to make me feel better?” He asked, feeling suddenly, ridiculously exhausted.
Chandler offered him another smile. “I’m not humouring you. I am glad you feel safe at work.”
“I feel safe because you’re there.” Kent half-laughed against the words, shaking his head and looking away, wondering how Chandler would take that. He’d meant it to encompass the whole of the team, but sitting here beside Chandler, alone in the quiet of his car with nothing but the soft pattering of rain against the roof to interrupt him, he meant it about Chandler too. Maybe just about Chandler.
“I don’t want you to think I’m weak for this,” he said softly in the silence following his words.
“I don’t think that.” Chandler said.
“Or a liability,” he continued, “I can still do my job. I haven’t let this affect my work.”
“I know you haven’t.” Chandler agreed, almost before he’d finished speaking.
Kent felt a spark of irritation. “You are humouring me!”
“You’re just agreeing-”
“Do you want to stay at my place tonight?” Chandler interrupted.
“-with everything I’m, what?”
“Do you want to stay at my place tonight?” Chandler repeated. He wasn’t smiling anymore.
“I- are you serious?” Kent asked, faltering. Irritation warring with disbelief.
“I don’t think any less of you, Kent. Not for anything that’s happened. What the Kray’s did to you, what you went through during the investigation, any one of us would still be feeling the affects from that. I think you’ve held it together remarkably well. I- I don’t know if I’d have managed quite so well.”
“You were kidnapped,” Kent argued, trying not to think about the offer Chandler had made (twice) and then proceeded to ignore. “They beat you up. They could have killed you. But you… you came back in the day after and, and you were fine.”
“No, I wasn’t fine. But I have enough issues of my own that no one noticed.” He said, smiling wryly.
“The paperclips?” Kent asked, slowly, carefully.
It was Chandler’s turn to half-laugh. “Almost no one.” He amended. “That was right before-,” he broke off and Kent shifted awkwardly.
“I was barely holding it together. After-,” Kent gestured at nothing in particular. “I passed your office and saw you counting and I just felt-,” he stopped, shrugged, heart beating frantically against his chest. Seeing Chandler had calmed him somewhat. He hadn’t really thought about what he’d been doing, instead he’d put it down as another OCD quirk of his.
“It made you feel safe?” Chandler asked, leading.
Kent half-shrugged. “It was… familiar.”
Chandler looked away, embarrassed. “And then I came out and ruined that.” He said, quietly.
Kent said nothing and Chandler didn’t try to defend his actions. They’d already had this conversation and Kent was sure that neither of them wanted to rehash what had already been said.
“My offer still stands,” Chandler said instead. “You’re welcome to stay with me tonight. If you want. And not because I think you can’t- because I don’t- but you said you felt safe with us at work and I assume that includes me and-,”
“-I won’t think any different of you whatever you decide, I just though that if-” Chandler cut off his rambling and blinked at Kent. “Yes?”
“Yeah. I, that is if you’re-?” He trailed off, biting at his lip.
“Yes. No, I… yes.” Chandler nodded, lips curling into another soft smile that Kent found himself helpless but to return.
- - -
The realisation that he would be staying with Chandler didn’t quite sink in until they’d arrived and Kent found himself standing inside an excessively clean and expensive looking flat. He clutched almost desperately at the overnight bag he’d packed, fretting over whether to take his shoes off now, ten paces into the open-plan living room cum kitchen, or if he should have taken them off the second he entered the flat (possibly even before he’d set foot into the flat).
Not that Chandler had removed his, but standing in such an obviously clean space made Kent feel a bit like he ought to make an effort to help keep it that way. And though he wasn’t tracking mud across the wooden flooring, he dreaded to think what slight Chandler would take at his tracking anything across his floors whether by intention or not.
Chandler moved further into the living room, flicking a few lamps on en lieu of the main lights. Emboldened, Kent made it towards the couch before surreptitiously slipping his shoes off and nudging them neatly against the side. He clutched harder at his bag however as Chandler’s eyes followed his movements, a wry smile touching at his mouth.
“Can I get you anything? Tea? Coffee?” Chandler asked, hands flinching nervously at his sides.
Kent shook his head. “Um, no. Thank you. Just- may I use your bathroom?”
“Yes. Yes, of course.” Chandler gestured behind Kent. “It’s just down the hall, first door on the left. Towels are under the sink.”
Kent nodded his thanks.
By the time he reached the bathroom, he felt as though his heart was in his stomach, leaden and making him feel just a touch queasy. He dropped his bag to the tiled floor and leaned heavily against the door.
Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. It was one thing waking with night terrors and upsetting his flatmates, but quite another to do the same thing to his boss. What if he woke screaming? Crying? Unable to control the disabling fear he felt every time he woke up incapable of remembering where he was, or who he was with; the lingering aftertaste of his dreams still so fresh and debilitating. What if he lashed out at Chandler?
Oh god. Did he really want Chandler to see him in such a state? What had he been thinking? Why had Chandler invited him here at all? Was it out of a sense of responsibility? A manifestation of his own lingering guilt over the entire Kray disaster? He’d said it wasn’t but… it was hard not to feel like an obligation. As close as they’d grown over the last few weeks, there was still so much about themselves they didn’t share, questions they never asked, answers they never volunteered.
And this... this was a part of himself he didn’t want to share. Didn’t want anyone to see. This week, pathetic, mewling part.
Kent ran his hands through his hair, fingers curling fistfuls in his frustration. He had to stop this. He was just thinking himself into a panic. He forced himself to take a deep breath, to unclench his fingers and straighten up. He was here now. And over-analysing every little thing wasn’t going to help him. He’d stay, to decide otherwise now would only make things between Chandler and himself all the more awkward. But that didn’t… that didn’t mean he had to sleep. Did it?
He straightened a little, the idea slowly beginning to take form.
He could put up enough of a pretence to appease Chandler for tonight. And then hope he made it through the day at work tomorrow. He’d be fine once he got home, it being a Friday his flatmates would more likely than not be out until all hours of the morning. He should be able catch a few hours of sleep before he was woken either by dreams or the not-so-silent return of his flatmates.
He just had to make it through tonight.
He could do this.
Mind made up, Kent finally let himself look around the bathroom. It was a white suite; the sink a few paces in front of him with a bath to the left and the toilet to the right. Plain and impersonal. Kent stepped forward, lifting his bag to the sink and carefully reaching in to pull out a washcloth and a tube of cream.
He started the sink running, hot water quick to steam up the mirror above. It was better that way. He was self-conscious enough without having to catch glimpses of himself as he did this.
He stripped slowly, feeling awkward, vulnerable. He couldn’t help but look around, just to make sure he was completely alone before dropping the last of his clothing to the floor. He shivered, not entirely with cold, and tried to ignore the pinpricks crawling up his spine as he dipped his washcloth into the sink; hot water scalding at his fingers.
His movements, though hesitant, were quick and methodical. Too many weeks spent repeating the same motions meant that at least now he didn’t have to look at himself to do this.
His stomach rolled as he ran the cloth gingerly over his backside, over the thick lines of scarring that ran down the length of both cheeks; the right slightly worse off than the left: deeper, uglier. They were only just beginning to heal, weeks down the line, colour bleeding out from an angry puckered red to the now slightly less grotesquely purple hue. It would take a few more months before the bruised colouring completely faded, and with it the pain that occasionally flared up (or so he hoped. The knife’s edge had caught at his sciatic nerve on the right side and only time would tell if it would heal itself or worsen.)
Until then he had to persevere with scar oils, analgesic creams, and gritted teeth.
He finished quickly, applying the thick cream with practiced motions before pulling on the pyjama pants and well worn band t-shirt he’d brought with him to sleep in. His right leg was shaking badly by the time he was done and he took another moment to lean against the sink, shifting more of his weight onto his left leg to try and ease the pain. He could feel the deep heat effect of the analgesic cream slowly seeping through his muscles. He breathed carefully, in and out, in and out until the shaking stopped and Kent was able to carefully lean his weight to the right. He sighed in relief as his leg held him once more.
Okay. He could do this. He looked up briefly, catching sight of himself in the desteamed mirror. He did look as bad as he felt. He frowned at his reflection, seeing the bags beneath his eyes and the clammy pallor of his skin. No wonder Chandler had been so concerned about him. He looked tired. More than tired even. He wished it were just a physical exhaustion, but Kent knew it all stemmed from his inability to let go of the trauma he’d suffered during the Kray investigation.
Psychological is what the shrink he’d been assigned before he was officially allowed back to work had called it.
Kent turned away from his reflection with a grimace.
He spared one final look around the bathroom before packing up his things and shuffling his way back into the living room.
Chandler was standing in the kitchen, busy with two mugs and a carton of milk when Kent returned. He dropped his bag beside his shoes and made his way over.
“I made tea,” Chandler offered, holding out one of mugs. Kent smiled his thanks, taking the mug and cradling it in his hands, enjoying the way the heat seeped through into his palms. He leaned up against the island, watching as Chandler turned to put the milk back in the fridge.
“I don’t actually have a guest room,” Chandler started, turning back. “Well I do,” he continued, meeting Kent’s eyes briefly with a self-deprecatingly smile. “But it’s actually being used as a study at the moment.”
Kent frowned minutely, not sure if he was supposed to say something to that or not. He busied himself with a sip of tea en lieu of speaking.
Chandler cleared his throat, hands reaching to fiddle nervously with the handle of his own mug. “By which I mean you’re welcome to stay in my room for tonight.” He said after a heartbeat. And just as Kent’s heart lurched in his chest, he added: “I’ll take the couch.”
Oh. Oh. “That’s okay,” he said, swallowing heavily. “I’ll be fine on the couch.”
Chandler shook his head. “Really, it’s no trouble-,”
“I don’t want to impose-,”
“And as my guest-,”
“Joe-,” Kent raised his voice slightly and Chandler trailed off. “It’s fine, really. I’d feel bad taking your room. The couch really is fine. It’s only for one night.”
Chandler frowned minutely, his eyes dropping from Kent’s and Kent found himself wondering if he’d said the wrong thing.
There was a strange look on Chandler’s face when he did look back up, but he was smiling again. Kent relaxed.
“If you’re sure?” He offered again, hands finally sliding around his own mug.
Kent nodded, cupping his own mug as he brought it to his lips for a sip. “Yeah, I’m sure. Thanks.”
They drifted off into a silence then, each of them busying themselves with their drinks. Kent kept taking small sips of his tea, wanting to prolong it as much as possible, worried that Chandler was just biding his time until he began the next inevitable slew of questions. Questions he only had himself to blame for Chandler asking.
Keeping his eyes downcast, Kent distracted himself by looking around the kitchen. It was more personal than the bathroom, but still empty enough of personality that Kent wondered if Chandler spent any time in here at all. There were no magnets on the fridge, no knick-knacks littered across the island (not that Kent took Chandler for a knick-knack sort of guy, but the point still stood).
He could see a neat stack of newspapers on one end of the island, a wine fridge nestled almost inconspicuously between the fridge and the dark wood cabinets, and a fruit bowl containing only a bunch of bananas and a few Clementines, but otherwise the kitchen was just as bland and unassuming as the bathroom had been.
There wasn’t anything to say that this was a home to Chandler, and not just some place he stopped by to change his clothes and maybe catch a few hours of shut-eye.
Kent turned slightly, looking over towards the living room he’d barely glanced at when he’d arrived. There was a three piece sectional sofa in brown leather situated in the middle of the room, one side facing out towards a set of balcony doors, the other side facing onto a floor-to-ceiling wall of box shelves, which were filled with all manner of books, a few contained framed photographs and the rest held what looked to be a surprisingly large number of vinyl records and a player.
He wanted to ask what kind of music Chandler listened to. If their tastes were in any way alike. He couldn’t see any sign of a TV in the living room and smiled softly at the thought of Chandler simply relaxing after a long day at work by listening to one of his favourite records and maybe reading a treasured novel.
When he turned his attention back to Chandler, it was to find the other man watching him. Kent felt his smile slip from his face and he bent his head to take another sip of his tea, suddenly feeling like an intruder.
The silence continued to grow and Kent shifted his weight to his left leg, elbows leaning against the island between them. It wasn’t an expectant silence so much as an obvious one. He didn’t feel like Chandler was waiting for him to speak, or even that Chandler was waiting for the right moment in which to start speaking himself, it was just that this situation was so wholly palpable that Kent found himself tensing all over again, unable to relax into it and pretend, even for a moment, that this was something they did together. Something they could do together.
But it wasn’t. And they couldn’t. And not for the first time Kent wondered what the hell he’d been thinking to agree to stay the night. He didn’t belong here. With Chandler. In this expensive looking flat with all these expensive looking furnishings. Chandler’s personal possessions neatly placed and ordered around him, little clues into the kind of man he was beneath everything else. He felt somehow as though he were trespassing with even this small glance into Chandler’s private life.
“Are you finished?” The sound of Chandler’s voice caught him off guard and Kent jumped, his mug clanging too-loudly against the countertop. They both grimaced at the noise.
“Sorry, I- what?” Kent fumbled, righting his mug, thankful that he hadn’t spilt the dregs of his tea all over the surface. His face felt awkwardly hot.
“Your tea,” Chandler clarified, “are you finished with it?”
“Oh, yeah,” He passed his mug over, clenching his fingers together now that he had nothing else to hold on to, his knuckles straining white as he waited for the inevitable return to question time.
Instead of speaking, Chandler simply turned towards the sink and proceeded to rinse both mugs out with liquid soap and hot water.
If anything, watching him put Kent more on edge. Had he misjudged? Was Chandler luring him into a false sense of security? Was his lack of questioning a ploy to have Kent blurt something of his own out first in an effort to diffuse the silence? Or was Chandler simply letting Kent choose where the night went?
He dropped his head into his hands. He was thinking himself into circles again. He just couldn’t seem to help himself though. There was so much in his life at the moment that he could just not control that the thought of willingly giving up any control he did have, even if it was just the kind of talking that let someone else in to see what he was going through, made him feel physically ill.
“Emerson-,” Chandler called, his voice soft, anxious.
He winced, looking up with a wary expression.
“Are you okay?” And the question was directed at so much more than just this situation.
No. No I’m not. He wanted to say, throat closing in on him, cutting off the words. I don’t think I’ll ever be okay.
It took him a minute, but eventually he shook his head, forcing a grimace of a smile onto his face.
“Just tired,” he breathed out. “I think I’m ready for bed.” It wasn’t a lie, exactly, but guilt churned his stomach with the knowledge it wasn’t exactly the truth either.
Chandler looked like he understood and Kent had to turn away, unable to bear the open concern on his face.
“There’s a pillow and blankets on the couch,” Chandler said, “do you need anything else?”
“No, I- I’ll be fine.”
Chandler took a moment to look at him before nodding and making his way around the island. Just as he was passing by however, Kent reached out and caught at Chandler’s hand.
Chandler stilled, blinking at him. It was the first time Kent had initiated contact between them and they both knew it. Kent swallowed nervously, surprised by his own impulsiveness.
“I just… thank you.” He said, gratefully. Chandler squeezed at his fingers.
The smile Chandler gave him twisted his heart and stomach in equal measures.
- - -
He’d relocated to the living room once Chandler left the room, even going so far as to settle on the couch as though he fully intended to take advantage of it for the night. Once settled however, he distracted himself with his phone, with scanning Chandler’s shelves, with anything that would keep him awake.
Despite promising himself he would not sleep however, sleep inevitably claimed him.
He closed his eyes for a moment.
Only a moment.
But a moment was all it took.
He woke with a jolt and a half-strangled sob on his lips, his eyes blown wide as he pushed himself up from his slumped position, struggling with the blanket tangled around his legs until he could sit up and draw them close, hunching in on himself. His heart was pounding painfully against his chest and he pressed his face up against his knees, trying to stifle the sound of his harsh breathing.
The remnants of his nightmare taunted him, flashing across his mind in staccato bursts of sounds and images. He’d been in the Incident Room again, working late, but instead of being accosted by the constables who’d ransacked the room, it had been the Kray twins themselves. Walking in, bold as brass, they’d pulled him from his chair and shoved him face-first against the wall, promising him another set of scars to match the ones they’d already bestowed upon him.
"If you're not good I'm going to rip you open again.
I'll carve you so fuckin' deep you'll never be able to walk again.
Just remembering those words stopped the breath in his throat. It hadn’t been the Kray brother’s who’d said them, but someone he’d trusted, someone who’d betrayed him without a seconds pause.
In the dream, just as it had been in reality, Kent hadn’t fought. He’d stood with his face pressed against the wall. Good boy. Did everything they told him to. Yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir. Didn’t put up a fight.
None of it mattered though. None of it ever did.
In the dream, he’d been striped again. And again. And then--
Tears of frustration prickled at his eyes even as he tried to calm himself down, but nothing he tried helped. By the time the hall light was flipped on and the sound of Chandler’s footsteps against the laminate reached his ears, Kent’s face was wet with tears, his body trembling as if in shock.
“Emerson?” Chandler was at his side an instant later, hands hovering over him but not-quite touching.
I’m all right. He wanted to say. I just need a moment. But instead of words another sobbing hiccup sounded. He shook his head, fingers moving from his knees to clench at his hair, nails digging deep against the flesh at the root.
Chandler touched him then, and even though Kent jerked bodily away from the feel of his hands against his wrists, he didn’t let go.
“I can’t-,” Kent tried, teeth clenching against his own words as he tipped his head up to look at Chandler, wrenching successfully against Chandler’s grip. Kent immediately wrapped his arms back around himself.
“Emerson, you’re okay. I promise. I’m here, and I won’t let anything happen to you. I promise, Emerson. I promise. Okay?” Chandler repeated the words over and over, a mantra that eventually pierced through the panic gripping Kent.
He sucked in a deep breath, sagging forward to press his head against his knees again.
“‘M sorry,” he breathed. The words a scratch against his throat.
“Don’t apologise,” Chandler touched at his head this time, fingers running lightly through his sweat-dampened strands without hesitation. Kent didn’t flinch away from the contact this time.
“Are they always this bad?” Chandler asked after a moment.
Kent kept his eyes closed. His head hurt, his mind thick with grief and terror and pain. He shrugged noncommittally. Yes. No. Sometimes. Answering would just invite more questions, questions he didn’t think he could handle right now.
Bad enough he’d fallen asleep and had his fear of Chandler seeing him in this state from some damn dream happen, he didn’t dare imagine what sort of state Chandler would see him in if he was forced to actually talk about the whole thing.
Chandler shifted from his crouch in front of him, his hand leaving Kent’s head as he repositioned himself on the couch beside him.
“May I put my arms around you?” Chandler asked this time.
Kent turned his head against his knees. Chandler was watching him carefully, his gaze sincere as he opened his arms in invitation. Kent hesitated, warring with himself momentarily before he twisted around and pressed himself against Chandler’s side.
Chandler’s arms came immediately around him, holding him close. “Do you want to talk about it?”
When Kent didn’t answer Chandler didn't press him, just breathed a soft 'okay' against his crown and tightened his hold. Instead of feeling constricted by the embrace, Kent felt safe. Maybe even the safest he'd ever felt since the whole Kray investigation began. Safest certainly since the last time Chandler held him close.
Kent closed his eyes, breathing deeply, his fingers finding a tight grip on Chandler’s t-shirt. He didn’t think it was possible for Chandler to hold him any closer but somehow he managed, encouraging Kent to curl gratefully into him. He turned his face up to press into Chandler’s neck, breathing heavily against his skin.
“It’s going to be okay,” Chandler whispered. Kent clenched his eyes closed, wishing he could let himself believe him. “I promise.”
The last thing Kent was aware of before treacherous sleep claimed him once more was the soft press of Chandler’s mouth against his forehead.
a/n: I'm so sorry it's taken me so long to get this last story in the 37stitches verse started. I won't bore you all with my reasons, but I will promise that I'm actively working on it now. I've planned all five parts (including this one) and pending no life-altering emergencies I hope to have all of them finished and posted buy the end of this coming month. No doubt galaxy_song will hunt me down if I go back on this promise, so no worries ;). All my love and thanks to everyone who's been reading and reviewing the series thus far, you guys are amazing and continue to fuel my love of these boys.