} chapter two; made of scars
[ 1 / 2 ]
A Kray-related case comes to Whitechapel, Kent has some trouble coping.
It was clear the body had been in the river for more than a few days. When the team arrived on scene it had been dragged from the water and lay, a bloated, swollen mass of flesh upon the shore, a forensics tent erected overhead to preserve what evidence still remained.
Dr Llewellyn was crouched at the head, but stood to meet them, offering them a grim smile. “Well, the victim is male and been in the water for at least forty-eight hours. I can’t say much else yet.”
“But?” Miles prompted, hearing something in her tone.
“But,” Llewellyn sighed, “I don’t think we can rule out homicide straight away.”
“What makes you say that?” Chandler asked, his surprised clear. It was rare they got a floater that wasn’t either an intentional suicide or an accidental drowning. The thought that they could have a bona fide murder on their hands, though not something to be thankful for by any means, at least meant the hours spent investigating and filing paperwork were worth it all the more if they could catch a killer.
Beside him, Mansell nudged Kent, a grin on his face. Kent rolled his eyes, but shuffled a little closer, trying to see into the tent from their position behind Chandler and Miles. Kent could feel the rain beginning to seep past the collar of his coat and shifted against the wet press of fabric against his neck.
“I can’t be sure of course…” Llewellyn started and Kent watched as she pressed her lips together, angling her body to the side so that the view to the victim’s head was clear.
“There’s what appears to be some very violent slashing to the face. I can see evidence of scarring, but most of the skin appears to have been ripped off, either before or during submersion.”
Kent felt a wave of nausea roll over him as his view into the tent became unobstructed, with Miles bending down for a closer look. He pressed the back of his hand against his mouth, his skin feeling suddenly too tight around him; itchy and cold and about to split at the seams.
“That’s Dan.” He said, surprised to hear himself speak. The skin around the man’s face was all but hanging off in pale, flaccid strips. One of the eye sockets was empty, the other eye was closed but so swollen Kent couldn’t be sure there was anything to see beneath it. He should have been unrecognisable, but Kent knew exactly who the man behind those strips of torn flesh had been.
“Kent?” Miles questioned, looking up at him.
At the same time, Chandler asked: “You know him?”
They were both frowning at him. Kent tried to shake his head. Not exactly, he wanted to say, but didn’t. He could feel Chandler’s eyes on him.
“Dan Street.” He managed, unable to tear his eyes away from the body. That face was going to be the next thing to haunt his dreams he knew. He felt his stomach roll again, bile acidic and hot as it crept its way up his oesophagus.
“Dan Street, Dan Street,” Mansell started repeating the name like it was some kind of mantra. “Now why does that name sound familiar?”
“He was one of the Kray’s victims.” Miles said then, and Kent got the impression he’d realised it the second Kent had said his first name.
Things went suddenly quiet and Kent could feel them all turning to stare at him.
“Excuse me,” he managed to mutter before turning and stumbling his way from the tent. His ears were ringing. He felt hot but shivery, his skin goose-bumping up as he tried to get himself as far away from the scene as possible. His body felt leaden, foreign, his lungs burning for air, his stomach threatening to rebel its contents.
He flinched, violently, at the hand that took hold of his upper arm, jerking at it until Miles snapped at him to calm down.
He stopped, immediately. Focussing on the too-tight grip of Miles’ hand.
“Just breathe,” Miles said.
“I’m fine,” Kent muttered through pained gasps.
Miles shot him a pointed look. “Sure you are,” he patronisingly agreed. “You look like you’re about to pass out but you’re fine. Bend over a little more, hands on your knees, there you go.”
“I can look after myself,” Kent defended, but he didn’t argue as Miles manhandled him. His heart was thumping in his ears, but his breathing was coming a little easier. Miles tightened his grip fractionally.
“Didn’t say you couldn’t,” Miles agreed, pleasantly.
“Don’t,” Kent bit out. His skin felt clammy now, cold and sweaty. He rubbed a hand over his face, grimacing.
“Don’t what?” Kent turned his head enough to look at his Sergeant, to see the worry on his face even as he affected a calm disinterest.
“Don’t look at me like that,” Kent muttered, dropping his eyes to his shoes. He clenched his fingers in the fabric of his trousers, wet and clinging from the rain. “I’m not weak.” He said, but it was for him more than Miles.
“I know you’re not,” Miles agreed again. “But it is my right as your Serg to look at you however I like, especially when we’re on this on a case like this.”
Kent shook his head but didn’t answer.
“You think we’re gonna look at you differently now?” Miles asked.
“You already do.” Kent said, meeting his eyes. “Ever since I came back you do.”
“Yeah,” Miles agreed. Kent blinked up at him, shocked at the honesty. “You think you’re pulling the wool over our eyes, Kent, but you forget we’re detectives, the lot of us.”
Kent felt another wave of nausea roll over him. Miles continued: “But if you think we’re gonna look at you differently for how you’ve reacted to seeing Dan’s body, then you’re wrong.”
Miles shook his arm a little, forcing Kent to look at him again. “You’re not weak, Kent. Don’t care what anyone else thinks or says, you’re not. You’re a kid who’s been through a lot, but you’re a fighter and you haven’t given up yet.” Miles raised his eyebrows at him and Kent nodded, straightening a little.
“Even the best of us fumble on the way back from personal trauma,” he continued, shooting Kent a pointed look. “You forget I had a panic attack when I saw a body for the first time after the Ripper case.”
“I- yeah. I’d forgotten,” Kent admitted, guiltily. Not that Miles had been stabbed, he’d never forget that, but that his Sergeant hadn’t been completely okay upon his return to work, that he’d still struggled with the memory, the trauma of having almost died on the job. He’d faked it so well, taken the ribbings and given back as good as he’d gotten. He’d worked just as hard as he had before and gradually… gradually it became something that had happened… not something that was happening. Not like Kent and his inability to let go of the Krays and what they’d done to him.
“I know.” Instead of being offended, Miles offered him a gruff smile. “And before too long we’ll forget about your striping too, but not before you let yourself forget first.”
“How do I do that?” Kent found himself asking, desperation leaking into his words. Miles squeezed at his arm a final time before letting go and Kent straightened himself all the way.
“You’ve got to find something else to focus on.” Miles said, turning. Kent followed on shaky legs as Miles began to walk back to where they’d parked. “If all you’re thinking about is what happened to you, it’ll be the only thing you can think about. No chance then to forget, to move on.”
It wasn’t that easy. He’d been trying for months to forget. But every time he had to undress, to touch himself there, he remembered. Every time his skin stretched too tight, every time his sciatic nerve caught and smarted, he remembered. Every time he closed his eyes, praying for a dreamless sleep, some new Kray-related horror played across his vision.
How did you forget something that never left you?
Miles didn’t offer any more words of wisdom, and Kent was left feeling just as sick and shaken as he had before.
- - -
Nobody said anything about his reaction when they finally made it back to the precinct. He avoided Chandler’s stare, denying him the opportunity to start a conversation neither of them wanted to have with Miles and Mansell around. Miles clapped him on the back before moving off to speak with Chandler in his office once again, and Mansell? Well, Mansell didn’t so much as hint that Kent had had a freak out, even going so far as to ignore him in favour of the paperwork strewn across his desk. If anything the lack of acknowledgement just made the whole incident all the more obvious.
Was Kent’s behaviour really that transparent? He’d tried so hard to keep what had happened to him from affecting his work. Yes, he came in sleep deprived. Yes, he stayed late too many nights. Yes, he got defensive if anyone asked him how he was feeling. But what else? What gave it away to Chandler and Miles and even Mansell that Kent wasn’t entirely okay?
He looked over towards Mansell’s desk, watching as he quickly ducked his head to avoiding looking at him. Kent turned back, his eyes drifting up to the glass window, looking into Chandler’s office only to find Chandler’s eyes on him already. He looked away first, lifting a case-file he’d left on his desk and staring at the printed pages without really seeing them. His skin prickled with the sensation of being watched.
The phone in Chandler’s office rang and Kent looked up at the sound, even though he couldn’t hear the conversation. Miles came out a second later, looking between Mansell and himself a moment before gesturing to Mansell to follow him. They left the room without a word.
When Kent looked back up at Chandler’s office, it was to see Chandler applying his Tiger Balm, fingers massaging at his temples.
Kent felt his heart start up a staccato beat. He couldn’t do this. He didn’t want to do this.
He dropped the file he’d been holding and stood, shaking out his right leg as the cold muscles momentarily cramped, before also leaving the room. He thought he caught the sound of his name before the door to the Incident Room closed behind him, but it was easy enough to pretend he hadn’t.
He hadn’t planned to go down to the morgue, but that’s where he found himself. Dr Llewellyn looked up as he entered the room, smiling sadly at him. Kent offered her a twitch of a smile in return.
“I don’t have much else to tell you,” she said, turning her attention back to the body on the table. Kent kept his eyes focussed on a point above her head.
“I’m not really…” He drifted off, gesturing vaguely.
Llewellyn hummed as if understanding. “You were right,” she said, not looking up. “This is Dan Street. I found his ID in one of his socks.”
Kent leant back against the wall. It wasn’t the strangest place someone had ever kept their ID. He crossed his arms tightly around himself.
“I should let the others know,” he said, voice rough.
Llewellyn looked up then. “I called up a few minutes ago,” she said carefully.
Miles and Mansell. Kent nodded, ignoring her curious stare. Were they off to speak with the family now? Why hadn’t Miles said anything? Didn’t he think Kent could handle the information? He’d been the one to suggest it was Dan Street in the first place. It wasn’t as though the confirmation could have him reacting any worse than seeing the body had.
He found himself looking at it despite himself. There was a sheet over most of the body now, preserving whatever dignity still remained. The head was uncovered. The jaw pulled wide as Llewellyn worked on something inside his mouth. It looked almost unreal. The Screaming Man; pale and gaunt, the skin of his face shredded so deeply he could see through to muscle.
He wondered if that would happen to him. If he was found in the water after too many days. Would his own scars split open like rotten fruit? Would the skin just peel apart leaving him a gaping, raw, mess once again?
Llewellyn finished whatever she was doing and carefully closed the mouth. Kent heard the teeth click and found himself clenching his own together. He swallowed heavily, feeling a familiar flush of warmth wash over him. His stomach rolled and he turned without a word and left the room.
He made it into the first bathroom he found, knees hitting cold tile a second before his stomach contents hit the porcelain bowl of the toilet.
- - -
Kent left on time that night. More or less. For the first time since before the Kray investigation had even begun. Mansell had already left and Miles was packing up for the day, his jacket already on. There wasn’t much else to stay for in terms of the case, and Kent knew he’d have to actually talk to Chandler if he stayed late again. Not that he wanted to. Stay late. Today had been hell enough, even before they’d gotten to work.
Miles and Mansell had returned to the Incident Room some time around lunch, and with the visit to the family they had somewhere else to start while the body was being examined. It was almost like old times then, with Chandler pinning a picture of the victim to the whiteboard and the rest of them filling in the blanks as Chandler needed them.
Only the picture he pinned up was one taken before Dan’s attack by the Kray brothers. It showed him as he’d been before his slashing; all dark haired and blue eyed, with a strong jaw and a cheeky smile. He looked young. And happy. Ridiculously so. Kent didn’t imagine he had much to be happy about after his attack.
A second picture, smaller, taken from his hospital records, showed him as he’d been pre and post reconstructive surgery. They’d tried to save as much of the face as possible but the scars were thick and deep. They’d never fade. They’d never stop reminding him about what happened. They’d never stop reminding everyone else about what happened either.
He’d never filed a police report for the attack, despite his parents urging. Despite Miles’ urging at the time too.
His parents had been the ones to file the missing persons report for him though. He’d gone out one evening, they’d said, he only ever went out at night now, when it was too late or too early for anyone else to really be around, to see. He’d gone out and he hadn’t come back. Hadn’t said a word. Hadn’t left a note. He just hadn’t come back.
It was obvious that he was a severely depressed young man; antidepressants, anti-anxieties, analgesics, the man was on a cocktail of drugs topped off with booze whenever he could get it. His girlfriend had left him, they’d said. They couldn’t blame her. Even if he wasn’t scarred for life, he’d changed so much, he wasn’t the same boy he used to be. He hadn’t gone back to work. Had stopped communicating with his friends. They’d tried, they really had, but nothing they did seemed to help, to get through to them. If anything it only served to push him away, to send him to his room where he slept the days away when he wasn’t drinking or out walking.
“How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped?” Miles finished, almost musing the words as they stood around the whiteboard, eyes scanning the details already up.
He shouldn’t, but Kent couldn’t help but feel as though the words were aimed towards him. He stared at Dan’s face, seeing his smile and wishing that it had been anyone else, any thing else, any other case, but his.
Everything about this screamed suicide, but until Dr Llewellyn got back to them with her findings they had to treat it like any other case. And that meant finding out everything they could about Dan Street, every little detail, every person he knew, who knew him, where he went the nights he went out, where he went the night he didn’t come home, and ultimately, how he ended up in the river.
It was almost like looking into a very distorted mirror of what his life could have been like. And Kent didn’t like it one bit.
The decision to leave without prompting that night was an easy one. The door had barely closed behind Miles before Kent was up out of his chair and shrugging his jacket on. He hesitated a long moment, eyes flickering up to Chandler’s office and watching as his DI flicked through a few papers. He was frowning, one hand pressing his fingers against his temple in a hard massage.
Kent bit his lip and then bit the bullet and stepped around his desk. He knocked lightly at the door frame, not-quite meeting Chandler’s eyes when he looked up with surprise to see Kent standing there.
“Kent,” he said, dropping his hand to the desk and turning his full attention onto him.
Kent folded his arms across his chest. “Just wanted to let you know I’m off for the night, sir.” He said. “Miles and Mansell have already left.”
“Oh. Yes. Of course.” Chandler’s hands twitched as if he were about to reach for something. Kent watched as he clasped them together instead. “Do you-,” he hesitated, Kent tensed. “Do you need a lift?”
“No,” he shook his head too quickly, stopped. Took a deep breath. “No thank you,” he tried, eyes flicking up. Chandler made no attempt to hide his concern as he stared back at him.
“I just wanted-,”
They both started, then stopped, smiling awkwardly, looking away.
“I wanted to apologise,” Chandler said as the silence ticked away between them.
“So did I,” Kent breathed, looking up nervously.
Chandler smiled again. It was a sad turn of his mouth and Kent returned it.
“Then we’ll leave it at that for now.” Chandler said and Kent felt himself deflate with relief.
“Thank you,” he managed and Chandler nodded once more before turning his attention back towards his paperwork. Kent slipped out of the room without another word.
He barely remembered getting home. Probably wasn’t in any fit state to be riding his bike along the wet streets of London, but he made it in one piece. And he supposed that was all that mattered.
His flatmates had already left for the night and Kent found himself relieved by this fact as he trudged up to his room and closed the door behind him. It meant no questions about where he was last night. No badgering to go out with them tonight. No sly comments about whether he’d be waking them all later or not.
Kent didn’t bother with the light as he dumped his bag on his bed, ruffling through it for his pyjamas. He stripped and changed almost mechanically before crawling beneath his duvet and cocooning himself under the weight of it.
He didn’t plan to go to sleep, he just needed the peace and quiet to not-think, to settle his broiling emotions.
He just had to take a moment to put everything back, to build up his walls again, and then he’d be good to go, for another day at least.
He could deal with Dan Street’s case, and Miles’s concern and Mansell’s stares, he could deal with Chandler, with this thing between them. Whatever it was.
He just needed a moment.
- - -
The following days and nights followed a similar pattern, with Kent coming in, working on the Street case, and going home to cocoon himself away from the rest of the world, trying to forget everything he was learning about Dan Street, trying to ignore how similar their lives had been since their attacks by the Kray brothers. But try as he might, he just couldn’t forget about it.
How could he ever have wished to be slashed someplace else? After seeing the kinds of things the Kray brothers had been willing to do to a person, how could he ever have thought a couple scars on his arse was anything worth complaining about compared to the horror Dan and their other victims had been forced to endure every day since?
Kent could hide his scars, but Dan didn’t have that luxury. Couldn’t cover himself up in layers, couldn’t fake a smile and pretend like his whole world hadn’t just ended, like his entire life hadn’t been ripped from him just as surely as his face had been.
It kind of put things into perspective, even if it didn’t make accepting things any easier for him. For the first time though he was… almost grateful that his attack hadn’t been worse. It didn’t stop the nauseas feeling he got when he had to look at or touch his scars. It didn’t stop the nightmares that came when he tried to sleep (if anything they were worse since discovering Dan’s body). It didn’t stop him from thinking about the Krays, about what they did, about how even with them both dead the memory of them was still haunting him.
Dr Llewellyn presented them with her findings three days into their investigation and everyone breathed a sigh of relief as the verdict came back as suicide. She started talking about his face and how the skin had still been weak from reconstruction and how that along with the fish feeding off it had torn the flesh from his face once more.
It was at that point that Kent had turned and left the room, more than thankful when no one called after him or followed him out. He made it outside, sucking in deep breaths as he leant back against the rough stone wall behind the precinct.
It was dry out, though the rain clouds hung dark and heavy above him, threatening to spill over at a moments notice. He shivered in just his shirtsleeves even as he enjoyed the feel of the cool air against his heated skin. That prickly, too-tight feeling had come over him again and he was more than happy to stand out here in the cold, gasping in deep breaths, until it faded.
His phone beeped an alert at him almost five minutes later and Kent sighed, fishing it out of his trouser pocket, thumb sweeping across the unlock bar. He almost expected it to be a text from Chandler, or Mansell. Miles didn’t text, not if he could help it.
It wasn’t from either of them.
Kent opened the notification. He’d set up an algorithm on the computer to work out an origin point based on when and where they’d found Dan’s body, adding in an approximate estimation for how long his body had been in the water along with tidal flow and allowing for all the extra rainfall they’d been having.
The notification was to tell him an estimated area had been found.
Glancing down at the map on his phone, Kent wasn’t even a little bit surprised to find one of the pedestrian bridges crossing over the Thames was in the predicted section.
There was probably CCTV in the area he could look up, he thought, stuffing his phone back into his pocket. But he didn’t particularly want to watch Dan jump off the bridge. Couldn’t watch.
But at the same time…
It wasn’t a conscious decision to start walking, but once he stepped out of the precinct and out into Whitechapel proper… well, there seemed only one direction he wanted to go. If he’d been thinking clearer he might have realised how stupid an idea this was, how bad it would look if anyone found him. But he wasn’t. Not really. His head was just too messed up with everything, with this whole case, with this whole Kray thing.
It was getting late by the time he reached the bridge. It was close enough to Dan’s home that Kent was pretty confident that he’d used it on a semi regular basis. There was nothing spectacular about it. Nothing to allude as to why Dan would have chosen this bridge. Chances are he was just walking across it that night and… stopped.
Kent stopped, two thirds across. The wind ruffling at his shirt and hair as he turned.
Chances are Dan had taken a moment to just look out over the water, to see the city lights reflected across the surface. The sight almost beautiful by night.
Kent stepped up to the edge. It was just above waist-high. He peered out over the side, staring down into the murky depths of the Thames beneath him. He could hear the rush of water, the rumbling of traffic splashing over wet tarmac. He imagined it was quieter that night. The water a softer sound, lapping at the stone supports.
What had called to Dan Street? What had made him pull himself up onto the ledge- Kent reached out, pressing his hands palm flat against the stone as he leant forward, standing up on his tip toes. What had made him stand there- sit there?- looking out over the river and think about jumping in? Had he thought about what he was doing? About what he was giving up? About who he was giving up? He’d lost so much though. Sure he still had a family that loved him, but Kent could easily imagine their relief when they told them it was suicide, that it was finally over.
Their son was dead, but… he’d died a long time ago. Months ago. He’d died when the Kray’s tore his face off so violently they’d had to put the pieces in a bucket.
That wasn’t him though. That wasn’t going to be him.
Kent’s right leg flared then and he flinched, dropping back to his feet instantly.
And not a moment too soon if the cacophony of screeching tires and thundering boots was anything to go by.
“Fuck.” He breathed, turning to see Miles and Chandler running down the bridge towards him. He wanted to throw his head into his hands, he wanted to laugh, and cry, and maybe curse himself some more because he knew how this must look.
He was standing here, out on the same bridge as Dan Street, after leaving the Incident Room without a word, without so much as his jacket. Were they all thinking the same thing? Were they are wondering if he was thinking the same thing too?
He felt sick. Because he was. He’d been thinking about it, of course he had. But that didn’t mean…
Miles’ grip on his arm was almost too tight when he reached him, all red-faced and breathless. Chandler was pale, deathly so, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled but his grip wasn’t any less tight as he took hold of Kent’s other arm.
Neither of them said anything. Kent was mortified, but his throat didn’t seem inclined to work, his tongue thick and heavy in his mouth, as they marched him back towards the cars. Mansell stood there, his phone clasped in one hand. His other hand was clenched white around the car door.
He let them put him into Chandler’s car before he finally dropped his head into his hands. Oh God. How the hell was he supposed to explain this? They were never going to believe he was just investigating the scene, not like this, not leaving like he did.
It was a few minutes before Chandler climbed into the driver’s seat. Kent looked into his wing mirror, watching as Miles ushered a reluctant Mansell towards the second car.
He could feel Chandler’s eyes on him. Guilt washed over him.
I know what you’re thinking, he wanted to say. I wasn’t going to do it. But he said nothing.
“Can I- can I take you home?” Chandler asked. Even if his voice hadn’t given his hesitancy away, the look on his face would have. Kent was too tired for the conversation Chandler wanted. Too sickened by his own toiling emotions to want to even try. And yet, despite just wanting to go home, to curl himself up under his duvet again and pretend for the millionth time that it was okay, that he was okay, he looked at Chandler, at how terrified he still looked, and he nodded.
Chandler’s relief was palpable. Kent looked away, rubbing at his face. He didn’t deserve that level of concern. Not after pulling a stunt like this, intentional or not. He twitched under the sudden touch of a hand to his arm but didn’t pull away.
“We don’t have to talk,” Chandler promised, squeezing just a little before pulling away. The engine purred to life a second later and Kent followed Chandler’s unspoken lead and fastened his seatbelt.
“Thank you,” Kent whispered. For not asking. For understanding. For coming to get him. For everything he’d ever done for Kent. For still being here. For everything.
If Chandler heard him, he didn’t say anything.
- - -
It was Chandler’s home they went to, not Kent’s, but he’d been expecting it and hadn’t tried to argue otherwise when Chandler deliberately missed his turning. The pillow and blanket they’d used the night he’d stayed over sat in a neat pile upon the couch. Wordlessly, Kent walked towards it, slipping his shoes off as he had that evening, before curling himself up on the couch and wrapping the blanket around his shoulders. It still smelt a little like Chandler, and he hunched into it.
He’d started shaking some time during the drive. Full body shudders that chattered his teeth together. He wasn’t entirely sure it was from the cold that had seeped into him as he’d stood on the bridge. His shirtsleeves were still rolled up to his elbows but he made no move to pull them down.
He heard Chandler shuck his coat, drop his keys to the kitchen counter, flick the kettle on for tea.
He hadn’t spoken since they’d left the bridge. Neither of them had. And Kent wondered just how long Chandler would be willing to let them get away with silence. He knew Chandler must have questions for him. Demands, even. It was written in the tense hunch of his shoulders as he went about fetching mugs and spoons and teabags from various cupboards and drawers. It was there in the pinched look to his face, the tight press of his lips, the shake of his hands as he poured the hot water.
Kent watched it all, quietly. Should he apologise? But an apology might be taken as an admission of guilt, as an implication that Kent had something else to be sorry for aside from being in a questionable location without telling any of his colleagues he was heading there in the first place.
Chandler finished making the tea and started towards him, handing Kent one of the mugs before he sat himself down beside him. He angled himself towards Kent but didn’t look at him. Kent dropped his own eyes to his mug, feeling the heat seeping through the ceramic to burn at his hands. He kept them clasped around it, enjoying the sting.
The silence grew. Again, it wasn’t an entirely expectant one, nor even an uncomfortable one. But it still felt as though Chandler was waiting for him to make the first move, to initiate the conversation he didn’t want to have.
He took a sip of tea. Should he? Speak? He felt like he owed Chandlersomething. He looked so pale, drawn and tired, and he could smell the faint aroma of Tiger Balm, as if it had been quite recently applied. Kent felt like he should be the one comforting Chandler, as Chandler had done for him. Had been doing for him.
He moved to put his mug on the table, a coaster already in place. Chandler looked up, watching as Kent turned towards him and uncurled himself enough to inch forward, to lean himself against Chandler and wrap his arms around him as tightly as he dared.
His heart was in his mouth as Chandler sat there, unmoving for one heartbeat, two, before he shifted, reaching to put his own mug down. His arms came around Kent then, tight and strong, pulling them so closely together that Kent could feel every inch of him against his chest.
He shuddered in Chandler’s arms, burying his face against his neck. Hoping he was giving Chandler as much comfort as he was taking from him in this moment. Grateful that they were even in a place where this kind of comfort was offered and accepted.
They stayed pressed together for a long time, content to just hold one another. Gradually their holds loosened, and Chandler shifted his grip to allow himself to run his hand through Kent’s hair.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.” Kent muttered. His voice was thick in the silence grown between them. Chandler’s arm tightened fractionally at his words.
“What were you thinking, Emerson?” Chandler asked, his voice as shaky as Kent felt.
“I wasn’t,” he admitted, swallowing heavily. “I- I can’t really explain. After Llewellyn came in I just… I needed some air and I started walking.”
“We got the alert,” Chandler said. “When we couldn’t get a hold of you, Mansell checked your computer and found your search.”
He stopped, waiting for Kent to say something but he said nothing. He didn’t remember receiving any phone calls, but then his head hadn’t been in the best of places. He could quite easily not have heard his phone going off whilst lost in his own thoughts, and his thoughts of Dan Street.
“Why were you on that bridge, Emerson?” Chandler pressed.
Kent frowned. “I thought we didn’t have to talk?” he asked. Chandler seemed to freeze up under him and Kent winced internally. Neither of them said anything for a few minutes, and then Kent sighed.
“I don’t want to fight tonight.”
“We don’t need to fight at all.” Chandler said.
“You want answers and I- I don’t have them, Joe.” He looked up, meeting Chandler’s gaze. “I’m not Dan Street.”
“What?” Chandler frowned.
“I’m not Dan Street,” Kent repeated.
Chandler looked confused.
“You- all of you- you’ve been acting like… like he could have been me.” Kent said, shifting uncomfortably as Chandler momentarily averted his eyes. He remained silent in the face of Kent’s comment, and Kent took that as an affirmation. They had been thinking it. They all had.
“I’m not going to do that.” He said softly. “I won’t do that.”
“Emerson…” Chandler began, cautiously. “Do you remember, after McCormack, when we were talking and I asked you-”
“Where would you be? If it were you, where would you be now?”
“I remember,” Kent interrupted. Knowing exactly what Chandler wanted to ask. He remembered sitting with Chandler in Buchan’s kitchen, a bottle of gin between them, as they spoke of McCormack and how he could so easily have been Kent. If Kent had been the mole.
“I just can’t help but wish it were me, sir. That you were right and I was the mole.
Then maybe McCormack would still be here.”
Chandler had asked him then, in not so many words, if Kent would have done as McCormack did and Kent hadn’t been able to answer him.
“I don’t know, sir.”
Kent pushed himself up, twisting out of Chandler’s grip to look at him. “Don’t give up on me so easily.”
“I won’t,” Chandler promised, “I’m just worried you’ll give up on yourself.” His eyes raked over Kent’s face. “You take so much on yourself, never asking for help, hardly ever taking it when it’s offered.”
Kent swallowed heavily, tensing as Chandler reached out to touch at his face. “I’m just glad you’ll give me this.”
He looked away. I’m just glad you’ll give me this too, he thought but didn’t say.
“I don’t mean to push everyone away,” he said instead, letting Chandler pull him back down into his arms. “I just can’t deal with everyone constantly watching me, judging me, asking me how I am all the time. If I’m coping, how I’m feeling. Every time I have to say I’m fine I just… I want to scream.”
“You don’t like that we care about you?” Chandler asked.
Kent shook his head, heart beginning to hammer against his chest. “No. I just… I don’t like having to lie to you all.” He sucked in a deep breath and Chandler let the silence grow between them, content to let Kent organise his thoughts.
“I’m not fine,” he admitted. “I know you know that. I haven’t been for months now. Maybe I’ll never be. Maybe these feelings will never go away. Maybe the nightmares will never stop. People don’t really want to hear how I am when they ask, they just want me to be okay so that they can sleep easy knowing they asked and I answered and so what if it isn’t true?”
“Do you really believe that?” Chandler asked, “That we’re only asking to relieve ourselves of any obligation?”
Kent half-shrugged. “Sometimes.” He admitted. “Most times.”
“Doesn’t it get tiring?” Chandler asked. “Doubting everyone? Lying all the time?”
“I’ve been tired for so long now. I don’t know how to feel anything but tired. It gets worse every day too, until even the thought of getting up, of doing anything, is a chore. How am I supposed to tell people that? How am I supposed to stop feeling like that, Joe? How do I fix that without wondering what it’d be like to… to just… stop.”
“Emerson,” the call of his name came with a hitch in Chandler’s voice, the sound silencing Kent and making him turn his face into Chandler’s neck, stifling the flow of words from his lips.
Chandler turned with him, his mouth finding Kent’s temple, his lips desperate in their press against his skin. A moment later he felt something wet hit his face and he pulled away enough to look up at Chandler.
There were tears on his face.
“Joe,” He pulled away, sitting quickly up, his hands frantic against Chandler’s cheeks as he tried to brush his tears away. “Are you okay? What did I do-,”
“I want to hear, Emerson,” Chandler said, his own hands coming up to cup at Kent’s face, holding him in place. His eyes fierce and burning as they stared into Kent’s own. “I want to hear. Every time you’re not okay I want to know. I don’t want you to pretend for me. To lie for me. If you’re not fine, tell me. I can’t help unless you tell me!”
Kent’s throat burned. His eyes burned. Chandler was crying freely, his tears silently rolling down his cheeks, wetting Kent’s fingers without shame. How could he bear to be seen? To be so open and vulnerable? To be so trusting of Kent when Kent was still so hesitant to trust him with this himself?
“Sometimes,” he whispered, the lump in his throat catching. “Sometimes I don’t want help.”
“And yet that’s the time you so desperately need it.” Chandler returned.
Kent closed his eyes then, lifting his hands away to press his fingertips into his eyelids. Instead of stopping the flow of tears, the gesture served only to squeeze out the tears building there, and once they started…
He covered his face with his hands, trying to hide from Chandler’s eyes. Chandler took hold of his wrists and gently pulled his hands away.
“It’s okay to let me see,” he whispered, and Kent blinked his eyes open. Nodding once before leaning in to bury himself against Chandler’s chest once more.
Chandler didn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around him and Kent let himself relax in the hold. He could feel Chandler’s eyes on him and he closed his own against the stare.
He wondered what Chandler saw when he looked at him now; the pale pallor of his skin, the deep circles of colour beneath his eyes, the stain of tears against his cheeks. The thought of Chandler seeing him so undone made him uncomfortable and he shifted, burying his face against Chandler’s shoulder; nose pressing up against his neck in a way that was readily becoming a thing that happened between them.
Almost vaguely he wondered why the contact didn’t freak Chandler out like so much other contact did. He’d seen Chandler change his shirt three, four times a day, scrub his hands raw after shaking with a witness, even on occasion rush home to shower if he was having a particularly off day and even the hint of contact could set him off.
And yet, here he was, curled around Kent, letting him press up close, his breath a damp heat against his skin, and instead of letting go, instead of pushing Kent away to wash the sensation from his skin, he turned himself into it, his cheek coming to rest against Kent’s temple. It’d only happened a handful of times now, but Kent’s heart leapt every time Chandler let them be this close, let them be this much in each other’s space without freaking out.
“I want you to see a psychiatrist again,” Chandler said a long time later. His fingers running through Kent’s hair once more.
Before Kent had the chance to work himself up at the words he continued: “I’m not suspending you. And I’m not saying you can’t do this yourself, or that I don’t want to help you, but I hate seeing you like this, Emerson. I hate not being able to help you the way you need. I hate not knowing how to help you.”
Kent didn’t move, didn’t answer, didn’t know how to answer that.
“Just…” Chandler continued, “will you think about it?”
Kent closed his eyes, letting himself sink a little further into Chandler’s hold.
“Okay,” he breathed.
“Okay?” Chandler asked, a note of hope tingeing the question.
“Okay.” He agreed. I’ll think about it.
The press of Chandler’s lips to his temple came with a whispered ‘thank you.’
The wash of guilt he immediately felt stayed with him for the rest of the night.
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