A Kray-related case comes to Whitechapel, Kent has some trouble coping.
The rain continued into the next morning and Kent woke to the sound of it, heavier than the night before, hitting against the glass of the balcony doors. The blinds had been left partially opened and a grim grey light slipped its way in-between the slates.
It was an almost foreign feeling to wake up and know, even half-asleep, where he was and who (if anyone) was in the room with him. It had been so long since he’d slept and woken with anything but nightmares and panic. Even when he was able to catch a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, waking was always with a jolt, his fight or flight reflex kicking in in the seconds before disorientation gave way to recognition.
He blinked slowly, feeling warm and strangely rested. He took a moment to relax into the sensation, relishing the heat of Chandler’s body beneath his own. He closed his eyes once more, imagining he could hear Chandler’s heart beating from where his head rested upon his shoulder.
He wasn’t sure if they’d repositioned themselves in their sleep, or if Chandler had laid them down together once Kent had fallen asleep, but they were lying on the couch now, and Kent could feel the weight of Chandler’s arm as it curled loosely around his waist, his hand resting high enough to still feel comfortable. His own arm lay possessively across Chandler’s chest, his fingers scrunched in the fabric of his sleep-shirt.
The light creeping its way in through the slates, though still dull and dreary, steadily began to strengthen as morning broke across London. Kent tightened his fingers, knowing that it would soon be time to get up and let go of this moment. Knowing that he should probably get up now and save them both the embarrassment of being caught wrapped around one another, but… he didn’t. He just squeezed his eyes more tightly closed and wished he could hold onto this moment forever.
Eventually though, Chandler began to shift beneath him, and Kent lifted his head up to look at him, watching as Chandler gradually began to wake. His eyes were still closed, his mouth slightly parted and slack, his hair an uncharacteristic disarray. Kent’s fingers twitched at the thought of reaching up to run his hand through it. He smiled instead, biting at the insides of his mouth to keep that smile from spreading too wide as Chandler’s eyes finally blinked open. He didn’t seem all that surprised to find Kent lying atop him, and didn’t stop the soft smile turning his own lips at the sight of him either.
“Good morning,” he greeted, his voice rough.
“Morning,” Kent returned, feeling his heart lurch, his cheeks heating a little with a mix of pleasure and embarrassment.
Chandler frowned at him then. It was the barest creasing of his brow, but Kent froze at the mere sight of it, immediately chastising himself for not getting up the second he’d woken. It was on the tip of his tongue then to apologise for what had transpired the previous night, for waking Chandler and him having to deal with Kent in the after-throws of a nightmare, for falling asleep on him and in turn forcing Chandler to sleep on the couch beside him. How uncomfortable he must have made him. What a position to have put him in!
Just as Kent opened his mouth to speak, however, Chandler lifted his free hand and reached out to touch at his head, his fingers stroking themselves lightly through his hair almost exactly as Kent had imagined himself doing to Chandler.
“You have bed hair.” Chandler said, his frown more curious than censorious, as if the very thought of it puzzled him.
That startled a laugh out of Kent, relief almost painful as it flooded through him, dispelling his burgeoning mortification at the memory of the night before.
He shook his head, unable to hide his smile. Chandler dropped his hand a moment later, but squeezed gently at Kent’s waist with the arm curled around him.
“Did you sleep well?” he asked, not quite grinning. Kent nodded, reluctantly pushing himself into an upright position, knowing if he didn’t move now he may never move at all. His waist felt immediately cold when Chandler’s arm fell away.
“Yeah, I did. Thanks.” He said, pulling his knees up to his chest and ignoring the uncomfortable stretching of skin the movement caused. It was a protective gesture he knew, but he offered Chandler another smile to enforce the truth of his words. It was one of the best nights sleep he’d had in too long, the nightmarish prologue notwithstanding.
Chandler sat himself up, running his hands through his own hair and fluffing it carelessly into even more of a disarray before he scrubbed them over his face in an attempt to wake himself up more fully.
“Coffee?” He offered, standing without waiting for a reply. Kent heard the clicking of a few joints as he moved, watching as Chandler stretched out his back as he shuffled over towards the kitchen in a pair of red tartan printed pyjama bottoms and a white vest top. His feet were bare.
Kent looked quickly away, pressing his face into his knees for a moment. He turned back when he heard the tap being run, the sound of cupboard doors opening, the clink of teaspoons against ceramic. Chandler was moving around the kitchen with practiced ease, his motions sure and swift. Kent took a moment to appreciate the sight. He looked so relaxed, so… so unlike the Chandler he knew from work.
He looked… at home. He looked… Kent frowned at himself, eyes running over how natural Chandler looked. This wasn’t the boss he idolised at work, or the suit he imitated, this wasn’t the man he always aimed to please, this was Chandler, this was Joseph, Joe. This was a side of the man Kent had never seen before, never had the opportunity to see before. A side Kent was sure he didn’t share with many other people.
The thought left him feeling equally gifted and guilty, wondering if Chandler would ever have let him get this close before now. Before…
Kent clamped quickly down on that line of thinking. He pushed himself to his own feet then, biting back the wince as the skin around his stripings pinched and pulled a little more. He needed to clean himself up, take his pills, psych himself up for another day of stepping out of the front door.
He took a deep breath, carefully stretching himself up onto his tip-toes, arms reaching towards the ceiling. There were some exercises he was meant to do, to help stop his scars from tightening too much, to help prevent his sciatic nerve from getting trapped and shooting shocks of pain through his leg for hours on end. He dropped back to his feet, arms falling to his sides as he self-consciously looked over towards Chandler.
He wasn’t looking, but Kent still felt more than a little insecure at the idea of doing anything that related to his striping in front of Chandler. The nightmares were one thing, a subconscious response to his constantly toiling emotions, but his scars were quite another; too real and visual, a physical wound everyone knew about but no one ever talked about and he was more than keen to keep the focus away from them.
He felt an almost overwhelming desire to wash and dress then, to layer himself up as he’d been doing for the last few months. An unsettling sense of vulnerability washed over him as he stood, bare-foot and in his pyjamas, in the middle of Chandler’s living room.
He moved quickly, pausing only long enough to grab up his bag before stepping across the room. Chandler turned immediately from where he was fiddling with the coffee machine, his smile giving way to concern at whatever look was currently playing across Kent’s face.
“Emerson?” he asked, stepping up to the island between them.
“I need to use your shower,” Kent said, visibly wincing at his own words, the tone needy and desperate.
“Of course,” Chandler agreed without hesitation, without question. He stepped around the island, gesturing for Kent to follow him down the hall, past the bathroom he’d used the night before, past a closed door he assumed was the second bedroom Chandler was using as a personal study, and into the room at the end.
The beside lamp was still alight, the bed sheets rumpled and thrown back; they both stopped at the sight.
“Sorry about the mess,” Chandler said, turning to him and looking genuinely apologetic.
“Sorry for last night.” Kent blurted at the same time.
They stared at each other for a long moment before simultaneously turning away. Kent let his eyes drift back to Chandler’s bed. He bit at his mouth. Even with the bed unmade, the duvet thrown back in a rumpled mess, the room still looked more like a hotel than a bedroom. Everything else was neat, tidy, in its place.
There was a book on the nightstand nearest what Kent assumed was Chandler’s preferred side of the bed. A half-empty glass of water sat beside it along with a pair of reading glasses Kent was sure he’d never seen Chandler wear. On the other side there sat only a framed photograph, a picture of a boy with two smiling adults Kent assumed where his parents. He knew about Chandler’s father, most people did, but he’d never heard anything about his mother.
He looked away, clutching at his bag. He couldn’t see any other sign of personality in the room, nothing else uniquely Chandler. The room was done in earthy tones; the built in cupboards made of a dark wood, the furnishings in various shades of green and cream. The blinds in Chandler’s room were also partially open, giving a glimpse through to the same balcony he’d seen from the living room.
Chandler cleared his throat, rubbing nervously at the back of his neck.
“The shower is just through here,” he said, gesturing to an open door on the other side of the room which led through to the en suite bathroom. He stepped in first, flicking the lights on.
The first thing Kent noticed was that the earthy tones continued through into the room. The second thing he noticed was the shower, and that it was made entirely of glass. The thought of standing in there, naked, with nothing but steam and soap suds to cover him made his stomach quiver and his heart quicken.
“Use whatever you need,” Chandler said, turning to pull a fresh towel from one of the cupboards and hanging it on the rail beside the shower.
Kent found himself clutching desperately at his bag as Chandler turned back towards him.
“Do you need anything else?” he asked. Kent shook his head, swallowing back a grimace as he tried to smile his thanks.
Chandler hesitated, looking unsure. He opened his mouth as if to ask but stopped himself, seeming to think better of it. He nodded once at Kent before turning and leaving the room, pulling the door closed behind him.
Kent wasted no time in rushing over and turning the lock with a resounding click. But even standing there, alone, with nothing but his heartbeat ringing in his ears, Kent still felt uncomfortably as though someone would see him.
It was stupid, he knew, his eyes darting from one end of the en suite to the other. He was alone, the door was locked, what did it matter that the damn shower was made of glass? That he couldn’t pull a curtain around it and cocoon himself in its imagined barrier between himself and the rest of the world, preventing anyone else from ever seeing him again, from seeing and judging him, from recoiling in horror and disgust?
His eyes began to prickle. He knuckled at them, digging in until they burned with something other than tears of self-pity. His panic slowly gave way to anger and he latched onto it with grasping fingers as he dropped his bag onto the counter beside the sink and moved to turn the shower on as hot as it would go.
He didn’t have time for this. For this panic and fear over something so stupid. He’d already let Chandler see him freak out over some bad dreams, he really didn’t want him to see Kent freaking out over his damn shower. No one was going to see him. No one wanted to see him.
He raked his hands through his hair, nails scratching across his scalp and biting into his flesh. His heart was still hammering, slamming against his ribcage as though to escape. Kent sucked in a deep breath, digging his nails in a little deeper and focussing on the discomfort it caused.
The shower was steaming heavily. Kent could barely see the taps on the other side. He sucked in another breath, and another. There was blood on his fingertips when he pulled his hands away, but he ignored it. He could do this.
With his eyes fixed firmly on the taps, he stripped himself with shaking hands, his body shivering despite the humid warmth filling the room. There was a seconds hesitation, his fingers clawed into the waistband of his boxers, where he considered stepping in without removing them. Only the thought of having to explain that if anyone found them in his bag at work…
He shucked them almost angrily. A horrible whimpering sound spilling from his lips as he stepped out of them. He wrapped his arms around himself, forcing one foot in front of the next until he was at and then inside the shower. The water was too hot and Kent let the shock of it override the fear fogging his mind as he fumbled for the taps and turned it to a more bearable temperature.
His face was wet before he ducked his head beneath the spray.
- - -
Kent sipped at the coffee Chandler had made for him, warming his hands against the ceramic mug. He stood at the balcony doors, watching rain water drip down from the balcony above Chandler’s own. Though the sky was dreary and overcast, the view was more than a little amazing, with a clear view over a section of the Thames. Kent didn’t dare to speculate over the cost of living in a place like this, he could never dream of affording something so upmarket.
He thought about the pokey flat he shared with three other people, how messy and loud it always was and he smiled wryly to himself, Chandler would probably hate it. He remembered how he’d been the first time he’d started in Whitechapel, how he’d shuddered at the sight of their rubbish lying all over the place, of how scruffy they all were and how untidy the whole place had been. He’d been glad of the change. Of a reason to change.
He heard the shower in Chandler’s room turn off, the apartment falling into silence once more save for the sound of the rain outside. Kent clutched his mug closer. He’d spent longer than he should have in the shower, but Chandler hadn’t said a word when he’d finally emerged, skin flushed and eyes downcast. He’d simply nudged over a fresh cup of coffee when Kent reached the island along with a plate of toast before leaving to get himself ready for work.
Kent had gratefully accepted the coffee and blatantly ignored the toast. He’d worked himself up too much in the shower to even consider eating anything. And though acidic, he knew he could stomach the coffee, that he needed it even. The thought of eating just left him nauseous.
He swallowed thickly. Why did he keep doing this to himself? One traumatic event in his life and he was lucky if he could get himself to function day by day months down the line.
“Not hungry?” Chandler asked, as he came back through.
“No, thank you.” Kent said, not turning.
He heard Chandler move, then the sound of the plate being lifted from the counter and what he presumed was the thump of the toast landing in the bin. He winced internally before tensing as Chandler finished and moved towards him.
“Emerson,” Chandler called. Kent clutched his mug tighter, hunching his shoulders.
Chandler sighed. “I don’t know what’s happened, but if I’ve done something to make you feel uncomfortable-,”
“What? No-,” Kent hurried to stop him, turning towards him with wide eyes.
“To offend you?” Chandler tried.
Kent shook his head. “You haven’t!”
Chandler frowned, hands flinching nervously at his sides. “Are you sure?”
“You haven’t done anything, Joe,” he promised. “God I’m so sorry.”
“You’re sorry? For what?” Chandler asked, surprised.
“For… this,” he gestured between them, forcing himself to meet Chandler’s eyes. “For making you feel like you’ve got anything to apologise for. It’s just me. I’m…” he shook his head, trailing off. Chandler waited and Kent found himself continuing despite himself.
“I’m just not in a good place right now,” he let his eyes slide away. “My head- just, it’s nothing you’ve done, okay? It happens now, since…” he shook his head. “I just need a bit of time to… to build everything back up again, okay?”
“Okay,” Chandler agreed, still frowning. “Will you be alright?”
Kent laughed at the question, the sound short and bitter. He’d like to know the answer to that one too.
“Do you need to take today off?” Chandler asked then and despite knowing that Chandler only asked the question out of concern, Kent found himself reacting badly to the words, turning on Chandler with a desperation masked as anger.
“I can still do my job!” He vehemently bit out.
Chandler looked shocked. “I never said you couldn’t.”
Kent glared. “You don’t have to, I know what you meant!”
“This is why I didn’t want to say anything,” he interrupted, pushing past Chandler. He tried not to slam his mug down when he reached the island but the sound of the ceramic hitting the counter was loud and ringing. “Shit,” he swore at both the situation and his actions. “I knew I shouldn’t have come here,” he breathed, placing his hands on the ledge and gripping tightly. He was shaking.
“Emerson!” It was almost a shout and Kent flinched, turning quickly as Chandler advanced. “Do not mistake my concern for your wellbeing as my having ulterior motives. I wouldn’t do either of us the injustice.”
There was a light flush on his cheeks, irritation shining in his eyes. Kent felt the flush in his own cheeks, hot and violent, but already his anger was giving way to shame.
“I asked you a question,” Chandler continued in a softer voice, going so far as to reach out towards Kent. He stood tense and watchful as Chandler took his hand gently. “It was not an order.”
“I’m sorry.” He whispered. Chandler squeezed at his hand once before letting go.
“I thought you would have trusted me not to use this against you?” Chandler asked.
Kent bit at the insides of his mouth. Hard. “I- I do trust you.”
Chandler narrowed his eyes. “Then, answer me honestly, do you need to take today off?”
There was blood in his mouth. He shook his head, swallowing heavily. “No, sir.”
It was Chandler’s turn to shake his head. Disappointment flashing across his face. “I’m not your boss outside of work, Emerson.”
“Then what are you?” The words were out before Kent could think to censor them.
“I would have thought your friend,” Chandler said, stepping back, his face closing off. Kent felt as though he’d put miles between them in that moment and his heart stuttered on its next beat. Chandler turned away then and Kent opened his mouth only for nothing to come out.
“Wash your mug,” Chandler said, moving towards the hallway.
“Joe-,” he breathed.
“Let me know you’re ready to leave.” Chandler didn’t acknowledge his call as he stepped into his bedroom and closed the door behind him.
- - -
The drive into work was quiet and more awkward possibly than the drive from work the previous night had been. He’d offended Chandler, in every possible way, and he had no idea how to fix that. He wanted to apologise, to explain, but he didn’t know where to start. How do you tell someone that having to take a shower almost threw you into a panic? That that’s how screwed up you’d become? That that’s why everything had changed between them in the space of a morning?
He could still picture Chandler’s sleeping face, the way his eyes had blinked sleepily at him, the way he’d smiled at seeing Kent lying there beside him…
He turned his head to look out the side window. Feeling that tell-tale prickling touching at his eyes.
He couldn’t bear the thought of Chandler looking at him the way he looked at himself, the way he imagined everyone would look at him if they knew just how badly he was handling everything. He’d tried to tell Chandler the night before that he needed to work, that he needed the distraction and the order to keep his mind from running ragged circles around his head. That it didn’t matter how bad things got he had to know he still had his job waiting for him.
He hadn’t meant to doubt Chandler, to jump to the one conclusion he feared above all others, but Chandler had hurt him before and there was a part of him that felt poised upon a precipice, just waiting for the next knife in the back, that extra nudge that would tip him over the edge. Fingering him as the mole had been a logical conclusion at the time, but the betrayal still stung, still played on his mind and filled him with terror. What if he revealed too much? What if he didn’t reveal enough? Would Chandler use it against him? He didn’t like to think he would but still, the doubt, it lingered there at the back of his mind whispering vicious fears to him.
“I thought you would have trusted me not to use this against you?”
“I- I do trust you.”
He could still taste the hesitancy upon his tongue, still see the look in Chandler’s eyes as the words stumbled from his lips. He clenched his teeth together, eyes wide and blinking against another prickling wave.
Please no, he silently begged himself. Not here. Not now. He lifted his hand, pressing his fingers against his eyes, trying to push those traitorous tears back.
The car came to a slow stop. Kent heard the crunch of the hand-brake being applied, the sound of the engine turning off. He pulled his hand away, wiping his fingertips against his trousers.
Chandler turned towards him, Kent could see him from the corner of his eye. His chest felt too tight. He couldn’t do this. Not now.
He scrabbled for his seatbelt, one leg out the door before it had even fully unlocked, but somehow he managed. The rain had never felt so good. He closed the car door behind him, sucking in a shuddering breath before he heard Chandler open his own door.
Kent was half-way towards the front doors before Chandler was even out of his car. He didn’t have a plan, other than to avoid Chandler, and maybe find a bathroom to finish freaking out in, when Miles stepped out from under one of the alcoves, bringing Kent to a sudden stop.
“Serg.” He blurted, surprised.
“Kent,” Miles said, his look suspicious as he turned from him to… “Joe.”
Chandler came to a hurried stop beside him.
“Miles,” Chandler greeted, pleasantly enough. His gaze flickering momentarily towards Kent before he turned his attention back onto his DS. “You’re here early?”
“Got a case,” Miles said, poker-faced as he looked again between Kent and Chandler again. Kent shifted, turning the collar of his jacket up against the rain with one hand whilst clenching his fingers into the leather of his bag with the other. He didn’t like the way Miles was looking between them.
“When?” Chandler asked. “Why wasn’t I notified?”
“It’s only just come through. Floater in the river.” He said, nonchalantly.
“Suicide?” Chandler asked, ignoring Miles’ behaviour entirely.
“More than likely.” Miles agreed.
Chandler shifted, lifting an arm to take a look at his watch. “Right. Okay. Can you call Mansell, have him meet us-,”
“Before that,” Miles interrupted, “I’d like a word?”
Kent didn’t think it sounded like a question. Neither did Chandler if the way he seemed to freeze on the spot was anything to go by.
“Right now?” He asked, pointedly.
“If it’s all the same to you.” Miles agreed, turning and leading the way into the precinct without waiting for his response.
Chandler slanted another look at him but Kent kept his eyes resolutely forward. They stood another moment in the rain before Chandler seemed to remember himself and hurried in after Miles without a word.
On second thought, maybe he would just stay out here and drown himself in the rain.
It felt like one of those days.
- - -
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